The Art of War (Barnes & Noble Signature Classics)

The Art of War (Barnes & Noble Signature Classics)

by Sun Tzu


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Like Machiavelli's The Prince and the Japanese Book of Five Rings, Sun Tzu's The Art of War is as timely for business people today as it was for military strategists in ancient China. Written in China more than 2,000 years ago, Sun Tzu's classic The Art of War is the first known study of the planning and conduct of military operations. These terse, aphoristic essays are unsurpassed in comprehensiveness and depth of understanding, examining not only battlefield maneuvers, but also relevant economic, political, and psychological factors. Indeed, the precepts outlined by Sun Tzu regularly applied outside the realm of military theory. It is read avidly by Japanese businessmen and was touted in the movie Wall Street as the corporate raider's bible.

Providing a much-needed translation of this classic, Samuel Griffith has made this powerful and unique work even more relevant to the modern world. Including an explanatory introduction and selected commentaries on the work, this edition makes Sun Tzu's timeless classic perfectly accessible to modern readers.

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9781435171626
Publisher: Barnes & Noble
Publication date: 12/31/2020
Series: Barnes & Noble Signature Classics Series
Pages: 288
Sales rank: 8,837
Product dimensions: 5.30(w) x 7.90(h) x 0.90(d)

About the Author

The late Samuel B. Griffith is the author of The Battle for Guadalcanal and the editor and translator of Mao Tse-tung: "On Guerilla War".

Read an Excerpt


Laying Plans

SUN TZU SAID: The art of war is of vital importance to the state. It is a matter of life and death, a road either to safety or to ruin. Hence it is a subject of inquiry which can on no account be neglected.

The art of war 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.

These are: the Moral Law, Heaven, Earth, the Commander and Method and Discipline.

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.

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

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

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

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

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

Therefore, in your deliberations, when seeking to determine the military conditions, let them be made the basis of a comparison, in this wise:

Seven Searching Questions

1. Which of two sovereigns is imbued with the moral law?

2. Which of two generals has most ability?

3. With whom lie the advantages derived from heaven and earth?

4. On which side is discipline most rigorously enforced?

5. Which army is the stronger?

6. On which side are officers and men most highly trained?

7. In which army is there the greater constancy both in reward and punishment?

By means of these seven considerations I can forecast victory or defeat.

The general who harkens to my counsel and acts upon it, will conquer. Let such a one be retained in command! The general who harkens not to my counsel nor acts upon it, will suffer defeat. Let such a one be dismissed! While heeding the profit of my counsel, avail yourself also of any helpful circumstances over and beyond the ordinary rules. According as circumstances are favorable, one should modify one's plans.

[Sun Tzu is a practical soldier and wants no bookish theories. He cautions here not to pin one's faith on abstract principles. Tactics must be guided by the action of the enemy, as is well illustrated by Sir W. Fraser in his Words on Wellington: On the eve of the battle of Waterloo, Lord Uxbridge asked the Duke of Wellington what his plans were for the morrow, because, he explained, he might suddenly find himself Commander in Chief and would be unable to frame new plans in a critical moment. The Duke asked, "Who will attack first tomorrow — I or Bonaparte?" "Bonaparte," replied Lord Uxbridge. "Well," continued the Duke, "Bonaparte has not given me any idea of his projects; and as my plans will depend on his, how can you expect me to tell you what mine are?"]

Elemental Tactics

All warfare is based on deception. Hence, when able to attack, we must seem unable; when using our forces, we must seem inactive; when we are near, we must make the enemy believe that we are away; when far away, we must make him believe we are near. Hold out baits to entice the enemy. Feign disorder, and crush him.

If he is secure at all points, be prepared for him. If he is superior in strength, evade him. If your opponent is of choleric temper, seek to irritate him. Pretend to be weak, that he may grow arrogant.

If he is inactive, give him no rest. If his forces are united, separate them. Attack him where he is unprepared, appear where you are not expected. These military devices, leading to victory, must not be divulged beforehand.

The general who wins a battle makes many calculations in his temple ere the battle is fought. The general who loses a battle makes but few calculations beforehand. Thus do many calculations lead to victory, and few calculations to defeat: How much more do no calculation at all pave the way to defeat! It is by attention to this point that I can see who is likely to win or lose.


Waging War

SUN TZU SAID: In the operations of war, where there are in the field a thousand swift chariots, as many heavy chariots and a hundred thousand mail-clad soldiers, with provisions enough to carry them a thousand li [2.78 modern li make one mile] the expenditure at home and at the front, including entertainment of guests, small items such as glue and paint, and sums spent on chariots and armor, will reach the total of a thousand ounces of silver per day. Such is the cost of raising an army of 100,000 men.

