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Samurai William: The Englishman Who Opened the East [Unknown Binding]

Giles Milton
4.2 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (21 customer reviews)

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Book Description

8 July 2002

In 1611 an astonishing letter arrived at the the East India Trading Company in London after a tortuous seven-year journey. Englishman William Adams was one of only twenty-four survivors of a fleet of ships bound for Asia, and he had washed up in the forbidden land of Japan.

The traders were even more amazed to learn that, rather than be horrified by this strange country, Adams had fallen in love with the barbaric splendour of Japan - and decided to settle. He had forged a close friendship with the ruthless Shogun, taken a Japanese wife and sired a new, mixed-race family.

Adams' letter fired up the London merchants to plan a new expedition to the Far East, with designs to trade with the Japanese and use Adams' contacts there to forge new commercial links.

SAMURAI WILLIAM brilliantly illuminates a world whose horizons were rapidly expanding eastwards.

--This text refers to the Paperback edition.

Product details

  • Unknown Binding: 289 pages
  • Publisher: Farrar Straus & Giroux (T) (8 July 2002)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0374703825
  • ISBN-13: 978-0374703820
  • Average Customer Review: 4.2 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (21 customer reviews)

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Product Description

Amazon Review

Samurai William tells how, in 1598, William Adams, an English seaman of humble origin, sailed out of Rotterdam on a Danish ship en route to the East Indies. After 20 months at sea in which they survived a series of disasters, starvation and disease, Adams and a few remaining sailors floated into a harbour on the island of Kyushu in southwestern Japan. Though not the first Westerner to reach Japan--Portuguese traders and Jesuit monks from Spain had arrived about 60 years earlier--Adams was the first Englishman to arrive. The impact this one man would have on future relations between East and West is the subject of this engrossing book.

After landing, Adams spent some time in prison and was nearly executed before he made an unlikely ally in Tokugawa Ieyasu, a powerful feudal lord who would later become shogun of Japan. Intrigued by the outside world and impressed with the sailor's navigational abilities, Ieyasu commissioned Adams to oversee the construction of some ships to be used for both trade and exploration. In time, Adams mastered the language and complex social customs of Japan, began teaching the shogun about geometry and mathematics and served as a translator and political counsellor to Ieyasu. For his service, he was awarded great wealth, land holdings and even a lordship, making him the first foreigner ever to be honoured as a samurai. When news of his high standing reached England, a small crew of Englishmen were sent to Japan to use Adams's political connections to open trade between the two countries.

Giles Milton, author of Nathaniel's Nutmeg does a masterful job of covering Adams's remarkable life. His narrative moves along briskly as he recounts harrowing sea adventures, fascinating details about Japanese culture and the attempts of various countries, including Holland, Portugal, Spain and England, to gain a foothold in Japan to exploit the rich trade possibilities. Samurai William is an impressive achievement and a thoroughly entertaining read. --Shawn Carkonen, --This text refers to the Paperback edition.


Told with Stevensonian gusto ... A revelation (Jane Gardam, Spectator)

Anyone who enjoyed Shogun ... will love this (Lancashire Evening Post)

Samurai William is a great read and fairly romps along (What's On)

A page-turner of a book... an accessible, well-crafted piece of popularised history. (Allan Spence, The Scotsman)

Giles Milton has once again shown himself to be a master of historical narrative... a gripping tale of Jacobean derring-do, a fizzing, real-life, Boys' Own adventure underpinned by genuine scholarship. (Katie Hickman, The Sunday Times)

Giles Milton again expertly navigating the eastern seas (Economist)

Milton has brought the era to life, conveying nuances of character and the values of the time. (The Sunday Times)

The thoroughness and intelligence of his research underpins the lively confidence with which he deploys it. (The Times Literary Supplement)

Fascinating detail . . . Milton is good at portraying eccentric characters and the Englishmen's shock at the periodic brutality of the Japanese. (The Times Literary Supplement) --This text refers to the Paperback edition.

