Samurai by John Man Bantam Press HK$221 The historical significance of Saigo Takamori (1828-1877), Japan's 'last samurai', stemmed not from his successes but from his failures. So John Man writes in Samurai, which explains the Japanese reverence for a man who, despite having been a rebel and responsible for the deaths of thousands of his countrymen, was elevated to semi-divinity. In the 19th century many stargazers in Japan believed he was the planet Mars. Man sketches a portrait of Takamori not just by writing about his life, but also by telling the story of Japan which in Takamori's lifetime moved from the Middle Ages into the modern world. Man visits significant sites in Takamori's life and informs the reader about bushido (the warrior's way of life) as he takes us from his subject's birth, in the domain of the Tokugawa shogun, to death. Takamori's honorable beheading (by a loyal lieutenant) was the result of making a stand against soldiers of a modernising Meiji imperial government that, ironically, he had been instrumental in establishing. Although Man has done much leg work, his book seems patched together. Still it will force readers to view Tom Cruise's movie, The Last Samurai, with a critical eye.