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Ninja: A History

3.05  ·  Rating Details ·  316 Ratings  ·  66 Reviews
In this revelatory book, acclaimed author John Man's thrilling historical account brings to life the world of the ninjas, the Japanese "shadow warriors," whose otherworldly skills as assassins and spies still seize our imaginations like few characters before or since. Ninja is the first major history of these legendary masters of stealth warfare.

Out of the violent chaos of
ebook, 320 pages
Published February 5th 2013 by William Morrow Paperbacks (first published July 1st 2012)
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Community Reviews

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Jul 31, 2013 Ben rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
Ninja reads less like a "1000 Year" history and more like an extended Esquire article. Not necessarily a bad thing - it's a moderately interesting, breezy book. But if you're looking for a comprehensive history of the concept of ninjas dating from feudal Japan to the present, look elsewhere. As a good case in point, one sentence begins as follows: "To cram four centuries into a sentence..."

So what is covered by the rest of the 300 pages? Some anecdotes about famous Japanese warriors, rulers, as
(Originally posted on my blog, Misprinted Pages.)

[Note: I want your questions about real-life ninjas! Please include them in the comments here or on my blog, and I'll try to pass them on to author John Man to answer.]

Our idea of the quintessential ninja is a little short of historical reality. In fact, what does the average person really know besides that they dress in all black and are masters of stealth and assassination techniques? They didn’t use magic, they couldn’t walk on water, and their
Popzara Press
John Man’s Ninja: 1,000 Years of the Shadow Warrior will likely disappoint those looking for a proper history of one of Japan’s most famous cultural exports, as there’s simply too much conjecture with the subject matter to consider it reliable. Despite the premise of demystifying what the term ‘ninja’ has become in western culture, Man freely uses it as an adjective, applying it to subjects that might not qualify - James Bond gets an inordinate amount of attention here. While there’ plenty of in ...more
May 07, 2013 Megan rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
An easy to read brief history of Ninjas. The author switches between history text and researcher's travelogue occasionally which makes certain parts of the ninja story more real (ie the old guy in Japan with an attic full of old armor) and relieves the Japanese history newbie from to many names from Japanese history. Some of the more interesting parts are the modern legacy of the ninja (there is even a chapter on James Bond).
Lauren Albert
I hovered between a 2 and a 3 on this. I found him glib and sometimes condescending towards his subject. He also meandered into personal anecdotes related to his travels and research. As in the book I read on the Samurai recently, I felt the subject got short shrift.
Like all history books that pull out one aspect of history to talk about, I think you could get more out of it if you are familiar with the general history of the time and place. But it isn’t really necessary. It is interesting to see how and why the ninja came about. Everyone has heard of ninjas and knows the myths but to me the real history is actually more interesting even if it doesn’t make for as action packed a movie as the stories. I liked learning about how they were farmers and how they ...more
Charles Ames
Ninjas were originally a community of farmer-warriors in Medieval Central Japan who banded together in order to maintain their independence from neighboring warlords. Over time they became so effective at infiltration, information gathering, survival, and guerrilla warfare the they became the most sought-after mercenaries in later efforts to unify Japan.

The author takes care to contrast the doggedly practical, survive-at-all-cost ethos of these Ninja with the comparatively symbolic, die-with-hon
Aug 02, 2013 A.j. rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Excellent history of the Ninja, but I think the author may have bitten off more than he could chew with this book. Trying to tie the growth of the ninja clans into the other threads of feudal Japanese history with little to no background info on the history of the shogun and the samurai makes for a VERY confusing read for anyone not already familiar with Japan. If you have read anything else regarding the period, then Ninja is an excellent companion piece. If not, the sheer number of names and p ...more
Mar 14, 2014 David rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: non-fiction
I have little to add to reviews already written by Stephanie, Charles Ames and Michael.

