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on April 11, 2005
It is interesting to note that all of the readers see this as a text on war, and how to beat your enemies. The first part of the book should be a leson to all of the war-mongers out there, that is If You Go To War You Have Already Lost. The consequences to your own people and soldiers and even the land must be counted for years after the battle is done. Sun-Tzu explains this well, and proceeds to explain how to wage a war causing the minimum amount of damage and suffering.
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on September 6, 2002
For years I've heard people refer to this book as the ultimate tactical planner's guide. However, I never took the time to read it because I was turned off by images of greedy, yuppie stockbrokers refering to this book as their Bible. I didn't want to read anything recommended by corporate head-hunter types. I detested those individuals and any philosophy they espoused.
However, when the war in Afghanistan started, I became fascinated with military tactics and questioned why we have to bomb everything in sight. Is that the only way to win a war and does bombing actually end the conflict or prolong it? I picked up this book hoping to glean some Eastern wisdom from the legendary Sun Tzu. I was not disappointed.
Sun Tzu confirmed everything my instincts had been telling me about this dunderheaded Clausewitzean approach to military tactics. The US's overrealiance on ordinance and smart munitions has resulted in us becoming more and more tactically and politically inept. Our military destroys infrastracture and imposes silly sanctions that only prolong the "total war". In the end we exhaust our resources, frustrate our troops, alieanate our public, and forever ruin the indigenous people's lives. The tragic irony being we do more damage to the people we are trying to save than the "enemy" could have done himself.
Individuals like Bin Laden could have been apprehended had we taken up the offers of the Sudanese or freed up the small tactical units that warned us of this nutjob years ago. Instead we blunder forward with our highly destructive and inevitably ineffectual answer which is attrition warfare. The same thing that probably got us in this mess in the first place.
Sun Tzu, amazingly enough, predicted 2,500 years ago that this total war approach (destroying your enemy's property, stealing the enemy's food and riches) was actually more destructive to the endgame and to the overrall political objective. He eloquently advanced the notion that the true art of war is to conquer your enemy without ever actually going to battle!
Sun Tzu's heavy emphasis on psychological warfare (using spies to spread rumors and cause division in enemy ranks, disguising troop movements by appearing more formidable than you actually are, and winning through skillful negotiation) all seem concepts lost on today political and military elite. Sun Tzu preached you must possess the victory BEFORE ever setting foot on the battlefield. Despite the book being a military manual, I was surprised at how much emphasis was placed on avoiding war and pursuing mental and psychological victories. When Sun Tzu preached "know your enemy" he wanted you to know the endgame. He wanted you to see the bloodshed and the loss and determine if it was even worth it to use military force in an effort to achieve a political objective.
Our "100 hour" wars have become decades-long nightmares. Our reliance on air bombardment is resulting in us ignoring many of the brilliant small unit tactics that Sun Tzu espoused, thus we've had to reign in even more fire from above because our troops down below are insufficiently trained. We've abandoned the principles of deception. Because of our overreliance on technology, we've abandoned using human intelligence (which Sun Tzu strongly espoused) thus we have no moles, no double agents, and inevitably, no reliable intelligence on our enemy. In short, we don't know our enemy. We've sold ourselves on Clausewitz' destructive theories of attrition warfare. We've forgotten that the most effective and most advanced weapon in our arsenal is our brain.
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on December 27, 2003
As an exposition on Chinese General Sun Tzu's ideas of fighting, "The Art of War" is an excellent source to use to look upon the spirit of ancient Chinese war. Written as truly a guide for sucessful battle campaigns, it is functionally just that. It provides a glimpse at how Chinese generals (yes plural - thanks to commentary that is given) viewed fighting and winning battles. In many ways, it provides a philosophical view of how full frontal assaults and pride can lead to the fall of conquests. However, this work is often misused as an application for businesses by capitalists who think that they too should treat the market as a war-zone. In this case, they reduce Tzu's warfare (which would be used to defend the good) to something that harms innocent workers for self-aggrandizement.
If not read from a greedy capitalist standpoint, "The Art of War" provides an excellent source of enlightenment about war tactics of ancient China (that are in many ways applicable today). However, to use Tzu's work as a guide on how to work (and hence, live) is a terrible reason for reading "The Art of War".
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on December 7, 2003
Indeed, I am heartened to read one reviewer lambasting the general critical acceptance of "The Art of War" as "flowery". Unfortunately, most Westerners see Chinese philosophy as little more than yoga meditation and interior decoration. Of course, this is not the case.
