The Art of War (Book Review)
The Art of War by Sun Tzu is a classic in every way possible. It not only stood the test of time, being written more than 2000 years ago. It also has surpassed the constraint of domains, being applied in a range of professions, from war general to business leader and sports professional. The book is relevant to, and discusses, not only battlefield manoeuvres, but also economic, psychological, and political factors.
The book consists of a large collection of essays on different, but complementary, war tactics. One of them is on strengths and weaknesses. Here Sun Tzu encourages the reader to look for the weaknesses of the opposing party. You yourself, on the other hand, should appear strong where you are weak, and weak where you are strong. He states ” If I am able to determine the enemy’s dispositions while at the same time I conceal my own then I can concentrate while he must divide. And if I concentrate while he divides, I can use my entire strength to attack a fraction of his.”
Other chapters show excellent knowledge on topics such as; energy, manoeuvres, secret agents, and terrain. The last one can very easily be translated to the business world. Here it is of utmost importance to know who your competitors, suppliers, clients, government, etc., are. Not all of the book is about brutally conquering the enemy. One of the more political statements is “For to win one hundred victories in one hundred battles is not the acme of skill. To subdue the enemy without fighting is the acme of skill.”
Sun Tzu lived around 500 BC, not much is know about his life. He wrote The Art of War from experience as a military general. A story that has survived the test of time is about his audience with the King of Wu. Here he was asked to show that his strategies can be applied to all kinds of people. The King give him 180 concubines to his train, making two of them the leaders. After explaining how to hold halberds and to turn left, right, front and back five times he beat the drum signalling right. All concubines laughed, they were not used to getting orders like that. When this happened a second time, Sun Tzu ordered the two leaders to be beheaded, everyone listened.
Strategists should definitely read The Art of War to familiarize themselves with the lessons from the essays. Many scholars state that the book has stood the test of time, and has shown to be influential even in the modern world. That is certainly true. What the book misses is, however, a conceptualization to the modern world, examples that make more sense outside of the military world. The way the book is written makes it really easy to consult, but not so fluent to read.
The book might also miss some of the benefits of cooperation (it’s about war), but it never hurts to read The Better Angels of Our Nature, too.
More on The Art of War:
http://classics.mit.edu/Tzu/artwar.html – The Art of War (digital edition)
http://www.goodreads.com/work/quotes/3200649—s-nz-b-ngf – Quotes from the book
http://12most.com/2011/12/05/12-lasting-leadership-lessons-art-war/ – Leadership lessons from The Art of War
http://www.forbes.com/sites/jessicahagy/2013/10/03/sun-tzus-the-art-of-war-illustrated-chapter-2/– The Art of War Visualized