The Art of War Summary : Best Lessons & Reviews

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The Art of War is one of the most famous historical books in the field of war and strategy. General Sun Tzu wrote this book in the fifth century with the purpose of immortalizing his own military philosophy about the management of armies and fighting battles.

The art of war, on the other hand, has a massive following in the fields of business, administration, and personal development. It was first translated into French before being translated into English in the early twentieth century. 

“The art of war is of vital importance to the State. It is a matter of life and death, a road either to safety or to ruin. Hence it is a subject of inquiry which can on no account be neglected.”

Sun Tzu – Art of War

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The Art of War Summary

Setting plans for Battle:

When a country decides to go to war, its ultimate goal is to preserve its existence and protect its property. The commander who makes an accurate plan before a battle always defeats a leader who believes that he’s never wrong. Therefore you should always plan and think before fighting a battle. 

Sun Tzu presents 7 points to compare armies and predict the victors and vanquished before the beginning of the battle. 

One – which of the kings of the two opposing armies has the complete reality and obedience of his people 

Two – Which army commander is more efficient than the other. 

Three – Which side possesses the features of the land and conditions such as weather, travel distances and the nature of the terrain. 

Four – Which side imposes greater discipline on its man 

Five – Which side has the strongest army 

Six – Which side has better trained officers and men 

Seven – Which side has the best regularity in giving rewards and imposing sanctions. 

Knowing Your Enemy:

Sun Tzu suggested to compare your enemy’s army with yours with all attention and accuracy so that you can determine the strengths and weaknesses of both sides and then set your plan according to the circumstances. If you know your enemy and yourself,  you will always be victorious. 

To remember the proper planning and knowing the enemy is a major reason for achieving victory. During the war the king assigns one of his generals and give the responsibility of leading the army. Therefore the commander of the army is directly under the command of the king. 

Most of the time the causes of victory or defeat are due to the decisions made by the king and the commander of the army. Sometimes the king’s direct orders can be a cause of losing the war. The most disastrous way to manage armies is when the king intervenes in the responsibility of the army commander and instructs him. For example – to push the soldiers to advance or retreat when this action is impossible. These errors may shake the confidence of the soldiers and their commanders and therefore cause the defeat. 

art of war by sun tzu

Conversely, an army commander can make fatal mistakes that caused the loss of the war. A commander can be reckless and cause the destruction of his army or he could be a coward and end up being a prisoner in the enemy’s army. It’s also possible for the leader to be arrogant to the point of being easily provoked by the enemy’s statements or messages. an army commander should avoid putting his soldiers in one of the following scenarios. 

  • To push his army against an enemy that’s ten times its size causing his soldiers to escape. 
  • To have soldiers who are much stronger than the officers who command them. Therefore losing disobedience to soldiers who are extremely weak physically and mentally which exposes them to collapse as a result of training or because of the officer’s orders. 
  • When the officers are angry and undisciplined which leads them to attack on their own and because of the destruction of the army. 
  • Also When the army commander is weak and hesitant in taking a decision which weakens the army and makes it lose its regularity. 
  • When the army commander is incapable of assessing the enemy’s strengths which could result in the use of unequal brigades and causes decisive defeats.

Attack by Strategy:

From Sun Tzu’s perspective, Leadership may be the most important cause of success as well as failure. Successful strategists only fight battles that they know they will win before they go into them.

While unsuccessful strategists enter battles without planning and then they begin to think about how to win. A skillful warrior always avoids fighting battles that he might lose, ensuring that he’s never defeated. Sun Tzu said in The Art of War that A successful leader knows that there are five basic tools to achieve victory. 

One – Knowing the right time to fight and the right time to stop fighting.

Two – How to deal with the forces that exceed the strength of his army as well as the forces that are weaker than his army. 

Three – The strong fighting spirit of the army and discipline in all ranks.

Four – Fight when your forces are fully prepared and your enemy’s forces are not well prepared. 

Five – Military capacity and freedom to leave the forces without interference from anyone other than the army commander.

You must avoid the enemy’s army when its spirits are high and also if you see that it’s columns and banners are in perfect order or when it’s in a better location such as higher ground. Never let anger cost you to fight any battle.

You must always have a higher purpose to win the battle. Anger is a temporary symptom and you’ll find it disappearing in the end but on the other hand the results of the battle may have more lasting effects on your forces and your kingdom. 

“Knowing the enemy enables you to take the offensive, knowing yourself enables you to stand on the defensive. 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.”

Sun Tzu – Art of War

Tactical Disposition:

The art of war is based on deception. You must hide your strength with some weakness and your courage with some shame and your discipline with some chaos. All of this confuses your enemy and drives him to neglect your strength. Ask your forces to pretend to be chaotic while in reality they are very disciplined. 

“All warfare is based on deception. Hence, when we are able to attack, we must seem unable; when using our forces, we must appear inactive; and 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.”

Sun Tzu – Art of War

When your forces approach the enemy make them appear as if they are far away and when you’re able to attack make it seem like you’re unable. Play the cat and mouse game with your enemy.

If your enemy has mood swings, work on agitating him. if he’s gonna break, work on harassing him. If you see him in a stable and calm position, force him to move. The management of soldiers doesn’t differ according to the number of its soldiers as leading a large army is not completely different from leading a small army.

All you have to do is divide your men into smaller groups and then you use signals such as drums banners for firing signals to direct your forces. As a result your army will move as a single block. The coward won’t dare to retreat. Here are eight books to read if you like The Art of War

Find The Weak Points and Strong:

As the intelligence warriors always takes the initiative and imposes his will on the enemy, attack the enemy in his defensive weak points so that he will rush to defend them. Force him to reveal himself so that you can search for his weaknesses. 

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Always keep your enemy guessing where you really attack him. which forces him to disperse and deploy his forces. As numerical weakness doesn’t only come from numbers but also from willingness to respond to multiple attacks. But to remember tactics and proper planning are one of the elements of winning a war.

“Let your plans be dark and impenetrable as night, and when you move, fall like a thunderbolt.” 

Sun Tzu – Art of War


Sun Tzu said that the responsibility of fighting won’t be lifted only on the brave. A skillful commander leads his army as if he is leading one man by his hands. Trait your soldiers like your beloved children and they will stand by you until death. On the other hand, if you fail to lead them firmly they will be useless as spoiled kids. 

Strong discipline among your soldiers is the proven path to victory. But for discipline to be effective, you have to form a close relationship with your soldiers. Hence you must treat them humanely while keeping them under your control by imposing discipline and sanctions. As an army commander, you have to be mysterious. 

Your soldiers should never know your next move. So you must change your plans constantly in order to leave both your soldiers and your enemy in a state of constant speculation.

Tell your soldiers when the situations are good and positive but keep the newest yourself when the situations are negative or not promising. Put your soldiers in inescapable and miserable situations and they will lose all sense of fear and fights with all their might until death. But to win your war, manage your forces firmly and leave them in a state of mystery and suspense. 

In conclusion

Know when to fight and when to avoid fighting: avoid the powerful and attack the weak. Also Know how to fool your enemy: act weak when you’re strong and strong when you’re weak. Know your strengths and weaknesses: if you know your enemy and yourself, the outcome of a hundred wars won’t bother you.

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