199. The Art of War by Sun Tzu

Sun Tzu's The Art of War (Oxford University Press, 1963; 197 (Originally written in 500 BCE and translated by Samuel B. Griffiths)) is one book that has inspired several other books. It's been applied to various fields from business to friendship and more. In this book, Sun Tzu discusses what a good General should do if he is to win wars. The discusses almost everything that one needs to do and know about war and its effects from war-induced inflation to food shortages that accompanies it.

According to Sun Tzu
[1] War is a matter of vital importance to the State; the province of life or death; the road to survival or ruin. It is mandatory that it be thorougly studied. [63]
Regardless of this, Sun Tzu puts premium taking enemies and their state whole with as minimum a damage as possible. He writes
[1] Generally in war the best policy is to take a state intact; to ruin it is inferior to this. [Page 77]
He goes on further to explain
[3] For  to win one hundred victories in one hundred battles is not the acme of skill. To subdue the enemy without fighting is the acme of skill. [Page 77]
This advise runs through the entire text. After reading this book I get to understand the importance and premium of mind-games. For instance, how does one overcome the enemy without fighting? He explains the importance of mind games. Mind games are important to make the enemy feel weak (even when he is strong) and also to boost the morale of the people back home for it is in their acceptance and the harmony that springs forth that wars are won. Here, today, ones ability to manipulate the media counts very much. Sun Tzu says attack the enemy's strategy. Again he says "all warfare is based on deception" and the General must do everything possible not to give out much information to the enemy. Deception puts the enemy in an unstable state:
[19] When near, make it appear that you are far away; when far away, that you are near.[Page 66]
[20] Offer the enemy a bait to lure him; feign disorder and strike him. [Page 66]
[21] When he concentrates, prepare against him; where he is strong, avoid him. [page 67]
[23] Pretend inferiority and encourage his arrogance. [Page 67]
Whilst keeping the enemy in the dark or in false knowledge, the General must work to be know the enemy's strategy; and here Sun Tzu recommends the use of spies (native, doubled, inside, expendable and and living). He showed how best to employ and deploy all these spies effectively to the advantage of the skilled General. All these is a preparation towards subduing the enemy without fighting or causing unnecessary deaths. Has anything change since 500 BCE when Sun Tzu wrote this book? It explains why defections were high during the Cold War and might explain why space technology and exploration is on the increase.

The advise that stood out, under Offensive Strategy, (and which has been given by several sages of the past) with applications in almost every field of human edeavour were:
[31] 'Know the enemy and know yourself; in a hundred battles you will never be in peril.[Page 84]
[32] When you are ignorant of the enemy but know yourself, your chances of winning or losing are equal. [Page 84]
[33] If ignorant of the enemy and of yourself, you are certain in every battle to be in peril. [Page 84]
The importance of knowing oneself and knowing the external conditions - the enemy, the strategy, the terrain etc - was emphatically stated. Finally, even before the UN Convention Against Torture came into force in 1987, Sun Tzu in 500 BCE has written that
[19] Treat captives well, and care for them. [76]
The information provided in the book were written in short numbered paragraphs like aphorisms, sometimes requiring explanation from the translator, at other times commentaries from equally excellent Generals who have used Sun Tzu's guidelines like Tsa'o Tsa'o, for the reader to understand. This is a quick read but it will help much if it is read slowly so that the contents could be well internalised. As earlier stated, its application is beyond the subject of war. 

If you have not read it, kindly do.


  1. Thanks for this review. I have been wanting to read the book for long and you just encouraged me to. I just downloaded the copy online on my PC. I am poring over it right away.


    1. Read it then. There is a lot to learn from this book. Love it to bits.

  2. This book came to mind on saturday! LoL. I was wondering where my copy was. First time I read this book, I went out and got copies for all my siblings, my mom and a handful of friends.
    For the world we live in today, and where capitalism is driving us, the art of war is very necessary and useful.
    However, I'm currently having an internal battle of what is really necessary/important in life. Do we need all the things we battle for in life?

    1. This is a question that requires a philosophical answer, which I don't think I have. All I can say is that the world we live in makes us slaves to 'external things' and prevents us from thinking of the internal being. Our only focus is what we have - the good jobs (high paying ones, of course), the cars, the clothes and all. And when these fleeting things sift through our fingers and we are unable to grasp them we become desperate and begin to quality them as failures. Society looks down upon you and see a failure. We've been created to be competitive and not collaborative. That everything we need we must fight for it. I wonder what Nash will be thinking right now. And one's inability to fight for what he needs is deemed to be a weakness.

  3. Thanks for the enlightenment. I have heard of this great book but haven't find time to read. My appetite have been whetted by this review and have downloaded its pdf and started reading straightaway.
    Thanks for the reminder Nana

  4. Hi. why the book cover is like that? a circle sliced into 4 parts? what does it means?

    1. Hi I don't but I can see a sun sliced into pieces with a sword. The sword was the weapon of choice for warriors in the days of Sun Tzu. The sun perhaps represents the East.


Post a Comment

Help Improve the Blog with a Comment

Popular posts from this blog

10. Unexpected Joy at Dawn: My Reading

Quotes for Friday from Ola Rotimi's The Gods Are not to Blame I

69. The Clothes of Nakedness by Benjamin Kwakye, A Review