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John Man has visited the locations of the key events in his subject’s life and is adept at describing them. With a relaxed and honest prose style he slashes through the thicket of 19th-century Japanese politics with the keenness of a samurai’s tempered steel blade



The samurai - with their elaborate armour, formidable swords and fierce sense of honour – are the ultimate warriors. Novels, videos, martial artists, manga and films have made them legendary. But the truth is just as astonishing as any legend.


I portray these warriors through the life of the real ‘last samurai’, Saigo Takamori. Saigo lived when samurai ways were about to vanish. In the mid-19th century, after 250 years of isolation, the arrival of American ships forced Japan into frantic modernization. Dedicated to bushido, ‘the way of the warrior’ – death defying bravado and loyalty to the Emperor – Saigo led several thousand samurai in a desperate rebellion against imperial troops. His extraordinary life and dramatic death – beheaded by his closest aide - turned him into one of Japan’s most revered heroes.


This was a new challenge, proposed by my publisher. Samurais are a joy to market. But this vast subject needed a focus. Saigo was a gift: idealist, poet, minister, prisoner, martyr. His final days involved a snowy death-march by under-dressed teenagers, impossible demands, a last stand, overwhelming odds. I went in his footsteps, walking through Kyushu’s glorious landscapes, and tracking the emergence of the modern nation.

A well-written piece of history with an easy storyteller’s rhythm and plenty of intrigue…. Smooth, sophisticated history writing

Kirkus Review

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