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16 of 19 people found the following review helpful
on March 14, 2005
Format: Hardcover
The war that I have always wanted to learn more about in detail has finally been written in a 'more than you will ever need to know' detailed account in English by Mr. Turnbull. I had always waited for an English account on this war. The Pros: The book is very very detailed, much more than I would imagine a typical book on the war written in Korean would be. The author does a fairly good job of setting up the historical pretext for the war to give the reader a better understanding of why Korea had such troubles defending itself. Although the title suggests more Japanese overtones, the author does a very excellent job of detailing the Korean side of the war, much more than I had expected. The book has great personal accounts from the war and frequent insightful anecdotes. Moreover, the book reads like a war novel, and it kept me reading till I read every single page (trust me, I am not a 'whole book' reader usually!). The cons: Not much cons, except for the fact that the story does jump around a bit in terms of chronology, so you may have to flip back to several previous chapters once in a while for reference. The author does this for understandable reasons, but it can still be confusing and inconvenient to do so. Although I did like the set-up of the first two chapters, I do wish the author could have explained more of how and why the Japanese were so superior in military techniques as opposed to the Koreans (ie-the Japanese were lifetime warriors after coming out of a feudal Japan, as opposed to the Koreans). Also, the book would have been much easier for the reader had there been more maps of the war and diagrams (showing battles) as I found myself constantly referring back to the initial battle map in the third chapter for place names and general names, etc. Overall, you will NOT find a more detailed and interesting account on this devasting war which led to a no-win situation for both countries.
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11 of 14 people found the following review helpful
on April 13, 2003
Format: Hardcover
In the last decade of the sixteenth century, Korea was a country which was unfamiliar with wars other than border raids and pirate attacks for two centuries. Japan, on the contrary, was a country which had known nothing but war for five. In the spring of 1592, these two different countries collided head to head, in what would be known as Japan's Korea War or the Imjin War (1592-1598).
Stephen Turnbull's Samurai Invasion is the most complete account of Japan's Korean War, or the Imjin War (1592-1598), to be ever written. By using photographs, archives, diaries, and other anecdotes, Turnbull clearly provides the overall history of this war and its significance. Specifically, he illustrates the failed invasion of Hideyoshi, and explores the world of late 16th-century warfare in East Asia.
All in all, Stephen Turnbull solves the problem, which he states in the opening sentences of this book: "Japan's Korean War of 1592-1598, which devastated the Korean peninsula and gravely damaged the resources of Ming China, is so little known in the western world that it is often not even dignified with the title of a war." In other words, he provides an eloquent collection of vivid pictures, accounts of the military strategy and tactics for the Western audience. With extracts from both ancient and contemporary archives, this book will interest general readers and belongs in public as well as college libraries. This book should be read by avid followers of the Samurai tradition, scholars in East Asian studies, or any other reader who wants to be entertained.
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7 of 9 people found the following review helpful
on February 1, 2007
Format: Hardcover
Stephen Turnbull is an expert in Samurai warfare and this is one of his best work to date. His coverage of this important war is very action-oriented and the ample maps and illustrations that come with the book help to boost the book's readability. Given that there aren't that many books on this subject, I have decided to give it a 5 starts in spite of the minor flaws that I have found below:

I must say, however, Mr. Turnbull's writing is not as comprehensive as Samuel Hawley's Imjin War which not only has described the politics of the Chosun Korea and Ming China in detail (giving the reader a better idea on the reasoning behind the strategic decisions made by those parties) but also explained in a more comprehensive fashion the contribution of the Ming China's army.

Any one interested in the subject may also want to check out the Immortal Yi Soon-Shin DVD (starting episode 36) here at amazon.com (which has a pretty good special effect on the battles for a TV drama and a plot that is also very comprehensive on the tactical battle planning of the said admiral and the factional rivalries within the Chosun court which brought him down).

Lastly, anyone who is a fan of samurai warfare should not miss out on Shogun:Total War by Creative Assembly (now in Gold version).
