Thomas Cleary

Thomas Cleary (1949—2021) was one of the twentieth century’s greatest translators of Asian classics. He was extremely prolific, translating and authoring countless works. Shambhala Publications has published over sixty. His books have sold millions of copies and his translations have in turn been translated into over twenty languages worldwide. His first published project, in collaboration with his brother J.C. Cleary, was the classic Blue Cliff Record, that great collection of koans.

Cleary explored the classics of Asian literature on strategy, power, and martial arts—works stemming from Confucian, Taoist, Buddhist, and earlier traditions. His best-selling book is his classic translation of Sun Tzu’s The Art of War.

Below is a guide to Cleary’s translations of The Art of War and other books on strategy, power, and martial arts published by Shambhala Publications. We hope you enjoy it and benefit from Cleary’s lifetime of dedication to these texts and the figures behind them.

Jump To: The Art of War  | Strategy & Power | Martial Arts

 

Thomas Cleary Reader Guides

BuddhismTaoism | Art of War, Strategy,  & Martial Arts | I ChingGreek Wisdom, Sufism & Islam

The Art of War

Warrior-philosopher Sun Tzu's venerable classic known as The Art of War is one of the most influential books of strategy ever written, as eagerly studied by modern business and political leaders as it was by military commanders in ancient times. At its heart, it is a study of the anatomy of conflict and competition in every form, as relevant to the battlefield as to interpersonal and international relations. Countless generations of readers have found that to study it is to unlock the secrets of victory without battle—and to achieve ultimate invincibility gained through a deep understanding of the physics, politics, and psychology of conflict.

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The Art of War

Compiled more than two thousand years ago by a mysterious warrior-philosopher, The Art of War is still perhaps the most prestigious and influential book of strategy in the world today, as eagerly studied in Asia by modern politicians and executives as it has been by military leaders since ancient times. As a study of the anatomy of organizations in conflict, The Art of War applies to competition and conflict in general, on every level from the interpersonal to the international. Its aim is invincibility, victory without battle, and unassailable strength through understanding of the physics, politics, and psychology of conflict.

This translation presents the classic from the point of view of its background in the great spiritual tradition of Taoism, the origin of psychology, science, and technology in East Asia and the source of the insights into human nature that underlie this most revered of handbooks for success. Translated from a standard collection of commentaries on Sun Tzu's text by eleven interpreters, the work has been edited by Thomas Cleary to bring out the meaning of the principles of strategy. In addition, the translator provides an extensive introduction discussing the content and background of the book.

 

 

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The Art of War: Complete Texts and Commentaries

This edition of Sun Tzu's text includes the classic collection of commentaries by eleven interpreters.

Mastering the Art of War: Consisting of essays by two prominent statesmen-generals of Han dynasty China, Zhuge Liang and Liu Ji, this book develops the strategies of Sun Tzu's classic into a complete handbook of organization and leadership. It draws on episodes from Chinese history to show in concrete terms the proper use of Sun Tzu's principles.

The Lost Art of War: Written more than one hundred years after Sun Tzu's text, by Sun Bin, a linear descendant of Sun Tzu, this classic of political and military strategy is faithful to the principles of The Art of War, while developing their practical application much further.

The Silver Sparrow Art of War: A version of Sun Tzu's Art of War based on a manuscript of the classic text discovered at a Chinese archeological site in China's Shandong Province in 1972, which contains previously unknown fragments.

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Mastering the Art of War: Commentaries on Sun Tzu's Classic

Composed by two prominent statesmen-generals of classical China, this book develops the strategies of Sun Tzu's classic, The Art of War, into a complete handbook of organization and leadership. The great leaders of ancient China who were trained in Sun Tzu's principles understood how war is waged successfully, both materially and mentally, and how victory and defeat follow clear social, psychological, and environmental laws. Drawing on episodes from the panorama of Chinese history, Mastering the Art of War presents practical summaries of these essential laws along with tales of conflict and strategy that show in concrete terms the proper use of Sun Tzu's principles. The book also examines the social and psychological aspects of organization and crisis management. The translator's introduction surveys the Chinese philosophies of war and conflict and explores in depth the parallels between The Art of War and the oldest handbook of strategic living, the I Ching (Book of Changes).

