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Three Kingdoms: Pt. 1: A Historical Novel: Complete and Unabridged v. 1 Paperback – 2 Jul 2004

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Product details

  • Paperback: 548 pages
  • Publisher: University of California Press; New Ed edition (2 July 2004)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0520224787
  • ISBN-13: 978-0520224780
  • Product Dimensions: 17.8 x 3.2 x 25.4 cm
  • Average Customer Review: 4.2 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (4 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 108,483 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Product Description


"By the measure of sheer density of history and drama, all other historical novels suffer by comparison to "Three Kingdoms, the great epic of the Chinese literary tradition. Roberts' rendition of the prose is lively and readable, but his translation of the poetry is a delight, capturing the flavour and pace, and sometimes even the rhyme, of the original."--"National Post (Canadian daily)

About the Author

Luo Guanzhong (c. 1330-c. 1400) was a novelist and dramatist who played an important role in the development of Chinese popular fiction. Moss Roberts is Professor of Chinese at New York University. He is the translator and editor of Chinese Fairy Tales and Fantasies (1979). John S. Service grew up in China and was a Foreign Service officer there from 1933 to 1945.

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3 of 3 people found the following review helpful By Feast on 15 May 2012
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Most of us have a short list of classic novels that we mean to read but which never get to the top of the pile.

Fortunately, I eventually got round to reading The Romance of the Three Kingdoms. It is a beautiful novel; grand in scope, majestic in delivery and effortlessly blending mythology with history. Despite a cast seeming to number in the thousands, the reader still remains connected to the main characters and the overarching story almost always remains in focus. Not being fluent in Chinese, I cannot speak for the accuracy of the translation, but the English is vibrant, evocative and engaging. It also feels surprisingly modern in tone (especially when political or military strategy is discussed) but whether that is because of the timeless themes of the original text or ingenuity of the translation, I am not sure.

If you've been meaning to read Three Kingdoms but haven't found the time, I hope this review is the final nudge to just do it.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful By A. J. McGowan on 15 April 2013
Format: Paperback
I'm afraid I just couldn't get on with this. I found the writing rather odd, and the whole thing read very much like a translation - I know that's what is is, but with all great translations you forget that and lose yourself in the text, but here that just didn't happen. Characters said things; battles were fought; friendships were forged and broken, but for me none of it really mattered. By all means try it, but for me this just felt like work.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful By Mrs. C. L. B. Richardson on 8 May 2012
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This is a gorgeous two volume set, that will transport the reader to a wonderful world. This novel, along with "Outlaws of the Marsh", "Dream of the Red Chamber" and "Journey to the West" completes the best that China's historic writers have to offer. If readers enjoy this novel a fraction as much as I did, their in for a terrific time.
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Since I played the games and watched film's based on this before reading. I bought another version of this and the names of the charters were different to the games and films, so was very hard to follow. But this version has the names translated in the same way that the dynasty warrior games do, finding it alot easier to follow. Of course one of the best storys ever written helps too of course.
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Most Helpful Customer Reviews on Amazon.com (beta)

Amazon.com: 163 reviews
409 of 415 people found the following review helpful
Epic 10 Feb 2000
By "g_l_p" - Published on Amazon.com
Format: Paperback
First off, you have to read the full translation of this book. I read the 1976 abridged version of Three Kingdoms translated by Moss Roberts first and thought it was pretty good, but felt that the story wasn't developed enough and lacked cohesion. Then a few years ago I finally found and purchased the full unabridged version published by the University of California Press and also translated by Dr. Roberts. This is the full-blown epic from start to finish with all the details and many of the translation errors of the previous editions eliminated. The prose was also improved and flows eloquently throughout the book's entire 3000+ pages. Three Kingdoms is the tale (part historical, part legend and myth) of the fall of the Later Han Dynasty of China. It chronicles the lives of those feudal lords and their retainers who tried to either replace the empire or restore it. While the novel actually follows literally hundreds of characters, the focus is mainly on the 3 families who would eventually carve out the 3 kingdoms from the remnants of the Han. The Liu family in the Shu kingdom led by Liu Bei, The Cao family in Wei led by Cao Cao, and the Sun family in Wu eventually led by Sun Quan. The book deals with the plots, personal and army battles, intrigues, and struggles of these families to achieve dominance for almost 100 yrs. This book also gives you a sense of the way the Chinese view their history: cyclical rather than linear (as in the West). The first and last lines of the book sum this view up best: "The empire long united must divide..." and "The empire long divided must unite..." If you are at least a little interested in Chinese history (ancient or modern) and culture this book is a must read.
188 of 196 people found the following review helpful
A fine, if somewhat modernized, translation of the classic. 8 Jan 2005
By D. Mok - Published on Amazon.com
Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
"Romance of the Three Kingdoms" is possibly the most famous and important novel in classic Chinese literature. Not only is it the earliest of the "Four Great Books" (as evidenced by its more archaic language), but it created a complete cultural phenomenon whose impact is still fresh today -- just ask all the young people today who, without having read a word of the book, still know the characters from the strategy and fighting video games released by the company Koei. And how many literary works can claim to have had a direct impact on history as this book, which was used as a strategy text by the great Manchurian leader Nurhachi and his son Hongtaiji?

