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The Art of War: A New Translation by Michael Nylan

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Sun Tzu’s ancient book of strategy and psychology has as much to tell us today as when it was first written 2,500 years ago. In a world forever at odds, his rules for anticipating the motivations and strategies of our competitors never cease to inspire leaders of all kinds. Michael Nylan, in her provocative introduction, sees new and unexpected lessons to be learned from Th Sun Tzu’s ancient book of strategy and psychology has as much to tell us today as when it was first written 2,500 years ago. In a world forever at odds, his rules for anticipating the motivations and strategies of our competitors never cease to inspire leaders of all kinds. Michael Nylan, in her provocative introduction, sees new and unexpected lessons to be learned from The Art of War—in business ventures, relationships, games of skill, academic careers, and medical practices. Strategy, like conflict is woven into society’s very roots. Nylan’s crisp translation “offers a masterly new evaluation of this classic work, which balances the overtly military content with a profound and thought-provoking analysis” (Olivia Milburn). Readers newly engaging with ancient Chinese culture will be inspired by Nylan’s authoritative voice. Informed by years of scholarly study, Nylan is uniquely placed to introduce readers to Sun Tzu’s classic work through her detailed annotations on culture and the intricacies of translating ancient Chinese into modern English. She proves that Sun Tzu is more relevant than ever, helping us navigate the conflicts we know and those we have yet to endure.


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Sun Tzu’s ancient book of strategy and psychology has as much to tell us today as when it was first written 2,500 years ago. In a world forever at odds, his rules for anticipating the motivations and strategies of our competitors never cease to inspire leaders of all kinds. Michael Nylan, in her provocative introduction, sees new and unexpected lessons to be learned from Th Sun Tzu’s ancient book of strategy and psychology has as much to tell us today as when it was first written 2,500 years ago. In a world forever at odds, his rules for anticipating the motivations and strategies of our competitors never cease to inspire leaders of all kinds. Michael Nylan, in her provocative introduction, sees new and unexpected lessons to be learned from The Art of War—in business ventures, relationships, games of skill, academic careers, and medical practices. Strategy, like conflict is woven into society’s very roots. Nylan’s crisp translation “offers a masterly new evaluation of this classic work, which balances the overtly military content with a profound and thought-provoking analysis” (Olivia Milburn). Readers newly engaging with ancient Chinese culture will be inspired by Nylan’s authoritative voice. Informed by years of scholarly study, Nylan is uniquely placed to introduce readers to Sun Tzu’s classic work through her detailed annotations on culture and the intricacies of translating ancient Chinese into modern English. She proves that Sun Tzu is more relevant than ever, helping us navigate the conflicts we know and those we have yet to endure.

30 review for The Art of War: A New Translation by Michael Nylan

  1. 5 out of 5

    Ken

    A new translation of The Art of War is no reason to run out and buy it for a reread, unless, of course, you love the book or are a Sinophile. Me, I'd never read it, so why not start with a translation that's getting great reviews for its concise, aphoristic style? I like concise, after all, and I never say no to aphorisms, either (which may explain why I'm early to bed and early to rise). If you do give this a go, I strongly suggest sandwiching your reading of the text by reading Michael Nylan's A new translation of The Art of War is no reason to run out and buy it for a reread, unless, of course, you love the book or are a Sinophile. Me, I'd never read it, so why not start with a translation that's getting great reviews for its concise, aphoristic style? I like concise, after all, and I never say no to aphorisms, either (which may explain why I'm early to bed and early to rise). If you do give this a go, I strongly suggest sandwiching your reading of the text by reading Michael Nylan's introduction both before and after. Some introductions are dispensable (like us, after 50 years on any given job), but others, not so much. In this one, Nylan helps readers to read the probably mythical "Sun-Tzu" (who is riding shotgun in some car in western China with the equally mythical "Lao-Tzu") both literally and figuratively. Yes, it is, on surface level, advice on how to fight and win battles on Mars' playground (wherever that may be). Yes, it's often required reading at military academy. Yes, Donald Trump, who came nowhere near any military academies, quoted it in a tweet a few years before being elected by the Electoral College (while, the translator fears, almost assuredly not reading the entire text, though it be all of 94 pp). And yes, Gen. James Mattis is a big fan who learned lessons from Sun-Tzu, but almost assuredly forgot to apply them while serving in the previously-mentioned (He Who Must Not Be Named, but I fear I already did's) administration. (Sun-Tzu would be beyond disappointed, in his probably-mythical way.) But, where was I before I started name dropping? Oh, yeah. Sun-Tzu through a glass figuratively. This book is also about leading people. And about getting the better of people (should you have any reason). And about using human psychology against that most animal of species in the animal kingdom, humans. All there. Only keeping your eye open for it by reading the intro first helps. And seeing what you possibly missed by rereading the intro afterwards helps even more. At least for those slow-of-study types like me. Finally, you'll be happy to hear that Sun-Tzu (or whomever) devotes a lot of real estate to NOT waging war and AVOIDING war entirely because, damn it, war is expensive as hell and, damn it even more, people get KILLED and empires get LOST. Pacifists, in other words, need not cover the cover with a grocery bag book cover. In summary, if you're like me and late to the party (meaning: haven't read it), this prettily-clad translation of The Art of War just might be the ticket.

