The Art of War

The Art of War

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by Sun Tzu

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Complexities of meaning and historical interpretations illustrate the timelessness of Sun Tzu's treatise on war.  See more details below


Complexities of meaning and historical interpretations illustrate the timelessness of Sun Tzu's treatise on war.

Editorial Reviews

Library Journal
This year's crop of Penguin "Great Ideas" volumes offers another eclectic dozen works that shaped society from the ancient Greeks to the 20th century. The books are fairly no frills, but the price isn't bad. Copyright 2006 Reed Business Information.
City Book Review
With editorial notes and a new translation by James Trapp, this beautifully bound book is a must for any strategist or business man, or any everyday man that is looking for tips on how to rise to the top of whatever corporate or social ladder he is climbing.
From the Publisher

Robert L. O’Connell, author of Arms and Men: A History of Warm Weapons, and Aggression
“A tour de force. Sawyer puts this most famous of the classic Chinese military writings into context and shows that Sun-tzu was not just a solitary genius, but the product of a remarkably rich martial culture.”

Robin D.S. Yates, Burlington Northern Professor of Asian Studies, Dartmouth College
“I am convinced that this translation…will prove to be the definitive edition for many years to come.”

Arther Ferrill, author of The Origins of War: From the Stone Age to Alexander the Great
“Fills a serious gap for anyone interested in the history of ancient warfare…a fascinating book.”

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Sun-tzu is the earliest extant strategic book in human history. It is also the most brilliant and widely applied strategic book ever written.

This timeless, invaluable classic has been handed down to us over approximately twenty-four hundred years.' Even its earliest existing version -- the Linyi text -- is about twenty-one hundred years old. Throughout these two millennia, Sun-tzu's compact but rich text has been the authoritative guide for military affairs and political activities primarily in the Far East.

In more modern times, Sun-tzu was translated into French (in 1772 ) and so gradually was introduced to the West. It also has come to be extensively adopted in all areas where problem solving, competition, or development require strategic guidance. Therefore, in addition to its traditional military and political uses, it has naturally become a part of international affairs, global trade, political campaigns, athletic competitions, the management of large or small businesses, and even daily concerns for both profit and success. We therefore may say that Sun-tzu can address something as enormous as a country's existence and the achievement of its military goals, or as modest as a person's satisfaction in life.


Sun-tzu is the book's title, and it also is the author's name; labeling a book after its author was customary in China during the pre-Qin period (before 211 B.C.). From historical records we know that Sun-tzu's given name was Sun Wu, that he was born into a noble clan initially surnamed Chen which lived in the state of Qi, and that he was a youngercontemporary of Confucius. Since the early Zhou Dynasty his ancestors had possessed feudal territory south of the Yellow River; theirs was a small state called Chen, which was later assimilated by the major power, Chu (see the map in Appendix 1).

The state of Chen was filled with political intrigues. In 675 B.C. a political storm in which the heir apparent was murdered swept the state, and this persuaded the princeling Chen Wan to escape to the state of Qi. This princeling was the first generation of Sun Wu's clan to live in Qi.

When Chen Wan was still young, his father, the Lord of Chen, invited a taishi in charge of records and astronomy for the Zhou emperor's court to cast an oracle for his son; this oracle foretold that Chen Wan's descendants would possess a state outside of Chen. Later, when Chen Wan was betrothed, his fiancée's family had the bridal couple's fortunes read, and they were told that their descendants would begin to prosper in the fifth generation, and by the eighth generation they would be without peer.

The Power Struggles of Sun Wu's Ancestors

After the Chen clan immigrated to Qi, its members showed a marked ability for political advancement. The fifth-generation descendant of Chen Wan was named Chen Wuyu, and he ultimately achieved the paramount station of daifu (comparable to a proconsul); this coincided with what had been foretold at his great-great-grandmother's betrothal.

Since the Chen clan rose out of a dangerous environment awash with political machinations, it grew to be adept in cultivating exceptional strategic insight, So, at about the time Chen Wuyu became a daifu, he and his father, Chen Wenzi, sensitively took note of the increasingly serious dissension between the ruling Qing clan of Qi and the other nobles. The father said to his son, "Something is about to happen.... What can we gain from this?" Chen Wuyu obliquely replied, "On the main boulevard of the capital we will be able to secure a hundred carts of the Qing family's lumber." Chen Wenzi warned him to "guard them carefully." (This riddle meant that they would obtain the resources on which the Qing clan's political power was based.)

