The Art of War

Course No. 9456
Professor Andrew R. Wilson, Ph.D.
U.S. Naval War College
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Course No. 9456
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Course Overview

As a landmark achievement in the evolution of strategic thought, Sun Tzu’s The Art of War has had a powerful and lasting influence on military strategy around the globe. Its maxims have been invoked by everyone from the nuclear strategists of the cold war to China’s modern cyber warriors.

So universal and timeless are its tactics for pursuing a competitive advantage that some of the most notable people in government, sports, and the entertainment world have all quoted from its nearly 2500-year-old pages.

So why is a Chinese guide to military strategy written in 330 to 320 B.C. so prevalent in modern military operations, business school curricula, sports, and popular culture? What can its lessons offer us today?

As award-winning Professor Andrew R. Wilson of the U.S. Naval War College demonstrates in the six expertly crafted lectures of The Art of War, this classic’s wisdom for staying nimble in an ever-changing environment and for maximizing reward while minimizing risk remains eternally fresh. As war and business become more mental and less physical, human intellect plays an ever greater role in competition—making Sun Tzu’s strategies highly relevant to the information age.

Furthermore, as China becomes increasingly economically influential, militarily capable, and politically assertive, it behooves us to study a book so central to the country’s philosophical past.

Through a precise explanation of the original text and case studies, this course examines how the seminal work’s model of leadership has been applied—and misapplied—throughout the realms of war, politics, business, and beyond.

An Inquiry Grounded in History

As an expert in Chinese history, language, and culture who has studied numerous versions of The Art of War, Professor Wilson is uniquely qualified to orient you to the cultural landscape against which the guide was composed.

You’ll begin your exploration by delving into the work’s likely origins with an anonymous author who appropriated Sun Tzu’s military credentials two centuries after his death. Then, you’ll trace how dramatic changes in the scale, scope, and expense of war between the 8th and 4th centuries B.C. inspired this new strategic paradigm.

You’ll learn how

  • armies of aristocrats from feuding confederations waged battles predicated on ritual, glory, and vengeance during the Zhou dynasty in the 8th century B.C.;
  • the dominant northern state of Qi began to choose the talent of commanders over a noble pedigree in the 7th century B.C.; and
  • organized states with massive armies and standardized weaponry formed in the Warring States period that spanned the 5th to 3rd centuries B.C., yet anachronistic notions about war prevailed.

With this historical framework established, you’re ready to delve into the critical calculations that must be made prior to war—what Sun Tzu refers to as knowing the enemy, knowing ourselves.

A New Model of Leadership

The Art of War is both a guide for competition and preparing so well for competition that one’s organizational strength and focus awes the enemy into giving up without a fight. Through the professor’s use of real-world examples, you’ll understand the qualities effective commanders must possess and the work’s practical implications for outmaneuvering competitors in daily life.

Beyond the Modern Phenomenon

Sun Tzu’s words are often easy fodder for superficial approaches to the work. However, The Art of War eschews reducing the maxims to mere platitudes and removing the lessons from their original context.

As an expert in Chinese strategic thought who is so passionate about this book that he’s read the original text word for word in classical Chinese, Professor Wilson demonstrates the nuanced meaning of the language, along with the work’s contemporary value, from a scholarly perspective that makes your independent reading exponentially more vital. By taking this course, you will appreciate Sun Tzu’s content on a far deeper level.

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6 lectures
 |  Average 28 minutes each
  • 1
    The Origins of a Revolutionary Classic
    The Art of War has a timeless appeal, but it is the product of a unique time and place. Learn the historical context that gave rise to the book by investigating the centrality of war in ancient China and the dramatic societal shifts taking place. Gain insight into what scholars believe about the author’s identity. x
  • 2
    Command and Method
    The key to winning without fighting lies first in the quality of leadership and the reputation of an organization. Examine key elements of effective command and method, first as they are developed in The Art of War itself, and then as they were exemplified by the early success of the Ford Motor Company. x
  • 3
    Weather and Terrain
    Great leaders know how and when to exploit geography and psychology. Learn the role climate and terrain played in Washington’s crossing the Delaware, Mao Zedong’s advance into Korea, and other military offensives. Investigate how leadership and organization converged with weather and terrain to allow the Greeks at Thermopylae to hold off a vastly larger Persian army. x
  • 4
    Energy and Timing
    Being in the right place at the right time shouldn’t be left to fate. In this lecture, you’ll probe the concept of shi, or focused potential energy, and how effective leaders combine this force with an exceptional sense of timing. See how Sun Tzu’s strategies for outmaneuvering competitors have been applied in war, business, and sports. x
  • 5
    Espionage and Deception
    The Art of War’s greatest contribution to the world of competitive strategy may be its detailed treatment of information warfare and intelligence gathering. Differentiate between active and passive deception, learn the value of various types of spies, and investigate the historical use of espionage, including one of the worst intelligence disasters in American history. x
  • 6
    An Enduring Guide for Interesting Times
    Delve more deeply into how this classic relates to all intellectual contests of wills, from armies to competing corporations. Consider its potential relevance to the economic, political, and military rise of contemporary China, including the implications of legal warfare and the concept of shi as it relates to cyber security and warfare. x