  2. 5 out of 5

    Michael

    Sun Tzu’s ‘The Art of War’ is one of the most talked about books on war or even business strategy. It only took me a few hours to read but it feels like it would take a lifetime to fully understand. There is so much in this book, notable things like ‘one must choose one’s battles’, ‘research, planning, organization and a positive attitude are important to success’, ‘one should observe due diligence’ and ‘embrace change’. Many have used and applied The Art of War into many different aspects of mo Sun Tzu’s ‘The Art of War’ is one of the most talked about books on war or even business strategy. It only took me a few hours to read but it feels like it would take a lifetime to fully understand. There is so much in this book, notable things like ‘one must choose one’s battles’, ‘research, planning, organization and a positive attitude are important to success’, ‘one should observe due diligence’ and ‘embrace change’. Many have used and applied The Art of War into many different aspects of modern art and it is easy to see how it would work in everyday situations. There really isn’t much to say about this book. It’s just a straight-down-the-line book on basic strategy for diplomacy and conflict.

  3. 5 out of 5

    Sam

    This is the ultimate handbook in how to prepare, manage and survive warfare in a very readable translation that focuses on the message and not the academics of Sun Tzu's work. Kaufman has used is martial arts knowhow to produce a simple yet effective translation, written without any particular scenario in mind that can be applied to all walks and aspects of life both during times of peace and conflict. The approach of being prepared and considering all aspects of a situation is Sun Tzu's princip This is the ultimate handbook in how to prepare, manage and survive warfare in a very readable translation that focuses on the message and not the academics of Sun Tzu's work. Kaufman has used is martial arts knowhow to produce a simple yet effective translation, written without any particular scenario in mind that can be applied to all walks and aspects of life both during times of peace and conflict. The approach of being prepared and considering all aspects of a situation is Sun Tzu's principle message and although this is mainly used when preparing for war, any trained in any martial art will be aware that this approach is beneficial no matter what the situation.

  4. 4 out of 5

    Marius

    This is not a translation but a very pragmatic interpretation of the famous The Art of War.

  5. 5 out of 5

    Richard

    This is just fantastic. Quite embarrassing that it took me this long to finally get around to reading it - especially considering how worshiped this book was in my business school. There is a reason why this survived the millennia. I can see myself reading through this regularly, considering how short and to the point it is.

  6. 4 out of 5

    Rezarta

    The art of war teaches us to rely not on the likelihood of the enemy's not coming, but on our own readiness to receive him.

  7. 4 out of 5

    Dimitris Papastergiou

    Great book! Very handy if you own a city and/or an army and want to start war with another!

