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5 of 5 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Enjoyable and accessible biography of the last shogun, 15 Aug 2011
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This review is from: Last Shogun: The Life of Tokugawa Yoshinobu (Paperback)
History is generally written by the winners, that alone justifies reading the Last Shogun, not many histories of the samurai talk about the losers.
Ryotaro Shiba, was a prolific writer in Japan, but has received a distinct lack of recognition in the West. This is perhaps because what he writes (as seen in the Last Shogun), really falls between the cracks of western genres, being neither an outright historical biography nor outright historical fiction in the style of a Cornwall or an Iggulden. Instead the Last Shogun reads in translation a lot like Dening's life of Toyotomi Hideyoshi , in comparison to Western writing traditions like a modern Plutarch or Xenophon. That said I found Shiba's work easier to read than Dening, with the end product being a broadly enjoyable and broadly factual account of the life of Yoshinobu Tokugawa.
The work is chronological taking us through Yoshinobu's childhood in the Mito family, through to his adoption into the Hitotsubashi family and rise to become Shogunal Guardian and eventual Shogun, the fall of the Bakufu and his life after the Meiji restoration. It is clear throughout that Shiba, holds Yoshinobu in high regard and in some respects the work is a defence of him, something that Yoshinobu would have been grateful for given his own sense of history. Shiba also recognises Japan's debt to Yoshinobu for the transfer of power from the shogunate to the emperor. This does sometimes mean that Shiba avoids criticism and works to distance Yoshinobu from the shinsengumi and other less palatable incidents of the times.
The novel is well worth reading, especially for those with an interest in the Meiji era, it really opens up the other side of the story, which often focuses on the imperial faction. The work is well written, accessible and helps to provide a really good starting point for anyone wishing to understand the period.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Right man, wrong time, 21 Mar 2013
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This review is from: Last Shogun: The Life of Tokugawa Yoshinobu (Paperback)
If ever a historical figure was the right man at the wrong time, Yoshinobu Tokugawa - the last Shogun - must be him. In Ryotaro Shiba's novelistic history, "Keiki", as he is most commonly referred to in this book, was an intelligent, articulate, charismatic leader who would have been a great Shogun; at any time other than that at which he assumed the office.

Keiki was born into an offshoot of the Tokugawa family that made his chances at birth of later becoming Shogun extremely small. However, succession was more flexible than simple primogeniture, and Keiki's adoption into another branch of the family and the deaths of other contenders made him the logical choice for Shogun when the vacancy arose in 1858. Pressured by foreign forces and internal dissent, at that stage there was still probably an opportunity for a strong Shogun to reunite the country and secure the future of Tokugawa rule. But the Shogunate advisors feared Keiki's very strength, and opted instead for his malleable teenage cousin. After eight years of civil strife and poor leadership, upon the cousin's death the advisors turned in desperation to the candidate they had previously stymied, but it was too late. Not only was it impossible by 1866 even for a man like Keiki to maintain the status quo, but a strong Shogun paradoxically ruled out the House of Tokugawa playing some reduced role in the new constitutional arrangements that followed the restoration of Imperial rule in 1868.

Shiba is seen by the Japanese as one of their best writers in any genre, but sadly not many of his books are available in English. While at times his playful style does feel very much translated in this English edition, he has a talent for character that will engross anyone interested in the fascinating period that was the end of the Shogunate and the birth of modern Japan. Ryotaro Shiba vividly captures both Keiki's greatness and his contradictions. Highly recommended historical biography.
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5.0 out of 5 stars Good read, 2 Aug 2012
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This review is from: Last Shogun: The Life of Tokugawa Yoshinobu (Paperback)
Exceptional reading, with all the historical characters dodging the 'blade' so to speak during the Meji Restoration, would recommend for researching purposes.
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Last Shogun: The Life of Tokugawa Yoshinobu
Last Shogun: The Life of Tokugawa Yoshinobu by Shiba Ryotaro (Paperback - 1 Aug 2004)
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