The life story of Tokugawa Yoshinobu (1837-1913), the 15th and final successor to the powerful Tokugawa shogunate, is intrinsically interesting and well written to boot. Narrated by Japan's popular and prolific Ryotaro Shiba, and translated into a spare and engaging English text by Juliet Winters Carpenter, The Last Shogun is a mesmerizingly good read. With isolationist Japan coming under increasing foreign pressure to open its bolted doors and civil war threatening from within, Yoshinobu lived, schemed, and ruled during a time of great historic consequence. His rise to power is recounted with narrative flair, from his birth in the least prestigious of the three Tokugawa family branches, through his rigorous early training (his father made him sleep with a sword at either side of his head to ensure that he wouldn't toss and turn), and into his shogun years. From there, Shiba details the military crises of a dying regime and how Yoshinobu attempted to stem the assaults of a new era. With the behind-the-scenes machinations of intrigue, the progression of internal and external pressures, the political personalities of the times, and the rich cultural flavor of an insular Japan, the story is gripping enough for a long plane flight--yet it's more than just a way to pass the travel time. Reading Ryotaro Shiba's account of Yoshinobu's life provides a wonderful backdrop for a present-day visit to Japan, painting a scene that's drenched in the ambiance of Japanese traditions while offering an understanding of Japan's complex history in the form of a rich and compelling James Micheneresque narrative.