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Your professor

Andrew R. Wilson

About Your Professor

Andrew R. Wilson, Ph.D.
U.S. Naval War College
Dr. Andrew R. Wilson is Professor of Strategy and Policy at the United States Naval War College in Newport, RI. He received a B.A. in East Asian Studies from the University of California, Santa Barbara, and earned his Ph.D. in History and East Asian Languages from Harvard University. An award-winning professor and an expert in both military history and strategic theory, Professor Wilson has lectured on Asian military history,...
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Reviews

The Art of War is rated 4.0 out of 5 by 62.
Rated 3 out of 5 by from Moderately interesting A short course (6 lessons) worth its low cost. Provides the background on the book everybody has heard of but nobody has read. Explains its applicability to any situation of conflict or competition, not just war; and how it applies to preparation and environment, not just to the conflict or competition itself.
Date published: 2018-02-11
Rated 4 out of 5 by from Interesting Course Interesting course and being on cd I was listening to it on the way to work. The only thing missing is there is no course guide with this. Wish there was so I could review it. Other than that it is good.
Date published: 2018-01-24
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Worth doing over This is a short course about an even shorter book and as "The Great Courses" go it's pretty easy. When authored "The Art of War" revolutionized strategic thinking. Today it seems more like the basics. Don't let that fool you. Professor Wilson guides you around the platitudes often accompany classics like this to the key tenets with examples from historical battles, business, and life. He makes it vividly clear why "The Art of War" is so timeless. The basics are often timeless. A funny thing about the basics though is that we often fail to apply them. Perhaps we forget, perhaps we neglect. The professor explains that "The Art of War" is so spare and eloquent that it deserves to be read and reread to learn and to keep those basics fresh in our minds. I think the same can be said for this course.
Date published: 2017-01-09
Rated 4 out of 5 by from A Good Short Course I recommend this course to anyone interested in gaining a better understanding of ancient Chinese warfare applying its lessons to modern business. I listened to the audio version while driving to and from work and it made my commute pleasent and enjoyable. This is a very short course, so I will give a short review. The course overviews Sun Tzu's Art of War and the context it existed in very well. I just wish the course was a little longer because I enjoyed it so much.
Date published: 2016-11-19
Rated 5 out of 5 by from New Insight Having read the book several times over the last few years, this course gave me new insight to a book I thought I knew.
Date published: 2016-09-02
Rated 5 out of 5 by from The Art of War Excellent presentation of a classic book. Professor Wilson's lectures are full of examples of how Sun Tzu's principles were applied both on and off the battlefield and how those same principles continue to be relevant today. Highly recommended.
Date published: 2016-06-03
Rated 4 out of 5 by from Good Introductuon to Classic Text The Art of War is one of the most influential texts in history; not only a profoundly insightful treatise on military warfare strategy it has become a much cited text within the world of business school courses on strategy. This 6 lecture course offers a tantalising vignette covering key topics within the Art of War and the Professor sets the historical context for the treatise well and also relates some of its lessons to the contemporary world of business. The drawback is that the book, given its sginficance, really merits a 12 lecture course and if it were re issued as such I would certainly buy it. Nevertheless recommended for those interested in military history and also business strategy.
Date published: 2016-02-20
Rated 2 out of 5 by from Misses the essence of Sun Tzu I would not recommend this course. The whole point of Sun Tzu's profound masterpiece, as I have learned from other writers on the subject, is to use the strategies and methods of war to fight against war itself. By analogy, Sun Tzu applies on a political level what the mastery of a martial art teaches on a personal level--you become a master of conflict so you will never have to engage in it. Sun Tzu says that the greatest victory is a war you never have to fight. He means this literally. In this, Sun Tzu is poles apart from the other great master of military strategy, Von Clausewitz, who considered war as an extension of politics, a tool to be used whenever and wherever it was advantageous. Despite his obviously vast strategic knowledge, Professor Wilson appears not to understand the philosophical underpinnings of Sun Tzu. Rather, he analyzes The Art of War for its specific lessons in waging conflict in war or in business. This is a fundamental misunderstanding of the work.