I'd read the original archaic text when I was about eight years old, so obviously my views will be heavily slanted by my familiarity with this text. On approaching this translation, what I find is a well done, respectful and informative translation that doesn't quite nail the tone of the original text, but will be a good read for modern readers who don't read Chinese.

And to be honest, Chinese is extremely hard to translate into English. Just the fact that subjects, articles and pronouns are often omitted from a sentence is enough to cause nightmares for a Chinese-English translator. And even by Chinese standards, The Three Kingdoms is a work whose linguistic economy is staggering. In one page, this book can convey the deaths of half a dozen characters, three to four battles, multiple schemes, and include four or five "tribute" poems, to boot. Such is the style of this work, and it could not have been easy for translator Moss Roberts to adapt this style into English. And he has done the job remarkably, for though I don't think he was able to convey the flavour and rhythm of the original language (the question is, also, whether that would have been possible), his translation makes a good read, and strives to be faithful to the original text, down to the chapter divisions and the inclusion of the "tribute" poems which frequent the book. This was an essential piece in the style of the book and I was joyed to see the device retained.

There are instances scattered throughout where I felt the tone of the language may have been misinterpreted, or diluted by the language barrier. Obviously, I'm not a Chinese professor (as Prof. Roberts is), but as a native speaker, I felt his translations sometimes didn't quite hit the mark. For example, in the original text, one poem on the character Cao Cao distinctly used a word which meant "deception" or "guile", but Prof. Roberts adapted it to "craft", which dilutes the disapproving tone of the original. When Yuan Shao refused aid to Liu Bei on account of his son's illness, his advice to the messenger was "if he is in trouble, he may seek refuge with me", which suggests patronage, not "find refuge north of the river", which suggests a tactical manoeuvre related to geography. These are but two examples and you can certainly argue that the meaning of the original text is up for grabs, but as a Chinese native speaker and reader, one who has grown up with this text and re-read the book hundreds of times, I still find the translation a little off. There is also no attempt at creating period flavour in the language -- the translation is modern, not aiming to add archaic English flavour to try to reflect the age of the original Chinese text. This may be a good point, however, since the use of archaic English added to the language barrier might have resulted in a book that's very difficult to read. I think Prof. Roberts sacrificed flavour for clarity, a fair tradeoff to the benefit of the translation.

