This story of the lives of several ordinary North Korean citizens, put together from interviews over a period of several years with defectors who made it to South Korea, gives a grim and fascinating look at what it's really like inside this isolated, almost hermetically-sealed dictatorship. Although much of it is what you'd expect from the little we can see from outside -- the cult of personality around the "Dear Leader," the bankrupt economy that pumps money into nuclear weapons and the military while the citizens starve -- you really cannot appreciate just how impoverished the people of North Korea are until you read these stories. Particularly heartbreaking is the story of the famine that killed millions in the 1990s. Every person interviewed for this book was literally watching friends and family drop dead of starvation all around them, while the government continued denying a problem and forbidding them even to grow gardens. The book covers the time period up until late 2009, when Kim Jong Il is still in power, could easily live for decades yet, and there is no telling just how much longer this regime can continue. For North Koreans, the future seems bleak no matter what.