A timeless treatise on conflict, its lessons applicable not only to military strategy, but to all sorts of struggles and oppositions.
Each of the thirteen chapters tackles a different aspect of “the art of war”. In my edition, the Penguin John Minford translation, these are stated as the “Making of Plans”, “Waging of War”, “Strategic Offensive”, “Forms and Dispositions”, “Potential Energy”, “Empty and Full”, “The Fray”, “The Nine Changes”, “On the March”, “Forms of Terrain”, “The Nine Kinds of Ground”, “Attack by Fire”, and “Espionage”. Sun Tzu doesn’t waste time with context or needless metaphor, he dives right in and makes his points with great force and clarity. Such brevity makes sense, given that the text was originally written on thin bamboo strips. The very short length of the work, along with the intelligence, usefulness, and applicability of the text within, definitely make it worthwhile reading material to any.
I see a lot of writing on the book focuses on its wide applicability, with statements like “as useful to managers in the boardroom as to generals on the battlefield!” bandied about. That’s all well and good, and I imagine it helps to sell copies to those who may not otherwise find interest in the work, but I find it plenty satisfying just as an ancient guide to warfare. I didn’t read the book solely to try and find applicable lessons to my life. I read it because it’s a classic with an interesting history, with sharp education.
Nonetheless, on reflecting on the book after reading it, I do find myself drawn to considering how Sun Tzu’s advice would be useful in other arenas. The focus on extensive organisation, prudent strategy, and the value of acting contrary to expectations, certainly elevate the book from being bound to the time and place it was written in.
I give it four banners, and a gong.