The Art of War: a Book Review

The Art of WarThe Art of War by Sun Tzu
My rating: 4 of 5 stars ★★★★

I decided to read The Art of War because of references to it in the best/only good general marketing book I read during my commerce education: Marketing Strategy and Competitive Positioning. I was curious to see why a modern marketing handbook would have references to a classic handbook in ancient warfare, and why The Art of War is such a famous book.

I can see why the book is famous: it is because its warfare principles are generally applicable to competitive situations – including marketing and politics (maybe office politics too?)

I expected a heavy brick of an analytic strategy book, but it is the opposite: a thin, minimalist poetry book. It is a piece of art. The patterns of words are aesthetically pleasing and produce vivid imagery of ancient armies moving and battling in rugged terrains; yet the strange scenery and poetic style conveys core strategic principles for competition with great accuracy.

Essentially, The Art of War encourages careful consideration of the dynamics of all situational variables, and discourages impulsive and dumb warfare, which is any warfare driven by an irrational motive, or which can not be won quickly with minimal loss.

This is the style:

On intractable terrain,
Do not encamp;
On crossroad terrain,
Join forces with allies;
On dire terrain,
Do not linger;
On enclosed terrain,
Make strategic plans;
On death terrain,
Do battle.


The Art of War by Sun-Tzu, page. 47, Chapter: The Nine Changes.

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4 thoughts on “The Art of War: a Book Review

  1. Shelley

    I remember expecting much the same as you when I first read this. I was struck by the simplicity of the form and the appropriateness to daily life. I’ve recently read James Scott Bell’s book, The Art of War for Writers which emulates Art of War. You’ve got me wanting to dig out Sun-Tzu from my book collection.


    1. Mados

      I felt ambivalent about posting this review recommending a book on effective warfare. I don’t approve of war at all and don’t think anyone has the right to command others to kill, or that a soldier uniform takes away the personal responsibility for committing murders and atrocities. Killing is murder regardless what people are wearing and who gives them commands, period.

      But I do very much approve of intelligence in battle (as in any situation) – and hate collective stupidity more than anything, especially collective stupidity with weapons under the control of a stupid leader. and this book promotes intelligence. Battle efficiency – “don’t fight without thinking”.

      And obviously, the point of reading the book is not necessarily to plan a real war but to instil a strategic mindset to approach modern battles wisely… Any sort of competition, and that is very useful.



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