What We Are Reading Today: In the Company of Seahorses

What We Are Reading Today: ‘The Art of War’ by an ancient Chinese military strategist

“The Art of War” is a non-fiction military treatise compiled by Chinese general Sun Tzu in the fifth century B.C., and translated by Thomas Cleary.

For the past two-and-a-half millennia, this ancient text has influenced military strategists from Napoleon to Ho Chi Minh on how to wage war where necessary and resort to diplomacy when possible.

Composed of 13 chapters, the book talks about concepts such as strategic assessments, maneuvering armies, planning a siege, formations and adaptations.

In chapter one, titled “Strategic Assessment,” Sun Tzu — or Master Sun — explains that war must be studied to measure its success through five areas: Command, doctrine, moral influence, terrain and weather.

In chapter three, titled “Planning a Siege,” Master Sun says that “those who win every battle are not really skillful — those who render others’ armies helpless without fighting are the best of all.”

A notable distinction Master Sun focuses on is that between defense against the enemy, and waging war as the belligerent.

“Invincibility is a matter of defense, vulnerability is a matter of attack,” he highlights in chapter four, titled “Formation.”

More of his insight is contained within the pages of the book, such as ancient divide-and-conquer strategies and physical maneuvering of armies.

Not much is known about Master Sun himself — mostly just that he was credited with writing the text and that he was a philosopher and general who lived during the Zhou, or Spring and Autumn, period of Chinese history.

His influence reached both Eastern and Western military thought, politics and even business models.

In 1772, the text was translated into French and the first attempts into English were made in 1905.


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