[It is interesting to note the similarity between early Chinese warfare and that of the Homeric Greeks. In each case, the war chariot was the nucleus around which was grouped the foot soldiers. Each light Chinese chariot was accompanied by 75 infantry, and each heavy chariot by 25 infantry, so that the whole army would be divided into a thousand battalions, each consisting of two chariots and 100 men.]

When you engage in actual fighting, if victory is long in coming, the men's weapons will grow dull and their ardor will be damped. If you lay siege to a town, you will exhaust your strength. Again, if the campaign is protracted, the resources of the state will not be equal to the strain.

Now, when your weapons are dulled, your ardor damped, your strength exhausted and your treasure spent, other chieftains will spring up to take advantage of your extremity. Then no man, however wise, will rarely be able to avert the consequences that must ensue.

Thus, though we have heard of stupid haste in war, cleverness has never been associated with long delays. There is no instance of a country having been benefited from prolonged warfare.


It is only one who is thoroughly acquainted with the evils of war who can thoroughly understand the profitable way of carrying it on. The skillful soldier does not raise a second levy, neither are his supply-wagons loaded more than twice. Bring war material with you from home, but forage on the enemy. Thus the army will have enough for its needs.

[Once war is declared, the great general strikes immediately without waiting until every last detail is taken care of. This may seem audacious advice, but all great strategists, from Julius Caesar to Hitler, realized that time is of vital importance. "Too little, too late" was not one of their mottos.]

Poverty of the state exchequer causes an army to be maintained by contributions from a distance. Contributing to maintain an army at a distance causes people to be impoverished.

On the other hand, the proximity of an army causes prices to go up; and high prices cause the people's substance to be drained away.

When their substance is drained away, the peasantry will be afflicted by heavy exactions.

Living at Enemy Expense

With this loss of subsistence and exhaustion of strength, the homes of the people will be stripped bare and three-tenths of their incomes will be dissipated; while government expenses for broken chariots, worn-out horses, breast-plates and helmets, bows and arrows, spears and shields, protective mantlets, draught-oxen and heavy wagons, will amount to four-tenths of its total revenue.

Hence a wise general makes a point of foraging on the enemy. One cartload of the enemy's provisions is equivalent to twenty of one's own, and likewise a single picul [about 133 pounds] of his provender is equivalent to twenty from one's own store.

In order to kill the enemy, men must be roused to anger; that there may be advantage from defeating the enemy, they must have their rewards.

Therefore in chariot fighting, when ten or more chariots have been taken, those should be rewarded who took the first. Our own flags should be substituted for those of the enemy, and the chariots mingled and used in conjunction with ours. The captured soldiers should be kindly treated and kept. This is called, using the conquered foe to augment one's own strength.

In war, then, let your great object be victory, not lengthy campaigns.

Thus it may be known that the leader of armies is the arbiter of the people's fate, the man on whom depends whether the nation shall be in peace or peril.


Attack by Stratagem

SUN TZU SAID: In the practical art of war, the best thing of all is to take the enemy's country whole and intact; to shatter and destroy it is not so profitable. So, too, it is better to capture an army entire than to destroy it, to capture a regiment, a detachment or a company entire than to annihilate them.

Hence to fight and conquer in all your battles is not supreme excellence; supreme excellence consists in breaking the enemy's resistance without fighting.

[The elder Moltke's greatest triumph, the capitulation of the French at Sedan in 1870, was achieved practically without bloodshed. The Battle of France, May–June 1940, was the climax to a long succession of bloodless and practically bloodless victories for Hitler.]

Thus the highest form of generalship is to balk the enemy's plans. The next best is to prevent the junction of the enemy's forces. The next in order is to attack the enemy's army in the field. The worst policy of all is to besiege walled cities. The rule is, not to besiege walled cities if it can possibly be avoided. The preparation of mantlets, movable shelters, and various implements of war, will take up three whole months; and the piling up of mounds [from which to attack] over against the walls will take three months more.

[Another sound piece of military theory. If the Boers had acted upon it in 1899 and refrained from dissipating their strength before Kimberley and Mafeking they would probably have been masters of the situation before the British were ready seriously to oppose them. The Germans beat their brains out before Stalingrad in 1943.]

The general who is unable to control his impatience will launch his men to the assault like swarming ants, with the result that one-third of his men are slain, while the town remains untaken. Such are liable to be the disastrous effects of a siege.

Therefore the skillful leader subdues the enemy's troops without any fighting; he captures their cities without laying siege to them; he overthrows their kingdom without lengthy operations in the field.

With his forces intact he will dispute the mastery of the empire, and thus, without losing a man, his triumph will be complete. This is the method of attacking by stratagem.

Advantage in Numbers

It is the rule in war, if our forces are ten to the enemy's one, to surround him; if five to one, to attack him; if twice as numerous, to divide our army into two.

If equally matched, we can offer battle; if slightly inferior in numbers, we can avoid the enemy; if quite unequal in every way, we can flee from him. Hence, though an obstinate fight may be made by a small force, in the end it must be captured by the larger force.

