Summary and book reviews of Samurai William by Giles Milton

Samurai William

The Englishman Who Opened Japan

By Giles Milton

Samurai William
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  • Hardcover: Jan 2003,
    368 pages.
    Paperback: Feb 2003,
    416 pages.

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Book Summary

In 1611, the merchants of London's East India Company received a mysterious letter from Japan, written several years previously by a marooned English mariner named William Adams. Foreigners had been denied access to Japan for centuries, yet Adams had been living in this unknown land for years. He had risen to the highest levels in the ruling shogun's court, taken a Japanese name, and was now offering his services as adviser and interpreter.

Seven adventurers were sent to Japan with orders to find and befriend Adams, in the belief that he held the key to exploiting the opulent riches of this forbidden land. Their arrival was to prove a momentous event in the history of Japan, and the shogun suddenly found himself facing a stark choice: to expel the foreigners and continue with his policy of isolation, or to open his country to the world. For more than a decade the English, helped by Adams, were to attempt trade with the shogun, but confounded by a culture so different from their own, and hounded by scheming Jesuit monks and fearsome Dutch assassins, they found themselves in a desperate battle for their lives.

Samurai William is the fascinating story of a clash of two cultures, and of the enormous impact one Westerner had on the opening of the East.

Prologue

They had reached the end of the world. A tremendous storm had pushed them deep into the unknown, where the maps and globes showed only monsters of the deep. The night sky sparkled, but the unfamiliar stars had proved a mischievous guide to these lost and lonely adventurers.

For almost two years, William Adams and his crew had braved wild and tempestuous oceans. They had clashed with spear-toting island chieftains, and suffered from sickness and empty bellies. Now, on April 12, 1600, these few survivors had once again sighted land, where they expected death at the hands of barbarous savages.

The bell of the great Manju-ji monastery clanged at dawn. As the weak spring sunlight spilled over the southern mountains, a dozen temples seemed to echo in reply. It was already light on the watery delta of the Oita River, but night still lingered in the palaces and pagodas of Funai. Their cuneiform roofs trapped the shadows. It would be several hours before daylight pierced the...

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Reviews

Media Reviews
The Sunday Times - Katie Hickman

Giles Milton has once again shown himself to be a master of historical narrative. The story of William Adams is a gripping tale of Jacobean derring-do, a fizzing, real-life, Boy's Own adventure underpinned by genuine scholarship.

The Scotsman - Allan Spence

Milton's account of this remarkable life is rich in historical detail . . . It's a page-turner of a book, a good read, [and] an accessible, well-crafted piece of popularised history.

TimeOut London

Lovingly researched and strikingly written.

Glasgow Herald - Hugh MacDonald

Milton brings his customary panache to his latest work. Samurai William is swash-buckling in its scale and execution.

Literary Review - Martin Booth

... more than a readable populist history about the Westerner in the Orient; it is a glimpse into a bygone age of trade, war and cultural collision.

Publisher's Weekly - Steven I. Levine

Milton is a gifted storyteller with an eye for the graphic, often gruesome, detail. This is the kind of page turner that will keep you up way past your bedtime.

Kirkus Reviews

Milton has the knack for pointing out in history's vast tapestry those portions we most want to stare at. A remarkable tale that might have fallen from the inventive lips of Scheherazade.

Booklist - Kristine Huntley

Milton gives the exciting story both immediacy and flair; the bright, bustling world of seventeenth-century Japan comes alive through his pen, as do the many dangers and adventures Adams and his comrades face. This is history writing at its finest.

Reader Reviews
Alexander

I've just read this book, and was spell bound. I found it to be informative, providing the much needed historical context both from the the Japanese and European perspectives.

As one who has spent the last 20 years in Japan, I'd say this is a good ...   Read More

Damien Noonan

What a fantastic book! Anyone who has a love of swashbuckling tales, sea faring, battle and medieval mindsets and cruelties of both English and Japanese peoples will relish this book. I was given the rare thrill of traveling alongside these bold ...   Read More

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