100 books like The Tale of the Heike

By Royall Tyler (translator),

Here are 100 books that The Tale of the Heike fans have personally recommended if you like The Tale of the Heike. Shepherd is a community of 10,000+ authors and super readers sharing their favorite books with the world.

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Book cover of The Tale of Genji

S.E. Sasaki Author Of Welcome to the Madhouse

From my list on sci-fi/fantasy historically written by women.

Who am I?

I've been reading science fiction since the age of seven, when I first read Madaleine L’Engle’s A Wrinkle in Time. Then it was Podkayne of Mars by Robert Heinlein, A Rite of Passage by Alexei Panshin, Dune by Frank Herbert, The Lord of the Rings by J.R.R. Tolkien, etc. My list is in honour of Women’s History Month and to recognize the gifted female writers of the past who faced discrimination in the publishing world and yet still triumphed. When I started writing fiction, with my medical background, it had to be about medicine. Thus The Grace Lord series was born. My protagonist, Dr. Grace Lord, is a fearless and compassionate combat surgeon.

S.E.'s book list on sci-fi/fantasy historically written by women

S.E. Sasaki Why did S.E. love this book?

Murasaki Shikibu was a lady of the Heian Court of Japan in the eleventh century and has been credited with creating the first novel ever written.

The Tale of Genji has stood the test of centuries. It reveals a world of political machinations, danger, passionate intrigue, and forbidden love in an exotic setting of a time long forgotten. Genji is the son of an emperor and, once you read him, you will understand why his tale is still so popular today.

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

Why should I read it?

3 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…


Book cover of The Tale of Murasaki

Pamela S. Turner Author Of Samurai Rising: The Epic Life of Minamoto Yoshitsune

From my list on pre-modern Japan.

Who am I?

I write books for young readers about history, science, and nature. I lived in Japan for six years and became fascinated with Japanese history—particularly the late 12th-century civil war recounted in the medieval classic The Tale of the Heike. I especially loved stories about Minamoto Yoshitsune, the warrior who won the war but was destroyed by his elder brother Yoritomo, who became the first Shogun and kicked off the 700-year reign of the samurai. I spent two years researching Samurai Rising: The Epic Life of Minamoto Yoshitsune and loved every minute of it. I’m also a second-degree black belt in kendo (Japanese sword fighting).

Pamela's book list on pre-modern Japan

Pamela S. Turner Why did Pamela love this book?

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.

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…


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

Pamela S. Turner Author Of Samurai Rising: The Epic Life of Minamoto Yoshitsune

From my list on pre-modern Japan.

Who am I?

I write books for young readers about history, science, and nature. I lived in Japan for six years and became fascinated with Japanese history—particularly the late 12th-century civil war recounted in the medieval classic The Tale of the Heike. I especially loved stories about Minamoto Yoshitsune, the warrior who won the war but was destroyed by his elder brother Yoritomo, who became the first Shogun and kicked off the 700-year reign of the samurai. I spent two years researching Samurai Rising: The Epic Life of Minamoto Yoshitsune and loved every minute of it. I’m also a second-degree black belt in kendo (Japanese sword fighting).

Pamela's book list on pre-modern Japan

Pamela S. Turner Why did Pamela love this book?

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.

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…


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

Pamela S. Turner Author Of Samurai Rising: The Epic Life of Minamoto Yoshitsune

From my list on pre-modern Japan.

Who am I?

I write books for young readers about history, science, and nature. I lived in Japan for six years and became fascinated with Japanese history—particularly the late 12th-century civil war recounted in the medieval classic The Tale of the Heike. I especially loved stories about Minamoto Yoshitsune, the warrior who won the war but was destroyed by his elder brother Yoritomo, who became the first Shogun and kicked off the 700-year reign of the samurai. I spent two years researching Samurai Rising: The Epic Life of Minamoto Yoshitsune and loved every minute of it. I’m also a second-degree black belt in kendo (Japanese sword fighting).

Pamela's book list on pre-modern Japan

Pamela S. Turner Why did Pamela love this book?

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.

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…


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

Thomas D. Conlan Author Of Weapons & Fighting Techniques of the Samurai Warrior 1200-1877 AD

From my list on medieval European history to Japanese literature.

Who am I?

I have been fascinated with history in general, and the history of Japan, since I was in junior high when I read a book on the samurai. After attending summer school at Harvard in 1985, I resolved to devote myself to the study of Japan. Since then, I have studied at Michigan, Stanford, and Kyoto before teaching Japanese history at first Bowdoin College and now, Princeton University. Although I primarily research Japanese history, I find scholarship pertaining to medieval and early modern Europe to be fascinating as well. 

Thomas' book list on medieval European history to Japanese literature

Thomas D. Conlan Why did Thomas love this book?

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.  

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…


Book cover of The Wind-Up Bird Chronicle

Paul Burman Author Of The Snowing And Greening Of Thomas Passmore

From my list on time-bending that turn reality inside-out.

Who am I?

