316 of 329 people found the following review helpful
on March 1, 2006
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.
196 of 202 people found the following review helpful
on May 11, 2002
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.
245 of 259 people found the following review helpful
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.
He repeated the orders again, saying that if the orders were not clear, it is first the fault of the general. He repeated the commands, and the girls simply stood and giggled again.
"If words of command are not clear and distinct, if orders are not thoroughly understood, the general is to blame. But if his orders ARE clear, and the soldiers nevertheless disobey, then it is the fault of their officers." Upon saying this, he ordered the two concubines at the head of the troop, favorites of the emperor, to be beheaded.
The emperor hurriedly sent down the command to stop, he had no desire to see his favorites executed. The emperor said "We are satisfied that the general knows how to command."
But Sun Tzu said, "Once having received the commission, there are certain commands I am unable to accept." And he ordered the two favorites to be beheaded. Once again, he gave the commands. The concubines marched, whirled about and drilled in perfect order. The emperor appointed Sun Tzu general.
91 of 100 people found the following review helpful
on October 11, 1999
I cannot remember who introduced me to "The Art of War", but I know I could not hold onto the book for very long. Each friend I thought would benefit from the ancient words of Sun Tzu received a copy from me. I went through seven copies before buying the hard cover for my collection.
I found James Clavell's version quite difficult to find, but well worth it - due to clarity of reading and balance.
I tried reading Cleary's version, but could not get through the first chapter. However, I did purchase "Mastering the Art of War" by Cleary; finding it a better tour guide.
Clavell's "Art of War" offers tactical insight on overcoming an opponent whether it be war, work, relationships, or your own personal demons.
Sun Tzu created a timeless piece of history written for the future. I personally feel that today's society needs to look back, master the art of war, in order to repair the future.
Today I'm buying book #9 for a person who inspired me... I wanted to return the favor.
42 of 44 people found the following review helpful
This ancient classic of 13 chapters was written over 2,500 years ago by the legendary Chinese general Sun Tzu. It is a must have for military buffs that enjoy reading about the tactics of the most succesful generals. It is rumored that Napoleon used a French translation of the Art of War to his advantage while conquering most of Europe, and he lost when he broke its principles.
The principles that are with in this ancient text can also be used in games of strategy, business conflicts, and the day to day battles of life.
Here are ten principles to give you a sample of the wisdom found in its pages:
Supreme excellence consists in breaking the enemy's resistance with out fighting.
If you know the enemy and know yourself, you need not fear the result of a hundred battles.
Spies are the most important element in war, because upon them depends an army's ability to move.
All warfare is based on deception.
The general who wins a battle makes many calculations before the battle is fought.
There is no instance of a country having benefited from a prolonged war.
The clever combatant looks to the effect of combined energy, and does not require too much from individuals.
In war, the way is to avoid what is strong and to strike at what is weak.
When you surround an army, leave an outlet free. (So they can retreat).
Move not unless you see an advantage; use not your troops unless there is something to be gained, fight not unless the position is critical.
Taken as a whole this is a book of wisdom and principles on how to win. I rank it in my top ten books I have ever read. It is a must have for any home library. The is a very small book that is quick and easy to read.
39 of 41 people found the following review helpful
on April 8, 2007
Thought I provide some facts about this edition of The Art of War by Sun Tzu, translated by Samuel B. Griffith. The translation in this book is the same as the UNESCO edition (ISBN 0195015401,) but there are some differences in the contents.
Removes Appendix III. Sun Tzu in Western Languages
Removes Appendix IV. Brief Biographies of the Commentators
Removes the Maps
Adds seventy-five images
Pages are in a satin texture
In addition, this translation was done earlier than the findings from 1972, however, the analysis and commentary is top notch, so I would definitely recommend reading this and additional more up to date translation to complement.
