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Shinsengumi: The Shogun's Last Samurai Corps
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Manufacturer: Tuttle Publishing
Average Customer Rating: Average rating of 4.0/5Average rating of 4.0/5Average rating of 4.0/5Average rating of 4.0/5Average rating of 4.0/5

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Binding: Hardcover
Dewey Decimal Number: 950
EAN: 9780804836272
ISBN: 0804836272
Label: Tuttle Publishing
Manufacturer: Tuttle Publishing
Number Of Items: 1
Number Of Pages: 256
Publication Date: 2005-09-15
Publisher: Tuttle Publishing
Studio: Tuttle Publishing

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Editorial Reviews:

The Tokugawa Shogunate, a group of military governors who ruled Japan until the late 1800s, stayed in power for more than two centuries. Their fall was one of the most important events in Asian history.

Also known as the Meiji Restoration, the shogun's ouster began as a reaction against the elite's willingness to "collaborate" with the West. The samurai took the shogun's position as a sign of weakness.

The samurai plotted to overthrow the shogun. Murder, assassination, and intimidation soon followed. By the end of 1862, hordes of renegade samurai had transformed the streets of Japan's capital streets into a sea of blood.

This vivid historical narrative captures one of the most enthralling and bloodied eras in Japanese history.

Spotlight customer reviews:

Customer Rating: Average rating of 3/5Average rating of 3/5Average rating of 3/5Average rating of 3/5Average rating of 3/5
Summary: Three Phrases Would Have Done It
Comment: When I saw this book, (quite by accident, actually), I was impressed that here was a book on something that I had never even heard of before. So, the expectation was high.

Hillsborough has tried to bring out the spirit of the organisation without getting bogged down in the details. Actually, it was the details that I was looking for and often the details will give you something of the spirit of the subject anyway. Some of the historical detail was there, and Hillsborough certainly came across as one who knew his subject material and sources. However, with his book being the first in English on the topic, I question whether the deliberate focus away from the said details was justified. For the average non-Japanese, that historical data would have been priceless, as most of us have nothing else about the Shinsengumi to read.

Three phrases were repeated and repeated ad nauseum: "propensity to kill", "will to power" and "self-importance". The latter had some variations, but all three are constantly hammered and drummed into the reader. At one point, the first phrase appears in almost every sentence for about two paragraphs. While it is certainly worthy to explore the motivations of anyone of historical importance, I again question whether the point needed to be laboured to the degree that it was.

A lot of the historical information regarding important incidents involving the Shinsengumi read a bit like a medieval version of "Battle Royale". At one point, I wondered if I were indeed reading a "historical novel" rather than a book on history. This is something to keep in mind, if you are thinking of purchasing the book.

While the book was interesting, it was certainly not fantastic. It left a huge number of unanswered questions and also left me wondering just why the Shinsengumi was feared so much. From what the book described, there were far more vicious individuals around. That information would have gone a long way to create an understanding of just why the Shinsengumi were so feared and hated.

It is an average book, though with nothing else that I know of in English, there is little choice if someone wants to know about the topic. The Shinsengumi are interesting and worth the look, so for that reason alone the book is worth getting. Just don't expect too much from it, that is all.

Customer Rating: Average rating of 5/5Average rating of 5/5Average rating of 5/5Average rating of 5/5Average rating of 5/5
Summary: For all the Shinsengumi fans
Comment: Shinsengumi is one of most popular historical figures in Japan like 47 Ronins.
If you are fan of Rurouni Kenshin or Peace Maker, you must read this since this is the only English book about Shinsengumi.
I hope someone will translate great Shinsengumi novels like "Moeyo Ken" "Sinsengumi Keppuroku" "Bakumatsu Shinsengumi" etc...someday.

Customer Rating: Average rating of 5/5Average rating of 5/5Average rating of 5/5Average rating of 5/5Average rating of 5/5
Summary: A 'must' for any student of Japanese history and military culture
Comment: For over two centuries Japan was ruled by the Shogunate under a law of isolationism, but in the mid-1800s this policy was to change with the arrival of Matthew Perry and his armed warships from the U.S. Navy. Their arrival sparked a revolution and the overthrow of the Shogunate: SHINSENGUMI: THE SHOGUN'S LAST SAMURAI CORPS is the first English narrative of these events, tracing the internal conflicts within the Japanese world and the rise in murders, assassination and violence as a result. The Shinsengumi were the most dreaded security force Japan had ever known, and their power and effects are followed through one of the most confrontational periods of Japanese history. A 'must' for any student of Japanese history and military culture.

