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Khubilai Khan’s Lost Fleet: In Search of a Legendary Armada Hardcover – April 13, 2009
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The attempts by Khubilai Khan to invade Japan with his all-conquering Mongol armies were instrumental in forging Japan's national consciousness, yet the precise details of the operations have for centuries remained a mystery. Through brilliant and painstaking research James Delgado has brought Khubilai Khan's lost fleet to the surface, showing for the first time the true nature of the doomed adventure.”Stephen Turnbull, author of The Samurai Sourcebook
This is two stories in one: how the armada sent by Khubilai Khan to invade Japan in 1281the greatest fleet in history before D-Daywas churned to bits by a typhoon and how some of those bits are being retrieved in one of the greatest feats of modern marine archaeology. James Delgado has been at the heart of this project. He ranges widely, showing how the past and present illuminate each other. (To the Japanese, the typhoon was the original kamikaze, the 'divine wind' after which their World War II suicide bombers were named.) Objectivity is matched with personal involvement, scholarship with narrative skill. This is history at its best: rigorous, original, and vivid.”John Man, author of Kublai Khan and The Terra Cotta Army
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This kind of skimming-the-surface assumptions and lack of scholarship in comparisons of technologies (as well as just a general lack of knowledge!) appears not only in shipbuilding discussions, but also of archery, diet, paper-making, compass-making...and I'm only a third of the way through the book so far. Having lived in China for the last 20 years, I also am aware of the need to take their work with a few grains of salt, since their historical research is all state controlled and unashamedly exists primarily for the purpose of reinforcing a pre-determined political and scientific narrative that the state has determined. No one is allowed to say or publish things that contradict the narrative. James Delgado seems not to have been properly aware of the need to tread carefully in this area.
Delgado does a spectacular job summarizing all of Asia's history in a few hundred pages. He discusses Genghis' life, his wanton thirst for China, and the complete bloodlines that connect Khubilai to Genghis. He is significantly gifted in comparing Japan's interpretation of Khan's failure and how the name "kamikaze" came to be used in World War II. The book's weakest point is that for most of the historical overview, it reads like a text book. The end of the book adds more of a personal touch and that's when the book gets interesting. It's inspiring to see a handful of men and women come together, and discover one of history's greatest secrets.
*Originally published for San Francisco/Sacramento Book Review*
James Delgado's interest in this story was stimulated when he presented a series for National Geographic Independent Television's `'The Sea Hunters'` series. In many ways, it his eye for a journalistic-style story that helps him tell this fascinating history without getting too bogged down in the intricacies of complex maritime archeology or naval history.
I confess my knowledge of archeology goes little further than Indiana Jones and Lara Croft. But you sense that Delgado is aware of the effects of too much jargon and the complexities of archeology and naval terms, and what he tells is a gripping and highly readable account of history and its long term cultural implications.
In less able hands, this book could easily have failed. His scope is huge - a history of Chinese boat building, the Mongol expansion, 13th century Japan, the re-use of the Kamikaze term in World War 2, the Mongol expeditions to Japan and then Vietnam and Java, as well as the discovery of the `'smoking gun'` evidence for the Japanese battle in the late 1990s. All this is told in 178 pages (the rest of the book includes sources, an index and six pages of acknowledgements).
In truth it is still very early days in terms of the new evidence found - less than 1% of the area has been excavated and exploration has largely stopped now due to lack of funding. Partly, this is a call to arms and an attempt to raise public interest in the subject, but while it is clear that there was indeed a horrific storm, evidence suggests that the state of the fleet may have contributed to the devastating loss. It's a tantalising glimpse of what we can learn from the depths of the ocean.
I highly recommend this book. It's totally engaging and highly readable.