In recent years, the ancient text by Sun Tzu that’s usually known as The Art of War has become a source of wisdom for business leaders. Raymond K. Li’s new translation of the Chinese classic makes explicit the connections between military science and modern business strategy and tactics, as well as its application to our personal lives.
The book’s first section presents Li’s fresh, readable translation of Sun Tzu’s text into modern English. Li comments on each passage of the text, then shows how its principles apply to businesses and then to individuals. For example, Sun Tzu writes: “There was never a single historical case in which a prolonged military campaign had benefitted a country.” While businesses don’t have military campaigns, they often have litigation. Therefore, Li suggests that protracted litigation is extremely costly in terms of money, time, effort, reputation, and morale, and therefore should be avoided as much as possible.
In the next section, Li shows how Sun Tzu’s principles were applied in numerous Chinese historical battles. He also provides brief summaries of major periods in Chinese history, discusses illustrative stories from Chinese history and distills Sun Tzu’s principles to 16 key points.
Generally, Li’s writing is inviting and straightforward. His summary of Chinese history, focusing especially on military issues, is potentially important, given China’s continuing emergence as a world power. However, the structure of the book’s first portion becomes repetitive and would be improved by a smoother integration of his commentary.
Further, Li has essentially written two books: a translation of Sun Tzu with commentary and a sort of Chinese history primer. Two separate books would seem more appropriate, given that each might attract different readers.
Although its title suggests this is primarily a self-help or business title, the book is strongest is in presenting the history and new translation. Thus, it will be a particularly welcome find for those interested in Sun Tzu and for readers of history, particularly military history.
Also available as an ebook.