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Ninja [Hardcover]

John Man
3.2 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (6 customer reviews)
RRP: 20.00
Price: 16.42 & FREE Delivery in the UK. Details
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Book Description

19 July 2012

The Ninjas today are the stuff of myth and legend in comics, film and electronic games. But once they were real, the medieval equivalent of the SAS: spies, saboteurs, assassins. In their secrecy, undercover skills and determination to survive, they were the opposite of the overt, self-destructive samurai. Could they fly? Make themselves invisible? Of course not.It was just that their skills gave them a magical aura. As a result, martial artists and story-tellers have turned them into fantasy creatures, from James Bond to Mutant Turtles.

In Ninja John Man goes in search of the truth. In a journey to the heartland of the ninjas, he takes us from their origins over 1,000 years ago, through their heyday in the civil wars that ended with Japan's unification in 1600. But that was not the end of the ninja ethos. That re-emerged in World War Two as a little-known counterpart to Japanese militarism. Ninja ways live on in the real 'last of the ninjas', Hiroo Onoda, who held out in the Philippine jungle for 30 years.

From feudal Japan to 21st Century Hollywood, John Man's epic story reveals the reality behind one of the world's most enduring legends.

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Product details

  • Hardcover: 304 pages
  • Publisher: Bantam Press; First Edition, First Impression edition (19 July 2012)
  • Language: Unknown
  • ISBN-10: 0593068114
  • ISBN-13: 978-0593068113
  • Product Dimensions: 23.6 x 15.8 x 3.4 cm
  • Average Customer Review: 3.2 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (6 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 679,794 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

More About the Author


"The Lion's Share", just published on Kindle, is a new edition of a thriller written years ago about the 'real' - in quotes, i.e. fictional - fate of Haile Selassie, Emperor of Ethiopia.

Since writing the original, I have focused mainly on non-fiction, exploring interests in Central Asia and turning-points in written communication. I like to mix history, narrative and personal experience, exploring the places I write about. It brings things to life, and it's also probably to do with escaping a secure, rural childhood in Kent. I did German and French at Oxford, and two postgraduate courses, History and Philosophy of Science at Oxford and Mongolian at the School of Oriental and African Studies in London (to join an expedition that never happened).

After working in journalism and publishing, I turned to writing, with occasional forays into film, TV and radio. A planned trilogy on three major revolutions in writing has resulted in two books, "Alpha Beta" (on the alphabet) and "The Gutenberg Revolution" (on printing), both republished in 2009. The third, on the origin of writing, is on hold, because it depends on access to Iraq. (There's a fourth revolution, the Internet, about which many others can write far better than me).

My interest in Mongolia revived in 1996 with a trip to the Gobi. "Gobi: Tracking the Desert" was the first book on the region since those by the American explorer Roy Chapman Andrew in the 1920's. As anyone quickly discovers in Mongolia, everything leads back to Genghis. The result was "Genghis Khan: Life, Death and Resurrection," now in 20 languages, and (from 2011) in a new, revised edition. Luckily, there's more to Mongol studies than Genghis. "Attila the Hun" and "Kublai Khan" followed.

Another main theme in Mongol history is the ancient and modern relationship between Mongolia and China. "The Terracotta Army" was followed by "The Great Wall". "The Leadership Secrets of Genghis Khan" (combining history and modern leadership theory) and "Xanadu: Marco Polo and Europe's Discovery of the East" pretty much exhausted Inner Asian themes for me.

So recently I have become interested in Japan. For "Samurai: The Last Warrior", I followed in the footsteps of Saigo Takamori, the real Last Samurai, published in February 2011. After that, more fiction, perhaps.

I live in north London, inspired by a multi-talented, strong and beautiful family - wife, children and grand-children.

Product Description


"His ability to put us in the picture, to feel, smell and almost touch the surroundings he describes is matched by his ability to tell a good story." (Michael Palin)

"One couldn't wish for a better storyteller or analyst than John Man." (Simon Sebag Montefiore)

"Ninja is a racy popular history of a difficult and often mythologised subject and should appeal to the armchair warrior in us all." (Literary Review)

"Man's wry humour and treks through Japan's mountains, valleys, temples and shrines adds a vivid and personable dimension to his questing spirit - so much so, you can imagine this being a terrific television series." (Metro)

"A thoroughly researched, appealing examination of the "original men in black"." (Kirkus Reviews)

Book Description

1,000 years of the shadow warriors.

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Customer Reviews

Most Helpful Customer Reviews
5 of 6 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Only a Ninja Can Stop A Ninja 19 Jan 2013
Straddling the line between historical excavation and travel writing, John Man's book Ninja is initially beguiling, in sections intriguing, but also a little frustrating in its attempts to weave a cohesive narrative around the historical Ninja and its exoticised Western counterpart. Because the actual historical records surrounding Ninjitsu are seemingly thin on the ground, originating around the 14th to 16th century, Man opens his book by considering several 'Ninja-like' escapades from early Japanese history, then seguing into an analysis of the actual historical Ninjas, before closing on the actions of the 'Ninja-like' spy schools in the early 20th century and the 'Ninja-like' actions of Hiroo Onoda, a WWII Japanese intelligence officer who carried out asymmetric warfare in the Philippines until the 1970s. Man's thesis is that the history of Ninjitsu is obscured by the modern 'myth' of the Ninja, and this historical Japanese faction embodied an ethos for survival, warfare, and a life philosophy that is missed by the cultural tropes enshrined in pop interpretations such as Eastman and Laird's Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles (characters that get something of a short shrift in the book). Read more ›
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2.0 out of 5 stars Very Little to do with Ninja. 4 Jun 2014
My copy, a paperback has 272 pages. Roughly 30 of which actually concern Ninja.
The remainder are a travel writers attempt at narrative of Japanese history at the time when the Ninja were most productive.

As an example, each chapter begins with a short phrase from the Bansensukai, a Ninja instructional manual, but the chapters lead us on an ephemeral trope through episodes of Japanese history which are neither well researched or emotionally captivating.

If you want to read about Ninja, I would not recommend this book.

If you want to read about Japanese history, I would not recommend this book.

If you want to read about Japanese historical sites for the purpose of obtaining travel information, I would not recommend this book.
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3.0 out of 5 stars Not his strongest 2 Feb 2014
Format:Hardcover|Verified Purchase
Apparently John Man doesn't speak Japanese, although he does have some of the Far Eastern languages. This is perhaps why this book felt stilted (to me). I felt I was constantly awaiting a revelation which never came. There is some interesting material on Ninjas. And some interesting history about the Shogun period of Japanese history. But somehow the Ninjas were never central to events.

His Ghenghis Khan is fab.
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