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Ninja: 1,000 Years of the Shadow Warrior

3.12  ·  Rating details ·  395 ratings  ·  70 reviews
The first major pop history of the Japanese stealth assassins, John Man's Ninja is a meticulously researched, entertaining blend of mythology, anthropology, travelogue, and history of the legendary shadow warriors.

Spies, assassins, saboteurs, and secret agents, Ninja have become the subject of countless legends that continue to enthrall us in modern movies, video games, an
Hardcover, 304 pages
Published February 5th 2013 by William Morrow (first published July 1st 2012)
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3.12  · 
Rating details
 ·  395 ratings  ·  70 reviews

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Jul 31, 2013 rated it it was ok
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
Lauren Albert
Feb 16, 2013 rated it liked it
Shelves: history-asia
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.
Feb 18, 2013 rated it liked it
Shelves: history, spy-fiction
(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
Feb 01, 2019 rated it it was ok
Shelves: non-fiction, history
Reviewed for The Bibliophibian.

Ninja is another travelogue-ish, easy to read history of a broad and fascinating topic, in this case the history and afterlife of ninjas in Japanese culture. It felt more scatterbrained than Man’s other books, and was more of a chore to read; I wasn’t really impressed, and although there were some very informative chapters about actual ninjas and what they did, there’s a lot of fluff about traditions and stories about ninjas that didn’t really add up to much.

Of Man
Popzara Press
Mar 02, 2013 rated it it was ok
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
Aug 02, 2013 rated it liked it
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
Jun 07, 2013 rated it liked it
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
Jun 06, 2013 added it
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.
May 07, 2013 rated it liked it
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).
Cameron Meiswinkel
Feb 24, 2013 rated it liked it
Shelves: non-fiction
The multitude of names and places was a tad confusing. It took me a year to read "Ninja" so I will admit that my opinion may have differed if I had read it all in one sitting. Having said that, the book really shines when it details the beginnings of ninja culture. The "How to be a ninja" sections were great, as well as the chapters about the civil war.
Feb 05, 2013 rated it liked it
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
Jul 28, 2013 rated it liked it
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
Mar 14, 2014 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
Mar 13, 2013 rated it liked it
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
Sep 11, 2013 rated it liked it
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
Mar 06, 2014 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 rated it really liked it
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
Aug 05, 2013 rated it it was ok
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 rated it really liked it
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.
Jul 09, 2013 rated it liked it
An interesting study of Ninja culture.
Ernest Spoon
Oct 23, 2017 rated it really liked it
I had a friend, hes dead now, who immersed himself in several of the martial arts. He loved dressing up as what moderns, both Western and Japanese, imagine as a ninja, swathed in black from head-to-toe. My friend could do a front flip with his ninjato, the ninja sword, unsheathed. Quite impressive. But not impressive enough to win a Halloween contest at a local gin-joint one year. But, as I told him myself, had I been a judge I too would have voted for the winner. She had nicer boobs. He had to ...more
Dennis Keithly
I’m having a hard time rating this book. There are a few stories that warrant five stars. But, at other times, I didn’t feel like I was reading a book about ninjas at all. Part of the problem is that Mann never really defines them. Instead, he describes various people that might have been precursors to ninjas, people that acted as ninjas, and people he thinks followed the ninja tradition.

Much of this book discusses a Japanese warfare and the often small roles that ninjas played. As a westerner,
Jul 16, 2018 rated it it was ok
"Intuition plays a major role in ninjutsu.... This is because if you simply use the first thing that flashes through your head without any intention or contemplation, you are consigning yourself to divine intervention & fate. Wonders can happen when you abandon your ego!"
"'In fact dark blue was the colour of choice. In the bright moonlight, black stands out like a sore thumb.'" Secrets of the Ninja, Hiromitsu
"'You can never tell how things will turn out... while you have breath in your body
This is the first book I've ever had the pleasure of reading by John Man , and if was quite the experiance !

I thought I would learn more of ninja's history , I did and I honestly cannot recall most of what I read .

The topic was really interesting , but the author drifted away and talked about not ninja topics but hen got back .

It left the reader with the impression that it was unorganised .

The writing was at times very dull and in the next very enthusiastic ! It was reflected in the pace of
Mar 12, 2018 rated it liked it
This book is very informative and the author did a great job going into the history of this ancient people.
Bernie Gourley
Jul 30, 2015 rated it liked it
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
Feb 27, 2017 rated it liked it
I have to say, I was a lot more impressed with the first several chapters compared to the last 100 pages or so. While the information on Koga and Iga was extraordinary, I learned a lot, and liked the style --I was disappointed to find the ending chapters a little on the rambling side. There were some sections of the book where I thought maybe the author was missing some of his other projects and wanted to talk about them instead, or maybe he was just running out of materiel. By the time I got to ...more
Apr 27, 2015 rated it really liked it
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
Jan 06, 2014 rated it liked it

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
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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
“Of all the weapons vital for a speedy victory, the most vital is information.” 2 likes
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