Take, for example, Sun's "Art of War". Here is a man sick of watching ancient Chinese warlords wage war in a sloppy, haphazard fashion (more as a social tradition than anything else), wasting their populace's resources and lives. Thus, Sun writes a magnum opus discussing the proper means of waging war, from gaining the support of the people to clearly articulating goals to ensuring success of well-trained armies in short and long campaigns all the way to the minute details of using fire (even setting other people on fire). Far from the flowery rhetoric of most Western diatribes on Taoism and Buddhism and (enter your favorite Chinese term here), the Art of War is at once simple and immediate, which is why it has survived for 2500 years.
Griffith's translation of this work is masterful as well. Included are many of the commentaries of the ancient scholars (including, for you Three Kingdoms fans, copious amounts of Cao Cao), which show how Sun's text was used in various situations, both in war AND peace). Also, he includes an excellent introduction which places the work in its historical context and speaks of Mao Zedong's use of its precepts. Also are five appendices, one of which contains the other famous Art of War, that of Wu. I was particularly surprised at his none-too-flattering comments regarding the Japanese understanding of this work (truthfully, I think that too many people see the art of war in the Gordon Gecko, "Rising Sun" business sense), particularly in pointing out their blunders during WWII.
All in all, reader, you will be hard-pressed to find a better translation of this seminal work.
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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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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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on September 19, 2014
Sun Tzu's "The Art of War" is a great book.
This ancient classic was written over 2,500 years ago by the legendary Chinese general Sun Tzu, being a
a timeless masterpiece of interaction of power and politics this book teaches many good lessons to anyone who will ever have to command a group of people, in the workplace, in school, or on the battlefield.
The Art of War is an ageless book that teaches human nature and how to deal with difficult situations in life and business.
The lessons learned in this book can be allied to relationship, friendship, career and make you a more complete person in general. I I recommend this book to be read by all those who wants to succeed in anything they do, It is not just about lessons in war but can be used and applied for everyday life.
"The Art of War" is a must read.
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on September 24, 2003
Sun Tzu's The Art of War is more than just a collection of common-sense adages. It is a comprehensive treatment of war and its relationship to society as a whole. At first, some of the selections seem obvious and naive. But then you come across a pearl of wisdom that really makes you think. And only after reading the entire book, and some historical backing too, do you realize what an achievement the book really is. Anyone that is interested in politics and warfare will find The Art of War to be very enlightening.
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on April 23, 2003
A friend of mine works for the city of Los Angeles. He told me about all kinds of problems he's had in the past dealing with co-workers over and under him. And then he told me about what helped him to deal with people in a work environment more than anything else: The Art of War. When I got a copy of this book, I was shocked and amazed to see how small the actual book is. But that's not all that shocked me.
This book is the essential and definitive published work on tactics. Every chapter is short, concise, and brilliant. Instead of bothering to tell you about every kind of battle that could possibly take place, the master who wrote this book tells you about every tactical position you might have to deal with in a war, and the best thing to do while in that position. Much of this counsel is simple, even obvious. But that doesn't change the fact that when tensions run high we all need reminders.
The tactics taught to you in this book are amazing. Huge amounts of writing have been devoted to expaining and utilizting the counsel in this book, and what you learn from it will benefit you in all kinds of situations. In business, in games, and in life in general. This book is ESSENTIAL reading. Secure a copy before your enemies do.
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on March 13, 2003
Written over 2.500 years ago this book continues to be victorious in time. There are obvious reasons for this. Applying philosophy on warfare to name one. Applying knowledge of human nature to achieve your goals to name another.
The fact that many people recommend this book on matters other than warfare is one more compliment to it.
Sun Tzu uses a mix of "know thy self"-"know your enemy"-"understand reality" to put together his philosophical thesis on war. It's a very indicative reading of Chinese philosophy indeed, as it is based on meticulous observation. Most of the Asian philosophies are based on the principle of "attention" and this evident on Sun Tzu's book as well.
The author goes into an array of detailed "instructions" which go beyond the surface and deal more with anticipation, with being ahead like one would in a chess game.
Strategy, cunning, fooling the opponent, anticipating disadvantageous situations, seeking favorable conditions and trying to create them, are all major themes of the "Art of war".
It has been claimed that at certain points the book becomes a tough cookie to swallow mainly because of the difference in midset between Asians and westerners but it is a very rewarding book in the end. It does apply in everyday life especially when one considers the hardcore competitive societies that we have the misfortune of living in today. I doubt the author wanted his book to be thought of in that way but that's another story.
Up there on the list of classic philosophy.
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