Customer Rating: Average rating of 2/5Average rating of 2/5Average rating of 2/5Average rating of 2/5Average rating of 2/5
Summary: A propensity to kill...
Comment: Last year, the local foreign-language TV station here in L.A. broadcast an NHK-produced, fictionalized series about the Shinsengumi. The show was gripping, but it was obvious that the whole thing was highly romanticized. Since then, I've been looking for a more historically accurate account of the period, so I was delighted when I found this book.

I did indeed learn a lot more about the Shinsengumi from it. For one thing, the television series presents the group's members as heroes and patriots. By including descriptions of less-than-flattering incidents conveniently left out of the TV version, Hillsborough's book essentially portrays the Shinsengumi as a group of deluded, self-aggrandizing thugs. My personal sense is that there's some truth to be found in both of these approaches. Being aware of television's need to simplify and anoint heroes, I tend to trust books more. In this case, however, the written word doesn't live up to its promise. Neither version presents enough evidence for its own point of view, nor does either generate enough overall credibility to allow the consumer to make anything resembling an informed judgment.

Hillsborough says in the Preface that he's "concentrated on the spirit of the Shinsengumi and their place in history, rather than on trivial details...." To my mind, that's insufficient justification for the disorganized, repetitive writing and overheated descriptions found in this volume.

Regarding organization, I'm no fan of the "Dates and Places" school of history, and I have no trouble with the idea of an author bringing an era alive by telling incidents out of their chronological order. But really, shouldn't there be some kind of reason for jumbling these things? I couldn't discern one here.

The real problem with the book, though, is the shallowness of its analysis. Hillsborough's thesis is appears twofold. First, that a "will to power" combined with "self-aggrandizement" leads to trouble. Second, that the "superior martial spirit, fighting technique, and an unflinching propensity to kill," and the "official sanction to kill" granted by the Tokugawa shogunate is what set the Shinsengumi apart from their peers. This might be true. Repeating it over and over doesn't make it true. At one point, the phrase "propensity to kill" appears eight times in two pages. Several chapters later the point is driven home yet again, with a chapter entitled, yes, "A Propensity to Kill."

The Shinsengumi were a tragic group of idealists trying to hold on to a world that was passing them by. Their goals were lofty; their methods were brutal. I don't believe their leaders were unaware of the tensions between their ideals and reality. Although many were peasants, they were educated and pursued art and culture along with their martial activities. I await the day when an author writing in English treats their complexities with sensitivity and justice.

[Three stars for the information. One for the writing. Average: Two.]

Customer Rating: Average rating of 5/5Average rating of 5/5Average rating of 5/5Average rating of 5/5Average rating of 5/5
Summary: It's About Time!
Comment: I remember back in the 80's wondering if any english book of any sort would ever come out regarding the Shinsengumi. Over the years since that time I have collected various things on Japanese history that vaguely touch on the group, read small references regarding them in scholarly texts and martial arts magazines, seen a few plays about them, and dozens of movies ranging from noble portrayals of the group to rare stuff where executed members of the group come back as ghosts to haunt their former comrades (lol!). The day has finally come for the Shinsengumi with Romulus Hillsborough's new book.

Like Hillsborough's former works, this book is in the same style that can be considered "Historical Fiction". He acknowledges this in the preface that the book is not entirely nonfiction and gives his reasons for this. With that said, he does use many of the essential Japanese sources used to create his biography of the group. Part of the problem with dealing with the history of the Shinsengumi is that they have become such folk heroes where myth and fact have become blurred. It is the same type of problem one encounters with western gunfighters and the history of the old west. So many movies and novels have been made that are based on all of these guys, but add "creative" elements to the stories that add on to the myth. One can wonder if anything that "corresponds with historical reality" can be seen or written about these folk heroes.

So, with that said, Hillsborough's book does attempt to give a literary type of biography of the Shinsengumi. It is not a dry text that tries to cram all sorts of statistics and dates about the group, but like an artist trying to paint a picture, the book tries to paint portraits about the Shinsengumi using his style of writing. Certain words and phrases are used over and over to hammer home the way he feels about certain people and events. When this book was announced a few years ago I knew, based on Hillsborough's previous works, that he would definitely have a certain viewpoint about the Shinsengumi. They are not always presented in the best possible light. However, I respect the viewpoint since they are, and always will be, a controversial group.

The majority of the book covers the years roughly around 1863-1868. Most of the chapters deal with the key events of their time in Kyoto which are the core years of the Shinsengumi. The time in Kyoto is the most important since that is where they make a name for themselves and when they depart Kyoto everything is downhill after that. There is an epilogue chapter on what happens after the death of Kondo Isami, but at that point the few individuals left aren't really the Shinsengumi anymore in the same sense they were during the Kyoto years. So, it makes sense how he ended the book.

It is a good book for anyone being introduced to the Shinsengumi, but I think any fan of the days leading to the end of the Shogun will enjoy and be challenged by this book.

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