Book Review: Sun Tzu’s – The Art of War

I have had this book on my shelf for many years now.  Having been deeply into martial arts and their associated eastern philosophies in my youth, it is no surprise that I have encountered this 2,000 year old piece of literature.  As a young martial artist, I was more concerned with being warrior than general and therefore didn’t give it much more than a cursory glance and read through. As time progresses, I have developed much more interest in strategy as opposed to tactics.

Sun Tzu was a mystical Chinese warrior-philospher of times long past. This text is written in the form of a general’s manual for war and battle.  In recent times, many business leaders have bought into the philosophy of Sun Tzu and use it to draw parallels between modern day competitive business challenges and the ancient battlefield of China. In fact, it is easy to see references in the very language we use in day to day business. We talk of “meeting the competition in the field”, “rallying the troops”, “seeing how the land lies” and “taking the high ground”. All of which refer back to the ancient battle fields.

Where the book does contain to some specifics that are totally irrelevant for anyone other than an ancient Chinese general, the strength in the book comes from the ease with which metaphors can be derived and used in the modern business world. For instance, the passages detailing the use of fire in battle can be largely discounted.  In terms of the bulk of the text, we can see that it not only deals with spacial concepts such as understanding the positioning, deployment and movement of your army, but also management guidance on how to communicate with your troops to ensure faith is kept in their leader.

This is a definite read for anyone interested in strategy and strategic concepts. I’ll leave you with my favorite paraphrasing of the text, “Know your enemy, know yourself and be assured of victory”.

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