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, and comics—and their arts are still practiced in our time by dedicated acolytes who study the ancient techniques.
Ninja: 1,000 Years of the Shadow Warrior, by British historian John Man, is as colorful and intriguing as the warriors it so vividly brings to life.
A historian and travel writer specializing in Asia, Man exposes the history of the secretive ninja, a.k.a. shinobi, and differentiates him from his public counterpart, the samurai. Unlike the latter, the survivalist ninja eschewed self-sacrifice and the seppuku (hara-kiri) ordeal, aiming to "get close to the enemy" in order "to learn and return." Westerners recognize ninjas as "sinister men in black" acting as "spies, scouts, surprise attackers, and agitators," but may not realize they originated in the old Japanese provinces of Iga and Koga as peasant farmers linked to neighbors and communities in self-defense networks. Man explains other salient figures of the ninja heyday (1400-1600C.E.) like the shogun (chief samurai and military dictator) and daimyo (feudal lord). As experts in covert warfare, ninjas underwent extensive training including the casting of spells, which were "useful but not infallible." Ninjas were believed to "guarantee a quick victory" during wartime, up until their 17th century demise. Man employs humor and a casual, travelogue style, interposing relevant personal anecdotes to illustrate how the ninja's day is long past, or else his art of invisibility is more effective than ever.