The Art of War

theartofwarThe Art of War
by Sun Tzu
2nd to 4th century BC (probably last revision)
very short – less than 50 pages
rating  8(?) – classic non-fiction, military strategy maybe theory
translated by Lionel Giles –

Interesting book, for the most part – it’s basically a point by point treatise on how a good leader will conduct wars.  It’s not at all pro-war – actually, Sun was often against war – but if you have to fight, then fight to win.  These are the principles. Most of the printed editions  those days use some kind of annotation or explanation below the point. Those are sometimes interesting, often dull as dirt.

It’s organized into 13 chapters, “Laying Plans,” “Waging War,” “The Sheathed Sword,” “Tactics,” “Energy,” “Maneuvering,” “Variation on Tactics,” “The Army on the March,” “Terrain,” “The Nine Situations,” “Attack by Fire,”  and “The Use of Spies.”  I  enjoyed just reading through the bullets without explanation – many of them seemed perfectly obvious to me and it has its own little rhythm of its own (in the right translation –

From Chapter 1:

3. The art of war, then, is governed by five constant factors, to be taken into account in one’s deliberations, when seeking to determine the conditions obtaining in the field. 

4. These are: (1) The Moral Law; (2) Heaven; (3) Earth; (4) The Commander; (5) Method and discipline. 

5,6. The Moral Law causes the people to be in complete accord with their ruler, so that they will follow him regardless of their lives, undismayed by any danger. 

7. Heaven signifies night and day, cold and heat, times and seasons. 

8. Earth comprises distances, great and small; danger and security; open ground and narrow passes; the chances of life and death. 

9. The Commander stands for the virtues of wisdom, sincerely, benevolence, courage and strictness. 

10. By method and discipline are to be understood the marshaling of the army in its proper subdivisions, the graduations of rank among the officers, the maintenance of roads by which supplies may reach the army, and the control of military expenditure. 

11. These five heads should be familiar to every general: he who knows them will be victorious; he who knows them not will fail. 

My favorite chapter was probably the last one – on spies.

I am curious as to why this book would be interesting to businessmen – is business war?  I don’t like that.  The same way they read Machiavelli,  I guess.


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