  8. 5 out of 5

    chrstn

    p. 8 "Compassion must be reserved for those who truly need it, and it must be offered with leniency, not indulgence." "Never try to win someone over by changing your strategy in hopes of befriending them. Hope is nothing more than wishful thinking and must be avoided at all costs: it abrogates definitive purpose and creates false friends who are worse than true enemies. It also brings about flatterers. You must truly believe in your own ideal. Preparations for war cannot be intellectual exercises. p. 8 "Compassion must be reserved for those who truly need it, and it must be offered with leniency, not indulgence." "Never try to win someone over by changing your strategy in hopes of befriending them. Hope is nothing more than wishful thinking and must be avoided at all costs: it abrogates definitive purpose and creates false friends who are worse than true enemies. It also brings about flatterers. You must truly believe in your own ideal. Preparations for war cannot be intellectual exercises." p. 9 "Destroy your enemy in any way you can, but never forget that he may have resources as well and may be prepared for your attack. Consider him a fool for self-aggrandizement if it is appropriate, but do not become vain in your estimation of him nor permit yourself to consider him weak-minded, regardless of appearance. Remember, you did not invent war and he may be maintaining his place of power in the same manner that you maintain yours. Never think that he is incapable of destroying you." p. 10 "Insult the enemy with subtlety where and when you can insult him; degrade where and when you can degrade. Offer fool's bait and entice him to display his stupidity. Do something that may appear stupid and capitalize on his arrogance. Insult his children and insult his parents-it will anger him and bring about rash acts. Insult his wife-he physically joins with her and it will force him to focus his rage incorrectly. Insult him directly-as a commander he will be forced to protect his face and attack with less than well-thought-out tactics." p. 31 "If he is unaware of the enemy's strengths but is aware of himself, his chances of victory are evenly matched. If he doesn't know himself and doesn't know the enemy, he is certain to entertain defeat. The ruler should have never picked this man to lead; he is not strong either." p. 38 "If he can think of no other plan of action and truly believes that his cause is just, Heaven, by its very nature, will see his truth and will rush to bring about his dream. This is the nature of the universe. It has no choice but to cooperate with a man of true belief." Book Nine In physical confrontation it is better to have the sun behind your back and in the eyes of the enemy. The enemy is forced to adjust with every move he makes towards you. Attitudes are affected, and disarray will cause the enemy to lose composure and make foolish moves. … It is better to draw the enemy into you by preparing devices that cause him to fail. When drawing the enemy in, be sure to have the sun at your back and the shadows of doubt will fall onto the faces of those approaching you. They will not see clearly and will be more concerned with trying to maintain their calmness before entering battle. … It is important to recognize what it means when the enemy is boisterous and in high spirits but does not attack. If the enemy continues to conduct business in this manner and does not appear to prepare to leave the area, the warlord must investigate thoroughly and gain mastery of the situation immediately. Book Eleven The place of death is the worst of all. It can also be the best of all places to be. … When troops find themselves in the place of death, they will fight without thought. They will fight to protect each other. They will be terrified and they will become demons. They will fight for the glory of the fight itself. When they know they are in this place of death, they will also know they have nothing to lose and will fight with passion. If they win they go home, if they fail they die. There is no middle ground in a place of death. Book Thirteen Without secret operations, a war is a meaningless act of gratuitous violence that does nothing except destroy all the people and all the resources.

  9. 5 out of 5

    Nick

    This is a new and admirably clear translation of the ancient text of advice on how to outsmart your enemy. Nylan's introduction raises some interesting points about the purpose of The Art of War. Might it have been essentially a political document that sought to encourage the government of the time to eschew war? As Nylan notes, the text has been used to strategize about almost everything else, so why not? Nylan's style is brisk, no-nonsense, and non-flashy -- all excellent traits in translating This is a new and admirably clear translation of the ancient text of advice on how to outsmart your enemy. Nylan's introduction raises some interesting points about the purpose of The Art of War. Might it have been essentially a political document that sought to encourage the government of the time to eschew war? As Nylan notes, the text has been used to strategize about almost everything else, so why not? Nylan's style is brisk, no-nonsense, and non-flashy -- all excellent traits in translating old texts. If you are new to the Art of War, this translation would be a great place to start.

  10. 4 out of 5

    Andrew Carr

    The Art of War is of course a classic, but I've always been unsure as to its strategic value. It is adept in the insistent focus on the adversarial, responsive nature of conflict. There is no 'right' option, only choices in response to how the adversary did/may act. Yet, the skills and capacities the commander apparently needs to possess are superhuman and thus unhelpful or pointless. The book is also largely about tactics related only to a very specific period, and - on one interpretation of th The Art of War is of course a classic, but I've always been unsure as to its strategic value. It is adept in the insistent focus on the adversarial, responsive nature of conflict. There is no 'right' option, only choices in response to how the adversary did/may act. Yet, the skills and capacities the commander apparently needs to possess are superhuman and thus unhelpful or pointless. The book is also largely about tactics related only to a very specific period, and - on one interpretation of the book's origins - written to denigrate and sideline an aristocratic way of war. This sense of being specific to a time and place comes through strongly in Michael Nylan's translation. She manages to make the book feel more distinctly Chinese and 'authentic' in style. This may bring us closer to what was originally written, but I can't help but wonder if it makes the book less valuable, in that it becomes harder to then translate the precepts across time and space to other circumstances. Do we read such classics to know what they say? Or to read what they can tell us today? The blurb enthuses Nylan's 'provocative' introduction, but there's not much too it beyond the recognition that we know almost nothing of Sunzi and have reason to doubt he even existed. But maybe this is a blessing inplace of some of the bloated academic introductions you find before classic works. Should you read this book? Of course. But if like me you've already got a half-dozen version knocking around on your shelves, there's not much to set this one apart from those that came before. And i'm still not sure whether this book really should be in the classics of strategy canon or just an interesting predecessor.

