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The Art of War: Complete Texts and Commentaries Paperback – 27 Jun 2003

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Product details

  • Paperback: 474 pages
  • Publisher: Shambhala Publications Inc; Reprint edition (27 Jun. 2003)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 1590300548
  • ISBN-13: 978-1590300541
  • Product Dimensions: 15.1 x 3 x 22.8 cm
  • Average Customer Review: 5.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (1 customer review)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 222,750 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful By Stefan Drew on 18 July 2006
Format: Paperback
For some this is a book about military strategy and indeed it is studied during officer training at Sandhurst and Westpoint.

What makes this book a true classic is the fact it can be interpreted at several levels. For me it has always been about business and marketing strategies.

It is incredible that the lessons learnt by Sun Tzu over 2000 years ago have relevance to marketing and managing businesses today. All the classic manoeuvres are there but, for me, what is most relevent is Sun Tzu's philosophy when it comes to campaigns of all sorts. Sun Tzu, although able to subdue his enemy on the battlefield, actually prefers to beat them by guile and strategy. For him to win a battle but waste resources is a form of defeat.

Sun Tzu prefers to overwhelm his foes by the perception of greater numbers & stength and by creating an environment where the enemy expects defeat.. He does this by utilsing superior knowledge of the terrain; he utilses superior lines of communication and learns to think like his enemy. Read this as better understanding of the marketplace, better routes to market and a thorough understanding of competitors strategies and the transition from miltary strategy to marketing strategy has commenced.

Translating military to marketing is of course an inexact science and the weakness of Sun Tzu is that he gives us basic strategies but fails to provide advice on the tactics that need to be employed to ensure the strategies are carried out.

In essence this book provides incedible insights into the strategies that businesses need to employ to win. In doing this it achieves what it set out to do and so deserves 5 stars. To move from this point to one of establishing the tactics requires a marketing magician.
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Most Helpful Customer Reviews on (beta) 18 reviews
11 of 11 people found the following review helpful
Thought provoking - if you know how to read it 11 Nov. 2012
By J. Schulte - Published on
Format: Paperback
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.
7 of 7 people found the following review helpful
Great Translation, Awkward Presentation 13 May 2009
By Jean-Paul Valois - Published on
Format: Paperback
While Thomas Cleary's translation is excellent, this book's presentation makes for an awkward halting read, due to the commentaries being embedded into Sun Tzu's text and not being sufficiently distinctly differentiated therefrom.

Great content, but I would prefer it in a format that allowed for reading with a better flow. Some creative typesetting could easily turn this book--or, rather, its next edition/printing--from a 3 star into a 5 star!
6 of 6 people found the following review helpful
A Classic Way to Read It 1 Dec. 2007
By Robin S. Slomkowski - Published on
Format: Paperback
This is the best version of The Art of War I have read.

Thomas Cleary does a great job of translating consistently, meaningfully, and has useful notes for understanding the subtleties of translation.

The commentaries are from classic Chinese leaders and philosophers, intermixed. Not all commentaries come to the same conclusions, but they build on each other over history. This is the way many people study these texts in Chinese. This is the only edition I have found that gives context to being able to understand the influence of The Art of War in its functional and historical perspectives in the English language.

If you have ever read The Art of War before and are looking for a way to get more out of the text either for historical or personal understanding I recommend this book.

Highly recommended edition.
5 of 5 people found the following review helpful
A good rendition of a classical manual on strategy 10 April 2008
By Edgar Hopida - Published on
Format: Paperback
Dr. Thomas Cleary as with many of his translated works on Eastern religion/philosophy and Islam, brings us yet another excellent rendition of a classic in basic strategy.

Not only does he bring the Master Sun Tzu's classic along with its eleven commentators from various periods, he also provides us additional material whether it be essays from classical Chinese strategists, The Lost Art of War by Sun Bin, descendant of Sun Tzu, and of course Silver Sparrow Art of War which a version of the Art of War which contains previously unknown fragments that further illuminates the text we are so familiar with.

This is a must for anyone interested in Chinese classics and for those who have an interest in basic strategy that can be implemented not only in the battlefield but in other aspects of life itself.
2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
Simplicity from complexity 15 Jun. 2013
By Howard C. Batt - Published on
Format: Kindle Edition
It is intriguing how many people think a treatise like this has to be some kind of mystical gateway to concealed knowledge and are disappointed to find it is simple - "like a child would write" some say. But "simplicity" is one of the "principles of war" taught to and memorized by EVERY officer in the armed forces. The statement of the principle is: "Prepare clear, uncomplicated plans and concise orders to ensure thorough understanding." Who wouldn't have thought of that if fighting a war? Those who think it has to be complicated certainly would.

The "principles of war" adopted by American forces are all simple and all seemingly obvious. There is a reason Sun Tzu has been studied by ALL great military minds for 2 and 1/2 millenia. Clausewitz studied them. So did MacArthur and Eisehower and Bradley and Rommel and Napoleon. To see how simple the principles that govern every battle from the squad eliminating a machine gun to the invasion of Normandy, search for the "nine principles of war." You'll be surprised when you see one of them is "mass" - you should have more troops at the decisive point than the other side. Simple - but it leads to the concept of "force multiplier." I might have only 1,000 men to your 10,000 but if I have air superiority and tactical nuclear weapons while you don't, you will lose. "Don't let yourself be surprised" is a principle memorized by combat leaders.

The "Art of War" is just that - it's an "art" and must be learned. The learning starts with understanding the principles that govern ALL warfare. Once those principles are understood it's time to start getting specific. But without the principles, specifics are meaningless and can be dangerous.

The problems in Iraq and Afghanistan all stem from ignorance of the first, very simple principle of war that Colin Powell attempted to explain to the administration. It is: "Objective - Direct every military operation toward a clearly defined, decisive and attainable objective. The ultimate military purpose of war is the destruction of the enemy's ability to fight and will to fight." After ten years, we finally realized we didn't know what we were trying to accomplish in Iraq.
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