The art of war [Sunzi bing fa]

by Sunzi

Ebook, 1994



Call number




Boulder : Westview Press, 1994.


Business. Politics. Self-Improvement. Nonfiction. HTML: Inspiring countless business, political and military leaders (Napoleon, Mao Zedong and General MacArthur among them), The Art of War is a Chinese military treatise by Sun Tzu from the 6th century BC. Its 13 chapters are each dedicated to an aspect of warfare. Praised as a definitive work on the art of strategy and tactic, The Art of War now finds its greatest application in the world of business and management..

Media reviews
Sun Tzuova knjiga Umeće ratovanja, je jedno od najznačajnijih klasičnih kineskih dela. Ova knjiga ne sadrži ni jednu zastarelu maksimu ili nejasno uputstvo. Najbolje je pobediti bez borbe, rekao je Sun Tzu. Za njega je rat bio sastavni deo života. Pažljivo pročitajte ovu knjigu, i sve
Show More
savremene knjige koje govore o upravljanju državom više vam se neće činiti dostojne pažnje.
Show Less
1 more
Ralph Sawyer has produced a lively translation, with a historical essay and explanatory notes, of Sun-tzu’s classic work. [...] Sun-tzu has nothing to teach us about the technological aspects of war or the logistics required to feed a modern army, and his work obviously cannot speak to certain
Show More
complex political relations between modern nations. But Sun-tzu’s book has much value, for it says a lot about how a commander should approach his enemy, how he should decide to attack or to retreat, how to outsmart an enemy, and what it takes to be victorious. He presents his ideas in a logical, principled way that is consistent with his deeper philosophy of nature.
Show Less

User reviews

LibraryThing member keylawk
Clavell provides a brief but pointed introduction, noting that this is a reprint of the first English translation by Lionel Giles, 1910. Sun Tzu was translated into Russian centuries ago, and into French before Napoleon, in 1782. Mao Tse-tung's Little Red Book of strategic doctrine used it almost
Show More
word for word. Notes the emphasis on maneuver and on spies -- "If you know the enemy and know yourself, you need not fear the result of a hundred battles." [2]
Clavell himself used the work in his Noble House historical novels -- qv Taipan, Shogan.
The art of war is governed by constant calculation of five factors: Moral Law (the accord of the people with the ruler); Heaven (signifying times, seasons, weather); Earth (comprising distances, conditions of the ground); Commander (sincerity, benevolence, courage, and strictness); Method & Discipline (army divisions, ranks, supplies, expenditures).
Sun Tzu emphasizes the importance of spies and control of "signals" -- press relations. "All warfare is based on deception." [11]
The arts explained by Sun Tzu contrast with almost all elements of the War in Iraq being prosecuted by Bush-Cheney and promised by Senator McCann. For example, Sun Tzu repeatedly emphasizes planned maneuver and timing: "In all history, there is no instance of a country having benefited from prolonged warfare." [13]
Time -- being ahead of the opponent -- counts for more than numbers. Treat prisoners kindly - better to capture than kill. Find the supreme excellence of breaking the enemy, not by fighting, but by NOT fighting. The use of the Sheathed Sword.
The emphasis on "maneuver" over static force can be used by any size of combat unit--individual soldier to large army. But no part of the plan is more difficult the maneuver. Hence the study of deviation. [30]
Like Machiavelli, Sun Tzu illustrates his points with largely fictional but very clear examples that appear to be historical recitations. (He clearly writes for an emperor devoted to words rather than scholarship or action.)
Since ancient times, it has been known by realists that prosperity requires peace and peace requires strength for protection. And in Sun Tzu's words..."the true object of war is peace."
Show Less
LibraryThing member darwin.8u
A great translation. That was meant to be funny since I don't read Chinese and can't possibly really know how good his translation is.

However, this is a great book and belongs right next to your other war strategy greats.
LibraryThing member PDExperiment626
This is a beautiful and scholarly presentation of a truly elegant piece of ancient literature. Griffith puts forth his interpretation of "The Art of War" based on a revision of his Ph.D. thesis presented some years ago. Commentaries from several sources are included along side of Griffith's own
Show More
translation. Footnotes are ubiquitous in the text explaining various discrepancies in interpretations, translations and historical contexts. There is a nicely-done introduction discussing various scholarly debates surrounding "The Art of War" including, original authorship, and date of creation.