I found it particularly interesting to learn about the Sugendo religious sect and the extremes of their training, members of which trained along side some aspiring ninjas. Also intriguing was the historical information about the Medieval Japanese proto-democracies of Iga and Koga, the ninja homelands. I felt a little disappointed to read that the lineage of Master Masaaki Hatsumi may not be 100% genuine. Fina
Mike Stolfi
O.K., so it's an academic approach to learning some of the truths to a secretive society. I liked the debunking, but if you're a fan of the group you're ego won't get much stroking for being a fan. If you're familiar with the topic there's not that much to get lost on, there's some conjecture but the thing to keep in mind is that he's mostly doing historical research & groups evolve/mutate/change over time & having studied Taejitsu I'll say what is now may not have been then & vice v ...more
Bill Chamis
It made me laugh just saying the title in that English-dubbed ninja voice. The author, however, is not interested in the "myth" of the ninja except as a cultural artifact. Although the author relies on secondary research and interviews with descendants of some of the ninja families, he seems to know his stuff (hard to say, of course, as I am no expert), and he writes well. The best section was a chapter at the end about the Japanese soldier who hid out in the Philippines after WWII over and didn ...more
This book is a good "beginner book" on ninjas. It hits certain key points throughout the history of ninjas and helps you better understand myth vs. fact. I guess what sticks out to me though is when the author talks about his travels in Japan to try and understand the history behind ninjas the subject of the book becomes more about him and less about the topic he is writing about. Don't get me wrong, it's not that it totally destroys the book, but I could have done without some of the ramblings ...more
Pretty good book. The author has a tendency to conflate any military action involving the Japanese and deception into being "ninja-like" but it definitely covered the history of the Koga/Iga region well. He does capture the chaos and shifting allegiances of feudal Japan, although he tries to push the idea that ninja regions were Athenian democracies pretty hard.

So, long and short, I'm skeptical about a lot of it, but it's a ripping read.
Mar 06, 2014 Lionkhan-sama rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Really enjoyed reading this book.
It opened my eyes dramatically to what Japan has witnessed over the past few centuries.
Japanese history is absolutely CRAZY! (not in a good way unfortunately)

This book provided incredible insight, into an extremely controversial topic.
I am eager to now read more on the subject and subjects similar to this one.
Aug 23, 2013 Aj rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
A bit of a slow read but based on factual evidence. Removes all the drivel and the fantastical mythos that follows these very real warriors. I don't mind a good action flick but when people credit those films for following reality it gets ridiculous. This is according to the author the unvarnished unsexy truth. And that is good.
Jenni Callard
I liked what I read of this book but had to stop reading it because fall semester began & it was way too much thinking for me on top if my studies. I'd like to pick it up again when I have more brain cells to devote to it.
Jun 17, 2013 Robert rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
This was the real history of ninjas. The whys and the hows they got got started. Interesting history.
It helped explain a lot about the manga and anime I consume. Neat insights and history. Everybody should read (a.k.a. Google) Hiroo Onada.
Devan Lipsey
An interesting study of Ninja culture.
Bernie Gourley
The author, John Man, isn’t the first historian to fall for the siren call of ninja history only to plummet into a catch-22, but he’s the one I’m reviewing right now. So, while his book isn’t exceptionally bad, it’s tremendously flawed in a manner common across ninja histories. What is said catch-22? On the one hand, ninja excite the imagination and a half-way decent book on them is sure to sell. On the other hand, there’s very little known about the ninja. If the myth of the ninja is an elephan ...more
Apr 27, 2015 Kassidy rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Real rating: 3.5
Ninja: 1,000 Years of the Shadow Warrior is a very interesting book, at least to me, seeing as the ninja is one my many obsessions resulting from my interest in ancient (and modern) Japanese culture.
The information on the ninja of ancient Japan in this book is very well put together and fascinating, but, surprisingly, not very plentiful. There are excerpts from ninja texts (one of my favorites being "A well trained ninja looks like a very stupid man" from the Shoninki)and ninja
Eoin Flynn

I read this book as a light introduction to an area of history/culture I'm curious about but quite ignorant of. Perhaps this contributed to my disappointment and those who read it as a travelogue first and foremost will be less disappointed than I.

