Monday, 30 July 2012

The Art of War by Sun Tzu - Book Review ?

Publisher's write-up:

'Translated in the year 1910, this scholarly edition of Dr. Lionel Giles is considered to be the best translation of the work till date.

Originally written in the Chinese language by Sun Tzu in the 6th century BC, this is the most successful and the oldest Chinese military treatise in the world. The contents of the book are based on Sun Tzu's own experience in different campaigns. The essence of the book is that positioning in war strategy is crucial.

Apart from being essential for the military, the book is useful for all those who want to pursue success in life, and for all those who aim at leadership. The ultimate goal in one's life, as the book proclaims, should be to strive for success, always with the “enemy at the next door” alertness. In this contemporary battlefield of corporate competency, this book no doubt will have an edge over other such books.'

The Art of War is a guide for military generals written by an ancient Chinese general, Sun Tzu, nearly 2500 years ago and translated into English nearly a century ago by the British historian, Dr. Lionel Giles.

For starters, I'd say that Maple Press, the publishers, have written a very misleading write-up at the back of the book. While it said that they were from the author's 'own experience', I expected an autobiographical work with Sun Tzu narrating a battle which he led and what he learnt from that experience. Instead this was like an instruction manual, with numbered points in each chapter. Despite that, I thought that there tips given by this general would be useful for anyone but they were all too 'war specific' and some of his points were totally outdated, such as all his points regarding cities with fortified walls, whereas you hardly have such cities these days. Besides, I found some of his points to be contradictory, although not blatantly so, but in such a way that the two can never get along together such as, he talks about how a good general should treat his subordinates like his own sons and later he says how he must make all his subordinates fear when he is in their vicinity. My very strong opinion is that if you make your son fear you, then you aren't a good father and that applies to the general too. 

Initially in the book, I was extremely annoyed when the I read an extremely vague simile and the translator, in his commentary says that there is no exact explanation for that in English. Another frustrating thing about this was the high usage of allusions, a device that I detest. However, the translator agrees that the ancient Chinese version available right now may not exactly be what Sun Tzu might have left behind and several pages might have been added / deleted. However, to say something positive about this, I found some of his thoughts to be rather interesting / strange. Being someone who lived during the B.C years, I expected him to advocate war ethics and I was in for a shock when he talked about deception and the use of spies being a necessity, ending the book saying, 'an army without spies is like a man with ears or eyes.'.

The punctuation mark in the heading is not a typographical error and I used it only because I'm really not sure on whether what I've written is a review and that is up to you, the reader, to decide. Despite all these negative comments, I shall not dismiss the book completely as I strongly feel that I am not the correct person to judge this book. What he says might really be useful even for the present day generals and the people who are leading a team and being the carefree student that I'm, right now, I'm certainly not a member of the target group and I might probably find this work a little more meaningful later on in life. Regarding the rating, I've already mentioned that I'm not the right person to do so and hence I refuse. 

Have a nice day,


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