In the autumn of 545 B.C., the wielder of the Qing clan's political power, Qing Feng, went on a hunt with Chen Wuyu accompanying him as an attendant. Before they arrived at the hunting ground, Chen's father sent him the grievous news that Chen Wuyu's mother was critically ill. Qing's men immediately had a tortoiseshell oracle cast and were given a forewarning of death. Tightly clasping the shell in both of his hands, Chen Wuyu wept, and Qing Feng therefore allowed him to return. On his way back, though, Chen Wuyu destroyed all of the boats and bridges, thereby cutting off Qing Feng's return route. And upon his arrival, the Chen clan instantly allied itself with the enemies of the Qing clan.

Before long, the Lord of Qi held the autumnal sacrifices. While the Qing clan still remaining in the capital guarded the shrine, the Chens and their allies sent in their own grooms to sing at the festivities. As the hours passed, the Qing men took off their armor, tethered their horses, drank wine, and enjoyed the entertainment. When the time was ripe, the Chens and their allies swiftly stole all of the armor and weapons, then slew the entire Qing family. The Chen clan thereupon began its climb to become the most politically influential in all of Qi.

Chen Wuyu had three sons: Kai, Qi, and Shu. The surname Sun was conferred upon the third son, Chen Shu, because of his military accomplishments; he became Sun Wu's father. The three sons of Chen Wuyu all gained considerable experience as battle commanders, in addition to their political seasoning.

The second son, Chen Qi, was the most adept of the three at political intrigue; he was the one his father and grandfather relied on for realizing their plans to seize power in Qi. Since ancient times those who have lusted after power typically have been ruthless -- they have cared nothing for bonds or relationships -- so we can imagine how fragile the family ties of these three Chen brothers must have been.

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What People are saying about this

Tony Soprano
Been reading that-- that book you told me about. You know, The Art of War by Sun Tzu. I mean here's this guy, a Chinese general, wrote this thing 2400 years ago, and most of it still applies today! Balk the enemy's power. Force him to reveal himself. You know most of the guys that I know, they read Prince Machiabelli, and I had Carmela go and get the Cliff Notes once and -- he's okay. But this book is much better about strategy.
From the Publisher
"The strategic advice that [The Art of War] offers concerns much more than the conduct of war. It is an ancient book of proverbial wisdom, a book of life." (John Minford, from the Introduction)
Samuel B. Griffith
"As a reflection of the Chinese mind, this little work is as relevant as any Confucian classic." -- Brigadier General, ret. U.S. Marine Corps, is the author of The Battle for Guadalcanal, Peking and People and People's Wars, The Chinese People's Liberation Army, and editor and translator of Mao Tse-tung: On Guerilla War.

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The Art of War 4.7 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 3 reviews.
Guest More than 1 year ago
I have to say, this is the best interpretation of Sun Tzu¿s classic work I have read. The author focuses on the meanings behind this ancient Chinese war philosopher¿s writings. He puts them into a modern context, making them easy to understand. Sun Tzu's treatise on The Art of War is really a treatise on competitive advantage that applies not only to actual war but such things as getting a job, marketing, and any other competitive situation that you might come across. A deep understanding of competitive advantage, it is still the definitive text for understanding the concepts of how to come out on top in such situations. An easy book to read and understand on a basic level, it can take a lifetime to truly appreciate in on all levels and apply it to the various areas of your life. This translation still seems to be one of the best that I have seen. It is internally consistent between the translated concepts and so shows a level of knowledge and detail that is not present in some other translations. As a translator the author obviously sees the big picture. The Art of War contains both the complete translated text of Sun Tzu's enduring classic on battle strategy, and a modern-day interpretation packed with advice on leadership, learning to keep one's intentions a secret from one's opponents, leveraging advantages as the key to victory, and a great deal more. An excellent resource for anyone seeking self-improvement through internalizing Sun Tzu's wisdom, the Art of War is thoughtful and thought-provoking reading of the highest order. I don¿t think 'The Art of War' was meant to be a moral guide in the strict sense that we attribute to morality in Western civilization, in this particular era. In my opinion, Sun Tzu summarized all his personal experience on tactics and strategy (and perhaps other people's experience, too) in order to write a concise, logical and solid military manual. Military history is one of my biggest personal interests, and I've seen that it is possible to adapt Sun Tzu's ideas to most historical battlefields and eras. Not only does 'The Art of War' deal with maneuvers and tactics in the battlefield, it addresses everything a commander should take into account prior to engaging battle: logistics, intelligence, terrain, morale and last, but not least, the psychological understanding of the opponent. As I mentioned above, 'The Art of War' cannot be seen as guidance for the ethics and morality of our acts, nonetheless, it is a valuable instrument when it comes down to overcome daily life difficulties, it helps focus problems in such a way they can be solved systematically. And when it comes to use such knowledge against individuals, personal foes, it's important to keep on mind that it's best to beat an enemy without actually fighting overkill is not the best outcome most of the times.
AlexeyB More than 1 year ago
Amazing, that after so much time, this book can still be applied in today's world. Highly recommended for those that would like to enrich their worldview.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago