10 books like The Tale of the Heike

By Royall Tyler (translator),

Here are 10 books that authors have personally recommended if you like The Tale of the Heike. Shepherd is a community of 7,000+ authors sharing their favorite books with the world.

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The Tale of Genji

By Murasaki Shikibu, Edward G. Seidensticker (translator),

Book cover of The Tale of Genji

Jump ahead four hundred years, spin the globe a quarter turn, and we come to what most literary taxonomists will call the first ‘novel,’ The Tale of Genji by Murasaki Shikibu, who was herself a lady of court during the Heian period. While not as jaw-dropping as the Procopius, Murasaki’s tale likewise functions as a window into a world so distant and exoticfrom both a moral and aesthetic perspectivethat its abiding and underlying familiarity consoles. And isn’t that the point? The supernatural influence is more subtle, but definitely there; witness the several instances of Mononokei.e., evil spirits given to possessing innocent minds. Murasaki provides two notable twists on the idea; first that such invasive spirits can originate either from this life or the afterlife (one of the prince’s courtesans does both). Relatedly, when the evil spirit travels from a living person into the psyche…

The Tale of Genji

By Murasaki Shikibu, Edward G. Seidensticker (translator),

Why should I read it?

2 authors picked The Tale of Genji as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

 

In the early eleventh century Murasaki Shikibu, a lady in the Heian court of Japan, wrote what many consider to be the world’s first novel, more than three centuries before Chaucer. The Heian era (794—1185) is recognized as one of the very greatest periods in Japanese literature, and The Tale of Genji is not only the unquestioned prose masterpiece of that period but also the most lively and absorbing account we have of the intricate, exquisite, highly ordered court culture that made such a masterpiece possible.

 

Genji is the favorite son of the emperor but also a man of dangerously…


The Tale of Murasaki

By Liza Dalby,

Book cover of The Tale of Murasaki

The perfect companion piece to The Tale of Genji, The Tale of Murasaki is a modern historical novel about Murasaki Shikibu (author of The Tale of Genji). Author Liza Dalby is a scholar of Japanese culture as well as the only Westerner ever to become a geisha. A meticulously researched, evocative window into Heian Japan.

The Tale of Murasaki

By Liza Dalby,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked The Tale of Murasaki as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

The Tale of Murasaki is an elegant and brilliantly authentic historical novel by the author of Geisha and the only Westerner ever to have become a geisha.

In the eleventh century Murasaki Shikibu wrote the world’s first novel, The Tale of Genji, the most popular work in the history of Japanese literature. In The Tale of Murasaki, Liza Dalby has created a breathtaking fictionalized narrative of the life of this timeless poet–a lonely girl who becomes such a compelling storyteller that she is invited to regale the empress with her tales. The Tale of Murasakiis the story of an enchanting…


The Nobility of Failure

By Ivan Morris,

Book cover of The Nobility of Failure: Tragic Heroes in the History of Japan

The Japanese love underdogs. Ten are portrayed here, ranging from the 4th to the 20th centuries, with storylines that Shakespeare would’ve stolen if only he’d known about them. A terrific round-up that will inspire you to delve deeper into Japanese history.

The Nobility of Failure

By Ivan Morris,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked The Nobility of Failure as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

Alexander, Robin Hood, Wellington, George Washington... The Western literatures are packed with the stories—real and otherwise—of diverse heroes, but most of them share the common element of victory. Many of them died heroically to achieve their goals.

In Japan, however, many of the most revered heroes lost their lives without achieving their goals, and in many cases fought their battles in full realization that they would end in abject defeat and death.