  11. 4 out of 5

    Shelly

    I have been meaning to read this book for a very long time. I can't comment on the quality of the translation itself. But it was an easy to read book with a useful forward and notes (as always though -1 star for end notes. Footnotes forever

  12. 4 out of 5

    Jaisette

    It's a slightly difficult read since it is an interpretation and based on war strategy. It was really important to read the preface...at least for me it was. It helps you get a grasp on the terminology as well as the basis of the location and history he is talking about. There are so many ways to approach a problem. You can apply to most obstacles in your life. Which is perhaps why this book is adapted to relate to careers, business, and other areas. Try to fight in neutral territory. Don't send It's a slightly difficult read since it is an interpretation and based on war strategy. It was really important to read the preface...at least for me it was. It helps you get a grasp on the terminology as well as the basis of the location and history he is talking about. There are so many ways to approach a problem. You can apply to most obstacles in your life. Which is perhaps why this book is adapted to relate to careers, business, and other areas. Try to fight in neutral territory. Don't send in tired troops to battle. Know your enemy skills and advantages. All good lessons...you can apply to any part of your life.

  13. 5 out of 5

    Ebb

    I had never read The Art of War so I am glad that I was finally able to read this book that has had such an impact worldwide. I found this translation to be very readable and easy to get through. The text and language is straightforward and on the surface it reads as an instruction for commanders at war but so much of it can be applied to everyday life and the decisions we make. Thank you to Netgalley and the publisher for sending me a copy of this book in exchange for an honest review.

  14. 4 out of 5

    Nu

    Sun Tzu was able to present how to properly strategise in the most simplistic form. The "Art" of doing so was simply that, art. “Let your plans be dark and impenetrable as night, and when you move, fall like a thunderbolt.” “Supreme excellence consists of breaking the enemy's resistance without fighting.” These strategies can be applied to almost every aspect of life, not only war. I am amazed and would recommend this to everyone.

  15. 5 out of 5

    Najla

    As the title suggests, this book is about the art of war and military strategy but it can be applied on almost everything.. Some of the texts are common sense but after all, it is an ancient book with so much wisdom.. Liked it..

  16. 4 out of 5

    Ian

    I read an earlier translation of this as a youth. This translation is more engaging and readable. I recommend it for fans of older translations and well as anyone that wants universal tips about life, like knowing yourself.

  17. 4 out of 5

    Chris Hunt

    Forget all the corporate analogy versions. This one is the real deal. Short, concise, wicked.

  18. 4 out of 5

    Khaleel Mughal

    Absolutely spectacular. From the beginning - you start to learn masterclass wisdom that can be applied in many situations. Especially corporate politics. Superb.

  19. 5 out of 5

    Natasha

    Simple, straightforward. I like it.

  20. 4 out of 5

    Bradley

    Not an entertaining read, but has alot of useful philosophical views on life.

  21. 5 out of 5

    Laurie Bridges

    The final chapter is about the ultimate importance of spies and the five kinds of spies - and I’m convinced it’s Putin’s playbook.

  22. 4 out of 5

    Nick

    I enjoyed Nylan’s translation as a second-read of The Art of War. Her writing was more nuanced than my previous read — a concise and timeless classic.

  23. 5 out of 5

    Zainul Zufar

    this book only the recap, I guess. The pages actually not 128 but 109

  24. 5 out of 5

    Randy

    I read this book and then listened to the audiobook while comparing the chapters in The Art of Warfare. It is a superb book, and you can see the different perspectives between the Nylan and Ames translations. I find Nylan compelling. Especially translations that come out like this (p112,113): Terrain where you survive only if you battle ferociously we call "deadlands." followed by And always, always in the deadlands, fight like hell. I have wanted to read the Art of War, but avoided it because it se I read this book and then listened to the audiobook while comparing the chapters in The Art of Warfare. It is a superb book, and you can see the different perspectives between the Nylan and Ames translations. I find Nylan compelling. Especially translations that come out like this (p112,113): Terrain where you survive only if you battle ferociously we call "deadlands." followed by And always, always in the deadlands, fight like hell. I have wanted to read the Art of War, but avoided it because it seemed to be so cliche, overused in business, sports, and just about everywhere else. But this book is different. It approaches the translation as an attempt to put a culturally important text into modern English while preserving all the ambiguity of the original. I highly recommended it!

  25. 4 out of 5

    Cody

    Really nice to finally have this one under the belt, but that’s really it. Covers some high-level insight into what a commander should do in given scenarios during wartime. Also offers some interesting details here and there (for example, how to use spies and fire). I see some major takeaways as being mostly revoking around knowing your enemy (or prospect, opponent, rival, etc.) inside and out - at least, as best as you can - before you make any moves. Fun 1-2 hour read.

  26. 5 out of 5

    Hans De Leenheer

    short version - listened through in just a day.

  27. 4 out of 5

    Pedrom Rejai

    I didn't get a ton out of it that i haven't already heard through other travels. Still a good, quick read.

  28. 5 out of 5

    Mohamed

    Great book , i really enjoyed every word of it .

  29. 5 out of 5

    Silvia

    This was really interesting

  30. 4 out of 5

    Hannah

    Poetic and informative.

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