07 January 2011


Being a lover of historical fiction, one of my favorite books was Shogun byJames Clavell. Then I few years ago I was in San Antonio, TX and the lady sitting by the pool next to me was reading a book that looked interesting. She said it was a book about the real life person that Shogun was based on, and I was immediately intrigued. Unfortunately, I forgot about it for quite a while, and by the time I tried to find it, had forgotten the name. After much searching and putting together what I could remember about the book, I decided that this was the book. I ordered it from the library with great anticipation. Unfortunately, the book was not quite what I had hoped. 

On the plus side, this is a non-fiction history book, but it reads like a novel.Giles Milton has a wonderful writing style, and I found the book quite fascinating in general. On the negative side, the book wasn't really about William Adams as much as it was about the opening of Japan to European trade. After mentioning Adams at the beginning of the book, the author proceeded to spend the first third of the book detailing how the Portuguese were able to set up trade with Japan before the English arrived. The next third of the book dealt with failed attempts by the English to get a toe hold in Japan. The last third of the book actually dealt with early English trade with Japan, mostly dealing with how inept it was. Although Adams was a huge friend of the Japanese emperor and appeared to be instrumental in securing trading rights for both Portugal and England in Japan, as far as this book goes he was more of a minor character. In fact, I learned more about Edwards Cooks, the first English factor in Japan than I ever learned about William Adams. There were frequent references to how Adams took a Japanese family, how he became "Japanized", and how he interceded for both countries, but they were just that. References. There was really no detail on his life, his family's life, or his dealings with either the Europeans or the Japanese. 

Don't get me wrong. If you want to learn about the chronology of early European trade with Japan, this is the book for you. That story is told in detail, and told well. The author has a wonderful writing voice, and the story kept me interested from beginning to end. I was just looking for something more like a biography of William Adams, which this book was not.

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