"THE SUPREME ART OF WAR IS TO SUBDUE THE ENEMY WITHOUT FIGHTING": RARE FIRST BRITISH EDITION OF SUN TZU'S FAMED TREATISE ON WAR, 1908
(SUN TZU). The Book of War. The Military Classic of the Far East. London: John Murray, 1908. Octavo, original gilt- and red-stamped green cloth. $8500.
Rare first British edition of this essential military treatise—"a text of matchless wisdom"—dating back to the 5th century BCE, featuring the translation into English by Calthrop, a lovely copy in original cloth.
Better known by the more popular translation of the title, Art of War, this seminal book of military strategy was written in the 5th or 6th century BCE and is attributed to Sun Tzu, who "is regarded as the first Chinese to have written about military affairs and as the founder of strategy" (Cornelli, Sun Tzu and the Indirect Strategy). While there remains dispute over his life, the work's profound influence is uncontested. "It has been consulted by military figures and business strategists," from Napoleon to Mao Zedong. General Douglas MacArthur stated, "I always kept a copy of Art of War on my desk," and West Point uses it in a seminar on military strategy. To Sun-Tzu, "war was an extension of politics and… required a coherent strategic and tactical theory and a practical doctrine governing intelligence, planning, command, operational and administrative procedures… To fight and conquer in all your battles is not supreme excellence; supreme excellence consists in breaking the enemy's resistance without fighting" (Ancient History Encyclopedia).
The work remains pivotal to leaders in business, the law, professional sports and diplomacy. Its essential message is: "Ripeness is all. That is, he or she who takes a strategic approach to business life—who is fit in mind, body and spirit, who is always ready for just about anything—is the player most likely to win the ongoing war that is life." In effect, the goal is to be "so prepared for battle that battle has been rendered unnecessary" (Wall Street Journal). It is "a text of matchless wisdom" (New Statesmen). Sun Tzu's work is a "classic, not just a military classic, in the same sense that Thucydides' Peloponnesian War is a classic, rather than a military classic… like Thucydides, [it] conjures the entire spectrum of human motivations that lead the already ultra-powerful to seek more power through violence…. this classic returns us, time and time again, to the human scale and the extraordinary deeds that men (and women) find themselves capable of, given the right situation" (Literary Hub). Each chapter is devoted to a unique aspect of warfare and treats it comprehensively. First translated into European languages about 200 years ago; this translation by Captain E.F. Calthrop was completed in the aftermath of the Anglo-Japanese and Russo-Japanese Wars. His translation served as the only one available until it was supplanted by that of Giles, a British scholar. While Calthrop was treated as an interloper into the field of translation, the importance of his endeavor should not be underestimated. Indeed, Calthrop's achievement was made even more impressive by a later discovery that his mistakes were due, in part, to the source of his translation—a Japanese version of Sun Tzu, which was apparently corrupt. The first edition in English was published as Sonshi in Tokyo in 1905 (Samuel Sunzi, Art of War). Initially issued in 1905, this revised edition is the first British edition.
Minor toning to spine. A very nearly fine copy.