Becoming Kim Jong Un begins with a brief history lesson. North Korea emerged after World War II when the US and the Soviet Union provisionally divided control of the Korean Peninsula along the 38th parallel and Kim Il-sung was installed as the leader of the northern half by Moscow.
The Democratic People's Republic of Korea (DPRK) was founded in September 1948 when Kim Il-sung declared complete independence from his Soviet comrades. With his "Juche" idea of self-reliance driving the country's unique brand of socialism, Kim Il-sung made it clear he was no Moscow puppet.
The Korean War (1950-1953) was the first hot war of the Cold War. There was no real winners. Five million soldiers and civilians lost their lives, but Kim Il-sung emerged with his country's independence secured.
It taught him a valuable lesson too: North Korea could use its tightrope Asian Cold War border to yield major bargaining power across the complex sphere of global geopolitics. That tactic ran out steam once the Soviet Union collapsed and the Cold War ended, however.
The impoverished country that the second supreme leader, Kim Jong-il, inherited from his father in 1994 was like a rusted car on its way to the scrap heap. The post-Cold War years meant loyalty to Pyongyang was no longer a major concern for either Russia and China. North Korea's friends and trading partners were almost nonexistent. The consequences of being isolated in a free-market global economy were devastating: an estimated one million North Korean citizens perished in a famine that ripped the country asunder during the late 1990s.
Former CIA analyst Jung H Pak's narrative focuses most of its efforts on events that have occurred after December 2011, following the death of Kim Jong-il. The power vacuum meant a fresh-faced man in his late twenties with no political experience found himself as North Korea's third (and youngest) supreme leader.
Questions immediately followed. Who exactly was Kim Jong-un? How would his relationship play out with the 25 million subjects now under his paternal rule? And could the secretive socialist state lose its stubborn totalitarian intransigence and finally open up and do business with the west?
The mainstream western media at the time were short on answers. There was no shortage of jokes and insults though. Pak notes how Kim Jong-un's chubby-cheeked youthful appearance became the main source of discussion and amusement. News features on North Korea in the west typically focused on the leader's personal interests: basketball, alcohol, cigars and video games.
References continually cropped up too about his privileged upbringing and elitist private education in Switzerland. Spoilt, mollycoddled and lazy were the common terms Washington politicos and power brokers used to describe Kim Jong-un's personality. They believed a lack of knowledge about serious political matters meant he was not capable of governing a rogue state where dictatorial ruthlessness had been the modus operandi for more than five decades.
A theory even surfaced that senior and military officials in Pyongyang - known as the Gang of Seven - would lead the new regime as Kim Jong-un became a puppet head of state figure who merely followed his elders' instructions.
Pak briefly alludes to this cartoon-like narrative to show how far-fetched it is.
During the last two years of the Obama administration, the author worked closely on strategic analysis on Korean peninsula issues - regularly representing the intelligence community in White House policy meetings. The book's tone and style can thus become a little dull and stiff at times - losing itself in tedious bureaucratic speak and the clichéd language of global think-tank policies and government strategy agendas.
But Pak's rigorous approach has other notable appeals. Namely: sticking to raw facts when accessing Kim Jong-un's ruthless record in power. On the domestic front, the dictator has rooted out any signs of disloyalty or dissidence: an estimated 340 senior officials have been purged in Stalinist-like show trials.
Pak focuses her attention on the two most infamous cases: Jang Song-thaek and Kim Jong-nam. The former was Kim Jong-un's uncle, the latter the dictator's half-brother. Both were executed; Jang Song-thaek with anti-aircraft guns, Kim Jong-nam with a VX nerve agent at Kuala Lumpur International Airport in Malaysia. Unlike his father and grandfather, Kim Jong-un doesn't just make his enemies quietly disappear.
He wants the North Korean public to understand that anyone who questions his authority will be dealt with accordingly. On the international stage, he has played hardball, too - almost always coming out on top of any negotiation he has entered into.
Three meetings with US president Donald Trump in a year and a half is an outcome the country's two previous supreme leaders could only have dreamed of. Especially the terms of conditions: there were none. No mention of human rights. No major specific guarantees concerning North Korea's present and future nuclear capabilities were ever hammered out. These are dangerously expanding all the time. So too is the country's growing strategic position of importance in an international world order that is rapidly shifting like no time since 1945.