Front cover of an edition of The Art of War by Sun Tzu

The Art of War is a classic work of non-fiction. It is a military treatise, said to have been written by Sun Tzu (though it may have been revised at some point after his death), who is traditionally said to have been a Chinese general serving the ancient Chinese kingdom of Wu in the sixth century BCE. The treatise contains thirteen chapters on how to effectively wage war.

Chapter summaries

  1. Laying Plans: addresses the five fundamental factors (the Way, seasons, terrain, leadership and management) and seven elements that determine the results of battle. By completely reviewing these points, a commander can calculate his chances of victory. If one does not follow these calculations, he will make faulty moves on the battlefield.
  2. Waging War: addresses the need to win a war quickly and decisively, so as to limit the cost in both money and manpower.
  3. Attack by Stratagem: affirms that strength does not come from numbers but rather unity.  This chapter addresses the five factors needed to win a war: Attack, Strategy, Alliances, Army and Cities.
  4. Tactical Dispositions/Positioning: focuses on the importance of a complete defense of one's position until a commander can advance from the position without fear of attack. The central theme is to deny the enemy any weak spot, and subsequent advantage.
  5. Energy: focuses on using creativity and flexibility when moving an army for maximum efficiency.
  6. Weak Points and Strong/Illusion and Reality: addresses the need for a commander to actively study the environment, field of battle and enemy's position to find any weaknesses that can be exploited, even if only temporary.
  7. Maneuvering/Engaging the Force: warns commanders against direct engagement with the enemy and offers strategies on how best to win a battle when it is forced upon a commander.
  8. Variation in Tactics/The Nine Variations: addresses the importance of flexibility in conducting military affairs and using outside variables to one's advantage rather than watching them become a liability.
  9. The Army on the March/Moving the Force: evaluates the best way to move through various terrains, and how to anticipate how an opponent would expect one to act in these situations.
  10. Terrain/Situational Positioning: examines the three areas of resistance (distance, dangers and barriers) and offers six ground positions which arise from them, and the strengths and weaknesses of each.
  11. The Nine Situations/Nine Terrains: describes the nine most common situations in combat, from least serious to most deadly, and advises on how best to address each situation.
  12. The Attack by Fire: examines what type of weaponry is best for what situation and how to use the environment itself as a weapon.
  13. The Use of Spies: focuses on the importance of gathering information. Sun Tzu lists the five types of sources and how one should manage each of them.

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