Nothing To Envy, By Barbara Demick

A foreign correspondent at the LA Times, Barbara Demick had already distinguished herself with award-winning coverage of the war in Sarajevo before producing this meticulous and surprisingly intimate study of North Korea, a regime usually cloistered behind one of the world's few remaining iron curtains from where foreign journalists find their job rendered impossible.

She shows us "a bleak and dark country where millions have died of starvation [but where] there is also love." For her effort, she recently won the Samuel Johnson prize and deservedly so.

The book reads with the emotional intensity of fiction, yet it rigorously trails the realities of ordinary people from their love lives (and outdoor sex) to disillusioned defectors.