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4.4 out of 5 stars
4.4 out of 5 stars
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on 26 June 2012
As someone long interested in Japanese history, I was in two minds about buying this book. On the one hand, it seemed as if it would gather a lot of the facts I'd learned at different times into an overarching narrative. However, I suspected a lot would be repetitious with not much new information. Luckily, it leaned more towards the former.
The writing style is good, carrying the story along briskly. The narrative rarely sags and covers all the major areas from the mythical beginnings to modern times. Other reviewers have commented on the lsat chapter, which focuses on modern attitudes - I thought it worthy of inclusion, and wished the section on WWII could have been a bit longer (how exactly was Bushido used to serve the needs of the state? Why did Japan have a good reputation for prisoners in the Russo-Japanese war and WWI yet go so wildy off the rails in WWII, and how did that relate to Bushido?) The sections on the more well-known areas such as the Sengoku and Edo periods were brief, as was the author's intent. However, the rise of the samurai in the Asuka, Nara and Heian periods was interesting and probably the part of the book that will be most unknown to an average reader. I enjoyed it a lot, even though the book seemed to pick up speed alarmingly towards the latter part.
One thing I did find odd was the uncritical acceptance of several classic moments of samurai mythology. It's always nice to see ninja given short shrift, but the episode of the 47 Ronin was the standard Mitford tale, with no space given to any rebuttal of the traditional parts of the story. Stephen Turnbull's title 'The Revenge of the 47 Ronin' gives a very different look on the classic tale - this book was published later than 'A Brief History of the Samurai', yet it's strange that Clements makes no attempt to examine this, seeing as he debunks other popular stories. His version of the battle of Nagashino is also a trifle outdated, to the best of my knowledge; at the very least, the emphasis given to the arquebuses is a matter of some dispute. However, these are minor flaws in the grand scheme of things. A good introduction with more scope than the usual Sengoku period fare.
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on 15 August 2010
As someone who has always been fascinated by Samurai, I've always wanted an insight into their origins and history. This book is terrific, it gives a complete start to finish history without being bogged down in superfluous details (I like that it's "a brief..." approach). The origin of their title, Katana and social standing was a complete revelation (who would of guessed). Mr Clements' choice of stories, which he recounts in detail, are inspired, because so many of them are the basis of Japanese manga\ anime\ TV series I have seen- the history that has been turned into stories and folklore which are in turn used in fictional entertainment- inspired idea! I now know where a fictional story differs from the real history.

This book is for anyone who WANTS to know about Samurai first and Japanese history second.
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on 20 June 2014
I found the overall history content fascinating as did not know much about Japan. By isolating themselves from the West their development was so different and interesting. I did not realise how much power the Samurai used to have in the country, basically a military regime with the Emperor as a figurehead. Despite being a 'brief' history the battles seemed endless with incredible detail and complicated names (for me). I took a morbid curiosity in the constant brutality and cruelty and the frequency with which hari-kari was performed, the details of which are shocking. A more painful way to commit suicide can't be imagined. Brave or mad? I was quite relieved when the Samurai lost their power and the country was more or less forced to interact with the rest of the world.
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on 28 April 2015
I knew almost nothing about the samurai before I read this book apart from having watched a few Japanese films so I cannot comment on the accuracy. However the extensive notes at the end evidence that this is obviously well researched and he supports arguments he makes. Importantly the book is incredibly entertaining and well written. I can't say I want to read another book about the samurai but I think that is largely because this book has satiated my interest in the topic.
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`A Brief History of The Samurai' as it's name suggests, is a book that explores the history of the Japanese warriors without getting bogged down in excessive jargon or boring detail.

This book explores the rise of the Samurai, the various battles they fought in, the politics of the feudal lords who commanded them, the myths surrounding them and the impact of Samurai history on modern Japan.

This is well written, very clear and engaging and whilst some passages can be a touch dry, overall this book brings a certain colour and interest to this fascinating subject. On a minor note it would have been nice to have some illustrations and maps to clarify certain points raised and the last chapter, which links the Samurai to modern Japan, was a bit spurious and out of keeping with the rest of the book. But by and large this is a fascinating and informative read. This gives enough detail to make you feel informed, whilst not becoming stale or a slog to read and the assorted battles and wars made for gripping and exciting reading.

If Japan or the Samurai interest you in the slightest then I can heartily recommend this book and if you have a more in-depth interest then this is required reading and makes for a superb primer into the Samurai and their way of life.

Feel free to check out my blog which can be found on my profile page.
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on 22 July 2010
This is a good introduction for anyone new to Samurai history. It is objective, succinct and written in a readable style.

While it covers virtually every major milestone in Samurai history, I felt it skimmed through some of the more exciting events such as the Mongol Invasion, the Onin war, the age of the Unifiers Nobunaga, Hideyoshi and Ieyasu. If you are interested in the machinations, tactics and intrigue of the Samurai, I recommend the works of Stephen Turnbull, especially the Osprey titles.

However, this title filled in a lot of gaps for me such as the reign of some of Shogun Ieyasu's successors, including events leading to the Meiji restoration and the rebellion of Saigo Takamori - the so called Last Samurai. I thought the last chapter of the book was dry; a brief analysis of the Samurai in the collective Japanese psyche as manifested in media and other areas - this held no interest for me.

Good overview, good introduction but not for military historians.
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VINE VOICEon 9 October 2014
As the name suggests, this book tells the story of the samurai from the rise of the earliest warrior clans of Japan to the end of the Second World War in a brief and concise manner before ending with a look on the effect samurai have had on Japanese media and visa versa.

The book is well written with an easy to read style that kept my interest a lot better than some other history books that I have read in the past. The author includes both the political intrigues (something I have always been interested in) and important battles of the samurai world, presenting the information very nicely. I have read a couple of other books by Jonathan Cements (his books on Empress Wu and the First Emperor of China) and I did enjoy both of them as well so I will definitely be looking for more of his work.

I would say that, although some parts of the book are described a little too briefly for my liking, the book was generally quite informative for someone like myself who is relatively new to Japanese history and a good place to start before looking further into the subject. Overall I would give this book a solid four stars.
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on 10 July 2014
A very insightful, detailed story of the rise and fall on the honor bound Samurai Warrior.
From their early days as simple body guards, to the equivalency of the Knights in Medieval England.
I really enjoyed this book, though it took me almost 2 months to get through as, while I found it interesting, It's not a story.
It's history. Hard to pick up and just read for hours like a novel.

However. For anyone with interest in the History of Japan and the infamous Samurai Class, I'd highly recommend it.
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on 1 April 2014
Jonathan Clements has done a fine job of packing a fairly complete history of the samurai into 318 pages (plus a 27-page introduction). The last 35 pages contain a surprisingly detailed list of further reading, notes on the chapters, and a fairly basic index. This may seem like rather a bulky book at first glance, until you realize that it gives you an overview of Japanese history from 645 to the present day! That's about 4 years to the page, which is pretty brisk. That's mainly because Mr Clements sticks to the role of the samurai, keeping a tight rein on any digression - so, if you are looking for a more complete history of Japan, you will naturally need to dip into the recommended further reading. What you do get includes at least three things: a rounded description of samurai culture and values, an easy-to-follow historical timeline so you know who did what and when, and last but not least a great deal of interesting story telling. There are also two maps (a big geographic one, and a smaller one showing the homes of the various clans), and a three-page set of family trees showing imperial and shogunate dynasties.
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on 6 June 2014
This book is well researched and easy to access. Mr. Clements has written it with the reader rather than the researcher in mind.
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