This book by Romulus Hillsborough, contains short stories of famous samurai during the bloody death throes of the Tokugawa Shogunate at the eve of the Meiji Resotoration. They describe samurai on both sides of the bloody conflict, those that supported the restoration of the emperor and those that were loyal to the Shogun.
These were the last true samurai of Japan. The warrior class of samurai had ruled Japan for a thousand years. There loyalty and devotion were unmatched. They were willing to kill for their beliefs. They were also willing to die. And this book explains that vividly. If you read this book, be warned, it can be gruesome and detailed in its explanation of the violence of that time.
One of the most famous samurai of this time was Sakamoto Ryoma. He was a ronin from Tosa. A masterless samurai. He left his domain of Tosa to join other ronin in Kyoto in the struggle to overthrow the Shogun and restore the emperor to power.
One day Ryoma encountered a friend. The man wore a long sword. Ryoma took one look at the sword, and said, "That sword is too long. If you get caught in close quarters, you won't be able to draw the blade." Showing the man his own sword, Ryoma said, "This is a better length."
Soon after, the man replaced his long sword with a shorter one, and showed it to Ryoma. Laughing, Ryoma produced a pistol from his breast pocket, and with a wide grin on his face said, "This is the weapon I've been using lately." The two friends met again some time later, when Ryoma took from his pocket a book of international law. "In the future," he said, "we are going to have to learn more than just the art of war. I've been reading this recently, and it is so very interesting."
Sakamoto Ryoma was assassinated in 1867 by samurai supporters of the Shogun, just months before the fall of the Shogun.