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Customer Reviews

Most Helpful Customer Reviews
20 of 20 people found the following review helpful
When William Adams and his dying crew arrived in Japan in 1600, after nineteen months at sea, they became the first Englishmen ever to set foot on what was, for them, a completely uncharted, unknown land. The duplicitous Portuguese, who had already set up a trading post there, informed the Japanese that Adams and his men were pirates, and the Japanese imprisoned Adams for six weeks, but they did not crucify him, a common punishment in those days. Tokugawa Ieyasu, the most important ruler of the country, had been impressed, both with Adams's navigational skills and with his frank admission of dislike of the Portuguese and Jesuits, who were undermining the political and military stability of the Ieyasu's domain.
After learning the Japanese language, adopting Japanese customs and dress, and maintaining an unfailingly respectful demeanor, Adams became Ieyasu's interpreter, becoming so valuable to him that he was accorded samurai status and rewarded with a large country estate. Stranded in Japan with no means of escape, Adams became "Japanese." When English ships finally arrived more than ten years later, Adams helped them establish bases and become trusted trading partners, but he never returned "home," living his remaining 23 years in Japan, an honored and much respected man.
In this extremely fast-paced historical narrative, Milton uses primary sources to show how Japan came to be "discovered," what its values and culture were, and why the intrusion of the Europeans and the lure of trade were eventually rebuffed and the country "closed" in 1637.
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7 of 7 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A window on a clash of cultures 4 July 2002
Giles Milton has produced a compelling book on a unique piece of history. He uses original archive information to produce a 'novel' type of history about a remarkable man, who reached great heights in the pecking order of Japan. Mr Milton's writing style is easy on the brain, yet is full of information and emotion. A first class read, and quite un-put-downable!
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7 of 7 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars The life and times of William Adams 29 Jun 2006
A gripping, well-written account of William Adams, the first Englishman to reach Japan, and the short-lived attempt by the English to expand its burgeoning Empire to this most unique country. Milton does and excellent job of piecing together the various extent contemporary accounts--including those left behind by Adams himself--into a fascinating story. One will be disappointed, however, if one expects this to be a detailed account of William Adams himself--as far as I know, an impossibility given the amount of material that he left behind. A considerable amount of the narrative deals with trade in East Asia, the workings of the Jesuits in Japan, and the English factory established at Hirado.
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11 of 12 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Engagingly written history 13 Mar 2003
Giles Milton writes engagingly and knowlegably about an episode of English history which sheds light upon Japanese society in the 1600's. If you are interested in history then this book will provide a fascinating look into a culture and society very different to the Western world, in an interesting and often amusing way. Well worth the read.
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10 of 11 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Samurai Shipping! 1 Oct 2002
By A Customer
The title of this book is misleading. There is very little information in here about William Adams himself. It centres more on the British/Dutch & Spanish activities in South-Western Japan around the late 16th and early 17th centuries. If you are looking for information on Adams then this is not the best place to get it (whole chunks of his life are left by the wayside in favour of tales of shipping throughout the region by various parties). The book, however, is an entertaining read and worth spending time on, but is not a definitive source on William Adams.
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22 of 25 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Interesting, well written and inaccurate. 7 Jan 2004
By A Customer
Giles Milton's book is certainly a well written piece of pop history and very entertaining. However, if you are looking for accuracy and veracity, this isn't the book to read.
As another reviewer noted, it spends considerable time on the general situation but while doing this it fails to make more than passing mention of Jan Joosten one of Adam's shipmates who held a similar postition in Japan.
It also has a very anglocentric view, uses unreliable sources - as an example, there is no reliable source which actually named Adam's Japanese wife - and imply's many thing's which are simply not true.
So, if you want historical entertainment then this is the text for you, just don't take what you read to be gospel truth.
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7 of 8 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Popular Historian 21 July 2002
By A Customer
Another Giles Milton history book dressed up as a biography. Not that I am complaining, if all history books were this readable we'd all be historians! I doubt he cares either, as the formula is obviously a successful one.
It is impossible not to draw comparisons with James Clavell's Shogun (I never did get to the end of that one) but I sped through Samurai William and enjoyed it immensely. Perhaps Milton should now take a leaf out of Clavell's book and move on a few hundred years for his next 'biography' before we start getting bored.
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars WELL RESEARCHED YET UNFULFILLING 3 Dec 2011
By NeuroSplicer TOP 100 REVIEWER
Format:Paperback|Verified Purchase
Once a month, my wife organizes a thematic weekend around a favorite TV or movie series of ours. November is usually Shogun month. This year I realized that I had not read any books on the real Anji-Sama and this was the book I settled on to remedy this. With mixed results.

