Customer Reviews: The Art Of War
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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.
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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.
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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.
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on November 11, 2012
Like many business professionals, I've heard lots of people quote The Art of War and heard that everyone from Larry Ellison to Michael Ovitz studied it as a guide to competition in business. So I decided I needed to read it.

I encountered a few issues, which I suspect others will too, so here's a little help:

1. Which version should I buy?
2. How should I read it?
3. Who can help me make sense of this?
4. Will this really make me a better leader in business?

1. Which version should I buy?
As soon as I started to shop for a copy, I was confronted with an overwhelming number of choices. In the end I decided to buy the translation by Thomas Cleary because he has translated other Chinese classics that I've read and Shambhala is a well-known publisher of Eastern texts. I did a fair number of comparisons online and people were very positive about this translation as being perhaps the most accessible for first time readers. I found it easy to read and understand. (My edition is a slightly older "Dragon Edition" from Shambhala, but it is the same translation.) I have also read Griffith's translation from the 1960's and found that edition to be just as good. Cleary's version seems to be intent on highlighting more of the Taoist elements in the Art of War; Griffith, in contrast writes primarily about battles and military history.

Comparing the two translations side by side it is clear that 80% of the text is probably going to be the same whichever version you buy, but there are real differences between some of the texts. I would have no problem recommending either Cleary or Griffith.

2. How should I read it?
The first time I picked this up, I was confused. There seems to be writings from Sun Tzu and then there are other voices as well. Was all of this the Art of War? Did I need to read the "commentaries" by the other Chinese generals? Do I need to read the lengthy introduction? Here's what I did, and it really helped.

First, I think it helps to have some of the historical context, but I don't think it is entirely necessary. However, what worked best for me was to not worry too much about the introductory materials. Instead, I paid for a set of Audio CDs from the Teaching company. See below. I listened to that while I was driving and then read the book at night.

Second, I would suggest that the first time through, you just read the passages written by Sun Tzu, and skip the commentaries by the other writers, for the most part. Reading the passages by Sun Tzu on their own will help give you the broad sweep and scope of what this is all about. The commentaries, which I assume appear in most editions, are a collection of what other important Chinese thinkers and generals have to say about the Art of War. There are many interesting thoughts included in these commentaries, and I am sure that it will deepen and enrich your understanding to go back and read the commentaries, but I found that reading Sun Tzu's original texts first, from start to finish, was both very quick (a few hours of reading) and very interesting.

When I read a passage of Sun Tzu's text that I couldn't understand at all, then I would read the commentaries to see if it could help me understand it better. This helped in a handful of cases where I simply had no idea what Sun Tzu was talking about.

Third, read it slowly. There isn't that much text if you are just reading Sun Tzu's original writings. So read a passage or two. Think about how it applies to your situation or business. Make some notes in the margins to really help internalize what's being discussed. Of course, I think this is how people should read any sort of non-fiction to make it meaningful. But the pleasure of this book, for me at least, is in part being able to notice what's going on at work and think about how Sun Tzu would approach it. Hey, if you want to bust out a quote at the next staff meeting and say something like "Those who render others armies helpless without fighting are the best of all," you're going to need to read slowly and find the passages that are most relevant to you that you can commit to memory. Otherwise, this is going to be a waste of time.

Fourth, plan to reread it over time, and this time read the commentaries. Unless of course you read it once and hated it. Then move on.

3. Who can help me make sense of all of this?
I tried reading this book once or twice before, but it just seemed impenetrable. So this time I also bought "The Art of War" from The Teaching Company. This is a set of lectures from a professor at the US Naval War Academy. I found his introductory context to be really helpful and interesting. Then he lectures on major themes from the book and quotes liberally from it. Somehow that just made it more interesting and accessible to me. Now I'm beginning to understand why this book is so fascinating to so many people.

Listening to these lectures and just focusing on Sun Tzu's text rather than trying to read all the commentaries made this a very accessible and enjoyable experience.

4. Will this book fundamentally change your business strategy?
I don't think you'll be awe-struck by some blinding insight you've never thought of before, but I do think that it will make you reflect on basic principles - such as planning prior to attack, etc. that if you bring your own deep thinking to it, well, you might start approaching things a little differently. Let's just say the Larry Ellison probably would be Larry Ellison without reading this, and the insights he might glean and their meaning and relevance for business are probably a whole lot different from mine or yours. Bought I'm sure this will stimulate your thinking and give you time to reflect.
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VINE VOICEon May 4, 2008
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.
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on December 9, 2006
This particular edition of Sun Tzu's Art of War is really excellent. It contains three separate copies of Sun Tzu's book:

1. The original Chinese text (in modern simplified Chinese characters),

2. A facing version of Lionel Giles' superb translation into English (without notes or comments) and

3. The complete Giles Translation with an extensive introduction and notes throughout the text that provides detailed insight into the meaning and intentions of the text.

Of all the versions of Sun Tzu's book on the market, this one is undoubtedly the best. The scholarship and detail to attention of this edition pays the respect and gives the credit to the great work that it deserves. Other, abbreviated, versions of Sun Tzu's book have their place, but not for those who actually want to understand the lessons of history that have been passed down through the centuries. The meaning of the text, after 25 centuries, requires the perspective of an oriental scholar with Giles' credentials. It is unlikely that the bare English translation, without notes or commentary, can convey to a modern reader the real meaning and intentions of a 2,000 year old Chinese genius.

Lionel Giles's translation is the gold standard for Sun Tzu. His deep understanding of ancient Chinese culture and his own roots in Western culture gave him a unique opportunity to bridge the gap and present native English speakers the opportunity to really understand and appreciate the mindset of this voice from antiquity.

This edition does NOT contain a CD. In spite of the masterful use of the English language by Lionel Giles, the Art of War is not poetry and probably doesn't benefit from oral recitation. This particular edition is THE BOOK for those whose native language is English... and who know how to read.
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on May 21, 2008
The translation is clumsy and needs improvement. Copy editing is sloppy. Numerous typos, misspellings, punctuation, and format errors. Serves as a cheap option, but would not recommend it for anyone seeking a quality copy to add to their collection or library.
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on May 7, 2005
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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on February 26, 2008
This edition was published by Filiquarian Publishers and from a publishing perspective, this book appears to have been designed in a basic Word processing program. Shoddy, shoddy, work. Lacks creative design, weak choice of fonts, inconsistent spacing, erroneous punctuation symbols, etc. Additionally, one of the chapters was out of order. I'm speculating that the publisher didn't know how to read roman numerals and therefore placed the chapter incorrectly, and if they did, and there was a purpose for this, it should have been addressed in the non-existent introduction. The content of the book is fine, just buy an edition by a an established publisher rather than someone working from their basement.
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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.
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