Beyond the content, the presentation of the book is beautiful. The cover is silk fabric with silk-screened golden Chinese characters on the cover. There is also an attached black ribbon bookmark. The pages are thick construction done with a glossy-print and includes many beautiful color plates placed throughout the text.

Really, I believe this to be an exquisite presentation of this piece of literature. Not only is the presentation exceptional, the scholarly content is both attainable and interesting. This is an excellent piece to have in any library.
Show Less
LibraryThing member adawnt
I heard a lot of people talking about "The Art of War." In business, during news commentary...everywhere. I find it funny, when reading it, to see something very simple. Descriptions of the appropriate duties of the army and generals are basic, and the "secrets" of successful conquering is good
Show More
common sense. I suppose the reason it seems so enlightening is the lack of common sense in the huge majority of people.
Saying that, this was a great opporunity to see some of the basis for business practices overseas and at home. There are many people who think about business as warefare. These tactics will be used, and should be understood. Because common sense is no longer common, and probably wasn't in ancient China, this is a great guide to dealing with conflict...if you want to win.
Show Less
LibraryThing member Tullius22
I think one of the reasons why this book has been and probably always will be so popular, is that many different people can read read it for many different reasons. Among the most obvious: some people read it to learn about war (like Tom Ricks, who quotes it in his famous book about Iraq), some
Show More
people are drawn into it by an interest in the Far East (like the translator, M. Giles himself, who was a student of all things Chinese), and some people just like it because it's really really old and really really cool, and I guess that's part of the reason why I like it.

And although the German wrote another famous-book about war, he was, being German, boring.

But then, some things can be both popular, and well-reasoned, and, as a philosophical essay to discover the nature of war, this little book does a fine job. Recall what Aristotle says in the first sentence of his 'Nicomachean Ethics': "Every art...seems to aim at some good, and so it has been well said that the good is that at which everything aims." So, what good does The Art Of War aim at? (Absolutely nothin'--ugh! Well, no, sorry.) Well, in a way, the art of war aims to conduct war well, just as the art of baking bread aims to bake bread well. But what does that mean, in real terms? I think that if we examine the thought of Master Sun, we find that the good at which the art of war aims is to achieve victory, not by inflicting the maximum amount of destruction, but by causing the absolute minimum: for to cause much destruction is not so good.

And I think he does all that with a certain sort of style, too:

"II. Waging War

3. Again, if the campaign be protracted, the resources of the State will not be equal to the strain.

5. Thus, though we have heard of stupid haste in war, cleverness has never been seen associated with long delays.

6. There is no instance of a country having benefited from prolonged warfare.

7. It is only one who is thoroughly acquainted with the evils of war that can thoroughly understand the profitable way of carrying it on.

8. The skilful soldier does not raise a second levy, neither are his suppy-wagons loaded more than twice.

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

And it's good to remind all those annoying, noisy military history fanatics that the longest, most destructive wars are the *worst*, because people *die* and things get *destroyed* and that's *bad*.

Show Less
LibraryThing member 9days
A classic that is as valuable for war strategies as it is for work and everyday relations.

My edition is from Shambhala, and translated by Thomas Cleary (famed for his translations of Miyamoto Musashi's work, as well as his biography).

In this edition, each of the passages is interpreted by 11
Show More
different people (from Li Quan to Zhang Yu), for scope and perspective. While it's not necessary to include so many interpreters, I find that the different perspectives (and wording) sometimes made Master Sun's wisdoms clearer.
Show Less
LibraryThing member csayban
3 stars

“All warfare is based on deception.”

“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.”

Born in the fifth century B.C., Sun Wu (Sun Tzu was an
Show More
honorary title) wrote the quintessential rulebook for warfare, known today as Art of War. While the often quoted lines of Sun Tzu are as lyrical as poetry, it was written 2,500 years ago with the singular purpose of codifying the essential requirements for generals and soldiers to be victorious on the battlefield. Even today, his treatise on war is studied by not just military officers, but business leaders and politicians as a roadmap to victory.

While most of us have heard of Art of War and have no doubt read many of the catchy anecdotes that populate Sun Tzu’s writing, I dare say very few people have actually read the work from start to finish. While the version I read was about 300 pages, less than 50 pages make up the actual translated writings of Sun Tzu. That text is preceded by a rather informative historical overview of the life of Sun Wu – of which only a few documented facts are known. More importantly, the introduction does a good job of establishing the climate that Sun Tzu lived in within what we now know as China. Frankly, I found this to be the best and most informative part of the text.

