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9 of 11 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Remarkable text, though hard going!, 12 Dec 2002
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This review is from: The Art of War (Paperback)
This certainly is a very impressive piece of work, and worth reading at least once in a lifetime! Sun Tzu provides very valuable, clearly constructed guidance in the conduct of war, conflict and diplomacy.
The work seems small in size, but is incredibly detailed and specific in the information it provides. Reading this book certainly helps with understanding how, why and where conflicts develop and (as the foreward discusses)guards against many of the mistakes made in more recent military conflicts.
Some of the statements seem like truisms or common sense, but then all these thousands of years on (and with the benefit of much hindsight) that maybe isn't a fair judgement.
In places the 'rules' seem to contradict each other, particularly in the context of discipline; for example in one place there is talk of being fair and hearing all evidence before doling out proportional punishments where appropriate, and elsewhere advise is given to act decisively with immediate lethal force if there are any suspicions of disloyalty. Both are valid hypotheses, probably both employed by the vast majority of armed forces around the world, however when is one a more appropriate course of action than the other?
I cannot say whether the ambiguity is down to the original author, or a vagueness somewhere in the translation. It is difficult to know without learning to read ancient chinese, however contradictions and ambiguities are common in the text and not discussed by the author in his comments.
I regard that as a bit of a weakness.
Also, there are many examples given in support of Sun Tzu's assertions relating to conflicts that took place in his day and in the preceding centuries. These are very difficult to understand without the benefit of diagrams, timelines and a bit more explanation of the diplomatic context. They would make perfect sense to a scholar of ancient chinese history, but do not illuminate the text for me.
In conclusion, Sun Tzu produced an amazing text, with a massive amount of his work still being relevant in a modern context, and not just in the arena of armed conflict. This particular translation is more suited to a historian who studies Sun Tzu as part of research into that period of history, and already knows the context (or knows where to look for more info). For the rest of us, a different more interpretive translation may be better suited.
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