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The Art of War Paperback – September 15, 1971

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Editorial Reviews Review

The Art of War is the Swiss army knife of military theory--pop out a different tool for any situation. Folded into this small package are compact views on resourcefulness, momentum, cunning, the profit motive, flexibility, integrity, secrecy, speed, positioning, surprise, deception, manipulation, responsibility, and practicality. Thomas Cleary's translation keeps the package tight, with crisp language and short sections. Commentaries from the Chinese tradition trail Sun-tzu's words, elaborating and picking up on puzzling lines. Take the solitary passage: "Do not eat food for their soldiers." Elsewhere, Sun-tzu has told us to plunder the enemy's stores, but now we're not supposed to eat the food? The Tang dynasty commentator Du Mu solves the puzzle nicely, "If the enemy suddenly abandons their food supplies, they should be tested first before eating, lest they be poisoned." Most passages, however, are the pinnacle of succinct clarity: "Lure them in with the prospect of gain, take them by confusion" or "Invincibility is in oneself, vulnerability is in the opponent." Sun-tzu's maxims are widely applicable beyond the military because they speak directly to the exigencies of survival. Your new tools will serve you well, but don't flaunt them. Remember Sun-tzu's advice: "Though effective, appear to be ineffective." --Brian Bruya --This text refers to an alternate Paperback edition.


"The Art of War is among the greatest classics of military literature ever written. Sun Tzu warfare is as applicable today as when the book was written some 2,500 years ago....Pick up The Art of War and read it."--General A.M. Gray, Marine Corps Gazette

"As a reflection of the Chinese mind, this little work is as relevant as any Confucian classic."--The Times (London)

"Westerners have dozens of books to choose from if they want to learn about Japanese philosophy and military tactics....But when the Japanese, especially those in business, want information on the subject, many turn to an ancient Chinese, not Japanese, military manual, The Art of War....Shows managers how to be fearless in resolving conflicts."--Boardroom Reports

"Shows managers how to be fearless in resolving conflicts."--Boardroom Reports

"A brief tract on strategy that has been admired in China for centuries. Some of Mao Tse Tung's most eloquent thoughts are merely rehashes of Sun Tzu and his interpreters."--The Los Angeles Herald Examiner

"Samuel Griffith's original and scholarly translation of The Art of War shows how good scholarship can make an easily readable translation that is much more useful to modern readers."--The Philadelphia Inquirer

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Product Details

  • Paperback: 197 pages
  • Publisher: Oxford University Press (September 15, 1971)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0195014766
  • ISBN-13: 978-0195014761
  • Product Dimensions: 8.2 x 0.4 x 5.3 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 11.4 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.2 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (2,521 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #90,558 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Most Helpful Customer Reviews

337 of 351 people found the following review helpful By Scott R. Dukart on March 1, 2006
Format: Mass Market Paperback
The Art of War seems to be a classic piece of Chinese philosophy that is easy to translate into a mediocre work. I've read a number of translations of Sun Tzu that are clunky and have none of the wit of the original text. Now, I don't read ancient Chinese, but when a Chinese philisophical text reads like a manual for a microwave, you know something is lost in translation.

On the other hand, this translation, done by Thomas Cleary, showed me the subtlety in the Art of War. In addition to the work itself (which would make a very thin book) there is a long, interesting introduction written by the translator which I found very helpful in thinking about the Art of War, as well as helping to put the work in both a historical context, and the context amongst many of the other ancient Chinese philisophical works. How Sun Tzu's work relates to Taoism is very interesting. Also, there are selected commentation on each of the paragraphs of the Art of War. These commentaries were written over different periods of time by different Chinese philosophers. These help to show how many different points of view can exist over a single statement made by Sun Tzu.

