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Ninja: 1,000 Years of the Shadow Warriorby John Man
Synopses & Reviews
In this revelatory book, acclaimed author John Man's thrilling historical account brings to life the world of the ninjas, the Japanese "shadow warriors," whose otherworldly skills as assassins and spies still seize our imaginations like few characters before or since. Ninja is the first major history of these legendary masters of stealth warfare.
Out of the violent chaos of medieval Japan, a remarkable band of peasants from the mountainous Iga and Koga provinces rose to become some of the world's most feared warriors. These poor villagers trained to perfect the art of ninjutsu—the deadly union of martial skill and deception—to defend themselves against far more powerful warlords, samurai, bandits, and warrior monks who sought to exploit them. They disciplined their minds as much as their bodies—sitting under waterfalls to purify themselves and adhering to mystical religious beliefs. By 1500, the ninja's extraordinary talents, from infiltrating cliff-top castles to carrying out daring strikes for the imperial shoguns, were in demand across Japan.
Today, however, these real-life ninjas are overshadowed by legend and pop-culture caricatures. Could they fly? Climb walls? Cast spells? Survive being boiled alive? Or make themselves invisible? Drawing on a wealth of historical texts, local Japanese sources, and his long study of medieval Asia, John Man unravels the authentic ninjas, taking us back a millennium to their origins in China, through to their heyday in the bloody civil wars that ended with the unification of Japan in 1600.
But the story does not end there. Man argues the Japanese tradition of shadow warfare survived quietly for centuries before reemerging through the Nakano Spy School, the elite twentieth-century military-intelligence academy whose graduates operated one of the most extensive spy networks during World War II. Now in his nineties, one former Nakano soldier named Onoda Hiroo may be the "last of the ninjas."
Compelling and absorbing, Ninja propels us from feudal Japan to the modern day, revealing at last the fascinating true history behind one of the world's most enduring legends.
"A historian and travel writer specializing in Asia, Man exposes the history of the secretive ninja, a.k.a. shinobi, and differentiates him from his public counterpart, the samurai. Unlike the latter, the survivalist ninja eschewed self-sacrifice and the seppuku (hara-kiri) ordeal, aiming to 'get close to the enemy' in order 'to learn and return.' Westerners recognize ninjas as 'sinister men in black' acting as 'spies, scouts, surprise attackers, and agitators,' but may not realize they originated in the old Japanese provinces of Iga and Koga as peasant farmers linked to neighbors and communities in self-defense networks. Man explains other salient figures of the ninja heyday (1400-1600C.E.) like the shogun (chief samurai and military dictator) and daimyo (feudal lord). As experts in covert warfare, ninjas underwent extensive training including the casting of spells, which were 'useful but not infallible.' Ninjas were believed to 'guarantee a quick victory' during wartime, up until their 17th century demise. Man employs humor and a casual, travelogue style, interposing relevant personal anecdotes to illustrate how the ninja's day is long past, or else his art of invisibility is more effective than ever. (Feb.)" Publishers Weekly Copyright PWxyz, LLC. All rights reserved.
The first major pop history of the Japanese stealth assassins, John Man's Ninja is a meticulously researched, entertaining blend of mythology, anthropology, travelogue, and history of the legendary shadow warriors.
Spies, assassins, saboteurs, and secret agents, Ninja have become the subject of countless legends that continue to enthrall us in modern movies, video games, and comics—and their arts are still practiced in our time by dedicated acolytes who study the ancient techniques.
Ninja: 1,000 Years of the Shadow Warrior, by British historian John Man, is as colorful and intriguing as the warriors it so vividly brings to life.
About the Author
John Man is a British historian and travel writer with a special interest in Asia. A graduate of Oxford who also studied at the University of London's School of Oriental and African Studies, Man has written acclaimed biographies, including Genghis Khan, Attila the Hun, and Kublai Khan, as well as Alpha Beta, on the history of the alphabet, and The Gutenberg Revolution, on the invention of printing. He lives in England.
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