his book is actually two books in one. First off, there is the codification of rules and strategies of war, from the basic (don’t attack uphill) to the abstract (don’t be guided by anger). In this first half, we get the transcribed words of Su-Tzu (or someone else, or even a collections of someone elses) from the sixth century BC, listing his principles of warfare. I decided to have a read of it when a scifi story I read made open mention of the Art, but not by name (I guessed it correctly, through). So the first half are the proscribed rules, interesting reading that makes one nod and make “uh huh” noises. I blew through it quite easily and learned quite a bit.
In fact, I was still reading the second half (more on that in a bit) when I met my friend Chris at a coffee shop. I got there 45 minutes early (specifically to get reading done). When he showed up and saw me with an empty coffee cup and this book before me and asked how long I’d been waiting, I told him that it was important to chose and take the battlefield first.
Okay, so, the second part. Unfortunately The Art of War was written on bamboo, a herculean effort for its time, but skimpy for trade paperbacks. So, to fill in the balance and make the book worth it, the editors review the rules again, this time with commentary from history. Okay, so nice try, but most of the ancient commentary is simply restating, over and over, the same thing Sun-Tzu said. He might say, “Take the high ground” and the historical commentator will note “That is, a hill or mountain”. Obvious, and it goes on and on and on. By the time I got to the end of the book, I was dragging through all these repetitions, the rules a second time, and obvious comments (sometimes several of them grouped together). Really, very very tedious.
Better were the actually historical references where such ploys and strategies were actually employed. Those I found interesting, where leaders came up with clever and unique ways to best their opponents (I particularity liked seeing Hannibal show up a couple of times – he’s my boy!).
So yes, The Art of War. Stay for the words of Sun-Tzu, but leave before the chirping of the commentaries.