Sun Tzu’s Art of War

I was at a Barnes and Noble the other day, with a gift card burning a hole in my pocket, so I went to the Military History section and tried to figure out which edition of Art of War I’d like to get. I’ve recently been interested in the Art of War just because of how much people in USA history seem to really be in to it.

It’s even referenced in the Sopranos.

So I wondered if the internet had solved my dilemma and it turns out they had. I got an edition translated by Thomas Cleary which was number two on the list and also, oddly, the cheapest.

I’ve started reading it and I can say after nearly two days I’m nearly through the introduction. There’s a lot to explain before you can get into the Art of War. For example, Sun Tzu is actually really really down on war. He doesn’t like it at all. His attitude reminds me of what a friend would say when describing Ulysses S. Grant: he just wanted to kill as efficiently and quickly as possible.

The book, also, is a Taoist text. I don’t know much about Taoism, but that puts in in the category of books like the I Ching.

So what have I gotten so far? So far it looks like Sun Tzu favors ruthlessness in war, but is a big proponent of not having a war at all. It seems to imply a sort of eliminate problems before they become problems style approach to things. Like, instead of fighting the Mongols, assassinate Genghis Khan before he became Genghis Khan. He’s also a big proponent of emotionless objectivity in war, which contrasts pretty sharply with more warrior heavy societies like say, the Klingons.

I haven’t gleaned a whole lot of wisdom but Thomas Cleary is doing a pretty good job convincing me that the book is worth a read.


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