This cultural background remains a bedrock underlying the modern Japanese psyche, and continues to shape the Japanese as individuals and a society even today, unconsciously, in the same…


The Lone Samurai

By William Scott Wilson,

Book cover of The Lone Samurai: The Life of Miyamoto Musashi

Miyamoto Musashi (1584-1645) has an almost mythic status as Japan’s greatest swordsman. As a teenager, he fought on the losing side at Sekigahara, and went on to become a renowned duelist. The two-sword style he created (nitoryu) is still practiced as part of modern kendo (Japanese sword fighting). It wasn’t just Musashi’s technical mastery that left mouths agape, but also his ability to psych out his opponents. If you’ve never heard of his famous duel against Sasaki Kojiro on Funa Island, you’re in for a treat. Wilson’s short biography captures Musashi in all his enigmatic glory.

The Lone Samurai

By William Scott Wilson,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked The Lone Samurai as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

An expert on samurai history paints a vivid, multi-faceted portrait of feudal Japan and Miyamoto Musashi—the legendary swordsman who wrote the classic martial arts treatise, The Book of Five Rings
 
Born in 1584, Miyamoto Musashi was the legendary samurai known throughout the world as a master swordsman, spiritual seeker, and author of the classic book on strategy, The Book of Five Rings. Over 350 years after his death, Musashi and his legacy still fascinate readers worldwide, inspiring artists, authors, and filmmakers.
 
In The Lone Samurai, respected translator and expert on samurai culture William Scott Wilson presents both a vivid account…


The Apple of His Eye

By William Chester Jordan,

Book cover of The Apple of His Eye: Converts from Islam in the Reign of Louis IX

In his unsurpassed, informative, and intrinsically interesting study, Jordan reveals how France’s Louis IX settled over a thousand Muslims in France after his first Crusade during the thirteenth century. Jordan writes beautifully and through his careful research, engaging style, and polished prose, a forgotten world that few had imagined to even exist comes vividly alive.  

The Apple of His Eye

By William Chester Jordan,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked The Apple of His Eye as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

The thirteenth century brought new urgency to Catholic efforts to convert non-Christians, and no Catholic ruler was more dedicated to this undertaking than King Louis IX of France. His military expeditions against Islam are well documented, but there was also a peaceful side to his encounter with the Muslim world, one that has received little attention until now. This splendid book shines new light on the king's program to induce Muslims-the "apple of his eye"-to voluntarily convert to Christianity and resettle in France. It recovers a forgotten but important episode in the history of the Crusades while providing a rare…


The Wind-Up Bird Chronicle

By Haruki Murakami,

Book cover of The Wind-Up Bird Chronicle

A deeply engrossing story, where characters are transported back into time from contemporary Japan to zoos in Manchuria on the eve of Japan’s 1945 defeat. Although the narrative is disjointed, its characters are haunting, and the work is unforgettable. A mesmerizing tale by the greatest living novelist of Japan today.

The Wind-Up Bird Chronicle

By Haruki Murakami,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked The Wind-Up Bird Chronicle as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

INCLUDES A READING GUIDE

Toru Okada's cat has disappeared and this has unsettled his wife, who is herself growing more distant every day. Then there are the increasingly explicit telephone calls he has started receiving. As this compelling story unfolds, the tidy suburban realities of Okada's vague and blameless life, spent cooking, reading, listening to jazz and opera and drinking beer at the kitchen table, are turned inside out, and he embarks on a bizarre journey, guided (however obscurely) by a succession of characters, each with a tale to tell.


Between Two Cultures

By Carlo M. Cipolla, Christopher Woodall (translator),

Book cover of Between Two Cultures: An Introduction to Economic History

Cipolla, a brilliant author, shows in this study how economic history and economic concepts can be used to study the past even when they did not exist at the time. Cipolla engagingly explains how economic concepts, even when unrecognized, can be useful tools of analysis. In order to demonstrate this principle, for example, he memorably explains how the clothes used to prevent plague in medieval Europe were effective for reasons totally different than contemporaries realized. Mistaken understandings could still lead to effective actions.  

Between Two Cultures

By Carlo M. Cipolla, Christopher Woodall (translator),

Why should I read it?

