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Pirate of the Far East: 811-1639 (Warrior) Paperback – November 20, 2007
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“Turnbull takes readers on a journey through the centuries of the Asian pirate. Using a variety of photographs, maps and color plats illustrated by Richard Hook, readers are immersed into the exciting, yet dangerous life of the pirate. Weapons, armor and tactics are described in great detail, yet remain easy to read.” ―Timothy Baghurst (April 2008)
“Author Stephen Turnbaull takes a look at the start of piracy in the area and concentrates on some of the more successful raids and pirate leaders... All of this is enhanced by period accounts and artwork... This book combines two favorite subjects -- piracy and medieval Japan -- into one superb volume that you won't want to miss.” ―Scott Van Aken, modelingmadness.com (December 2007)
About the Author
Stephen Turnbull is recognized as one of the world's foremost military historians of the medieval and early modern periods. He first rose to prominence as a result of his 1977 book, The Samurai: A Military History. Since then he has achieved equal fame in writing about European military subjects and has published over 50 books. He always tries to concentrate on the less familiar areas of military history, in particular such topics as Korea, Eastern Europe, the Baltic states and the Teutonic Knights. The author lives in Leeds, UK.
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This slim book is a typical edition of the Osprey military history series. All of these books are less than 100 pages, illustrated, and focus on a specific class of warfighter over a defined period. In this case, the book presents a class of pirates called wako for the period from 811 to 1639. Wako literally refers to Japanese pirates, but--in fact--these marauders of the high seas were often mixed nationality crews. The book also provides information about counter-piracy activities and those groups of warriors, such as Shaolin monks, who fought against piracy back in those days.
This book covers a range of topics including: the life of a pirate, pirate ships, strategy, tactics, and weapons—as well as the history of these groups. The book has five actual chapters, but there are short units providing important information that would usually be appendices, e.g. a chronology, a discussion of museum exhibits, and an annotated bibliography.
The illustrations are mostly drawings, but include maps and photographs as well. Some of the art is drawn in the present-day by the illustrator Richard Hook, but some are historic pieces from art collections. The photographs also include some present-day photos of locations that were once bases of piracy, as well as photos of museum exhibits (e.g. topographic and other models.) The graphics are helpful in showing how pirates dressed/armored and were armed. The maps and drawings are particularly helpful.
I’d recommend this book, but I do think it’s overpriced at full price. At a mere 64 pages—a pamphlet more than a book--paying $10 or more seems a bit pricey despite the useful graphics and the fact that the author is among the most renowned authorities on Japanese warriors and medieval military tactics. All that said, there are relatively few books on the topic, and it’s not easy to get this information from other sources.
To sum it up, Turnbull examines 800 years of raids on the civilizations of China, Korea, and of course Japan by bands of cutthroats, mercenaries, lordless Samurai, and plain scum, and the wars of revenge fought against them both on land and at sea. These fierce and unruly warriors, known for their cruelty and complete lack of respect for any ruler or religion, had the ragtag appearance one would expect, but many managed to acquire Samurai weaponry and armor. In fact, one of their greatest leaders, the 'pirate-king' Murakami Takeyoshi, was of an illustrious Samurai clan.
Turnbull opens his book with a summary of the history of these fearsome seamen, and goes on to describe their culture and outline their history. He then examines their physical appearance, clothing, armor, weapons, and ships, and then looks at their daily life, chain of command, and the various types of raid they made. Then he examines their tactics and the battle experience of individual pirates. He closes the title with sections on museums, sites, and further reading. As with another recent warrior title, the plates and plate commentary are spread out throughout the book, rather than being grouped together at the center and back.
Overall, despite their exotic location and appearance, these pirates were just that-typical pirates whose lifestyle and tactics were not overly different from the contemporary Vikings and European mercenary bands, and the classical buccaneer and Caribbean-type pirates still to come. As he already has with the warrior-monks, ashigaru, and ninja, Turnbull does these hard-fighting and murderous raiders a service by revealing to the modern English-speaking world just how vital a role they played in the the politics and wars of contemporary China, Japan, and Korea, and does so in a manner than is exciting and readable, and leaves the reader stunned at the chilling cruelty of these pitiless mercenaries.
First of all, there were obviously more than one, and what is worse, they were multinational. Pirates are known for their proto-democratic or egalitarian behavior, Does that make them one? I still give it three stars since there are so few books on the subject and it does have some nice pictures.