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9 of 10 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Factual Information beautifully presented
John Man is a factual author with a gift. He can take any subject matter, explore it thoroughly and present his research to the reader in such a way that they have very good recall in regard to the information even months later. You would not believe how many quiz questions John has helped me answer.

Here, in his latest book, is the chance to get to know and...
Published on 30 Jan 2011 by Gareth Wilson - Falcata Times Blog

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5 of 5 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars More Samurai than Saigo
Ostensibly this book is about Saigo Takamori, the samurai caste and his role in the events leading up to the Meiji Restoration and the modernization of Japan. Those familiar with John Man will be well aware of his many books on the Mongols, as well his style of popular history, where he weaves in his travel anecdotes into the story.

It is a little surprising to...
Published on 8 April 2011 by Bernard Kwan


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5 of 5 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars More Samurai than Saigo, 8 April 2011
This review is from: Samurai (Paperback)
Ostensibly this book is about Saigo Takamori, the samurai caste and his role in the events leading up to the Meiji Restoration and the modernization of Japan. Those familiar with John Man will be well aware of his many books on the Mongols, as well his style of popular history, where he weaves in his travel anecdotes into the story.

It is a little surprising to me why he would write about Japan, a country which he seems to know little about and whose language he does not speak, after his previous focus on the Mongols and China. The writing is less sure than his other books, and it is obvious he leans heavily on his translator Michiko in the book, as well as a wealth of secondary sources. Another mystery is why he would choose to write this book only a few years after the definitive biography of Saigo in English by Mark Ravina, whom he quotes liberally from.

The first quarter to a third of the book seems to be the usual foreigner's fare about Japan, comparisons of the Samurai to the Jedi in Star Wars, to other honor systems, Geishas' blackened teeth, titillation about the homosexual relationships between Samurai and honor systems. And because he is not able to access primary sources in Japanese he is always writing through the experiences of foreigners in Japan and their viewpoint. This may have been written in order to make the book more interesting to a larger audience, as is the cover design.

However he becomes more surefooted as he starts to delve into Saigo's life and has presented an easily digestible version of the events that led to the Meiji restoration and makes a nice introduction to that important period for those who are daunted by more academic texts (such as Donald Richie's Emperor Meiji or Marius Hansen's History of Modern Japan). Some of the writing is quite speculative, due to a lack of sources, and he does his best to understand Saigo's frame of mind with mixed results. He does a better job than most of introducing the Japanese protagonists in such a way that one is not overwhelmed by the various Japanese names (and each protagonist sometimes has more than one name).

I found this a worthwhile read, perhaps as holiday reading or on a plane, but ultimately I was hungry for more. The contemporary descriptions of Kagoshima and the Okinawan islands did make me want to visit in person. But this was less successful than his other books, but perhaps worth keeping on kindle. I won't keep this on my bookshelf as a must have reference book but am glad I read it.
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9 of 10 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Factual Information beautifully presented, 30 Jan 2011
By 
Gareth Wilson - Falcata Times Blog "Falcata T... - See all my reviews
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This review is from: Samurai (Hardcover)
John Man is a factual author with a gift. He can take any subject matter, explore it thoroughly and present his research to the reader in such a way that they have very good recall in regard to the information even months later. You would not believe how many quiz questions John has helped me answer.

Here, in his latest book, is the chance to get to know and understand the warriors of Japan, the Samurai whose ideals, beliefs and honour system have been idealised by the books chief subject, Saigo Takamori. Beautifully detailed, this book is perhaps one of the most definitive titles by a western author and when backed by John's literal voice to add life to the story you know it's a book that will fascinate readers for a long time to come. Definitely a book that I'd recommend especially to authors who seek to get inside the mind of perhaps one of the most renowned warriors of all time.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Minor Quibble, 7 Feb 2013
This review is from: Samurai (Hardcover)
The last photograph page is inaccurately captioned: Toshiro Mifune did not play the leader of the Seven Samurai, this role was played by Takeshi Shimura. The photo shows Mifune as the character he played in Yojimbo and Sanjuro.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Academic book and travelogue, 27 July 2012
This review is from: Samurai (Hardcover)
As someone who has visited most of the Kyushu sites mentioned, I must say this is a great book for feeling you missed a whole lot. The Last Samurai: The Life and Battles of Saigo Takamori by Mark Ravina (2005) is a superb read and he really gets into the Japanese documentation and history. Man does not rival him there. But where Man is excellent is that everyting is sourced and party of the tale. In order to visit and meet these people Man must already have been deep in Saigo studies. However he never reaches the stage where he makes an essay out of what Saigo did. He makes the process and the campaigns clear, and leaves the sources- many purely conversational- to argue it out.

We get enough Samurai here that we can read this alone, but not too much of either Samurai or Saigo that I hope anyone will be full up. As academia it may only be 3 stars as a solid gold academic source, but it shows all the methodology of the debates to be had. For this and for the general reader and as a guide to your own visitations excellent it is.
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Samurai by John Man (Paperback - 1 Mar 2012)
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