Sun Tzu’s actual text is written as a series of individual statements that appear to have been cobbled together. I’m unsure if this is the result of how the work was translated or if the original text was pieced together from scattered writings, but it gives the writing a disjointed feel. However, I can accept this limitation given that it was written as a technical document more than two millennia ago in a different language. From a content perspective, there are many well-known phrases that ring true today. But while the general philosophies are what we remember, the lion’s share of his text details very specific situations and strategies for warfare of that era.

The remainder of the book – more than half of it in fact – is a detailed breakdown of individual passages from Sun Tzu’s text, expanded upon and placed into the context of more modern battles throughout history. This was the most problematic portion of the book because in a lot of cases it was a very tenuous leap to connect the specific tactics of some of the cited battles to the specific situations Sun Tzu wrote about. Sun Tzu’s text is just ambiguous enough that almost anything can be read into some of the passages. It was more wishful thinking than established doctrine that associated some of the examples to his writing. And while Art of War may include many philosophical musings that are usable today, most of Sun Tzu’s writing about specific military tactics– while educational from a historical perspective – are wildly obsolete in the modern world.

As a fascinating historical document that illustrates the thinking and strategy of an era where little has survived the ravages of time, Art of War is an invaluable resource. But as a current day treatise on the conduct of war and competitive strategy, it is really lacks concrete value. Anecdotes aside, I’m pretty sure that no modern standing army or corporate think-tank is sending its best and brightest into the trenches with nothing but Sun Tzu’s writing even though some believe Art of War is the end-all, be-all of strategic thought. It would be a little like arguing before the Supreme Court with no other legal education outside of reading a lot of John Grisham novels.

I think Art of War is a valuable work, but it has achieved a sort of cult following in certain circles that outstrips its actual contribution to strategy. The authors of this translation have gone overboard in assigning value to his teaching – value that can’t really be substantiated. Is it an important historical document? Absolutely. Is it the cornerstone of all of the strategic thought that exists today? Not hardly. While Sun Tzu was in fact a brilliant strategist and philosopher, Art of War wasn’t even translated into a western language until 1772 (French) and 1905 (English). I’m pretty sure most of these strategies had been discovered and utilized by western armies long before then.

Perhaps the most important thing that is lost in the supplementation of Art of War is Sun Tzu’s primary motivation for writing his treatise. While his text is held up as the guide to war, this translation does hit on a key philosophy – it was peace that Sun Tzu was most interested in. He wanted his countrymen to be able to protect themselves and allow for the citizens to live in peace, not war. All you have to read for proof of that is what I think is the most important sentence he wrote:

“There is no instance of a country having benefited from prolonged warfare.”

Amen to that.
Show Less
LibraryThing member plaws595
It is a really old book, but still has much application to everyday life in modern times. The book is a little hard to read at times. However, the knowledge you get from reading it worth it. I recommend everyone read this title at least once in their lifetime.
LibraryThing member shannonkearns
Meh. Okay I guess but overall I'm not that impressed.
LibraryThing member markdeo
I give it a 5 because it's a classic that you can read in under an hour. One of the best books I have read. Simple, basic, and a great strategy foundation. I refer to it all the time. Great book from a historical standpoint, but certainly is a great asset in business.
LibraryThing member markm2315
Advice that I found interesting included:

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 we are far away; when far away, we must make him believe we are near.

There is no
Show More
instance of a country having benefited from prolonged warfare.

The captured soldiers should be kindly treated. This is called using the conquered foe to augment one’s own strength.

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 good.

It is the rule of 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.

You can be sure of succeeding in your attacks if you only attack places which are undefended.

Now a soldier’s spirit is keenest in the morning; by noonday it has begun to flag; and in the evening, his mind is bent only on returning to camp.

When there is dust rising in a high column, it is the sign of chariots advancing; when the dust is low, but spread over a wide area, it betokens the approach of infantry. When it branches out in different directions, it shows that parties have been sent to collect firewood. A few clouds of dust moving to and fro signify that the army is encamping.

If those [of the enemy] who are sent to draw water begin by drinking themselves, the army is suffering from thirst.

If birds gather on any spot, it is unoccupied.

If fighting is sure to result in victory, then you must fight, even though the ruler forbid it; if fighting will not result in victory, then you must not fight even at the ruler’s bidding.

No ruler should put troops into the field merely to gratify his own spleen; no general should fight a battle simply out of pique.

