The Art of War

Many know the name, but not many know the history. The Art of War is a fascinating self-help book of sorts, with militaristic means in mind but lessons that can be taught to and applied by anyone in practically any field. It is separated into 13 chapters detailing specific components of warfare, including the use of spies, the utilization of terrain, and when the best time to take an offensive is. Beyond being a good military strategist, the text also focuses on being an intelligent and virtuous individual, referencing Daoist beliefs and inferring that one must be both wise and fair to win battles. The Art of War focuses not only on how to win battles, but on how to be a paragon of generals so that all may follow.

While its impact on leaders throughout history has been undeniable, the history of the text itself is a matter of debate. Initially it was believed to have been published approximately 2500 years ago by Sun Tzu (also known as Sun Wu) during the Spring and Autumn Period of Chinese history. What makes the actual text debatable are several factors, the first being that there were actually two texts named The Art of War, with the second being published 2100 years ago by a man who was also named Sun Tzu but who was often referred to as Sun Bin. Anachronisms, traditional characters, and a lack of punctuation utilized in the original text have also made copies and translations difficult to verify. Indeed, many translations disagree on wordings and rely on a very specific version or a later copy of the text for support. Most translations, however, maintain the same structure of the text, and the lessons to be learned and advice given remain consistent.

Despite its age, the text is still in use today by those not only involved in military but also by businessmen and women. Anyone in a competitive field will find some grain of truth in The Art of War, with metaphorical guidelines meant to be applied in life, competition, and, above all, one’s own character.


S., & Trapp, J. (2012). The Art of War: A New Translation. New York: Chartwell Books.