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The Art of War

The Art of War

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The Art of War

3/5 (3,037 ratings)
53 pages
50 minutes
Apr 1, 2016


Written 2500 years ago, The Art of War is the oldest military treatise in the world, a classic study of competition and rivalry that has been utilized by soldiers ever since. Napoleon studied its strategies and tactics. It is required reading for intelligence personnel in the United States Marine Corps. "Warriors" of Wall Street and in corporation cultures rely on it for guidance. It's even been rumored to help players win at the board game Risk. This 1910 translation by the British Museum's Lionel Giles is the most popular one available, a highly readable version of this still startlingly relevant text.
Apr 1, 2016

About the author

SUN TZU was a Chinese general, military strategist, and philosopher who lived in China in the 6th century BC. Sun Tzu is traditionally credited as the author of The Art of War, a widely influential work of military strategy that has affected both Western and Eastern philosophy. Sun Tzu is revered in China as a legendary historical figure. His birth name was Sun Wu; the name Sun Tzu by which he is best known is an honorific that means "Master Sun."

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The Art of War - Sun Tsu

The Art

of War




New York

The Art of War was originally published in 1910.

Cover Copyright © 2010 by Cosimo, Inc. Cover Design by www.popshopstudio.com. Cover image © istockphoto.com, #2149228

ISBN: 978-1-61640-981-4

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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 make

the enemy believe that we are away; when far away,

we must make him believe we are near.

—from Laying Plans

Table of Contents















Sun Tzu said: 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.

The art of war, then, is governed by five constant factors, to be taken into account in one’s deliberations, when seeking to determine the conditions obtaining in the field.

These are: The Moral Law, Heaven, Earth, The Commander and Method and Discipline.

The Moral Law causes the people to be in complete accord with their ruler, so that they will follow him regardless of their lives, undismayed by any danger.

Heaven signifies night and day, cold and heat, times and seasons.

Earth comprises distances, great and small; danger and security; open ground and narrow passes; the chances of life and death.

The Commander stands for the virtues of wisdom, sincerely, benevolence, courage and strictness.

By Method and Discipline are to be understood the marshaling of the army in its proper subdivisions, the graduations of rank among the officers, the maintenance of roads by which supplies may reach the army, and the control of military expenditure.

These five heads should be familiar to every general: he who knows them will be victorious; he who knows them not will fail.

Therefore, in your deliberations, when seeking to determine the military conditions, let them be made the basis of a comparison, in this wise:-

Seven Searching Questions

Which of the two sovereigns is imbued with the Moral law?

Which of the two generals has most ability?

With whom lie the advantages derived from Heaven and Earth?

On which side is discipline most rigorously enforced?

Which army is stronger?

On which side are officers and men more highly trained?

In which army is there the greater constancy both in reward and punishment?

By means of these seven considerations I can forecast victory or defeat.

The general, who harkens to my counsel and acts upon it, will conquer: let such a one be retained in command!

The general, who harkens not to my counsel nor acts upon it, will suffer defeat: let such a one

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What people think about The Art of War

3037 ratings / 68 Reviews
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  • (4/5)
    I'm so glad I finally read this historic book. I found it very interesting and understand why it has been adapted to suit other fields -- notably management. And the version of the book I bought is beautiful in itself. Bound in traditional Chinese style, with each page folded in half and only printed on the outside. Hard to rate -- it is what it is as they say -- but I'm rating it highly because it has stood the test of time.
  • (5/5)
    An enduring classic, an absolute must-read for every business person and military mind the world over.
  • (5/5)
    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.
  • (4/5)
    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 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.
  • (3/5)
    Inspiration comes from many places and The Art of War is one of those books mentioned frequently in my circles. It's one of those books I've been meaning to get to for years and, while I am not sorry that I finally got to it, its usefulness to me is limited.Most of the non-strategic advice is good leadership advice. Things such as being a leader means setting the standard for how the work should be done, including getting one's hands dirty with the lowliest tasks. I've read plenty of stuff about leadership, and setting the example, that there really wasn't anything new for me here.Since I'm not interested in military strategies, the rest was dry.From a strictly historic perspective, I can understand the importance of this treatise. But as an outstanding example of leadership and strategy in the 21st century? I'm not seeing it.
  • (3/5)
    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.
  • (5/5)
    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.
  • (5/5)
    Tactics and strategies that apply to everyday life. This book is excellent reading to make you think about how to deal with the day to day struggles of life. It helps you position you versus your opponent. Your opponent need not be any one person. It could be a corporation. It could be an establishment. It could be a situation you are facing. I was once told that what you get out of a book is the effort you put into a book. It is my hope that this book can help someone master how they deal with day to day life. Let me know what you think. By the way, how many Enron or Worldcomm employees do you think read this book?

