Excerpt from Samurai William by Giles Milton, plus links to reviews, author biography & more

Summary |  Excerpt |  Reviews |  Readalikes |  Genres & Themes |  Author Bio

Samurai William

The Englishman Who Opened Japan

By Giles Milton

Samurai William

Buy This Book

About this Book

Print Excerpt


Forbidden kingdoms made for rich kingdoms in the minds of gentlemen adventurers, and distant Japan -- the Land of the Rising Sun -- was believed to glisten with gilded splendor. "The quantity of gold they have here is endless," wrote an excited Polo, "for they find it in their own islands." The emperor's palace was "entirely roofed with fine gold:' while the windows glittered and twinkled, "so that altogether the richness of the palace is past all bounds and all belief."

Dozens of English adventurers were lured into uncharted seas by such tantalizing riches, placing their trust in the good Lord and a fair breeze. They studied their maps, consulted their charts, and concluded -- quite logically -- that the frosty Arctic Ocean offered the shortest route to the East. They little imagined that their fragile galleons would be battered by monstrous icebergs and translucent cliffs of ice. Sir Hugh Willoughby's 1553 expedition to the East had been the most spectacular failure. His vessel had been. trapped in the icy jaws of the White Sea, to the north of Muscovy, and his men had frozen to death in an Arctic blizzard.

The Northwest Passage across the top of North America was believed to offer an even shorter route to Japan and China. But it, too, had displayed a voracious appetite for Elizabethan sea dogs. The route, wrote the Arctic adventurer George Beste, was so "freezing cold [that] not only men's bodies, but also the very lines and tackling are frozen." The seas were choked with ice even in midsummer, for tremendous storms would crack the polar ice cap and fling mountainous cliffs into the paths of their wooden vessels. "The ice enclosed us," wrote the mariner on one expedition, "that we could see neither land nor sea."

George Beste urged his countrymen on in their endeavors to reach the East, encouraging them with the lure of unimaginable wealth: "Whole worldes offer and reach out themselves to them that will first vouchsafe to possess, inhabit and till them." The riches of the world were there for the taking in the sixteenth century, and there were vast tracts of ocean that had never been crossed. "Yea, there are countreys yet remaining without masters and possessors, which are fertile to bring forth all manner of corne and grayne." Beste might have displayed slightly less enthusiasm had he known the perils of tropical seas. Elizabethan galleons were frail and entirely dependent on the whim of the winds and the swirl of the currents. There were no charts of the shoals and sand-banks of the East China Sea, and the mysterious island of Japan was said to be surrounded by unpredictable storms that swallowed ships with one watery gulp.

  • 1
  • 2

From Samurai William by Giles Milton. Copyright 2003. All rights reserved. No part of this book may be reproduced in any form without written permission from the publisher, Farrar, Straus and Giroux.

Membership Advantages
  • Reviews
  • "Beyond the Book" backstories
  • Free books to read and review (US only)
  • Find books by time period, setting & theme
  • Read-alike suggestions by book and author
  • Book club discussions
  • and much more!
  • Just $10 for 3 months or $35 for a year
  • More about membership!
Member Benefits

Join Now!

Check the advantages!
Just $10 for 3 months or $35 for a year

    •  
    • FREE
    • MEMBER
    • Range of media reviews for each book
    • Excerpts of all featured books
    • Author bios, interviews and pronunciations
    • Browse by genre
    • Book club discussions
    • Book club advice and reading guides
    • BookBrowse reviews and "beyond the book" back-stories
    •  
    • Reviews of notable books ahead of publication
    •  
    • Free books to read and review (US Only)
    •  
    • Browse for the best books by time period, setting & theme
    •  
    • Read-alike suggestions for thousands of books and authors
    •  
    • 'My Reading List" to keep track of your books
    •  

Editor's Choice

  • Book Jacket: The Goldfinch
    The Goldfinch
    by Donna Tartt
    Winner of the 2014 Pulitzer for Fiction.

    Her canvas is vast. To frame a story about art, love and ...
  • Book Jacket: Toms River
    Toms River
    by Dan Fagin
    Winner of the 2014 Pulitzer Prize for Nonfiction

    In Toms River, investigative journalist Dan Fagin ...
  • Book Jacket: The Storied Life of A. J. Fikry
    The Storied Life of A. J. Fikry
    by Gabrielle Zevin
    I feel like Gabrielle Zevin wrote this wonderful book, about a lonely New England bookstore owner ...

First Impressions

Members read and review books ahead
of publication. See what they think
in First Impressions!

Books that
expand your
horizons.

Visitors can view a lot of BookBrowse for free. Full access is for members only

Find out more.

Book Discussions
Book Jacket

The Storied Life of A. J. Fikry
by Gabrielle Zevin

Published Apr. 2014

Join the discussion!

  1.  170The Weight of Blood:
    Laura McHugh
  2.  143Happier at Home:
    Gretchen Rubin

All Discussions

Who Said...

If there is anything more dangerous to the life of the mind than having no independent commitment to ideas...

Click Here to find out who said this, as well as discovering other famous literary quotes!

Word Play

Solve this clue:

P Your O C

and be entered to win..

Books thatinspire you.Handpicked.

Books you'll stay up all night reading; books that will whisk you to faraway places and times, books that will expand your mind and inspire you -- the kinds of books you just can't wait to tell your friends about.