Read Sun Tzu’s "The Art of War" (4/366)


“Success in warfare is gained by carefully accommodating ourselves to the enemy’s purpose.”
~ Sun Tzu


I like to read, but there has always been a growing list of books I want to read “sometime soon”. In our world of computers, smart-phones, email, and streaming TV, it’s hard for people to find time to read anymore.

“The Art of War” is an ancient Chinese military strategy guide written by general Sun Tzu, whose principles have stood the test of time and changing environments – it is still read today for military use and even in business practice. One of the earliest english translations of the text (and the one I read) was written in 1910 by scholar and translator, Lionel Giles.

Inscribed bamboo-slips of the most complete copy to date of The Art of War were unearthed in Yinque Mountain, Linyi, Shandong in 1972 and were dated back to the 2nd century BC (below, L). The bamboo book (below, R) is a copy of “The Art of War” and is part of a collection at the University of California, Riverside. The cover also reads “乾隆御書“, meaning it was either commissioned or transcribed by the Qianlong Emperor.
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“The Art of War” really isn’t a one-time read. As simple as the concepts are, the guide was meant to be studied and meditated on. Although the treatise was written for military strategy, it more deeply is about the human psyche, with other circumstances having effect on both the psyche and the situation at hand. Although there are 13 chapters, each dealing with different aspects of war, I believe they all relate back to the same principles of knowing yourself, and knowing your opposition.

Sun Tzu stated 5 essentials for victory:

1. He will win who knows when to fight and when not to fight.
2. He will win who knows how to handle both superior and inferior forces.
3. He will win whose army is animated by the same spirit throughout all its ranks.
4. He will win who, prepared himself, waits to take the enemy unprepared.
5. He will win who has military capacity and is not interfered with by the sovereign.

Victory lies in the knowledge of these five points.

One of the most famous excerpts from the book follows the 5 essentials for victory:
“If you know the enemy and know yourself, you need not fear the result of a hundred battles. If you know yourself but not the enemy, for every victory gained you will also suffer a defeat. If you know neither the enemy nor yourself, you will succumb in every battle.”

I enjoyed this book, have re-read several parts, and am now listening to the audio version. Again, although it was written as a military guide, it has meaningful insights on self-control, patience, and wisdom. It’s available for free through many sources on the internet, but I’ll be buying a copy for my bookshelf.

Related Links:
The Art of War (Hardcover)

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