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Sun-tzu Art of War

   The oldest and unquestionably most famous work in China’s lengthy martial tradition, as well as one of the civilization’s founding books, Sun-tzu’s laconic Ping-fa preserves the first articulation of the critical concepts and tactical principles underlying China’s traditional military science. Many of the ideas, terms, and sayings entered the language itself and, in part because of a resurgence of interest in past knowledge and achievements as China searches for a unique military doctrine as well as the voracious appetite of modern media, continue to affect the strategic mindset even today.

   Although the extant text is fragmented, enigmatic, and marked by disjunctures and outright contradictions because of the limitations imposed by the written medium -- short bamboo strips containing about fifteen characters each -- Sun-tzu embraced a coherent vision that emphasized the ruthless practice of efficient warfare, a necessity in an era of multi-state conflict when even victory might doom a state. Knowledge based, it stresses the application of overwhelming strategic power to exploit localized imbalances and thereby wrest swift victory, Key concepts include the necessity of acquiring intelligence and consequent need to employ spies; evaluating opponents; manipulating enemies; being formless and unknowable; creating and employing strategic power; ch’i or spirit; the unorthodox and orthodox; leadership and command; configurations of terrain; thwarting the enemy’s plans and balking his alliances; and achieving victory as economically as possible, preferably without costly combat.

   Even though the core of the book is a translation of the traditionally received text of the Art of War -- the book that influenced imperial military thinkers and commanders for two thousand years -- passages from recently recovered tomb texts are integrated or otherwise provided, and fragments otherwise preserved over the centuries included. The introduction explores the historical context of the Spring and Autumn period; examines Sun-tzu’s life; discusses the politics and measures in the state of Wu where he purportedly served as a military advisor; and describes the pivotal campaigns that unfolded during his era and immediately thereafter, including Yueh’s resurgence to exterminate Wu itself. Spring and Autumn weapons and military practices are briefly characterized and extensive notes on both textual and historical matters provided. A Chinese glossary and categorical bibliography conclude the book.

   "The most accurate, conscise, and usable English language translation available. The explanations of weapons and tactics and the historical references make seemingly obscure passages come alive." Military Review

   (An unabridged audio version is available from Recorded Books while Running Press offers a brief, text only minibook.)