Historically, Wen Tzu is said to have been a student of Lao Tzu, the founding author of Taoism. At least on the surface, the writing bears out that statement. Every chapter starts with the phrase "Lao Tzu said", possibly in answer to a question posed by Wen, as if Wen were writing down the master's teachings directly.
Points of style also seem more like Lao Tzu than like later authors. In fact, the Wen Tzu fits nicely into a continuum. Lao was the earliest, also the most poetic, abstract, obscure. Chuang Tzu was probably later, and had a more prosaic, anecdotal, and understandable style. Lieh Tzu was the latest, and even more pedestrian and pragmatic than Chuang. Wen fits neatly between Lao and Chuang. His writing is less figurative and poetic than Lao's, but still more ethereal than Chuang's. Like Lao, Wen addresses the Tao directly, rather than through the kinds of stories that Chuang uses with such good effect.
Wen Tzu has a strong message all his own, however. He conveys a strong sense of changing needs of each different moment, and of the proper relationships between things. He notes that a bow is needed for hunting, but is put away when the game is caught. He also points out that the wheel functions only when all the spokes are properly fitted, and that the harp plays only when all of its strings are present and properly tuned. One spoke can't carry a cart and one string can't play a melody. Both messages have strong social meanings: the Way gives a person diffferent duties at different times, and that organization of many people into a society may also be proper, if done in accordance with the Way. This is why Wen's "quotes" of Lao are sometimes suspect. It was the tradition, back then, for a newer writer to ascribe his words to an older authority. This practice made sure the writer was not seen to contradict established wisdom, and hoped to gain respect by association.
Cleary's translations are always very readable, and this is no exception. The text tends towards the repetitive, verging on monotony at times. Still, it makes a useful addition to any collection of Taoist classics and is easy to enjoy for its own wisdom and voice.