37 of 39 people found the following review helpful
on January 11, 2001
The Art of War by Sun Tzu covers the basic premises on how to wage war and command troops, much like Machiavelli's Il Principe instructs aspiring rulers the proper way to govern a country. Although the books are similar, The Art of War applies to many more aspects of life than just the conquest of territory. It can easily be carried over into the office, into the home, and even into personal romances. The topics are so broad they can be applied to almost anything yet the details discussed are applicable to every scenario you can think of.
Sun Tzu covers all as he describes the proper course of action to take in all scopes from the entirety of the war to the relations with the individual soldier. Everything from maneuvering troops, to the proper use of various classes of spies is covered in the book, as Tzu describes himself nothing can be omitted from this timeless classic as "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 under no circumstances can it be neglected." (1). As history has unfolded, it has never been devoid of wars, and does not appear to be in our future. The foreword presents fascinating insight into how great rulers are said to have used and succeeded with The Art of War, prestigious rulers such as Napoleon.
This universal applicability of The Art of War is one of its most enticing and lasting appeals. The book leaves nothing out, covering every aspect of war and its orchestration. Thus it successfully dictates the best course of action to take whether you're a CEO or just another guy looking to pin his relationship down. The foreword is excellent as well, it does a good job setting up the book and giving a brief and quite interesting background of the book's history. The only negative comment I have is the odd editing works during the book when the editor re-summarizes some of the original text into his own words, as that text lacks the power and simplicity of the other directly translated text.
This book is definitely worth the read! Take your time to see how Sun Tzu's writing apply to your own life and you will see how powerful his words are, as it will provide insight into almost any situation you're in.
24 of 24 people found the following review helpful
on August 6, 2010
The ancient Chinese military general Sun Tzu lays out a blueprint for the effective waging of war. In his classic The Art of War, the successful war campaign largely revolves around two key elements: deception and surprise. Sun Tzu also describes the virtues that are required of effective military leaders, and, drawing from his many years of military experience, he gives wide ranging and insightful advice on knowing oneself, knowing one's enemy, and how to keep the spirits of one's soldiers fixed on victory. Throughout his treatise, his words are piercing, direct, at times witty, and often paradoxical. He writes, for example, "If your opponent is of choleric temper, seek to irritate him. Pretend to be weak, that he may grow arrogant" (I.22). "Simulated disorder postulates perfect discipline, simulated fear postulates courage; simulated weakness postulates strength" (V.17).
1. Virtues Necessary for a Successful War Campaign
The Commander is to be an exemplar of five virtues: wisdom, sincerity, benevolence, courage and strictness (I.9). Discipline among the Commanders and soldiers is the key to victory. One can even determine which side in a war will be victorious by asking "(1) Which of the two sovereigns is imbued with the Moral law? (2) Which of the 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 stronger? (6) On which side are officers and men more highly trained? (7) In which army is there the greater constancy both in reward and punishment?" (I.13).
2. The Law of Deception
The Law of Deception is summarized by Sun Tzu with these words: "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" (I.18-19).
Sun Tzu goes to great lengths in justifying this assertion and in giving examples of how to deceive and to detect deception from the enemy. He writes, "Humble words and increased preparations are signs that the enemy is about to advance. Violent language and driving forward as if to the attack are signs that he will retreat" (IX.24), but "Peace proposals unaccompanied by a sworn covenant indicate a plot" (IX.26). "At first, then, exhibit the coyness of a maiden, until the enemy gives you an opening; afterwards emulate the rapidity of a running hare, and it will be too late for the enemy to oppose you" (XI.68).
3. Law of Surprise Attack
Surprise is also an important element in weakening the enemy. The military is to "[a]ppear at points which the enemy must hasten to defend; march swiftly to places where you are not expected" (VI.5), and, "[i]n raiding and plundering, be like fire, in immovability like a mountain" (VII.18). "Let your plans be dark and impenetrable as night, and when you move, fall like a thunderbolt" (VII.19).