The book is very good in giving the surrounding events that preceded and precipitated the arrival of William Adams in Japan. The Portuguese, Spanish and Dutch missionaries and merchants that established the first European landfalls in Japan and then erected obstacles in William's way. And even tried to have him crucified.

It is also a very well researched book, with a full Notes-on-Sources, Index and Picture-Sources sections. By maintaining the original spelling and wording of the source letters, the book conveys an air of authenticity. However, all this does not save it from a mediocre end result.

The life of William Adams (who is the main selling point of this book after all) is only scantily described whereas his rise in the court of Tokugawa Ieyasu (who would later become Shogun and the first of the dynasty that ruled Japan up to the 1860's) is very rapidly passed over.

What we get, instead, is a very detailed account of how the first English Factory (or trading house) of the infamous East Indian Company was established in Japan - and how William Adams aided them in every way he could. However, this is a book I picked up to learn about about the everyday life of Samurai Williams - and not the troubles of...Richard Cocks who was head-factor of said Factory.

Not a bad book altogether. Unfortunately it does not deliver what it promises.
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Most Recent Customer Reviews
5.0 out of 5 stars Local hero!
I watched Richard Chamberlain play the role of William Adams in the 70's series "Shogun". A great story, the true Samurai William much more interesting than anything... Read more
Published 5 months ago by m osullivan
5.0 out of 5 stars book
I really enjoyed the book that i bought the rest of the Giles Milton books to read at my liesure
Published 7 months ago by Anne Rae
5.0 out of 5 stars Remember an old TV serial from the 1970s with Richard Chamberlain?
Think the name of the above was Shogun, but this is the original and a very interesting story too. You really were on your own in the far East and letters were unreliable. Read more
Published 8 months ago by Mr. G. P. Emsden
4.0 out of 5 stars the struggle for trade and souls in 17th century Japan
This is an interesting account of the attempts by Europeans, particularly the English,Dutch and Jesuits to establish trading and religious footholds in Japan in the early 1600s. Read more
Published 17 months ago by markr
5.0 out of 5 stars Samurai Williams
Reading this you can see where Clavell got the plot from. A very good book which I can really recommend
Published 18 months ago by George Law
5.0 out of 5 stars Very enjoyable
Yet another very readable and interesting history book from Giles Milton.

This book ties in with Nathaniel's Nutmeg, not that it sets out to do so but there are parts of... Read more
Published on 31 July 2012 by Mr Gordon Davidson
4.0 out of 5 stars Samurai William: The Adventurer Who Unlocked Japan.
`Samurai William' recounts the life story of William Adams who was an English mariner who sailed to Japan and who became enraptured with the culture and customs of this intriguing... Read more
Published on 3 Jun 2010 by Spider Monkey
5.0 out of 5 stars a very good read
Fantastic book, favourite quote from the book "The English did not take well to Japanese customs except their love of drinking, at this the English excelled. Read more
Published on 13 Feb 2010 by J. Cooper
5.0 out of 5 stars A very different culture
Milton writes well and makes little known history come alive. In this case it is the European exploration of the Far East for trade with the first Englishman, William Adams, in... Read more
Published on 12 Mar 2008 by G. J. Weeks
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