A quiet work of mute precision that brings to life the Hagakure and those who lived by its dictates.




A portrayal of Japanese warrior life that is as deliberate, spare, disciplined, and quietly poetic as a tea ceremony.

As the title suggests, this is not a complete history of Japan’s warrior class, but more an expression (through interviews and historical facts) of the key elements of this legendary military caste. Hillsborough attempts to offer a living, breathing picture of the Hagakure (the ancient text containing the samurai code of behavior) by setting forth dramatic examples of honor-bound samurai avenging their daimyo (lord) against his enemies or committing seppuku (a form of ritual suicide) when disgraced. While early chapters (such as “Mortal Enemy” and “Remnants of Shock”) portray the physical aptitude and controlled violence of these men in straightforward historical terms, later and subtler chapters (such as “Courage” and “Disgrace”) concentrate on the more complex aspects of the samurai and their code. For instance, the author relates the story of an elderly samurai who falls into an argument with a bigoted American roughneck in a sleazy bar in San Francisco. Although he could easily have decapitated his foe with the short sword he carried hidden on himself at all times, the samurai instead outwitted him with an unexpected act of kindness. The great strength of Hillsborough’s portrait is that it does not become mired in the bloodshed and violence that were hallmarks of the samurai world. Instead, each chapter serves to display a different aspect of the samurai life—physical, spiritual, military, and artistic.

A quiet work of mute precision that brings to life the Hagakure and those who lived by its dictates.

Pub Date: March 1, 2001

ISBN: 0-9667401-8-1

Page Count: 270

Publisher: N/A

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Feb. 1, 2001

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The author's youthfulness helps to assure the inevitable comparison with the Anne Frank diary although over and above the...


Elie Wiesel spent his early years in a small Transylvanian town as one of four children. 

He was the only one of the family to survive what Francois Maurois, in his introduction, calls the "human holocaust" of the persecution of the Jews, which began with the restrictions, the singularization of the yellow star, the enclosure within the ghetto, and went on to the mass deportations to the ovens of Auschwitz and Buchenwald. There are unforgettable and horrifying scenes here in this spare and sombre memoir of this experience of the hanging of a child, of his first farewell with his father who leaves him an inheritance of a knife and a spoon, and of his last goodbye at Buchenwald his father's corpse is already cold let alone the long months of survival under unconscionable conditions. 

The author's youthfulness helps to assure the inevitable comparison with the Anne Frank diary although over and above the sphere of suffering shared, and in this case extended to the death march itself, there is no spiritual or emotional legacy here to offset any reader reluctance.

Pub Date: Jan. 16, 2006

ISBN: 0374500010

Page Count: 120

Publisher: Hill & Wang

Review Posted Online: Oct. 7, 2011

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Jan. 15, 2006

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For Howard Zinn, long-time civil rights and anti-war activist, history and ideology have a lot in common. Since he thinks that everything is in someone's interest, the historian—Zinn posits—has to figure out whose interests he or she is defining/defending/reconstructing (hence one of his previous books, The Politics of History). Zinn has no doubts about where he stands in this "people's history": "it is a history disrespectful of governments and respectful of people's movements of resistance." So what we get here, instead of the usual survey of wars, presidents, and institutions, is a survey of the usual rebellions, strikes, and protest movements. Zinn starts out by depicting the arrival of Columbus in North America from the standpoint of the Indians (which amounts to their standpoint as constructed from the observations of the Europeans); and, after easily establishing the cultural disharmony that ensued, he goes on to the importation of slaves into the colonies. Add the laborers and indentured servants that followed, plus women and later immigrants, and you have Zinn's amorphous constituency. To hear Zinn tell it, all anyone did in America at any time was to oppress or be oppressed; and so he obscures as much as his hated mainstream historical foes do—only in Zinn's case there is that absurd presumption that virtually everything that came to pass was the work of ruling-class planning: this amounts to one great indictment for conspiracy. Despite surface similarities, this is not a social history, since we get no sense of the fabric of life. Instead of negating the one-sided histories he detests, Zinn has merely reversed the image; the distortion remains.

Pub Date: Jan. 1, 1979

ISBN: 0061965588

Page Count: 772

Publisher: Harper & Row

Review Posted Online: May 26, 2012

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Jan. 1, 1979

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