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7 of 9 people found the following review helpful
on March 18, 2003
Format: Hardcover
Stephen Turnball seized the enormous challenge of examining the events that took place during a time in history where many authors have not yet ventured into studying. In his Samurai Invasion: Japan�s Korean War 1592-1598, Turnball�s illustrations and stories catch every imagination right away as he brings to life the historical accounts of the brutal Japanese Samurai attacks on the Koreans. This book was an absolutely astonishing account of Japan's two invasions of Korea and how Korea withstood the attacks to survive. Turnball gave an extraordinary picture of the strategies and tactics that the Japanese used in their warfare. Japanese technology was also recounted for. This book aided in visuals by providing elaborate maps and photographs from museums. Other black and white drawn illustrations also helped in understanding the events that took place during the Samurai Invasion.
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9 of 13 people found the following review helpful
on March 10, 2003
Format: Hardcover
Stephen Turnbull's lengthy account of the Imjin Wars is a curious mix of candid, yet agreeable, character depictions, and gritty, exhaustive battle narratives. As gracefully as he illustrates admiral Yi Sun-Sin and his successes with the turtle ship at the Battle of Tangp'o, he is able to lose the reader with complexly woven chronicles and the dozens of characters he aimlessly parades in and out of the account.
The most consistent characteristic of Samurai Invasion is its appearance. The elegant cover is only a preview to this aesthetically well-designed book. The photographs, sketches, charts, maps and color scheme fit nicely to please the reader, and nothing about it is distracting. Turnbull's extensive use of illustration supplements nicely the more bewildering elements as well as the eloquent pieces, making the well-crafted battle scenes virtually tangible, and the character-dense paragraphs of confusion almost understandable. Additionally, several pages each chapter are charmingly imprinted with barely perceptible watermarks of battles, warriors, and other significant images.
With his clear, vivid descriptions of the impish Japanese King Hideyoshi and the way he easily represents admiral Yi Sun-Sin's calculating intelligence, it is obvious that Turnbull could have written a simple, pleasing account of the Imjin Wars-if he had wanted to. With very few quality books on the topic, especially aimed at English speakers, that he chose to make his book as fact-dense as possible comes as no surprise. It is hard, however, to pinpoint the audience he had in mind. A pleasure reader may find himself sailing through the chapter on the defeat of the Japanese Armada, and then wonder, when the next chapter begins and the pace changes, why the entire book wasn't written to be so engaging. Similarly, a fact-seeking researcher might become annoyed by the flashy graphics and the accommodations to non-experts, recognizing that the size of the book could easily have been cut in half had it been designed to be less aesthetically agreeable.
Two chapters at the beginning and one at the end are dedicated to pre- and post war issues, comfortably providing historical context for the reader. Four appendices at the end also help fill in gaps, allowing those of us who couldn't get enough of admiral Yi Sun-Sin's turtle ship escapades to learn even more. There is a minutely perceptible imbalance throughout the book in favor of the Japanese perspective, but after two hundred fifty-six pages you will be too busy absorbing what you did learn than clamoring about what you did not.
Although tedious at points, you will come away with a greater understanding of a conflict scarcely known beyond circles of Asian history buffs. An easy read? No. But with careful reading you are guaranteed to learn everything you ever wanted to know-and more-about the Imjin Wars.
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6 of 9 people found the following review helpful
on March 3, 2003
Format: Hardcover
From 1592-1598, Korea and Japan were locked in fierce battles that become known as The Imjin Wars. This essential time period in Korea and Japan's history wreaked havoc on both country's societies and economies. Stephen Turnbull's book The Samurai Invasion gives a very detailed and graphic picture of this significant time period.
Turnbull systematically and chronologically depicts the start of the war by describing Korea's society and military, Korean-Japanese relations in the late 1500s as well as Japan's rational for the ensuing invasion on Korea. The Choson dynasty in Korea had brought a time of peace and stability that placed Korea in a perilous position as it caused laxity in its defenses, an inefficient military system and an increase of internal factionalism. Meanwhile, Turnbull describes the rise of Hideyoshi and parallel to his rise: the unification of Japan. This helps to form a base of knowledge that will help the reader grasp a deeper understanding of the work at hand: the Imjin Wars itself.
Labeled as "Blitzkrieg in Korea," Turnbull chronicles in full detail both land and sea battles, offering an all-encompassing view on the First and Second Invasion of the Japanese into Korea. Reader friendly, even those who are far from being military history fanatics will be able to find this reading appealing. Being written in what seems to be the third person narrative, the text takes on almost a novel like character, which makes it all the more captivating to its readers. Turnbull's portrayal of naval mastermind, Korean General Yi Sun-sin is especially striking. Beautiful sketches, paintings, and photographs of battle scenes, palaces and statues nicely illustrate and reinforce the ideas set forth in the text. Not to mention being a welcomed break from the text itself.
