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The Seven Military Classics of Ancient China, including The Art of War Hardcover – May 5, 1993


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Product Details

  • Series: History & Warfare
  • Hardcover: 586 pages
  • Publisher: Basic Books (May 5, 1993)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0813312280
  • ISBN-13: 978-0813312286
  • Product Dimensions: 6.1 x 1.2 x 9.2 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 2 pounds
  • Average Customer Review: 4.8 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (20 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #82,713 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Editorial Reviews

From Library Journal

Military thought was never a popular subject in ancient China--partly because of Confucianism's distaste for the soldier's craft, partly because of the enduring concern of central governments with maintaining a monopoly on effective violence. Nevertheless, between 500 BCE and 700 ACE a number of significant treatises on warfare emerged, the most familiar being Sun Tzu's Art of War ; the others have remained obscure even to specialists. Sawyer's brilliantly edited translation makes the entire body of work generally available in English. These writings reinforce the traditional image of a Chinese way of war emphasizing speed and cunning rather than brute force. They also establish the military's importance in governing China: the virtuous ruler demonstrated his virtue by succeeding in war, which depended on understanding war's nature. Recommended for all public and private collections of military history.
- D.E. Showalter, U.S. Air Force Acad., Colorado Springs
Copyright 1993 Reed Business Information, Inc.

Language Notes

Text: English (translation)
Original Language: Chinese

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Customer Reviews

4.8 out of 5 stars
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My friends who do read Chinese say this translations is one of the best English versions.
Sean O'Brien
This is truly a superb work that captures both the philosophical and the practical aspects of some of the most ancient books on the planet.
Amazon Customer
Having recently began a Masters couse in Military Studies, this book is a must read for anyone who is interested in such a topic.
No Clever Names Yet

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

57 of 59 people found the following review helpful By W. Bevins on July 5, 2006
Format: Hardcover
The works in this book are:

1) T'ai Kung's Six Secret Teachings

2) The Methods of Ssu-ma

3) Sun-tzu's Art of War

4) Wu-tzu

5) Wei Liao-tzu

6) Three Strategies of Huang Shih-kung

7) Questions and Replies between T'ang T'ai-tsung and Li Wei-kung

Hope that helps.

My one complaint about this book is that it uses the Wade-Giles transliteration rather than Pinyin, which is what everyone, including China, is using. Wade-Giles is now over 35 years outmoded, and can be very confusing for the uninitiated. Compare Ssu-ma I (Wade-Giles) with Sima Yi (Pinyin). Would you know that they're the same bloke? (If you do, bravo.) I assume this speaks to the age of the translation rather than an editorial choice, but it's pretty annoying that they didn't update it.

If you think you might like this book, but want more of a story than essays/discourses, I recommend 'Romance of the Three Kingdoms.' It's very long, but well-loved in most regions of Asia, and with good reason. Also, search for Zhuge Liang's commentary on 'The Art of War.' It's all on Amazon.
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65 of 70 people found the following review helpful By Amazon Customer VINE VOICE on July 23, 2001
Format: Hardcover
In considering Ralph Sawyer's translation of "The Seven Military Classics of Ancient China" one must look at the work from two angles. First, one must consider the quality of the translation, and how well the author has set the historical stage for the piece. Second, one must consider the pieces themselves, and their pertinence to modern strategic thinking.
Regarding the first issue, Sawyer has done a superb job in both his translation, and in his historical research. The prose is easy to read and understand, but the essential, almost poetic, essence of the original language has not been sacrificed. Furthermore, each piece is prefaced by a brief, but detailed, overview of the work including a biography of the author, or possible authors, and a synopsis of the historical context in which the work was created. In addition, the book is heavily footnoted, which allows the reader to fully comprehend each piece, without the primary texts being chopped up.
Regarding the second angle, I was genuinely astonished by how pertinent theses works are to modern military thinking. For such primitive (chronologically, not intellectually) works, they do a superb job of capturing the key elements of strategic thinking: maneuver, logistics, terrain, combined arms and command hierarchy. Moreover, they are extremely sophisticated in their consideration of Grand Strategy and the mobilization of the population. While these works are by no means a blue print for a modern army (the codes of conduct are draconian, to say the least), they undoubtedly provide a framework for the analysis/planning of modern operations.
This is truly a superb work that captures both the philosophical and the practical aspects of some of the most ancient books on the planet. Furthermore, it is a fascinating look at ancient Chinese history. It is truly a must read for anyone interested in military theory or international relations, particularly with China once again ascendant on the world stage.
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20 of 23 people found the following review helpful By Amazon Customer on February 22, 2000
Format: Hardcover
This is the best complilation of ancient Chinese martial philosophy I have ever come across. The translation is superb, and it is extensively footnoted to give the reader a complete understanding of the context of the translations and their meaning. It's of a much higher quality then most other translations. For example, I enjoyed dearly the Thomas Cleary trans. of "The Art of War" because of the clear and simple text. However, the Sawyer's trans. "The Art of War" had much more of the subtle nuances of the original by expanding the vocabulary and giving extensive footnotes. The rest of the trans. in the book are perhaps lesser known but equally impressive works. Overall, I felt the book provides the reader with a comprensive view of ancient Chinese strategy and is essential for anyone who wishes to study this subject.
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6 of 7 people found the following review helpful By A Customer on July 30, 1999
Format: Hardcover
Simply put, amongst these pages sleep the immortal foundations for strategic planning, waging and completion of warfare. It gives adaptive, and concrete rules to live by to ensure survival and means to defend, conquer and remain invincible through military techniques. Amongst the countless numbers of translations, Sawyer is the most successful in accuracy and keeps the ideals and visions of the ancient authors vivid and precise through very educated and well grounded comentaries. In addition to Sun Tzu's Art of War, Sawyer brings us the six classics previously unknown to the western world. With this release, warfare in any sense, will never be the same.
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8 of 10 people found the following review helpful By A Customer on March 31, 2000
Format: Hardcover
Sawyer translates seven of ancient china's military classics and does it in a very thourough, informative, and highly readable way. I have read translations of the Art of War from Griffith, Cleary, and Sawyer and I found Sawyers version to be by far the most readable, as well as the most informative. If you want to study the ancient military texts this is simply a must read. To complete your collection I would also recommend Sawyers translation of Military Methods by Sun Pin.
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5 of 6 people found the following review helpful By A Customer on March 31, 1999
Format: Hardcover
The Seven Military Classics provides a phenomenal look at eastern military tactics and strategy. For me, a philosophy major, it has interesting undertones of eastern philosophy that keep me wanting to read. (My hectic schedule keeps me from finishing it in one sitting.) It is undoubtedly a fabulous compilation, and Sawyer's translations are easily understood but do not sacrifice the themes of eastern philosophy. A must read for the curious mind!!
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