The Art of War: A Reader’s Guide to the Way of Leadership and Strategy

For millennia, the classic book of strategy known as The Art of War has been one of the most influential guides to navigating conflict—read and studied not only by military tacticians but by leaders and thinkers of all types. But in many ways, its title is a misnomer. For its author, Sun Tzu (c. 544–496 B.C.E.), the most masterful strategists are able to thwart war altogether by skillfully managing conflicts. Still, Sun Tzu also recognizes that conflicts—even the horrors of war—can sometimes become inevitable. And The Art of War offers compelling insights for achieving swift victory with the most minimal suffering for all involved.

Shambhala Publications is pleased to offer some of the most groundbreaking contemporary translations and commentaries of this ancient classic available in English. To help readers discern the differences in the content and character of each of the versions in our collection, this guide will share some of their key features and most distinctive qualities.

The Thomas Cleary Translation

Thomas Cleary’s translation of The Art of War is a breakthrough achievement and has been a gold standard among translations for three decades, offering the complete text in eminently readable prose with short commentaries by other ancient Chinese strategists and philosophers interwoven throughout. Cleary also offers a clear and succinct introduction to the historical and philosophical context of The Art of War to provide readers with all of the background they’ll need to get started. There is no better entry point to The Art of War than this, and countless readers call Cleary’s translation their first and favorite.

Cleary’s translation is available in a number of editions, including: paperback, MP3 downloads, CD, and more.

For those wanting to go even deeper into the rich tradition of commentaries and elaborations on Sun Tzu’s philosophy, Thomas Cleary’s The Art of War: Complete Texts and Commentaries is the book of choice. It includes the full translation and set of commentaries that appear in the standard edition of his translation—plus translations of Mastering the Art of War (a handbook of leadership principles by Han dynasty generals Zhuge Liang and Liu Ji based on The Art of War), The Lost Art of War (practical applications of The Art of War’s principles by a descendant of Sun Tzu), and The Silver Sparrow Art of War (a version of The Art of War based on a manuscript of the text found during an archaeological dig in Shandong Province in 1972, containing fragments that had never before been known).

It is available in both paper and digital editions.

The Denma Translation Group

For a perspective on The Art of War that relates its philosophy directly to the concerns of contemporary, everyday life, the Denma translation is second to none. In addition to a full translation of the text, it offers numerous essays and line-by-line commentaries to elucidate practical applications. And aside from its exceedingly helpful commentaries, the translation itself is uniquely artful, revealing subtleties and enigmatic nuances to the original that no other translation captures quite so poetically. The Denma Translation Group, led by Kidder Smith (Bowdoin College) and James Gimian (Lion’s Roar magazine), has truly offered a treasure for would-be explorers of Sun Tzu’s thought. It is available in several editions:

Paperback + CD| Paperback |Hardcover

For those who wish to further explore the day-to-day applicability of The Art of War presented in the Denma translation, a very helpful companion piece is The Rules of Victory by James Gimian and Barry Boyce. It contains in-depth analyses of the real-life benefits to practicing The Art of War as well as practical guidance on how to transform chaos and conflict into opportunities for personal, professional, and social transformation. It includes the complete Denma translation of The Art of War as a useful appendix.

Available in Paperback | CD | Downloadble MP3.

Related Books on Strategy

In addition to translations of The Art of War itself, Shambhala Publications also offers a number of related books on strategy, leadership philosophy, and the art of success from classical Eastern sources.

One of the most compelling direct commentaries on Sun Tzu’s Art of War is Thomas Cleary’s Mastering the Art of War, a translation of writings by two prominent generals of classical China trained in Sun Tzu’s philosophy. It also appears in The Art of War: Complete Texts and Commentaries.

The Book of Leadership and Strategy is another classic Chinese text on organizational management, statecraft, and working with changing circumstances. Translated masterfully by Thomas Cleary, it is a valuable resource for people of all stripes—from those entrusted with business or political leadership to any individual seeking clarity and direction for awakening their own leadership potential.

Thomas Cleary’s Ways of Warriors, Codes of Kings is a keepsake collection of sayings from ancient Chinese masters of strategy. The perfect book for pithy gems of wisdom and inspiration.

The 36 Strategies of the Martial Arts is another extraordinary collection of ancient Chinese maxims on strategy, tactics, and the principles of success. These ancient teachings, collected and explained by Professor Hiroshi Moriya—brought to life in clear English by renowned translator of classic Japanese texts William Scott Wilson—it stands very much in the tradition of The Art of War as an essential classic.

Furthermore, The Japanese Art of War offers a fascinating elucidation of Japan’s own, unique traditions of military philosophy—themselves heavily influenced by Sun Tzu and other classic Chinese strategists. Among its many topics, it explores the influence of Buddhist sources on the development of samurai philosophy in Japan.

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