The Art of War by Sun Tzu (Review & Book Notes)

Tomas Laurinavicius
Updated on April 24, 2024

Today, I want to share The Art of War notes and lessons I learned from Sun Tzu, a Chinese general and military strategist who lived over 2,500 years ago. Combat theories described in the book can be applied to various fields in life like personal development, sports, career, and business.

Author: Sun Tzu

Originally published: 5th century BC

Pages: 41

Genre: History

Goodreads rating: ⭐️ 3.97/5

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Sun Tzu’s The Art of War is the definitive book on military strategy and winning tactics. The wisdom of Sun Tzu has been praised by both Napoleon Bonaparte and Ulysses S. Grant and is still read by generals today.

This book is the ultimate guide for anyone who wants to succeed whether it be in business, sports, or life in general.

Biggest lesson: If you have to fight, do everything to win: be prepared, patient and strike at what is weak.

Notes & Quotes

Hence, when able to attack, we must seem unable; when using our forces, we must seem inactive; when we are near, we must make the enemy believe we are far away; when far away, we must make him believe we are near.

If your opponent is of choleric temper, seek to irritate him. Pretend to be weak, that he may grow arrogant.

If your opponent is of choleric temper, seek to irritate him. Pretend to be weak, that he may grow arrogant.Attack him where he is unprepared, appear where you are not expected.

Attack him where he is unprepared, appear where you are not expected.

That is, with rapidity. Only one who knows the disastrous effects of a long war can realize the supreme importance of rapidity in bringing it to a close.The captured soldiers should be kindly treated and kept.

The captured soldiers should be kindly treated and kept.

The rule is, not to besiege walled cities if it can possibly be avoided.

For the wise man delights in establishing his merit, the brave man likes to show his courage in action, the covetous man is quick at seizing advantages, and the stupid man has no fear of death.

He will win who knows when to fight and when not to fight.

He will win who knows how to handle both superior and inferior forces.

He will win whose army is animated by the same spirit throughout all its ranks.

He will win who, prepared himself, waits to take the enemy unprepared.

He will win who has military capacity and is not interfered with by the sovereign.

If you know the enemy and know yourself, you need not fear the result of a hundred battles. If you know yourself but not the enemy, for every victory gained you will also suffer a defeat.

If you know neither the enemy nor yourself, you will succumb in every battle.

Chang Yu said: “Knowing the enemy enables you to take the offensive, knowing yourself enables you to stand on the defensive.” He adds: “Attack is the secret of defense; defense is the planning of an attack.” It would be hard to find a better epitome of the root-principle of war.

What the ancients called a clever fighter is one who not only wins, but excels in winning with ease.

He who only sees the obvious, wins his battles with difficulty; he who looks below the surface of things, wins with ease.

You can be sure of succeeding in your attacks if you only attack places which are undefended.

So in war, the way is to avoid what is strong and to strike at what is weak. Like water, taking the line of least resistance.

You cannot shut your ears to the thunder or your eyes to the lighting—so rapid are they. Likewise, an attack should be made so quickly that it cannot be parried.

If your adversary has burned his boats and destroyed his cooking-pots, and is ready to stake all on the issue of a battle, he must not be pushed to extremities.

When you see your way to obtain a rival advantage, but are powerless to inflict a real defeat, refrain from attacking, for fear of overtaxing your men’s strength.

It is a great mistake to waste men in taking a town when the same expenditure of soldiers will gain a province.

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; not on the chance of his not attacking, but rather on the fact that we have made our position unassailable.

The dryness of the climate will prevent the outbreak of illness.

When you come to a hill or a bank, occupy the sunny side, with the slope on your right rear. Thus you will at once act for the benefit of your soldiers and utilize the natural advantages of the ground.

One may know the condition of a whole army from the behavior of a single man.

If the enemy sees an advantage to be gained and makes no effort to secure it, the soldiers are exhausted.

The general has confidence in the men under his command, and the men are docile, having confidence in him. Thus the gain is mutual.

In view of Napoleon’s dictum, “the secret of war lies in the communications.”

When the officers are too strong and the common soldiers too weak, the result is COLLAPSE.

The secret of getting successful work out of your trained men lies in one nutshell—in the clearness of the instructions they receive.

Regard your soldiers as your children, and they will follow you into the deepest valleys; look upon them as your own beloved sons, and they will stand by you even unto death.

If we know that the enemy is open to attack, but are unaware that our own men are not in a condition to attack, we have gone only halfway towards victory.

When your army has crossed the border, you should burn your boats and bridges, in order to make it clear to everybody that you have no hankering after home.

For those who have to fight in the ratio of one to ten, there is nothing better than a narrow pass.

On desperate ground, fight.

Take advantage of the enemy’s unreadiness, make your way by unexpected routes, and attack unguarded spots.

“To mystify, mislead, and surprise the enemy,” is one of the first principles in war, as had been frequently pointed out.

The enlightened ruler lays his plans well ahead; the good general cultivates his resources.

No ruler should put troops into the field merely to gratify his own spleen; no general should fight a battle simply out of pique.

If it is to your advantage, make a forward move; if not, stay where you are.

Knowledge of the enemy’s dispositions can only be obtained from other men.

Just as water, which carries a boat from bank to bank, may also be the means of sinking it, so reliance on spies, while production of great results, is ofttimes the cause of utter destruction.

Spies are a most important element in war, because on them depends an army’s ability to move.

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Tomas Laurinavicius

Hi! I'm Tomas, a writer and growth marketer from Lithuania, living in Spain. I'm always involved in multiple projects driven by my curiosity. Currently, I'm a marketing advisor at Devsolutely and a partner at Craftled, building Best Writing and Marketful. Let's connect on X and LinkedIn.