In Progress Review: The Imjin War: Japan's Sixteenth-Century Invasion of Korea and Attempt to Conquer China, by Samuel Hawley


This isn't a final review, since I'm still reading this book, but I read a line yesterday that was so damned good I want to get a recommendation out for this book now rather than later.

A scene where a Korean general has realized he is not going to survive, much less win, the battle at hand is described as:

“This is the place where I will die.” It was. And he did.

That's some fantastically concise and correct writing. 

This is a very good book so far, btw. Originally published in 2005, it's back in print as a new edition, and generally considered the best book available on the topic in English (not that there's many to begin with). As a war that's basically unknown in the West, it's fascinating. It's the story of the Japanese warlord/unifier Hideyoshi's attempt to not only conquer Korea, but also China, Vietnam, the other southeast Asian island kingdoms, Spanish Philippines, and, why not, India as well.

He was nothing if not ambitious, particularly since he began this undertaking before he had fully completed conquering all of Japan itself. 

It goes into great detail on how the societies and economies involved were structured at the time, as well as covering the actual military campaigns and events that took place (the naval stuff is particularly bonkers).

It's enjoyable written, fast-moving, and has the nice feature of doing short recaps of previously-covered events inline when the followup events are covered later, a tactic I suspect was purposely chosen by the author to cover the typical Western reader's lack of familiarity with the topic overall. Essentially, the reader needn't struggle to remember all of the important names and places on their own, as he will give you a brief reintroduction when they rejoin the action after their initial appearances. It's a thoughtful touch.

Anyways, it would have to fall off course rather hard for me to turn my current recommendation into a non-recommendation, and there's nothing to indicate that that's going to happen, so if you have any interest in east Asian history or military history but this massive war is somehow still foreign to you, pick this book up. It's intensely fascinating.