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The Last Samurai: The Life and Battles of Saigo Takamori Hardcover – November 24, 2003
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"...Reads like a thriller..." (Good Book Guide, February 2004)
"...Ravina's writing grips with the intensity of a great adventure story and vividly portrays the upheavals caused to a nation..." (Yorkshire Evening Post, 24 January 2004)
"...a pacy narrative that reads like a thriller, complemented by maps and photographs..." (The Good Book Guide, January 2004)
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The only serious fault is the end of the book, or lack of one. There is little discussion about the lasting impact of Saigo or what happened next after his final battle. The "conclusion" of the book is wrapped up in 2 pages, a pretty sad finale. The editor should have recommended that the author add some depth to the end of the book. Readers will need to look elsewhere to have answers to these questions, leaving the book somewhat incomplete.
If you are new to Japanese history, I suggest you begin with Eiji Yoshikawa's historical fiction masterpiece "Taiko", which is way better than the very disjointed "Shogun". Taiko is a good introduction into The Way. From there, check out John Steven's, "The Sword of No Sword: Life of the master Warrior Tesshu". Tesshu has a great story where he rides across the DMZ carrying a Shogunate message right past the Imperial guards and into Saigo's command tent during a meeting of the generals, without being stopped! Saigo was so struck by this bold act, he received the message and allowed Tesshu to return back to the enemy force. The two of them were truly giants among men.
Saigo's life is the story of a self-made man who started out poor but had exceptional ability, and consistently displayed a superior character in the face of adversity. The movie touches on the tension of the times, but for a man like Saigo, it was a complete upheaval of everything he had known and taken for granted growing up. During this period the ruling Samurai class was forcefully being exchanged by the lowest class, the Merchants, with the support of western influence (hence, the movie).
Aside from the life of Saigo, what I found very interesting in the book is the numerous descriptions of Satsuma, which sits on the southern tip of western Japan. This province has a unique place in Japanese history, was never actually defeated even after the battles of Sekigahara and Osaka, and this book gives some incredible insight into what made Satsuma so formidable.
Ultimately this book is about the man, and has little if anything to do with the movie. I enjoyed it immensely and highly recommend it.