I find this translation very well done, and I can easily recommend it to anyone who wants to read The Art of War.
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209 of 216 people found the following review helpful By Peter Mackay on May 11, 2002
Format: Paperback
War is ugly, dirty, brutal, wasteful and expensive. That is the reality of it. Let's not pretend otherwise.
Having said that, the ancient Chinese master strips away all the familiar trappings of war - the warriors, weapons, forts and tactics - to reveal the essence of conflict and how to win.
His lessons are as valid here and now as they were in an empire a long time ago and far, far away. It simply does not matter how you are fighting, what you are fighting over nor even why you are fighting. If you are forced into conflict with another, the lessons in this book will guarantee victory.
Brute strength, overwhelming force, super weapons, holding the high ground, none of these are required for victory. All that is needed is a leader who can understand and apply the principles of warfare.
Essentially it boils down to three ideas.
1. Know yourself.
2. Know your enemy.
3. Only fight when you can win.
Do this, and you will win competitions, elections, games. Anything that involves conflict. Even wars.
Sun Tzu's elegant language lays bare the principles of warfare, illustrating his lessons with examples from Ancient China. It is a thought-provoking, colourful and valuable book.
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252 of 267 people found the following review helpful By Joanna D. #1 HALL OF FAMETOP 10 REVIEWERVINE VOICE on February 20, 2001
Format: Paperback
I got this particular edition of Sun Tzu's Art of War at a strategy course for sales. I already had a copy of it at home, but this edition is so nicely done that I gave my old copy away and kept this one. The introduction of James Clavell is a nice touch.

It is amazing to me that this book is not read in high schools or colleges in favor of Machiavelli's work (The Prince or The Art of War.) Sun Tzu's writing is clear and to the point. Unlike the popular Book of Five Rings by Musashi, this book is not metaphorical and poetic; it's downright practical. And it's not hard to read, unlike many classics.

If you are doing business in China, this is also a good book to know. I mentioned some of the classic strategies while giving a course in China, and every member of the class had read it, knew it well, and gave me many examples from recent Chinese history where Sun Tzu's strategies were employed. This book is close to their hearts, and will give you insight if you are doing business in the East.
Of course, the most famous anecdote from this book is about gaining the obedience of troops; the emperor, wishing to interview Sun Tzu for the commission of general, asked if Sun Tzu's military principles could be applied to women. Sun Tzu replied yes, the principles worked for women as well as men. Accordingly, Sun Tzu was given the task of organizing the emperor's many concubines into an army. Sun Tzu lined up the concubines and set the two favorites as officers at the head of the columns.
He gave them a simple set of orders to march and drill (eyes front, right face, about face. The drums sounded and instead of following the commands, the girls simply giggled and blushed.
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145 of 156 people found the following review helpful By Professor May on August 23, 2012
Format: Kindle Edition
Formatting is impossible to read, with too many comments unformatted so that you don't know if you are reading Sunzu or the translator's comments, and he's got far more comments than Sunzu has to say about this!

Just download a free web version and copy this whole webpage onto notepad, save it and then put it in Kindle. Looks great and is easy to read. That's what I'm doing.
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55 of 57 people found the following review helpful By Jack Pellhan on May 7, 2005
Format: Paperback
Sun Tzu's great classic work has been read, re-read and appreciated in China and the East for about 2,500 years. Even today, major Japanese corporations are said to require their executives to be intimately familiar with "The Art of War" for its value as a source of strategy. Napoleon was said to have been influenced by this book - as was Karl von Clausewitz and most modern day military planners around the world.

For an ancient work to have had and still have such a following is ample evidence of its importance. Its current day applications range from military strategy to business philosophy to sales training to computer games. More important than the information contained in "The Art of War" is the logical mindset, the rational point of view that Sun Tzu presents, that contributes to the timelessness of the great book.

Of the numerous editions of "The Art of War" that are available, this Special Edition that contains the Chinese characters, an uncommented English translation, and the full Giles translation with an introduction and annotation is undoubtedly the pick of the litter. It has been said of the Giles translation that it is "somewhat dated". The same could be said of Sun Tzu's great classic itself. Yet it stands, unequaled.
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