    On another note, I would ask that you do not take this book literally. It is laced with allegory and a ton of symbolism. Please take its contents and apply them to your life for the good of all.
  • (4/5)
    A classic! Well worth the read, and looking forward to reading again in the future.
  • (3/5)
    Another translation (Ralph Sawyer) and lots of background history & hints of textual analysis - but fails to grab.Read July 2006
  • (3/5)
    A little book full off great thoughts and advice for life. I read it every year.
  • (4/5)
    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.
  • (4/5)
    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 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*. (8/10)
  • (5/5)
    The Art of War is a treasure trove of information...if you study war, ancient China, Strategy, or military history...it 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 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.Miso
  • (5/5)
    one of the best books I've ever read; just be careful of the translator. There are some really horrendous editions out there. ALWAYS buy the one translated by "CLEARLY" he is very profound in eastern philosophy and tradition
  • (3/5)
    Classic, brilliant techniques put so simply. Yet, naturally, reading this as a modern day civilian, I applied it to my modern day battles such as in business, relationships, Los Angeles traffic...the typical. As a naturally paranoid person, I feel it did me more harm than good. In addition, I prefer to (perhaps ignorantly) avoid seeing things as if they are wars. Some things will never change though because I will always act shy and giggle right before I slaughter my enemy.
  • (5/5)
    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)
  • (2/5)
    This is a manual and reads like one. Better to take in very small doses, digest and discuss rather than to read continuously.
  • (2/5)
    An interesting book, written with just short quips of information but it still seemed to flow rather seamlessly. A decent book with some good info, some of it could be still used today some of it would obviously not apply anymore to today's wars. A good read, enjoyable, and really quick.
  • (2/5)
    If you're already self-actualized (read: me), this is nothing but a bunch of shih.
  • (3/5)
    Very fundamental axioms of strategies put forward by an ancient Chinese general. Influential even today not only in military matters but in the business world as well.
  • (4/5)
    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.
  • (3/5)
    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 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.
  • (4/5)
    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.
  • (4/5)
    My first "android" book :)
    3 days of boring lectures and you complete a whole book !!!!
    A Sun Tzu's masterpiece on competition in a battlefield.An obstinate struggle to survive,to fight with a person's best spirits and a anecdote of survival in tough times. The book talks about various moves of enemies and optimum strategic judgement according to opponent's strength and weakness.
    Main categories under which the comprehensive book is divided are: Laying plans, waging war, strategic attacks, energy, tactical dispositions, army on march, fire attacks and use of spies.
    A book one of its kind. Precise, short statements without any kind of obfuscation, a provident manifestation of a probable war like situation.Indeed, a complete war time reference manual.
  • (5/5)
    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 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
  • (4/5)
    (Reprinted from the Chicago Center for Literature and Photography [cclapcenter.com]. I am the original author of this essay, as well as the owner of CCLaP; it is not being reprinted illegally here.)The CCLaP 100: In which I read for the first time a hundred so-called "classics," then write essays on whether or not they deserve the label. The Art of War is essay #27 of this series.The story in a nutshell:More of a technical manual than a piece of general literature, The Art of War is a field guide of sorts by famed Chinese military leader Sun Tzu, written it's believed sometime in the 6th century BC (during the period when China was coming together as a unified empire for the first time in history), as a way of instructing other commanders how to have as much success on the battlefield as he had had. (And please know that there's a debate among scholars as well regarding whether Sun Tzu even wrote this book by himself, or if like many other classics from antiquity this isn't in fact a sly compilation, gathering up the best thoughts back then from amongst a whole group of military strategists.) Now of course let's not forget that Sun Tzu was a Taoist as well, so of course his particular advice is going to be Taoist in nature, a very important thing to understand in order to really "get" this book; he sees the best war, for example, as the one that's never actually fought, because you've already dismantled the enemy's forces through sabotage and cunning to the point where they can't put up a resistance in the first place. And so it is throughout this extremely slim book (which in fact is more like a long magazine article) -- chapter after chapter of surprisingly spiritual text concerning the fine art of getting