Again, the question is whether an English translation (or any other translation) could ever be accurate in this way to the original. Personally, I do think many of the discrepancies in meaning could have been avoided, or ameliorated. However, as aforementioned, for a reader who's never read the original, this issue won't affect his/her enjoyment of the text. Just the fact that there is a translation of this extremely important work of Chinese literature is a cause for celebration, and for those people new to this realm, this set of books is a great discovery.
169 of 180 people found the following review helpful
Quite possibly the greatest book I've read 29 July 2002
By R. Khan - Published on Amazon.com
Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
I first became intrigued with the Three Kingdoms's historical events when I played the game Dynasty Warriors 2 for PS2. Afterwards I was desperately searching to find the best novel translation and finally bought the 4-volume box set translated by Moss Roberts which is the UNABRIDGED version(make sure to get this edition as it tells the whole story w/o leaving anything out).I then set out to explore the 2200+ pages of Chinese history and I must say, it was a fascinating experience. I initially grasped what was going to happen in time but there was so much other details to the story and idealisms portrayed. Leadership, loyalty, heroism, military tactics and warfare, treason, and even romance play such a significant role in this epic novel. "The empire long united, must divide" and "the empire long divided, must unite" pretty much opens and closes the novel perfectly. Heroes such as Guan Yu, Zhang Fei, Zhao Yun, and Huang Gai portray such loyalty that it would be kind of hard to imagine in today's society. From the other reviews I've read, most people think Liu Bei (Xuande) is the protaganist of the novel and this seems very true since Roberts lauds Bei's characteristics and portrays Cao Cao of the evil and cunning type. Personally, I think anyone can choose their personal protaganist and for me that would be Zhao Yun because of his undisputed bravery and loyalty. Another character that I admired was probably Zhuge Liang for his awe-aspiring military tactics. Zhuge was the best strategist of his time and he wrote several books on warfare but unfortunately, most were destroyed but you can still buy one of his famous books, "The Art of War." Warning, spoiler ahead:
This book has its sad moments particularly when someone important or someone who contributed a lot to his lord dies. You'll feel sympathetic towards those who fought hard as well as the ones who died. When the book starts, it's during the impending collapse of the Han then around 220 is when the real three kingdoms come into play: Shu, Wu, and Wei. It's sort of like a battle to the death of who would emerge victorious and indeed there was. Military tactics are exploited on each side and betrayal is widespread. In the end, it would be Sima Yi's family who would unite China under one rule, the Jin Dyansty.
35 of 37 people found the following review helpful
Finally a well translated unabridged version! 5 Oct 2003
By presypclhs - Published on Amazon.com
Format: Paperback
And it's about time too. Moss Roberts does an excellent job of translating the epic novel by Luo Guanzhong in a full, unabridged four book series. Previously I had read an abridged version by the selfsame translator, and while I was impressed with the story, it was too choppy to satisfy me. I later found this unabridged version, purchased it at once and loved every moment of reading. This is it. The definitive "Three Kingdoms".
"The Three Kingdoms" is based on the era known as The Three Kingdoms period, or San Guo Yan Yi. This period chronicles the decline of the Han to the rise of the Jin dynasty (circa AD 170-260). The story tells the tale of protagonist Zhuge Liang (referred to as Kongming throughout the story) and his efforts to help his lord Liu Bei (referred to as Xuande throughout the story) unite the land and restore the crumbling Han. You see, Liu Bei is a distant cousin of the child emperor, Liu Xian, who is manipulated by the malicious despot, Cao Cao. Bei, a poor mat weaver, steps up to the plate and helps to put down the Yellow Scarf rebellion under Zhang Jue and the story takes off from there. Zhuge Liang does not actually come into the story until much later and dies in the middle of the fourth volume, but his importance is immeasurable.
This story is a must-read for history fans as well as fans of any of the video game series about the time period (Dynasty Warriors, Romance of the Three Kingdoms, Dynasty Tactics, etc.). Fans of the video game series will love to hear tales of their favorite characters, such as Guan Yu, Zhang Fei, Zhao Yun and many more.
An important thing to keep in mind when reading Luo Guanzhong's novel is that it is a biased account of the events. Luo Guanzhong is what I call a pro-Shuist, or someone who supports Shu (the kingdom ruled by Liu Bei), so Shu feats may be embellished and fans of the other kingdoms (Wei, Wu) might be frustrated as many of their favorite characters will not be viewed as positively as they may deserve to be.
With this in mind, "The Three Kingdoms" is a fun, if not lengthy, read and will keep you turning the pages. The story isn't terribly difficult to follow but some may have trouble keeping track of the cast of characters (some 600 plus characters in all) and all of their names. What I mean by 'all of their names' is that the chinese had the surname (Zhuge), the given name (Liang) and a style (Kongming). Some officers are called by all three names and it can be difficult to follow. Zhuge Liang is called many things over the course of the novel, in addition to his surname, given name and style, but it shouldn't be to hard to follow. Probably easier then following my explanation of it, at any rate.
My major complaint with this edition (and it is minor) is the poor proofreading and the poor quality of the paper and binding. This book was published to Beijing standards and would not meet American standards. You will have to be a little careful with the book while reading it, but that's not too big of a problem. Also, the typos (two or three a chapter) can get annoying and make you wonder who was proofreading the book and make you think that you could do a better job (and you probably could).
That aside, this is a very enjoyable story and you will not be disappointed in buying the four-volume unabridged set translated by Moss Roberts.
20 of 20 people found the following review helpful
From Playstation to Chinese Literature 14 July 2003
By Michael Ruddy - Published on Amazon.com
Format: Paperback
Imagine my surprise when my eleven year old son placed a few names from a video game (Dynasty Warriors) into Google and came up with biographies of real Chinese warlords. Investigating I found that the game was based on Chinese Literature, a historical book written in the 1200s about 3rd Century China by Luo Guanzhong. My son promised he would read the book if I ordered it. The book as ordered is printed in China and is broken into four 600 page sections. I did buy it and with his background from the game he sailed through all 4 sections in record time with nothing but high praise. I have read it myself and highly recommend it to anyone. We have also purchased the TV serialized DVD collection, in Chinese with English Subtitles, which is absolutely facinating viewing for those who have read the original books. The DVDs require staying power there are 58 of them put out by Chinese government TV studios. The recording quality and the subtitle errors are a bit of a deterent to all but real Three Kingdom Fans. If you are expecting a slick Hollywood film don't buy the DVDs.
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