I have always been told not to judge a book by its cover, but it is really hard not to, even just a little bit. When I picked up Warriors Of Medieval Japan by Stephen Turnbull to begin reading it, my first impression was this book is heavy, well-made with thick glossy pages, and has incredible illustrations throughout the text. After reading this work from cover to cover, I discovered that this book was much more than just a bunch of pretty pages.
Stephen Turnbill displays an incredible knowledge of Japan. This book of 277 pages focuses on four distinct warrior classifications during the time period from the late 1400s through the mid-1600s. Samurai, Ashigaru (foot soldiers), Ninja, and warrior monks are examined in great detail. The author occasionally references earlier periods as well as current times when explaining an idea in the text. He also assumes that the reader has a good grasp of world history for the time period covered in this book.
Each warrior classification is equally explored in great depth. Their daily lives are examined including the types of foods they ate, the clothing they wore and, of course, the ways in which they fought. Turnbill also takes time to explain the interrelationships between the classifications and the complex politics that influenced these warriors' lives. We also see how class affected Japanese society.
To his credit, Turnbill avoids "romanticized" views of these warriors. Often, when we hear someone mention ninja or samurai, we have a magical or larger-than-life image in our minds. This book made it clear that these warriors were human. They suffered from the same weaknesses that all people do including deceitfulness and treachery. We are also shown that each of the four warrior classifications had heroic people and deeds. Excerpts from diaries written during the time period are used throughout this book to help convey the "realness" of this history.
I would recommend Warriors Of Medieval Japan by Stephen Turnbull to anyone who has an interest in Japanese history as long as the reader is at the high school or college level. A pronunciation guide for Japanese names would have been useful and would have enhanced the readability of this text. Regardless of this, I feel this book is a must-have addition to any Japanese history buff's library.