John Man used to drive a Mr Whippy ice-cream van, and for a year wrote a sex column for Time Out before being sacked for ‘unhelpful and often offensive’ suggestions. Naturally his next career move was to study Mongolian languages at SOAS and become an expert on ancient Mongol military history and the surging hordes of Genghis and Attila. He hotfooted it to Ulan Bator and the endless grasslands of the Mongolian steppe for field research, an enterprise that proved so successful that Man was awarded a Mongolian gong for advancing British–Mongolian relations. He is also an expert in philology, but not, so far as I can discover, able to speak or read Japanese.
Despite this language handicap, perhaps significant for a popular historian accustomed to going deep into primary sources, in 2011 Man wrote an account of the Satsuma uprisings of Saigo Takamori, a remarkable man who was the inspiration for the Tom Cruise movie The Last Samurai. When this Hollywood epic first