Monday, January 19, 2015

Book Review: The Art of War

Thought it would be fun to read this ancient classic of wartime and strategy.  For those unaware, there are many, many different translators of the title, and from what I gathered reading the "expert reviews" on Amazon, no one is seems to be satisfied with any of them.  So instead of making a decision, I just asked for The Art of War for Christmas and let the gift-giver.  On Christmas Day, I ended up with Sun Tzu's "The Art of War: The New Illustrated Edition" translated by Samuel B. Griffith, and I wasn't disappointed.  Griffith clearly spent a good amount of time deeply meditating on the purpose of the text and utilizing previous and the earliest translations by ancient Chinese scholars.

Apart from the beautiful presentation of the book itself (illustrations, silk cover, etc.), Griffith provides a lengthy but engaging introduction that investigates the book's origins, disputed authorship, and description of the era of ancient China that book was written in.  Throughout the text, he relies, refers and comments of other translators where appropriate.  He humbly states agreement when necessary, and provides sound reasons for disagreement, without taking away their respect.  As I was reading, I felt that I was always given a choice to which translation seemed accurate according to the context.  If you are interested in reading a different translation, and want to see the differences between them, here's a website that should help explain them all.  Despite the "odd language choices," I still thoroughly enjoyed his insights, and found it to be a proper blend of traditional and modern language.

As for the text of "The Thirteen Chapters," the proverbial writings are elegantly simple.  Through a general's analysis of justifications of war, ranks and respect, and methods of attack and defense, the written chapters are extremely applicable to those in leadership position.  I've known of translations to be geared towards business, but I could plainly see the teacher-student interaction being emphasized as well.  Really, any superior-subordinate relationship could be strengthened through the principles of discipline and reward written in the Art of War.

It's a short read if you just want to tackle The Art of War itself, but the introduction provided a fuller appreciation of the work as a whole.  The footnotes and additional included commentary added to the experience of reading this treatise for someone who knows very little about ancient China or warfare itself.  It is evident in the translation that Griffith's experience and study of modern military operations has added a unique view of the text.  I'll concede that no translation is perfect, however it is clear that this volume has provided a depth that a discounted version may lack.

Rating: 4 out of 5

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