Learning the secrets of survival: a review of Ninja: 1,000 Years of the Shadow Warrior

Make yourself resolute with the idea that you will win whenever you go on a mission, and you can win even if it is not so realistic.

– Ninja instructional poem

Ninja by John Man

[Note: I want your questions about real-life ninjas! Please include them in the comments down below or here, and I’ll try to pass them on to author John Man to answer.]

Our idea of the quintessential ninja is a little short of historical reality. In fact, what does the average person really know besides that they dress in all black and are masters of stealth and assassination techniques? They didn’t use magic, they couldn’t walk on water, and their primary goal was not to kill or be killed.

John Man’s new book Ninja: 1,000 Years of the Shadow Warrior traces this order through history — from the first proto-ninjas to the true ninjas’ rising prevalence in Iga and Kōga in Japan and their fall and final years. Much of the foundation of ninjutsu (the way of life) came from Chinese origins, and the ninja were more concerned with survival than their flashier counterparts, the samurai, who chose self-sacrifice and would commit seppuku, or suicide by disembowelment, rather than face defeat. A ninja’s objective involved gathering information and relaying it back to his employer, where it could be of use — and that couldn’t happen if ninjas charged in on enemy territory, prepared to die.

Black wasn’t even the necessary go-to color for a ninja. Brown worked just fine, too, and dark blue was preferable under moonlight.

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Awesome book cover Friday: Gravity’s Rainbow

This week’s featured cover is of Gravity’s Rainbow by Thomas Pynchon.

Gravity's Rainbow by Thomas Pynchon

Thanks to Sarah for the tip! Here’s a description of the book:

Winner of the 1974 National Book Award

“A screaming comes across the sky …” A few months after the Germans’ secret V-2 rocket bombs begin falling on London, British Intelligence discovers that a map of the city pinpointing the sexual conquests of one Lieutenant Tyrone Slothrop, U.S. Army, corresponds identically to a map showing the V-2 impact sites. The implications of this discovery will launch Slothrop on an amazing journey across war-torn Europe, fleeing an international cabal of military-industrial superpowers, in search of the mysterious Rocket 00000, through a wildly comic extravaganza that has been hailed in The New Republic as “the most profound and accomplished American novel since the end of World War II.”

This particular cover is a new Random House U.K. version coming out in February 2013, designed by Matt Broughton. It’s one of the New York Times’ favorite cover designs of 2012. Here’s what they had to say:

I love the graphic simplicity and power of this cover. A rainbow made up of V-2 rockets is an ingenious solution. The one black rocket placed in the center of all the other rockets alludes to the quest for the mysterious black device on “the one rocket out of 6,000 that carried the Imipolex G device.” From a strictly graphic point of view I love the choice of the grey felt background and the subtle paint texturing of the colored rockets.

What do you think? I’d definitely put this one on my shelf.