The Art of War
By Sun Tzu
Adapted by Stefan Rudnicki
Published by Phoenix Audio
Read by Ron Silver and B. D. Wong with Stefan Rudnicki and Shauna Zubrugg
The Art of War is one of those classics of ancient writing that have not only survived into the modern world, but strongly influenced our thinking. Sun Tzu was a Chinese general, military strategist and philosopher. He is thought to have lived from 544 to 496 BC during the Zhou Dynasty which would have made him roughly contemporaneous with Confucius (founder of Confucianism) and Laozi (or Lao Tzu) the founder of Taoism. A quick trip to Wikipedia will reveal that just who and when he was is uncertain, but I think most of the confusion comes from later writers discussing him and his work… or not. It’s also possible that Sun Tsu was a nom de plume. There is also some argument over possible anachronisms in the text, but then it is possible later editors might have added and subtracted from the text over the centuries. Other scholars will tell you he most likely was a real person who wrote the core of this book
The historicity of the man and whether he really wrote this book or is just the name used to compile several editions under, probably does not matter if you are interested in this as a study of military philosophy and possibly even how it can be applied to other aspects of life in the modern world. The book varies only based on who did the translation.
The version we know is a philosophical masterpiece on strategy and conflicts. It has been used as a basis for military thought since it was first distributed internationally and is still referred to by general and businessmen alike. Because it has been with us a very long times there have been quite a few translations from the original, so it’s not a bad idea to read several editions to get a general idea of the scope one can get. It is not an incredibly long book, even with the traditional commentaries, and repeated readings may afford you new insights, especially if you do so every few years.
This edition, is an interesting addition to the corpus of Sun Tzu’s The Art of War, but might not be the best one to start off with first. I am not sure why, although perhaps to try to either demonstrate how Sun Tzu’s writing is still relevant or to make it all seem to be a practical guide to the modern world, but in compiling this edition some more modern military people, such as Stonewall Jackson, Colin Powell and others were placed in the test. I found them a bit jarring, although I will admit that some of them appear in my one written copy of this book. It’s nice to know that Sun Tzu’s principals can be demonstrated throughout history, but to tell us that notables like Julius Caesar followed these same conventions of warfare almost sounds like an implication that Sun Tzu’s 13 chapters influenced them although it is not very likely Caesar ever heard of Sun Tzu, much less read his work.
Admittedly, this is not the only edition of The Art of War that does this and some of the 19th and early 20th Century additions appear to have become canon and, in a sense, all the earlier Chinese commentators have done the same thing, but do we really need to add still more anecdotes to the book
These more modern insertions were not commentaries on Sun Tzu, although I imagine at least some of those more modern people have read the book, but unrelated statements on military situations that demonstrate, in some aspect, things said by Sun Tzu in whichever chapter they are being used. Some who have read earlier editions and appreciated stories of the Duke of Wellington, et alia, may find these additions interesting. Considering, how the bulk of this work is commentary by others already, I did not feel the need for still more. Perhaps, had this been a serious modern study of Sun Tzu with many examples (and possibly exceptions?) and had the resulting volume been two or three times the size of the original it might have been something I would see as a text book for a college-level class, but the few additions I caught here felt more like someone wanted to leave his own mark on the book.
That was not quite so bad compared to one translation quirk that led them to choose to translate a concept I have previously seen as “Moral Law” (which I had previously read was generally seen as a “Principle of Harmony” similar to Lao Tzu’s Tao) into “The Force.” This was justified as fitting in with military thinking, but it was also admitted that it was done with the “Star Wars” series in mind. That one change ruined the whole book for me as it was impossible to take it seriously after repeated used of “The Force.”
So, definitely do not make this your first foray into the teaching of Master Sun! On the other hand, if you have read other versions and want to increase your acquaintance with Sun Tzu, then it’s not all that bad.
If I was left cold by aspects of this version of The Art of War, that was not the case of the performances of the actual readers. I did grow a bit tired of the classic (for which read, “borderline cliché” Chinese flute music going on and on in the background at the start and end of each chapter, but I felt the readers presented the subject matter very well and it was a pleasant delight to listen to them.
Since I started listening to this, I have downloaded several other editions of The Art of War which I plan to listen to later this year. It is possible I will rethink my opinions on this as I get through them, so stay tuned.
In the meantime, as I said above, this probably should not be your introduction to Sun Tzu’s classic work, but may provide further valuable insight to someone seeking to study the principles within The Art of War and it is hard to imagine a better reading of it.