The Art of War

The Art of War

3.6 514
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 3.6 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 514 reviews.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
This book and many other classics are free from "Project Gutenburg" on various ebook formats.
rawhideron More than 1 year ago
This concise and compact version of Sun Tzu is printed entirely in a "bullet format" which makes it very readable and enhances the understanding of ancient principles of war that are applicable in everyday life. Mr. Giles has published two versions of Sun Tzu's writings into this single book. The first section is a purist version with no interjections and an additional bonus version that incorporates translations and viewpoints of ancient Chinese masters of war.
Knight-2000 More than 1 year ago
The first time that I ever heard of Sun Tzu was on an episode of Star Trek: The Next Generation, and to be honest I thought Sun Tzu was a fictional character. Turns out that its not, and the Art of War is a very real work. Its a very interesting read, and this book is used by the military, and even in the business world.
Fyrebird More than 1 year ago
The Art of War is an excellent book-when it's in a readable format. This is NOT the format to choose.
kittypaws More than 1 year ago
Very interesting historical text that can be extrapolated to fit many modern contemporary situations, however, I found it hard to read this particular version because the formatting was so poor. The footnotes made the text hard to read and often it was hard to tell where the footnote began and the text resumed.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Preserves and present the original text nicely, but could do without the definitions that interupt the flow of the text.
Guest More than 1 year ago
This an excellent book that I have found myself applying its strategies, tactical dispositions, or whatever you want to call them in both my professional and personal lives. I think everyone should have a copy of this book in their briefcase and/or book bag.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
I knew that the book wuld be realy good but I wasn't expecting it to be this good
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
The Art of War is in many ways the Bible of warfare and strategy. And much like the Bible, a passage can have many different meaning depending on who's reading it. I've read through this translation a couple times now and the meanings are always changing, just as the events in our lives are always changing, giving each passage new life and understanding based on those personal experinces that are forever molding and shaping our conscienceness.
US-Military-Art-Guy More than 1 year ago
I was expecting a difficult read, but this was not the case. The annotations are very helpful and interesting, particularly in putting things into historical perspective. Very relevant to the actions in Afganhistan and Iraq today. Although this is mandatory reading for military academy graduates, you can see from current news stories how the deviation from the principles laid out in this work lead to defeat and unnessary loss of life. Perhaps it should be mandatory reading for our Commanders-in-Chief also! I highly recommend this to anyone interested in the military affairs of our country looking for an understanding of why the current wars proceed as they do. To our civilian leaders, this book says "Let the professionals fight the war! Follow their advice! Set policy, then keep your hands off!" Otherwise, don't get involved!
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
I think it is very useful. If the trojans had it they just might have won the war.
NelsonH More than 1 year ago
Chinese is a very ancient language and is quite context-sensitive. This makes good translations to English difficult and two different translations of the same work in Chinese may come very different in English. The Denma Group has done an excellent translation of this ancient Chinese work making it quite understandable and east to read in English. Sun Tzu may have been one of the earliest professional soldiers to actually think about their trade and has come up with some valuable insights about conflict and war in general. Most people who are interested in this work will benefit greatly from having a copy of this translation in their library. A number of essays are included showing how the Denma Group has come to this particular translation and, also the huge amount of effort they have put into it. I own four different translations of the Art of War and this is the one that I carry on my e-reader.
Joel_M More than 1 year ago
A lot of people read The Art of War to gain insight into business competition, inter-personal conflict, etc. Personally, I think it is most interesting as an actual treatise on warfare, statecraft, and tactics as originally intended. Comparing the tactics and outcome of various battles and wars (past and present) to Sun Tzu's advice demonstrates that he generally knew what he was talking about and many (most?) of his principles still hold true. This translation made a serious effort to preserve the ambiguities present in the original, giving it a much more Eastern flavor than some older translations. I can't vouch for translation accuracy since I can't read the original, but Cleary at least sounds a bit more authentic than Giles (the "classic" English translation). The commentary sections sometimes gave insight into how "Master Sun" was understood by others over the next few centuries, but sometimes it was just a tedious unimaginative rephrasing of the original. On your first reading of The Art of War skip the commentary; it breaks up the flow of thought. (Also, don't bother with the 60 page intro unless you really want to hear the translator pontificate about Taoism for 50 pages while saying nothing that you can't pick up from the book itself) If you are interested in diplomacy, espionage, military tactics, etc. this is definitely a great read. Next time you watch a war movie or play a conquer-the-world type game you'll find yourself thinking in terms of The Art of War.
Colin Bennett More than 1 year ago
Spent half the time skipping over information and interpretations i didnt want to read. wouldve been better if it was just sun tzu's writing.
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If you want to read all the babble and very little of the actual text- this is your book!
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manircu33 More than 1 year ago
Good book
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Sum Tzu said: I'M F***KING CHINESE, NOT JAP! YOU IDIOTS Thank you for sharing my wisdom...
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