4. Effective Warfare
The rest of the treatise focuses on how to wage war in an effective manner. War is to be waged by first knowing oneself and knowing one's enemy. Battle is never undertaken unless one is certain that he will win. Sun Tzu outlines the five principles of victory: "(1) He will win who knows when to fight and when not to fight. (2) He will win who knows how to handle both superior and inferior forces. (3) He will win whose army is animated by the same spirit throughout all its ranks. (4) He will win who, prepared himself, waits to take the enemy unprepared. (5) He will win who has military capacity and is not interfered with by the sovereign" (III.17).
A successful war campaign is waged efficiently, with the Armed Forces knowing when and how to attack by expending as little effort as possible, for "supreme excellence consists in breaking the enemy's resistance without fighting" (III.2). Few resources are to be expended in an effective war campaign: "The skillful soldier does not raise a second levy, neither are his supply-wagons loaded more than twice" (II.8).
Sun Tzu also seems to hint at a metaphysical plane in which warfare is fought. He writes, for example, that the effective Commander "wins his battles by making no mistakes. Making no mistakes is what establishes the certainty of victory, for it means conquering an enemy that is already defeated" (IV.13), as though war is first fought on some metaphysical plane before the victory and defeated is reflected in the visible, physical world.
Some of Sun Tzu's counsel is outdated in the age of terrorism, military insurgencies, and digital and nuclear warfare. Some of it revolves around the size and numbers of the enemy's forces and one's advantage relative to the enemy based on numbers. Similarly, much of his advice is based on obsolete forms of land warfare that are rarely fought in the modern day. He writes, for example, "Whoever is first in the field and awaits the coming of the enemy, will be fresh for the fight; whoever is second in the field and has to hasten to battle will arrive exhausted" (VI.1). This advice will rarely, if ever, be relevant in an age where most warfare is fought in the air or from long range missiles, with forces rarely clashing in land battles.
The advent of nuclear weapons also changes the entire equation of relative forces and makes the numbers of infantrymen almost irrelevant. Similarly, the introduction of insurgencies that blend into local populations have been able to render even large armies of well equipped soldiers ineffective and unsuccessful. Furthermore, the advent of digital and cyber-warfare makes the numbers of enlisted and commissioned soldiers largely irrelevant to foreign attacks.
Though the forms of warfare have changed over the ages, many of Sun Tzu's principles continue to apply. Whether fighting a land battle or an air battle, the laws of deception and surprise attack are still relevant and highly effective. Furthermore, Sun Tzu outlines lessons that are important not only for the battlefield, but also for the general struggles of life. He writes, "You can be sure of succeeding in your attacks if you only attack places which are undefended. You can ensure the safety of your defense if you only hold positions that cannot be attacked" (VI.7). This is advice that should be heeded by businessmen, political leaders, and anyone else in a position that requires defending against an onslaught of attacks or competition.
51 of 56 people found the following review helpful
on January 4, 2003
The Art of War is a military classic, written around 400 BC. However, because the maxims contained in the book are so succinct and universal, this is still a useful book for understanding and waging war today. The central themes are to attack where the enemy is weak, deceive the enemy into attacking you on your terms (not his), and the use of espionage to confuse the enemy while gathering information for your own use.
This book is a classical, scholarly translation. I cannot comment on the accuracy of the translation, as I do not read Chinese. However, the translator sprinkles the text with footnotes to explain why he has chosen certain phrases that do not directly translate, and offers alternative explanations from other translators. Therefore, you get a good feel for what Sun Tzu originally meant, especially through the critical inclusion of selected commentaries. In addition, there is an introduction by the author on the history and background of the text, which are useful. There are also some comments on the influence the text has had, especially on Mao Tse-tung and on the Imperial Japanese forces through World War II.
Therefore, I certainly recommend this translation for a first-time reader such as myself.
30 of 31 people found the following review helpful
on August 23, 2007
The Art of War is a timeless masterpiece of interaction of power and politics. It is about war and not war. This version is the one you want if you are interested in the simple, yet profound wisdom of Sun Tzu. I have tried several other versions edited and commented on, thoughts and ideas spun left and spun right by other authors. There is no spin here simple staright forward thought and principles.