1 author picked Between Two Cultures as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

In this wise and witty work, a world-renowned economic historian takes us behind the scenes to observe a small band of scholars reconstructing the past with the tools of economic analysis and the narrative power of the traditional historian.


Stealing the Mystic Lamb

By Noah Charney,

Book cover of Stealing the Mystic Lamb

Noah Charney is an art historian and has written several interesting books that I have read. Even though this book, Stealing the Mystic Lamb, came out too late for my novel, the “altarpiece” of my book is in fact the “Mystic Lamb” otherwise known as the Ghent Altarpiece. My quasi-obsession with this monumental piece of art is matched by Charney and he describes how often it has been stolen and nearly destroyed. No other piece of art has had a history quite like this one. 

Stealing the Mystic Lamb

By Noah Charney,

Why should I read it?

2 authors picked Stealing the Mystic Lamb as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

Jan van Eyck's Ghent Altarpiece is on any art historian's list of the ten most important paintings ever made. It is also the most frequently stolen artwork of all time. Since its completion in 1432, this twelve-panel oil painting has been looted in three different wars, burned, dismembered, forged, smuggled, censored, hidden, attacked by iconoclasts, hunted by the Nazis and Napoleon, used as a diplomatic tool, ransomed, rescued by Austrian double-agents, and stolen a total of thirteen times. In this fast-paced, real-life thriller, art historian Noah Charney unravels the fascinating stories of each of these thefts. Charney also explores psychological…


The World Turned Upside Down

By Pierre François Souyri,

Book cover of The World Turned Upside Down: Medieval Japanese Society

A marvelously coherent and stimulating introduction to the turbulent politics and social and economic life of Japan between revolutionary changes in 1185 and the early sixteenth century, with much to say about cultural life as well. Souyri is as interested in the lives of peasants and traders as in that of shoguns and samurai.

The World Turned Upside Down

By Pierre François Souyri,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked The World Turned Upside Down as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

In the late twelfth century, Japanese people called the transitional period in which they were living the "age of warriors." Feudal clans fought civil wars, and warriors from the Kanto Plain rose up to restore the military regime of their shogun, Yoritomo. The whole of this intermediary period came to represent a gap between two stable societies: the ancient period, dominated by the imperial court in Heian (today's Kyoto), and the modern period, dominated by the Tokugawa bakufu based in Edo (today's Tokyo). In this remarkable portrait of a complex period in the evolution of Japan, Pierre F. Souyri uses…


Woman in the Crested Kimono

By Edwin McClellan,

Book cover of Woman in the Crested Kimono: The Life of Shibue Io and Her Family Drawn from Mori Ogai's Shibue Chusai

Picture a woman just emerged from her bath, wearing nothing but a loincloth with a dagger between her teeth, confronting three thieves who threaten her husband. This was Shibue Io, born the daughter of a wealthy merchant in 1816, who chose as her spouse a scholar and samurai bureaucrat. He had already been married three times and was eleven years her senior. He had erudition and prestige; she had wealth and enough willpower for both of them. Her story takes the reader through the intimate details of daily life of well-placed Edo families, the intricacies of family alliances complicated by the prevalance of adult adoption, and the challenges of surviving civil war and a forced move from Edo up to the frozen north. She is nothing short of unforgettable. 

Woman in the Crested Kimono

By Edwin McClellan,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked Woman in the Crested Kimono as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

"The life of Shibue Io and her family, a kind of Japanese Buddenbrooks, may be unknown in the West, but her rich and engaging story marks the intersection of a remarkable woman with a fascinating time in history."-Arthur Golden, author of Memoirs of a Geisha

"It stands clichEs about traditional Japan on their heads. . . .Together with the people she knew, Io lives on in this literary album of old family pictures. It is well worth looking at."-Ian Buruma, New York Times Book Review

"A most engaging book. Seeing Shibue Io through the various lenses of her husband, her…


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