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. In Lao Tzu’s Tao Te Ching, for example, and NIccolo Machiavelli’s The Prince.

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