Now the general is the bulwark of the state: if the bulwark is complete at all points, the state will be strong; if the bulwark is defective, the state will be weak.

There are three ways in which a ruler can bring misfortune upon his army:

By commanding the army to advance or to retreat, being ignorant of the fact that it cannot obey. This amounts to hobbling the army.

By attempting to govern an army in the same way as he administers a kingdom, being ignorant of the conditions which obtain in an army. This causes restlessness among the soldiers.

By employing the officers of his army without discrimination, through ignorance of the military principle of adapting action to circumstances. This shakes the confidence of the soldiers.

But when the army is restless and distrustful, trouble is sure to come from other feudal princes. This is simply equivalent in results to bringing anarchy into the army and flinging victory away. Thus we may know that there are five essentials for victory:

He will win who knows when to fight and when not to fight.

He will win who knows how to handle both superior and inferior forces.

He will win whose army is animated by the same spirit throughout all ranks.

He will win who, prepared himself, waits to take the enemy unprepared.

He will win who has military capacity and is not interfered with by the sovereign.

Victory lies in the knowledge of those five points.

Hence the saying: If you know the enemy and know yourself, you need not fear the result of a hundred battles. If you know yourself, but not the enemy, for every victory gained suffer a defeat. If you know neither the enemy nor yourself, you will succumb in every battle.


Tactical Dispositions

SUN TZU SAID: The good fighters of old first put themselves beyond the possibility of defeat and then waited for an opportunity of defeating the enemy.

To secure ourselves against defeat lies in our own hands, but the opportunity of defeating the enemy is provided by the enemy himself.

Thus the good fighter is able to secure himself against defeat, but cannot make certain of defeating the enemy.

Hence the saying: One may know how to conquer without being able to do it.

Security against defeat implies defensive tactics; ability to defeat the enemy means taking the offensive.

Standing on the defensive indicates insufficient strength; attacking, a superabundance of strength.

The general who is skilled in defense, in effect, hides in the most secret recesses of the earth; he who is skilled in attack flashes forth from the topmost heights of heaven. Thus on the one hand we have ability to protect ourselves; on the other, a victory that is complete.

To see victory only when it is within the ken of the common herd is not the acme of excellence. Neither is it the acme of excellence if you conquer and the whole empire says, "Well done!"

To lift an autumn leaf is no sign of great strength; to see sun and moon is no sign of sharp sight; to hear the noise of thunder is no sign of a quick ear. What the ancients called a clever fighter is one who not only wins, but excels in winning with ease.

Hence his victories bring him neither reputation for wisdom nor credit for courage. He wins his battles by making no mistakes. Avoidance of mistakes establishes the certainty of victory, for it means conquering an enemy that is already defeated.

To Avoid Defeat

Hence the skillful fighter puts himself into a position which makes defeat impossible, and does not miss the moment for defeating the enemy.

Thus it is that in war the victorious strategist seeks battle after his plans indicate that victory is possible under them, whereas he who is destined to defeat first fights without skillful planning and expects victory to come without planning.

The consummate leader cultivates the moral law, and strictly adheres to method and discipline. Thus it is in his power to control success. In respect of military method, we have: First, measurement; second, estimation of quantity; third, calculation; fourth, balancing of chances; fifth, victory. Measurement owes its existence to earth; estimation of quantity to measurement; calculation to estimation of quantity; balancing of chances to calculation; and victory to balancing of chances.

[The first of these terms would seem to be terrain appreciation, from which an estimate of the enemy's strength can be formed, and calculations of relative strength made on the data thus obtained; we are thus led to a general comparison of the enemy's chances with our own; if the latter turn the scale, then victory ensues.]

A victorious army opposed to a routed one, is as a pound's weight placed in the scale against a single grain. The onrush of a conquering force is like the bursting of pent-up waters into a chasm a thousand fathoms deep. So much for tactical dispositions.


Use of Energy

SUN TZU SAID: The control of a large force is the same in principle as the control of a few men. It is merely a question of dividing up their numbers.

Fighting with a large army under your command is nowise different from fighting with a small one. It is merely a question of instituting signs and signals.

To ensure that your whole host may withstand the brunt of the enemy's attack and remain unshaken is effected by direct and indirect maneuvers.

That the impact of your army may be like a grindstone dashed against an egg. That is effected by the science involving contacts between weak points and strong. In all fighting, the direct method may be used for joining battle, but indirect methods will be needed in order to ensure victory.

Indirect tactics, efficiently applied, are inexhaustible as heaven and earth, unending as the flow of rivers and streams; like the sun and moon, they end their course but to begin anew; like the four seasons, they pass to return once more.


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"Scott Brick's steady, imperative tone conveys Sun Tzu's certainty. Shelly Frasier's smooth counterpoint...balances Brick's pronouncements. Transitions between the two are flawless." —-AudioFile

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