As documentation of history, I felt this book leaves a lot to be desired. Many of the references are dubious. The author has a cheeky/plagiaristic tendency to simply transcribe huge chunks of text from other works into his own (which n
Alex Sarll
It should come as no surprise, being a male of my generation, but this is not the first book I've read about ninjas which purported to be non-fiction. However, all those others, all those years ago...well, I don't recall the specifics, but I'm fairly sure none of them were by proper historians. Man, on the other hand, while fascinated by the mystique and the skills, adopts a rather more wry and sceptical approach. It turns out, unsurprisingly, that even the oldest texts detailing ninja skills we ...more
Lenora Good
Feb 19, 2015 Lenora Good rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
I have read most of John Man's book, and thoroughly enjoyed them. As a historian, he knows how to do his research, as a travel writer, he knows how to make the places come alive on the page. If you're looking for a text book, go to another book. If you're looking for some interesting history and tidbits on Japan and the Ninja, this is the book for you.

There are footnotes scattered throughout. They are real footnotes at the bottom, or foot, of the page, not the abomination sweeping the publishing
Feb 01, 2016 Mouse rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
This book left me wanting! Wanting what I'm not too sure but I just sort of felt like a lot was missing. This book isn't so much a comprehensive history of Ninjas but more filled with anecdotes and random blurbs. Are these real historical stories or are they just legend? I can't tell and it isn't made clear to me.
There were times when I was reading it and I'd come to a part and I couldn't tell if the author was talking about him or someone else from a story. I felt like he spent valuable paper o
Aug 20, 2014 Rebecca rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: japanese-history
I'm not sure where this book is aimed - perhaps at people who are deeply interested in ninjas from films but don't really know anything about Japan and Japanese history. But if that is the case this book might be a bit too full of historical details that really has nothing to do with ninjas. And if you come from the other angle (like me), you know a bit about Japanese history but thought this book might give you an insight in the phenomenon of the Ninja you will be bogged down with quite a lot o ...more
May 22, 2013 Jamais rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: history, ninja, japan
The ninja make for a great foil to the samurai. //Ninja: 1,000 Years of the Shadow Warrior// explores the history of the ninja, from its origin as a secret police force. It looks at the ninja villages that eventually rose up and their downfall, as well the resurrection of the ninja for the Second World War. How samurai and ninja opposed each other throughout their histories is explored, as well as the “mystical” powers of the ninja used. Even the ninja in popular culture is looked at, making for ...more
Sam B
Sep 18, 2014 Sam B rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: history
It's tough to grade this book. If you look at the parts where he stays focused on topic, it's quite a worthwhile read. But there were too many issues with the book for me to rate it any higher. For example, instances where he devolved into personal opinion completely derailed the narrative (and he wasted his asides on subjects completely unrelated to what was supposed to be a history of the ninja). Man also seemingly frequently fell into the trap of thinking "the more commas and big words I use ...more
Mar 11, 2013 Lisa rated it did not like it  ·  review of another edition
The author managed to take what ought to have been a fascinating subject and make it longwinded, rambling, and deadly dull. I did not realize in advance that this was more akin to an extended magazine piece than real history. Too much about the author, not enough about ninjas and their historical context. The long tangent on the end about the last Japanese soldiers holding out in the Phillipines, all the way until the 1970s, is interesting, but not really anything to do with ninjas. Also, at sev ...more
May 04, 2013 Averill rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
In the beginning of the book the author made a comment something like, when he first started writing about ninjas the idea of cartoon turtles came to mind. Well, he might as well have done a commentary on the teenage mutant ninja turtles. I hated this book from start to finish. The entire book felt like some rich tourist on the out side looking in. He even went as far as to mock a ceremony that he was invited to. This lack luster book read like Wikipedia in parts, and was completely soulless. Ev ...more
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John Anthony Garnet Man is a British historian and travel writer. His special interests are China, Mongolia and the history of written communication. He takes particular pleasure in combining historical narrative with personal experience.

He studied German and French at Keble College, Oxford, before doing two postgraduate courses, a diploma in the History and Philosophy of Science at Oxford and Mon
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