BOOK REVIEW: Pirate of the Far East by Stephen Turnbull

Pirate of the Far East: 811-1639Pirate of the Far East: 811-1639 by Stephen Turnbull

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Amazon page

Unfortunately, the first thing one notices about this book is what seems like a typo in the title. Instead of “Pirates of the Far East,” it’s Pirate of the Far East, which suggests piracy wasn’t so much of a problem in the region because there was only the one pirate—and that the author isn’t a fan of either definite or indefinite articles. I’m sure this was done intentionally, but it does read oddly and sounds tinny.

This slim book is a typical edition of the Osprey military history series. All of these books are less than 100 pages, illustrated, and focus on a specific class of warfighter over a defined period. In this case, the book presents a class of pirates called wako for the period from 811 to 1639. Wako literally refers to Japanese pirates, but–in fact–these marauders of the high seas were often mixed nationality crews. The book also provides information about counter-piracy activities and those groups of warriors, such as Shaolin monks, who fought against piracy back in those days.

This book covers a range of topics including: the life of a pirate, pirate ships, strategy, tactics, and weapons—as well as the history of these groups. The book has five actual chapters, but there are short units providing important information that would usually be appendices, e.g. a chronology, a discussion of museum exhibits, and an annotated bibliography.

The illustrations are mostly drawings, but include maps and photographs as well. Some of the art is drawn in the present-day by the illustrator Richard Hook, but some are historic pieces from art collections. The photographs also include some present-day photos of locations that were once bases of piracy, as well as photos of museum exhibits (e.g. topographic and other models.) The graphics are helpful in showing how pirates dressed/armored and were armed. The maps and drawings are particularly helpful.

I’d recommend this book, but I do think it’s overpriced at full price. At a mere 64 pages—a pamphlet more than a book–paying $10 or more seems a bit pricey despite the useful graphics and the fact that the author is among the most renowned authorities on Japanese warriors and medieval military tactics. All that said, there are relatively few books on the topic, and it’s not easy to get this information from other sources.

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