The Art of War: A book review by Bob Morris

The Art of War: The Ancient Classic
Sun Tzu, with an Introduction by Tom Butler-Bowdon
Capstone Publishing (2010)

“Every battle is won or lost before it is fought.” – Sun Tzu

Those who have read one or more of the volumes that comprise Tom Butler-Bowdon’s “50 Classics” series already know that he possesses superior reasoning and writing skills as well as a relentless curiosity when conducting research on history’s greatest thinkers and their major works. For these and other reasons, I cannot think of another person better qualified to provide the introductions to the volumes that comprise a new series, “Capstone Classics.”

Unlike so many others, he provides more than a briefing to the given work. For this volume, he poses and then responds to key questions such as these in order to create a context, a frame-of-reference, for Sun Tzu’s’s insights:

o  What exactly can the modern reader get from a manual for waging war that is probably about 2,500 years old?
o  What Are the book’s “spiritual underpinnings” in addition to its practical advice about planning and waging war?
o  What was the historical context, the frame-of-reference, in which Sun Tzu lived and worked?
o  To what extent does his classic, The Art of War, reflect that period?
o  According to Sun Tzu, what are the meaning and significance of each of the “five indispensable matters” that inform (or at least should inform) a leader’s decisions, including the one to do nothing, at least for now?
o  According to Sun Tzu, what are the various degrees of successful warfare, with the most valued being able to “subdue the enemy without a fight,” closely followed by “taking whole” the enemy’s forces and other resources?
o  What are the “five occasions when victory can be foretold”?

As indicated earlier, Tom Butler-Bowdon’s purpose in this Introduction is to create a context, a frame-of-reference, for Sun Tzu’s insights. He does so brilliantly in this instance and in each of the other volumes in the “Capstone Classics series that have been published thus far.

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