what you want, even when other people are actively trying to stop you from doing so.The argument for it being a classic:It's a 2,500-year-old book still being read and studied on a daily basis, argue its fans; what more do you want? And in the meanwhile, it's influenced nearly every Western military leader since first being translated into a Romantic language (French) in 1782, racking up a whole list of self-declared admirers from Napoleon to Norman Schwarzkopf. And if this weren't enough, starting in the 1980s it also gained a whole new life as a surprisingly apt if not Machiavellian guide to the corporate business world, best typified by symbol-of-yuppie-greed Gordon Gekko from Oliver Stone's fantastic movie Wall Street, who is constantly walking around quoting from it as a way to justify his monstrous, inhuman actions. If all of this isn't enough to safely consider a book a classic, ask its fans, what is?The argument against:The case against this being a classic seems to be one used a lot with books over a thousand years old; that even if that book turns out to be historically important (and it usually does), it might be better at this point to actually study the book and how it affected society, not read the book itself for pleasure anymore. Always remember, that's part of how I'm defining "classic" here in this CCLaP 100 series, is not just how important that title has been to human history, but also whether it's worth literally sitting down and reading it page-for-page yourself, no matter if you have any specific interest in that book's subject or not. If it's yes on the former but no on the latter, as critics of this book claim, then by my definition it's not a classic, but rather simply a historically important book that should be studied by the general public but not necessarily read.My verdict:So let me start by admitting how surprisingly readable this is for being 2,500 years old, and that it really does translate metaphorically to the business world surprisingly elegantly; after all, since it's a guide to war written by a Taoist, it's more of a symbolic examination of how to get out of life what you want the most, even in the face of tough opposition, with advice that is surprisingly relevant to the modern world even when he's talking about the mechanics of medieval Asian warfare. (Just for one example, near the beginning he talks in one paragraph about how a successful commander will literally steal the food of their enemy, both to sap the enemy's strength and to avoid the burden of having to carry all that food to battle themselves; this may not seem to have much relevance to the modern business world at first, until you stop and think about it in terms of stealing talent from your competitors, literally the intellectual "food" nourishing their "army" of goods and services competing against your own.)That said, though, I think ultimately I'm going to have to side with the critics this time; that unless you're a military commander or corporate raider yourself, most people's eyes are going to quickly gloss over while trying to read this book, merely after the first few pages. Now, don't get me wrong, I definitely think this should be a primer for people who are getting into the profession themselves; this should for sure be a must-read not only for soldiers, for example, but also the politicians in charge of those soldiers' budgets. But this is a perfect example of the surprisingly complicated process of determining whether a book is a classic or not, the entire reason I started this essay series in the first place; because unless competitive strategy actually is your business, most people will find it more rewarding to spend their time reading up on how this book has affected history, and of the circumstances in ancient China that led to it getting written in the first place. There's really only one major lesson in The Art of War for a non-military general audience to get -- that most battles are won based on how well one can surprise the enemy, usually by deceiving them using their own weaknesses (to act incompetent when the enemy is haughty, for example, threatening when they're meek, picking them off at the edges when they outnumber you, destroying their supply lines when they're far from home); for those not interested in the nitty-gritty of how to actually accomplish such things, though, there's actually a lot more to be learned by studying how such a thing has been attempted over the centuries, making the book certainly important but not necessarily a classic.Is it a classic? No
  • (5/5)
    Awesome for anyone looking for a good strategy book. helps with any type of war situation, I recommend reading it if you choose to go into the military.
  • (5/5)
    This turned out to be a cheap and good translation. If all you want is the straight translation, this is a great edition
  • (4/5)
    There was a lot of repetition in this book, but maybe it's to enforce some of the most important things to remember when conducting a war.

    I was surprised by how much from this ancient text seems applicable today. I guess that can be chalked up to the knowledge and foresight of Sun Tzu, as well as our sad inability to change our violent ways.

    One particular bit of text seemed particularly relevant:

    When the army engages in protracted campaigns the resources of the state will not suffice.

    Good advice.