The Art of War by Sun Tzu: summary and analysis of the book

The Art of War is a book written by the general and military strategist Sun Tzu approximately 2,500 years ago in ancient China. It is a treatise on military practice and war strategy based on principles of Taoist doctrine.

Some of the fundamental teachings of the book are that the ideal is to win without fighting and that war is based on deceiving and confusing the enemy. It also stresses the importance of knowing how to adjust to conditions, being able to defend advantages, taking advantage of opportunities and having clarity of vision and solid leadership.

It is considered one of the best and most current military strategy books of all time. Its warnings have been influential throughout history on great strategists of war and politics of the East and West, such as Niccolo Machiavelli, Napoleon Bonaparte or Mao Zedong.

Summary of the book

The Art of War is a treatise on military strategy divided into thirteen parts, each of which gives an account of the various aspects and scenarios that can occur in a conflict.

Chapter 1: Assessment

War is very important to the state and can mean life or death. On the other hand, conflict determines the preservation or loss of the Empire. Therefore, it is necessary to know every detail well and to know how to handle the situation.

In this chapter, Sum Tzu talks about five fundamental factors to take into account in a conflict: the road, weather conditions, terrain, authority or command and discipline. These elements must be mastered by every general if he is to achieve victory.

Likewise, this chapter focuses on the importance of the evaluation of the enemy, whose strengths and weaknesses should be known.

Chapter 2: The initiation of actions

This chapter warns of the importance of knowing the quantities and the cost of the military campaign.

If the main objective of the war, victory, takes too long to arrive, it is possible that morale will decline and resources will be depleted. So, it is no use for a campaign to drag on for too long.

Then, the leader’s strategy must be to weaken the enemy and deprive him of food to supply his own.

Chapter 3: The positions of victory and defeat

It is important to combat the enemy’s plans and, above all, not to allow an alliance between adversaries. The best strategy of war is to make an impact on a state and not to ruin it.

Never attack in anger and in haste. This requires good planning and coordination.

The strategy is to win without fighting, without besieging cities and not to invest too much time in it. To achieve success requires attention to five fundamental aspects: the attack, the strategy, the alliances, the army and the cities.

Chapter 4: The measure in the arrangement of means

It is essential to have the ability to ensure invincibility and to know the enemy’s defects in order to be able to defeat him at his weakest moment.

So, it is important to know the defects of the adversary. In this sense, it is necessary to prepare the commanders to establish a good base of defense and not to make mistakes. Also, it is necessary to know how to detect the opportunities to defeat the enemy.

Chapter 5: Firmness

This chapter explains how every good leader is able to defeat the enemy if he creates a favorable perception (force of momentum) for his army. The intelligent combatant achieves his victory without resorting to force.

Thus, one must feign disorder to distract the adversaries. However, in order to succeed in misleading the enemy, one must first plan an order. This is the only way to create an artificial disorder. Just as if you want to feign cowardice, you must first know your courage, and if you want to feign weakness, you must first know your strength.

Chapter 6: The full and the empty

A good warrior makes the enemy arrive last on the battlefield. Only in this way will his fighters be in a rested position, while the adversaries will arrive exhausted.

In war, one must be subtle, discreet and silent and try to appear in critical places to attack the adversary where he least expects it.

The army must take advantage of any moment of weakness of the enemy as an opportunity to attack.

In a battle, only he who has a favorable aptitude for change and can adapt to the enemy will be able to win, since in a conflict there are no fixed and permanent circumstances.

Chapter 7: Direct and Indirect Confrontation

This chapter explores direct (armed) and indirect confrontation. It is important to avoid armed conflict, but it cannot always be achieved. Therefore, when it arises, it is essential to know how to control the confrontation situation.

In a battle it is very important to know the conditions of the terrain in order to be able to maneuver and fight. The art of war also lies in being able to mobilize huge masses of men.

Also, a good strategy is to distract the enemy so that he cannot know what the real situation of your army is.

Chapter 8: The nine changes

It is imperative that generals know the different variables to take advantage of the terrain and understand how to manage their army.

A smart leader objectively analyzes benefit and harm. If he considers the benefit, his option expands. If he examines harm, his problems will be solved. Likewise, a good general must be able to adapt to any situation that arises.

The author mentions five traits that are dangerous in generals:

Those who are willing to die, may lose their lives.
Those who want to preserve life can be taken prisoner.
Those who are given to irrational passion may be ridiculed.
Those who are very puritanical may be disgraced.
Those who are compassionate may be struck down.

Chapter 9: The distribution of resources

All military maneuvers are the consequence of plans and strategies fixed in advance. As the army moves through new scenarios, it is important to be aware of the situations that arise and to know how to interpret well the intentions of the adversaries.

The author also points out that if the enemy approaches with humble words he may be up to something. One should never trust the adversary even if he proposes a truce.

Chapter 10: Typology

In this chapter Sun Tzu mentions six ways of being defeated, which can occur if a general is not sufficiently prepared:

Failure to calibrate the number of forces.
The absence of a clear system of rewards and punishments.
Insufficient training.
Irrational passion.
The inefficiency of the law of order.
Failure to select the best soldiers.

Chapter 11: The nine classes of terrain

This chapter focuses on describing the different types of terrain or situations that can occur in a military campaign and how to come out advantageous.

Thus, Sun Tzu distinguishes between nine “types of terrain”: dispersion, light, keyed, communication, intersection, difficult, unfavorable, encircled and deadly.

Chapter 12: The Art of Attacking by Fire

This chapter explores the use of weapons and the five types of fire attacks. Thus the author lists what can be burned:

It also attends to how fire should be used in the different attacks. In the war it is not only necessary to know how to attack but also how to avoid being attacked.

Likewise, it is important to act when the best conditions are given, you should never act out of anger or provoke a war out of anger.

Chapter 13: On concord and discord

The last chapter of the book focuses on the importance of spying on the enemy to obtain information.

The use of espionage makes a brilliant ruler or a wise general. Also, this practice is essential during military operations.

Thus, the author distinguishes five types of spies: the native, the insider, the double agent, the liquidable and the floating.

Finally, Sun Tzu states that if a general knows how each type of espionage works, he is assured of victory.

After reading this article, you may be interested in the complete art of war book. By reading the entire book, you can have a more comprehensive understanding and understanding of Sun Tzu’s Art of War.