 

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The Japanese Art of War: Understanding the Culture of Strategy

Military rule and the martial tradition of the samurai dominated Japanese culture for more than eight hundred years. According to Thomas Cleary—translator of more than thirty-five classics of Asian philosophy—the Japanese people have been so steeped in the way of the warrior that some of the manners and mentality of this outlook remain embedded in their individual and collective consciousness. Cleary shows how well-known attributes such as the reserve and mystery of formal Japanese behavior are deeply rooted in the ancient strategies of the traditional arts of war. Citing original Japanese sources that are popular among Japanese readers today, he reveals the hidden forces behind Japanese attitudes and conduct in political, business, social, and personal life.

Strategy, Leadership, and Power

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The Book of Leadership and Strategy: Lessons of the Chinese Masters

The subtle arts of management and leadership have been developed over thousands of years by the Chinese. The Book of Leadership and Strategy represents the Taoist culmination of this long tradition and is one of the most prestigious works of ancient Chinese thought. Collected here are insightful teachings on the challenges of leadership on all levels, from organizational management to political statecraft. The translator, Thomas Cleary, has chosen and arranged these teachings to emphasize the most valuable lessons of Taoist wisdom for modern Western readers. Like Cleary’s best-selling translation of The Art of War by Sun Tzu, this work will serve as an enlightening guide for people in business, politics, and government.

 

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The Human Element: A Course in Resourceful Thinking

Insightful lessons from the great traditions of Asian thought on:

  • The essentials of wise leadership
  • Decision-making without prejudice
  • Inspiring loyalty and maintaining authority
  • Determining an individual's true character
  • Encouraging the best in people
  • Achieving success without sacrificing happiness
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Thunder in the Sky: Secrets on the Acquisition and Exercise of Power

Understanding the development and practice of power—based on an in-depth observation of human psychology—has been a part of traditional Chinese thought for thousands of years and is considered a prerequisite for mastering the arts of strategy and leadership. Thunder in the Sky presents two secret classics of this ancient Chinese tradition. The commentary by Thomas Cleary—the renowned translator of dozens of Asian classics—highlights the contemporary application of these teachings.

 

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The Way of the World: Readings in Chinese Philosophy

The dynamic relationship between the individual and society has been a central concern of Taoism from its ancient beginnings—which is perhaps why certain Taoist classics, like Sun Tzu’s The Art of War, are so often consulted these days for leadership advice. This anthology presents a wide range of texts revealing the processes of integrating personal spirituality with social responsibility central to Taoist tradition across the centuries and throughout the schools. There are a wealth of approaches to life in the world presented here, but at the heart of each is an understanding that even a mystic must be socially responsible and that self-cultivation is primary preparation for anyone called to lead.

Martial Arts Translations by Thomas Cleary

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The Book of Five Rings: A Classic Text on the Japanese Way of the Sword

Here is one of the most insightful texts on the subtle arts of confrontation and victory to emerge from Asian culture. Written not only for martial artists but for leaders in all professions, the book analyzes the process of struggle and mastery over conflict that underlies every level of human interaction.

The Book of Five Rings —which has become a well-known classic among American business people, studied for its insights into the Japanese approach to business strategy—was composed in 1643 by the famed duelist and undefeated samurai Miyamoto Musashi. Unlike previous editions of The Book of Five Rings, Thomas Cleary’s is an accessible translation, free of jargon, with an introduction that presents the spiritual background of the warrior tradition. Along with Musashi’s text, Cleary translates another important Japanese classic on leadership and strategy: The Book of Family Traditions on the Art of War by Yagyu Munenori, which highlights the ethical and spiritual insights of Taoism and Zen as they apply to the way of the warrior.

 

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Training the Samurai Mind: A Bushido Sourcebook

Through the ages, the samurai have been associated with honor, fearlessness, calm, decisive action, strategic thinking, and martial prowess. Their ethos is known as bushido, the Way of the Warrior-Knight.

Here, premier translator Thomas Cleary presents a rich collection of writings on bushido by warriors, scholars, political advisors, and educators from the fifteenth century through the nineteenth century that provide a comprehensive, historically rich view of samurai life and philosophy. Training the Samurai Mind gives an insider’s view of the samurai world: the moral and psychological development of the warrior, the ethical standards they were meant to uphold, their training in both martial arts and strategy, and the enormous role that the traditions of Shintoism, Buddhism, Confucianism, and Taoism had in influencing samurai ideals.

The writings deal with a broad range of subjects—from military strategy and political science, to personal discipline and character development. Cleary introduces each piece, putting it into historical context, and presents biographical information about the authors. This is an essential read for anyone interested in military history and samurai history, and for martial artists who want to understand strategy.