Battling “The Art of War”: How NOT to write a book

Terracotta warriors at Xian, China

A bunch of guys who really need to smile: Chinese terracotta warriors at Xian Terracotta Warriors Museum, Xian, China. Image courtesy of Miguel A. Montas, Wikimedia Commons.

In a previous blog post, I wrote about reading one of the books on my literary bucket list: Sun Tzu’s classic book of military strategy, The Art of War. I’ve got to tell you, people: Reading this book was a struggle. I feel that I deserve a Olympic medal after fighting my way through this one.

The first 90 pages were the hardest. And THAT was just the introduction.

There was a foreword, a preface, acknowledgements, an introduction and a biography of Sun Tzu before I got to the good stuff. I innocently read the foreword, thinking it wouldn’t last long, and then there was the preface … and the acknowledgements … and everything else. I read it all because I didn’t want to miss anything interesting. Oh, boy.

After that, there were Sun Tzu’s 13 chapters about waging war, determining the enemy’s weaknesses and strengths, observations of terrain and so on. It’s easy to see from these chapters why the book is such a classic on military strategy, but I was led astray by being drowned in zillions of footnotes.

At the end of the book are some notes about another person called Wu Ch’i, another military strategist whose name is always associated with Sun Tzu. It’s almost like reading the entire book over again.

Overall, it was not an easy read, even though several packets of chocolate pretzel M&Ms and two Diet Pepsis bravely sacrificed their lives in order to assist me in my literary quest. I did find the book to be pretty good, though. Warning: If you are intrepid enough to attempt this classic book, I strongly recommend that you choose a version where footnotes have been shifted to the back and with a short introduction.

Also, you’d better have a supply of restorative chocolate or your favorite beverage nearby. You may need it.

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14 Comments

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14 responses to “Battling “The Art of War”: How NOT to write a book

  1. Gold medal!!! I can hear the anthem now…:-) I don’t think I will brave that one, but thanks for the review. And I am excited to hear about other books on your literary bucket list!

  2. I commend you, brave warrior, for making your way through and surviving to tell the tale…I think I will pass on that particular read. :D

  3. Funny. I read it about eight years ago and I also have a copy with a zillion add-ons, I think even an introductory (foreword) – which was just a cover term for someone’s paper on the book!

    And I ignored it all, including the footnotes. I went straight for the juicy material and that I quite enjoyed.

    Small tip: If you ever read more of Eastern Philosophy books then the above prescribed method is highly recommended. These books are often translated by scholars who feel the need to explain every little detail, which makes the message of the book lost and the reading pleasure nil.

  4. Congratulations, to you! Don’t think I could’ve gotten past the first two pages, so I’ll pass on this book. ;)

    • I’ll bet it would make an interesting documentary if one hasn’t been made already. It could be something along the lines of comparing the teachings of Sun Tzu and showing how they still apply today. Somebody tell The History Channel, quick!

  5. Hats off to you . . . I truly don’t know how you do it. I find that I begin to squirm, fidget, daydream — anything, but actually read the book — when I have lost interest or am finding it hard to locate the pulse of the story. I have a 100-page quota (that I break often) and if after that point I am unable to descry the value in sticking with it, I give up.

    I am a slow reader; I like to re-read sentences and take a moment to visualize setting. This makes the experience very fulfilling and satisfying, but also takes me much longer to get through literature, which, just so happens to be historical fiction a good deal of the time — betimes the longest novels. So, I must be selective.

    I am glad that, in the end, you enjoyed the book as a whole. ;-)

    Blessings,
    Cara

  6. I started reading this thinking you were talking about Steven Pressfield’s The War of Art, which I assume you’ve read, given your profession. It’s on my list to read next, and I’m going to pick up a copy when I visit the States next month.

  7. I have this book on my shelf along with several other Art of War books, and I still don’t think I’ve managed to finish it.

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