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on December 9, 2011
I spend most of my reading time enjoying fiction but now and then I am popped out of my comfort zone by some tidbit of information that piques my curiosity. Such an event caused me to pick up "1493" by Charles Mann which was so fascinating that it left me wanting more. When I happened on "Nathaniel's Nutmeg" by Giles Milton I was hooked and not just on the history but on the writer too.
"Samurai William" is another of Giles Milton's carefully researched histories that reads like a well honed fictional adventure. It is a fascinating biography of a most remarkable historical character set in the 17th century Far East. European voyages of discovery were fueled by rumors of great riches and scrupulous competition for financial gain and power. Undertaken with only blind daring, these mostly ill advised adventures often lead to heart breaking failures, but once in a while, up pops a piece of luck. This telling, studded with sparkling characters, gives us a balance of amusing and terrifying discoveries, tragic failures and glittering successes. This is definitely history for the consummate fiction reader.
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VINE VOICEon March 12, 2011
Giles Milton in Samurai William presents the story of a beautiful place full of culture and mystique and the Europeans who suit to use Japan as a resource for their own enrichment. William Adams, the man who opened Japan for the English and other European powers by using his influence over various Japanese officials to gain sweetheart trading deals. Using engaging prose and lively vivid descriptions that place the reader inside Japan as the Europeans enter, struggle against political and economic upheaval and eventually as the men leave Japan a defeated lot. It's a tale of men motivated by greed, men addicted to power in the case of some Japanese leaders, and even the blood lust that inhabits men that leads them to compel shoguns to evict Jesuits and then exploiting later religious and political divides in the drive for money.
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on September 13, 2015
The only reason I am giving this four stars instead of five is because it seems to spend the entire second half of the book on other true-life characters. I was looking solely for William Adams (Blackthorne). If you are also looking for the true story of Shogun, beware that only the first half of this book is about it.
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on February 22, 2011
A great companion read to Giles Norton's other work of the same genre, "Nathaniel's Nutmeg". This book relates a part of the exiting history of the maritime exploration of the farther East by the mercantile imperial powers of Europe engaged in the spice trade, written from the perspective of mostly Englishmen, though there is much information given from the view of some of the Portuguese clerics. It is not a commentary on the contemporary Japanese perspective of these European intruders as one reviewer seems to lament! Indeed a historian would have to be a Japanese scholar in his/her own right to attempt such an esoteric work and have access to difficult to locate Japanese sources. Or maybe that reviewer is from the realm of the "politically correct", whose exit from the field of historical commentary I would not lament. No, but it is a great book in the field of the history of travel and exploration, especially on European Maritime "first contact" with exotic peoples. Mr. Norton writes in a charming and witty style, and spices up his narrative with many"quaint" and "bawdy" quotes from original sources, which I find quite hilarious and engaging, many from mariners with their complaints from perceived abuse from others, and seems to reveal their mentality more than any psychoanalytic orientated historian could. For those whom would like to pursue this field further I highly recommend "Narrative of the Expedition to the China Seas and Japan" by Commodore M. C. Perry, published in quite a classy edition by "Dover Publishing Co" and available thru Amazon, another book written from the perspective of Western explorers, of course of a much later period. Read both books along with "Nathaniel's Nutmeg"
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I'm a big fan of James Clavell's Shogun so this book was a fun nonfiction read about the real Anjin-san, Will Adams. Lots of history. Lots of personality. Loved learning about the real Shogun.
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on January 17, 2017
Marvelous historical account that never got much coverage here in U.S. A fascinating tale
we all should read. Reminds us of how many died for us to have the simple pleasure of
shaking pepper on our steak or sprinkling nutmeg on a home made muffin.
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on June 5, 2007
In my case, I learned about William Adams watching the PBS Empire Series which I recommend as a complement of this delightful book. What a story, supposedly bound to the East Indies as part of a Dutch Enterprise, Williams Adams is one of the few to reach Japan after a long and difficult voyage. From there comes an exquisite recount of Adams stay in feudal Japan of the 1600 which include a view of their customs and cities and the efforts made by other English Men to establish a trade spot in the Land of the Rising Sun. Is impressive how Williams Adams became a personal advisor of the Shogun Ieyasu and how he became part of this culture that remember him even after 200 years of his death. This book was also an excellent portrait of the Portuguese and Dutch East Indies Company of the time, the expulsion of Jesuits and eradication of Catholicism from Japan, and also provide some interesting information about the natives of Africa's Guinea Ecuatorial and of course, the South of Chile (passing the Magellan Strait).

You can see a letter sent by Adams in 1613 in the British library site. Enjoy!!!
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on May 17, 2007
Everyone is familiar with "Shogun"; if not the book, then surely the lengthy TV mini-series. But the real story of the English pilot, William Adams is far more interesting. This is a wonderful book that encapsulate an era of exploration, the first halting attempts of economic empire-building, and the dawn of the Shogunate. And while Adams' personal story is not quite as dramatic as James Clavell's pilot, it is certainly more interesting and entertaining. Especially remarkable was to watch the speed of navigational developement and international operations over a period of a mere thirty years. One forgets at times that Jamestown and Plymouth were established within a few years after Adams' arrival in Japan, and by the time of his death, the Eastern Seaboard was almost entirely settled. A wonderful view of a time less well understood and frequently miscaracterized.
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on March 6, 2017
Excellent book, both for historical context and as a fascinating read!
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VINE VOICEon March 13, 2005
Samurai William is the surprisingly true story of the Englishman Clavell modeled Shogun after. It is a surprisingly interesting view of Pax Brittanica meeting fedual Japan. William is a very intresting character - perhaps the first who was able to sit atop both Japanese and Western culture and truly understand them both. His assistance in setting up a Japanese mission for a British company - well the challenges seem to describe the trials and tribulations of working in Japan today.

If you enjoyed Shogun, this is definitely an interesting read. Even for those more modestly interesting in Japan, it is well worth your time.
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