The Timeless Art Of War Book Review Examples

Type of paper: Book Review

Topic: War, Literature, Books, Sun Tzu, China, Strategy, Time, Violence

Pages: 4

Words: 1100

Published: 2020/12/15


This paper is aimed at conducting book review of one of the course readings. The chosen book is “The Art of War” by Sun Tzu. In this regard, the attention is paid to the summary of the book and the book’s relevance to understanding the civilisation of the Ancient China. The book is analysed I terms of which features of the Chinese civilisation can be found it and assist in understanding of how people of that time lived and fought wars. The comparison with another book on the subject was also conducted. The book chosen for comparison was Carl von Clausewitz’s “On War” (1832), which is also a guide on military strategy. In this context, both books were compared in terms how they describe a war and what was different in their perspectives. Furthermore, the contemporary relevance of the book was outlined. In this regard, personal perception of the book was also stated. Finally, conclusion was given at the end of the paper.
Key words: the art of war, Sun Tzu, principles of war, the Ancient China.

The chosen book for review is “The Art of War” by Sun Tzu. It is a document that contains strategic and tactical wisdom of Ancient China. It was written by one the most famous and admired strategies and tactician of his time – General Sun Tzu (544-496 BC). Sun Tzu was an adviser on military and state affairs of Chinese Emperor Helu of Wu. Consequently, the book was aimed at collecting strategic wisdom of conducting warfare in the Ancient times. As an advisor, Sun Tzu aimed this work to assist the ruler in his state affairs and teach him general’s wisdom on when to fight wars and when to retreat. The main relevance of this work to nowadays is that it contains the universal principles of conducting warfare and building strategy. In this regard, the book tends to be relevant for defence studies and also for the contemporary business leaders that aim to achieve an advantageous position in the on-going severe competing reality of a business environment. The aim of thus paper is to conduct a book review of this document and realise its civilizational importance.
In order to summarise the content of this book, it should be outlined that it is divided into 13 chapters each devoted to a different aspects of warfare and strategy. The author’s overall view on war was that it was one of the means of making policy and securing the survival of the state. It was vital for the ruler to understand the meaning of war in state affairs. Sun Tzu argued that in order to succeed in a war, the commander had to prepare in advance and be flexible in decision-making depending on the requirements of the situation and further development of the warfare. In terms of main aspect of warfare, he argued that detailed assessment and preparation for war required evaluation of five crucial factors like the means, time of the year, terrain, leadership skills and management techniques of a commander. He paid attention to a systematic evaluation of war in terms of realising the available resources of the commander as well as of adversary. Depending on how all of the suggested parameters correlated, Sun Tzu developed nine stages of campaign development known as nine battlegrounds. In this regard, he paid attention to advices on how each situation can be made advantageous to the commander. The main emphasis the author placed was on the role of intelligence and espionage in gaining advantage over an enemy. Already then the art of espionage was stated to be crucial in strategic planning and consequent warfare.
Except for outlining the strategic information on how wars should be fought, this book is an immense source of information on the Ancient Chinese civilisation in the Spring and Autumn period (771-476 BC) preceding the famous period of the Warring States (475-221 BC). In the way Sun Tzu describes warfare and movement of the armies, it can be concluded that it was the matter of feuding kingdoms of the same ethno-cultural origin, which means it suggested the collapse of the feudal system and the struggle for power between a few string warlords. In this regard, it can be suggested that the vassals of the Ancient China of that time was preoccupied with gaining power through conquering smaller kingdoms and competing with the stronger ones. This trend in Chinese affairs of the time also suggested that wars were not conducted with the external enemies, because due to the ethno-cultural specifics they would not be able to infiltrate easily into enemy’s camp and collect the relevant information mainly due to the difference in language. Thus, the assumed warring parties had to speak the same language in order to infiltrate their spies, which again argued in favour of Chinese inter-kingdom warfare. Another aspect of the development of Chinese civilisation is that kingdoms were characterised by different geographical and resources characteristics, which is suggested by the diversity of terrains described in the book. This tells the audience that Chinese civilisation was spread on a vast territory with different resources.
Another crucial fact about civilisation this book provides is that it practised social stratification that was obeyed and strictly respected. This can be seen through the addressing of farmers and warriors and which roles they had in the kingdom’s system. Another important aspect is that loyalty of soldiers was meant to be gained by leader’s example and not only by the position awarded. In this regard, Ancient Chinese society was characterised by the dominance of a masculine code of honour, fighting for one’s leader and dying for him. This feature was incredibly beneficial for rulers of that time since their people would go to death for them obediently. In this regard, Sun Tzu suggested that it needs to be used to the commander’s advantage, yet should not be abused. This suggests that there were occasions when people of one kingdom were switching sides in order to be treated better in a conquering one.
In terms of the defence discourse, “The Art of War” is often compared with another work on strategy Carl von Clausewitz’s “On War” (1832), which was written much later than Sun Tzu’s work and the author was a Prussian general. It is often compared and contrasted. They both outline that war is not a science but an art. Although two works are separated by almost by two millennia, they still outline the unchanging nature of war – being a bloodshed and that the outcome of the battle cannot be calculated since it is situational. Both books reflect upon the uncertainty of war and the necessity of flexibility and rapid decision-making. While Sun Tzu names it knowing oneself and one’s enemy, Clausewitz uses the term “the fog of war”, meaning the uncertainty of what can happen in the battlefield. On the other hand, except for having certain similarities, the two books are separated in time by the technological advancement and its role in warfare. While Sun Tzu has to pay attention to the number of armies and its manoeuvre, in the times of Clausewitz another element to be taken into account was artillery and gun fire. In this regard, such principles of Sun Tzu like distance and reach would have a different meaning in the new environment. From a more general perspective, it can be argued that Sun Tzu’s approach describes war in more philosophical terms outlining the main principles of war rather than suggesting exact tactical moves. On the other hand, Clausewitz pays more attention to the details of actual tactical plans and their fulfilment. In this regard, it can be argued that the main relevance of these two works is in their complementary value to each other.
The main themes from the work that make it relevant nowadays is that the nature of war remain enduring and Sun Tzu provides with a key to its understanding that is as relevant today as it was in his time. Another theme that makes this work particularly relevant to the business leadership is the theme of commander’s wisdom and building of strategy. In this regard, the book helps the young leaders to develop required skills in order to be able to use any situation to their benefit and manage to survive and succeed in the contemporary environment of competition and business rivalry. Another important theme is the relevance of information in planning and decision-making. In this regard, the book is relevant nowadays more than any time since we live in the epoch of information technologies and rapid change of the surrounding environment. Sun Tzu teaches to choose the relevant information and leave out all the rest. From the personal perspective, the relevant aspect for nowadays is the sense of honour and respect that is so needed and yet so rare in the contemporary society and leadership styles in various organisations.
Overall, from all mentioned above, it can be concluded that “The Art of War” by Sun Tzu is a great source of information on the enduring principles of war, features of the development of the Ancient Chinese kingdoms in the times of the Spring and Autumn period. It is a classic of strategy, which makes particularly interesting for people studying defence and security matters. It is also a great source of building leadership. Thus, personally, I think that this book should be read by everyone at least once or even become a guide to winning battles of today.

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