The only drawback to this work is the profuse amount of information given to the reader. Each battle and every movement is brimming with countless facts, names, and military action. For a less interested reader, this can be overwhelming, especially the seemingly countless number of generals and divisions. An index in the back does help to rectify the problem a little. Perhaps, Turnbull could have been a bit more concise, although overall Turnbull's work is quite informative, interesting, and well-presented. Turnbull gives a thorough view of the Imjin Wars.
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6 of 9 people found the following review helpful
on March 29, 2005
Format: Hardcover
This is a book which is not only well written but also gives great insight into a little-known war which has unfortunately continued to bedevil Japan-Korea relations ever since. Naturally Admiral Yi is the Lord Nelson (or Admiral Togo?!) of Korea, and for those who have visited that country and been frustrated by the language barrier (as I have) this book is a perfect starting-point to understanding the historical background and conflicting cultures of the two countries.
Furthermore, the detailed maps created when the author drove round Korea in a hired car are a joy and extremely helpful. The clash was not only cultural but also technological, and it is fascinating to learn about the 'turtle ships', celebrated still today as the great secret weapon of the Korean navy. A real tour de force!

Ian Ruxton, editor of Sir Ernest Satow's Private Letters to W.G. Aston and F.V. Dickins: The Correspondence of a Pioneer Japanologist from 1870 to 1918, also available on amazon.
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5 of 8 people found the following review helpful
on January 1, 2003
Format: Hardcover
This is samurai-era historian Stephen Turnbull's latest and probably most satisfying work. Unlike his earlier books concentrating on the civil wars in Japan itself, this one also fills a great gap in our knowledge of earlier Korean history - a woefully neglected field compared to the Japanese samurai. The gripping narrative is particularly telling in its depiction of the contrasting tactics and military cultures of Japan, China and Korea. The Shinto 'cult of death' produced a callous disregard for human life and an obsession with taking the offensive. The factionalism and dogmatism of the Korean elite left their military terribly unprepared for war and forced to depend on guerrila volunteers and warrior monks. The Chinese threw their huge armies into human-wave attacks that helped turn the tide by overwhelming superior Japanese weaponry and training, but at an appalling cost. The combination of these elements produced a war marked by sudden reverses, desperate courage and tremendous suffering on both sides. Turnbull's extensive research finally brings that war to life in some of the best descriptions of East Asian warfare ever written.
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3 of 5 people found the following review helpful
on February 25, 2003
Format: HardcoverVerified Purchase
The Imjin Wars of 1592-1598 were pivotal in changing the face of North East Asia. The wars bankrupted Ming China, making it vulnerable to attacks from the Manchu (thus contributing quite a bit to ending the dynasty), traumatized and insulated Korea, and ended Japanese international adventurism till the 20th century and set the stage for the Tokogowa Shogunate. The book itself is very handsomely crafted, with a beautiful jacket and many color and b/w illustrations inside. Every other page is watermarked with the outline of the painting or print from the following page. One of the few cases where the books matches the expectations set forth by the cover. Turnbull has obviously spend a lot of time researching and it shows. He evenly displays the Japanese and Korean side of the war. An excellent first book on the subject written in English. He clearly shows how the Japanese method of war compared to and interacted with Chinese tactics based on sheer numbers and Korean guerilla and fortification based tactics. Also does justice to Admiral Yi's amazing naval victories at sea, and more importantly how it aided the Korean land battles and conversely frustrated the Japanese. Turnbull gives a good description of the unique Turtle Ship as well. The Imjin War was a very important event in Northeast Asian history, and hopefully this book will spur on more study into this area by observers in the West.
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5 of 8 people found the following review helpful
on May 25, 2005
Format: Hardcover
This is the only book length treatment of this neglected war available in English, and it is a very good one, if a little skewed in favor of the Japanese. Turnbull gives a good political and diplomatic background and covers both land and naval warfare as well as can be expected. Having read little Eastern military history, it was interesting to read about the combined use of archers, musketeers, and artillery (including rockets) as well as the unique naval tactics and turtle ships. This view of a different style of warfare helps put western military history in perspective.
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