Hostile armies may face each other for years, striving for the victory which is decided in a single day. This being so, to remain in ignorance of the enemy’s condition simply because one grudges the outlay of a hundred ounces of silver in honours and emoluments [i.e. for spies], is the height of inhumanity.
Show Less
LibraryThing member ablueidol
Love the notion that the greatest leader is one that defeats the challege before it is known that the challenge exists. Here we are obsessed with the hero leader who battles with the mighty demons and after much struggle wins. I see this in schools where the head turns around a failing school and
Show More
is seen as a great leader. But all too often they miss the greater leadership of the head who intervenes with a timely word here, a school event there keeps the school on track, Much better to read the straight translations rather then the art of war for the board room which often miss the point
Show Less
LibraryThing member soylentgreen23
How ironic that the copy I found in my apartment should have a foreword by James Clavell, author of "Shogun;" my Mum is forever mixing up China and Japan herself, and often remarks about the former when in fact I lived in the latter.

The book, meanwhile, is an interesting couple of hours' read, but
Show More
without a more thorough guide I don't see how I could use Sun Tzu's ideas to conquer Wall Street, as some have proposed.
Show Less
LibraryThing member chellinsky
A subtle and fascinating philosophy on how to wage war. Knowledge of assured victory is key for Sun Tzu. At once it is esoteric and simple giving the reader the opportunity to find new angles and places to learn with each repeated reading. Intense and interesting. (Shambhala translation)
LibraryThing member lorelorn_2007
When you go to buy The Art of War, you will have several editions to choose from. If not, you're in the wrong shop; go and find another. I recommend going through each edition and pick the one whose translation you find easiest to read.

It's difficult to review this book. The Art of War is not the
Show More
kind of book you read. It's the kind of book you reflect on. For best results, reflect and then bring your reflections to a group who have also read the book. Everyone will find a passage or two that really struck a note for them, and for different reasons.

Prepare to talk long into the night.
Show Less
LibraryThing member JustAGirl
All the guff about it being the greatest management text in history is of course utter nonsense, but it's an interesting read. I preferred and would recommend the Hagakure if you're after samurai warrior philosophy.
LibraryThing member keylawk
Little is known about Sun Tzu, although it appears he was a kind of hybrid academic Taoist field officer who lived 2000 years ago, give or take. He had clearly studied the anatomy of organizations in conflict, and wrote or dictated commentaries. These Commentaries have been compiled over the years
Show More
and Cleary has edited them to bring out the principles of strategy and leadership. Cleary provides an detailed Introduction summarizing content and providing historical background: Achieve Victory through Understanding.
Compare, SONSHI (LT author).
Show Less
LibraryThing member Michael_Rose
The version I have also has a second section for commentaries on all the passages. It's an incredibly useful and insightful book, and not necessarily just for literal war.
LibraryThing member tyroeternal
The Art of War is a wonderful, short, and classic read that looks good on any bookshelf. While it reads in the form of a short choppy manual it is well worth anyone's time. This book has, for good reason, found it's way into the hands of thousands... maybe millions of people since its original
Show More
Show Less
LibraryThing member Misoman
The Art of War is a treasure trove of information...if you study war, ancient China, Strategy, or military is useless when applied to business, I think. I love this text, but I study ancient Asian texts. Giles' translation is the one which all others are measured and it has the text
Show More
with commentary and without, and in the original Chinese. As a study text this is superb, as a manual for business, it a weak application.

Show Less
LibraryThing member dvf1976
This audio book had Joe Montenga narrating the text.

It was pretty cool to have the Simpsons's Fat Tony quoting a 500 BC Chinese War Scholar.

(The analysis of the text was a real snooze-fest!)
LibraryThing member ebooker_ben
It's worth reading just to say you have and because so many other books and films refer to it. I first read it in hopes of using it in corporate life but that's not always easy:
Camp in high places, facing the sun. Do not climb heights in order to fight. So much for mountain warfare.
LibraryThing member LostVampire
The oldest military treatise on war. This one is Tops! Translation by Lionel Giles and with original Chinese.
LibraryThing member gponym
New to Sun-Tzu, I found invaluable Ames' commentary on the historical times and the 1970s/1980s discovery of a hitherto unknown version of the classic text and related texts.
LibraryThing member Peterabun
A little book full off great thoughts and advice for life. I read it every year.


Original language


Original publication date

ca. 500 - 450 BC
1910 (English: Lionel Giles)
1963 (English: Samuel B. Griffith)


Page: 3.7881 seconds