I’m the author of three novels, several short stories and quite a few articles about writing and literature. While I’ve haven’t aimed to write for a specific genre—all three of my novels are different in this respect—my plots usually focus on a mystery. I enjoy novels with strong, credible characters, which are based in a recognisable, everyday reality, but where bizarre events can turn the world upside down.

Paul's book list on time-bending that turn reality inside-out

Paul Burman Why did Paul love this book?

This is the first novel I read by Haruki Murakami and it got me hooked on his writing.

Toru Okada is tasked with finding his lost cat but, as he searches, the past stories of other characters constantly intersect and become inescapable detours, which often foster ambiguity and a sense of becoming lost in a charmed world.

We’re left with an impression of a world slipping into the surreal, where reality becomes blurred like Okada’s memory of what his missing cat looks like, and where “Ten minutes is not ten minutes” because time can stretch and shrink. I was frequently surprised and sometimes confounded by this but, because of Murakami’s skill as a writer, felt pleasantly lulled with the same dreamlike acquiescence as his hero into following Okada’s convoluted journey.

By Haruki Murakami,

Why should I read it?

4 authors 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.


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

Thomas D. Conlan Author Of Weapons & Fighting Techniques of the Samurai Warrior 1200-1877 AD

From my list on medieval European history to Japanese literature.

Who am I?

I have been fascinated with history in general, and the history of Japan, since I was in junior high when I read a book on the samurai. After attending summer school at Harvard in 1985, I resolved to devote myself to the study of Japan. Since then, I have studied at Michigan, Stanford, and Kyoto before teaching Japanese history at first Bowdoin College and now, Princeton University. Although I primarily research Japanese history, I find scholarship pertaining to medieval and early modern Europe to be fascinating as well. 

Thomas' book list on medieval European history to Japanese literature

Thomas D. Conlan Why did Thomas love this book?

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.  

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.


Book cover of Stealing the Mystic Lamb

Lauren Fogle Boyd Author Of The Altarpiece

From my list on art and culture during World War II.

Who am I?

My interest in this topic began because of a trip to a museum in 2008. I noticed that a painting had been removed from view and a small piece of paper was hanging on the wall where the painting had been. The paper explained that this piece was involved in a court case revolving around whether or not it had been stolen from its Jewish owner by the Nazis during World War II. Nazi cultural appropriation, looting, suppression, and destruction turned out to be one of the most fascinating stories of the entire war. The research for my historical novel took several years, but it allowed me to write a book based on the facts.

Lauren's book list on art and culture during World War II

Lauren Fogle Boyd Why did Lauren love this book?

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. 

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…


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

David Abulafia Author Of The Boundless Sea: A Human History of the Oceans

From my list on global history before the modern era.

Who am I?

We live in an increasingly connected world. But human beings have always made connections with one another across space, and the space I find especially exciting is water - whether the narrow space of seas such as the Mediterranean and the Baltic, or the broader and wilder spaces of the great oceans. These are spaces that link distant countries and continents, across which people have brought objects, ideas and religions as well as themselves - a history of migrants, merchants, mercenaries, missionaries, and many others that can be recovered from shipwrecks, travellers' tales, cargo manifests, and many other sources, a history, ultimately, of the origins of our globalized world.

David's book list on global history before the modern era

David Abulafia Why did David love this book?

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.

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…


Book cover of Women of the Mito Domain: Recollections of Samurai Family Life

Anne Walthall Author Of The Weak Body of a Useless Woman: Matsuo Taseko and the Meiji Restoration

From my list on amazing women during the age of the samurai.

Who am I?

When I was studying Japan in graduate school, my advisor once told me that he hoped I wouldn’t pursue research in women’s history, calling it a fad. He was wrong, but it took me well over ten years to figure that out. Thanks to colleagues and friends, I helped build the field of Japanese women’s history in English, especially for the early modern period. As professor emerita at the University of California, Irvine, I remain committed to the possibility of uncovering the lives of yet more amazing women who challenge the stereotypes of docile wife and seductive geisha all too prevalent in fiction set in Japan.

Anne's book list on amazing women during the age of the samurai

Anne Walthall Why did Anne love this book?

Want to know how samurai women managed their high status but meager incomes? This engaging memoir takes us inside the nitty-gritty of their everyday life that was frugal by necessity. We learn how samurai women dressed, the importance they placed on meticulous grooming, and how they dealt with in-laws, concubines, and a runaway daughter. It shows how in principle samurai women were expected to practice the martial arts with the naginata (a long, thin halberd), but in fact, they were too busy with household chores to receive more than token training.

For the history buff, the memoir also paints a vivid picture of the civil war that erupted in the Mito domain in 1864 and its devastating consequences for the women whose families ended up on the losing side. 

By Kikue Yamakawa, Kate Wildman Nakai (translator),

Why should I read it?

1 author picked Women of the Mito Domain as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

Based on the recollection of the author's mother, other relatives, and family records, this is a vivid picture of the everyday life of a samurai household in the last years of the Tokugawa period.


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