Thursday, April 4, 2013

Ninja Review

(from the back of the book)
The medieval equivalent if the Special Forces, the ninjas were the original men in black, elite “shadow warriors” with nearly mystical powers.  Spies, assassins, saboteurs, and secret agents, ninjas have become the subject of countless legends that continue to enthrall us in modern movies, video games, and comics, and their arts are practiced by dedicated acolytes who study their techniques today.

Though they were not blessed with gifts of flight or invisibility as commonly mythologized, ninjas were superbly trained warriors with remarkable skills in combat, climbing, deception, disguise, and camouflage.  In Ninja, John Man goes in search of the true history of these mythological fighters.  Join him on a fascinating journey from their birth in fifteenth-century Japan during a civil war to the modern day, where a self-declared “last ninja” surfaces at the month-long ninja festival in Iga.

A meticulously researched, entertaining blend of mythology, anthropology, travelogue, and history, Ninja is a thrilling ride, as colorful and intriguing as the warriors it so vividly brings to life.

Like all history books that pull out one aspect of history to talk about, I think you could get more out of it if you are familiar with the general history of the time and place.  But it isn’t really necessary.  It is interesting to see how and why the ninja came about.  Everyone has heard of ninjas and knows the myths but to me the real history is actually more interesting even if it doesn’t make for as action packed a movie as the stories.  I liked learning about how they were farmers and how they had their own code to live by.  There is some general information and some very interesting stories about specific ninja actions. It starts at the very beginning, before the word ninja was used, right up to the present where you can see how people are trying to keep the ninja traditions alive.  There were parts that I was less interested in because he starts talking about his own personal journey or the James Bond ninja connection.   And sometimes it does go a little vague because the history just isn’t known.  There were also times when I wasn’t sure we were talking about ninjas anymore because I was having trouble following the line that connected the story being related back to the subject at hand.  I found the book interesting in general but there were times when I felt a little lost trying to put the stories in some sort of historical context because there were just so many names and so much time involved.  

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