Book Summary: The Art of War

Book Summary: The Art of War

The Art of War is considered the most influential book on strategy. Compiled over 2000 years ago by Sun Tzu, The Art of War focuses on the physics, politics, and psychology of conflict. Though written in the context of warring states, many of the strategies can still be applied today in various industries such as business and politics.

Don’t have time to read this book? Here is a summary of The Art of War.


Chapter 1: Strategic Assessments

  • Measure yourself and your opponent in terms of five things: the way, the weather, the terrain, the leadership, and the discipline.
  • The way means that the people have the same goal as the leader.
  • The weather means the seasons.
  • The terrain means the lay of the land, including distance, difficulty, and ease of travel.
  • Leadership requires the person in position to have intelligence, trustworthiness, humaneness, courage, and sternness.
  • The discipline is to be able to organize his or her troops.

Chapter 2: Doing Battle

  • The best way to win is to win without ever going to war.
  • War is expensive and exhausting. Which is why it is important to plan accordingly to be able to defeat the enemy without using up all resources.

Chapter 3: Planning a Siege

  • When it comes to an attack, it is better to keep the enemy intact and make them surrender rather than kill. This is winning by intelligence.
  • Next best way is to attack through having strong alliances, which will intimidate opponents.
  • The next best way is to attack the army or by fighting.
  • The last way is to siege a city but should be done as a last resort.

Chapter 4: Formation

  • Those who are skilled warriors are able to make themselves invisible while looking for vulnerabilities from their enemies.
  • Good warriors are considered good because they prevail when it is easy to prevail.
  • Good warriors win because they take the ground where they will have the advantage.
  • “A victorious army first wins and then seeks battle; a defeated army first battles and then seeks victory.”

Chapter 5: Force

  • There are two types of attack: direct and surprise. However, there are various variations of both types.
  • Aside from attacking, one must learn how to move how you want them to move, such as appearing weak when you are strong for them to come to you.

Chapter 6: Emptiness and Fullness

  • Know one’s own strengths and weaknesses and the opponent’s strength and weaknesses.
  • Go where the opponent finds value, where they are weak.
  • Be formless and adapt as appropriate. “Therefore victory in war is not repetitious, but adapts its form endlessly.”

Chapter 7: Armed Struggle

  • Face to face struggle is difficult just to gain an advantage. This can be profitable for the skilled or dangerous for the unprepared.
  • This is why if struggle is unavoidable, understand first the form of your opponent, the surrounding, and how to attack.

Chapter 8: Adaptations

  • Change appropriately based on surroundings as suitable.
  • Though one may know the lay of the land, if the mind is not adaptable, one will fail to take advantage of the situation.
  • Adaptations are made on the spot.
  • Always good to consider both pros and cons.
  • There will always be opponents so best to rely on how to deal with them and not their number.

Chapter 9: Maneuvering Armies

  • Always choose the most advantageous way.
  • Stay in positions where it is easy to maneuver. Stay on the higher ground and near resources.
  • Where your opponent is, learn of their intention.

Chapter 10: Terrain

  • There are different types of terrain. If it’s passable, be first to get the most advantageous position.
  • If the terrain is easy to go to but difficult to return back, best the opponent is unprepared or else one will be at a disadvantage.
  • If the terrain is disadvantage to both and the opponent offers an advantage, do not take it but withdraw to lure the enemy out to one’s advantage.
  • If the terrain is narrow, only pursue if you are there first to fill it up.
  • On steep terrain, take the high ground. If the opponent is there first, do not pursue.
  • In wide-open terrain, it is disadvantageous to fight as momentum is equalized.

Chapter 11: Nine Grounds

  • There are nine types of grounds or situations.
    • Ground of dissolution where locals fight among themselves
    • Light ground is when one enters enemy territory but can get back easily.
    • Ground of contention has a strategic feature.
    • Trafficked ground is a free travel area.
    • Intersecting ground gives access to other people.
    • Heavy ground is when one deeply penetrates opponent’s territory.
    • Bad ground lacks stability, best to leave.
    • Surrounded ground is only for those with great adaptability.
    • Dying ground is where the only choice is to fight.
  • Conserve one’s resources, be swift, and be formless.

Chapter 12: Fire Attack

  • Using fire is to be used to make opponents confused, not to destroy.
  • There are five types of fire attacks: burning people, supplies, equipment, storehouses, and weapons.

Chapter 13: On the Use of Spies

  • Before attacking, it is always good to gather as much information.
  • There are five types of spies:
    • Local spies are hired from the locals.
    • Inside spies are hired from opponent’s officials.
    • Reverse spies are hired from the opponent’s spies.
    • Dead spies report false information to the opponent.
    • Living spies come and go back to report information.


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