Date published: 2015-12-20
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Absolutely Addictive ! I own about 25 versions of the Art of War, and have read them all. This was just outstanding, and it is just very frustrating that there is no transcript or study guide offered for this most relevant of all courses for business and every day encounters in adversity. I hope Great Courses will remedy this deficiency ASAP. Dr. Wilson does not let you get bored - indeed you will be sipping from the firehose as you try to absorb all the new ideas that he is generating. The course could have been twice as long, and still not long enough, IMHO. I served in Naval Intelligence for 20 years, and in business for 40 years. Everything here is apt, and ready for immediate deployment. The best part is toward the end in lecture 6, which could have been expanded into several more. I have many Great Courses - some on CD, and I have listened to this more than any of them, and will listen again to glean new nuggets of insight. Strongly recommended - should be upgraded and expanded! A real treat! Have already invested in Dr. Wilson's other course - Masters of War.
Date published: 2015-10-17
Rated 5 out of 5 by from A balanced, yet thorough, presentation of the text As an early Chinese specialist who teaches a semester-long undergraduate course on the Art of War (and who also reads classical Chinese), I found Professor Wilson's course to be exceptionally well organized. His presentation of the cultural and historical context of the text is first rate. His methodical explanation of the contents and progression of each of the chapters of the text is masterful. And his discussion of practical contemporary applications of the text is well-evidenced, relevant, and entertaining. I strongly recommend this course to anyone who *really* wants to understand the Art of War.
Date published: 2015-05-21
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Concise and Detailed Lecture The professor dives right into the book, its background and its themes. He shows how the book's subjects - sometimes simplistic on the surface - are relevant to business, politics and modern war. This last point is one people should keep in mind - and the professor even points this out - the book is ultimately intended to be about warfare. Many commentators attempt to try to pull too much out the book. This course tries not to overdo it. It isn't a 7-step plan for success, nor does the professor read the book to you. Buy the book, it isn't that long, and read it along with this course. That's probably why they didn't create a course booklet with this one. This is a course about one book, did you not expect to read the book?
Date published: 2015-04-26
Rated 4 out of 5 by from Worthwhile ! In this short six series of six half-hour lectures, Professor Andrew Wilson discusses the famous work by Sun Tzu. He provides historical context and stresses the importance of considering the work as a whole rather than cutting it up into less significant aphorisms. Professor Wilson also provides Western applications of Sun Tzu’s approach. Some are in a military setting, ranging from the Battle of Thermopylae to George Washington’s crossing of the Delaware. Others are taken from the business world, from Henry Ford’s innovations to Xerox. Overall, Professor Wilson succeeds in stimulating his listeners to read the ‘Art of War’ and thus delivers a very worthwhile course.
Date published: 2015-04-12
Rated 2 out of 5 by from An overview An overview of content and structure with very little discussion of application to life, business, or war (though there was an -overview- of Thermopylae). Lectures read at a break-neck speed. Boring.
Date published: 2015-03-31
Rated 4 out of 5 by from Art of War I like this Professor's approach and the application of the book to today's business and political landscapes. His back ground, education and ability to speak Chinese makes him more than qualified to teach the subject. This is however the first course I have purchased for which the is no book. This is a huge shortcoming as I read the course book before each lecture and sometimes while listening to the course.
Date published: 2015-03-13
Rated 5 out of 5 by from A Concise and Clear Introduction to the Art of War The total length of this course is just under three hours, and in that three hours Professor Wilson touches upon enough material six or eight hours of material. That is, in truth, my largest complaint with this purchase. There was so much that could have been explored, there could be been anecdotes about its use throughout history, there could have been more about the Art of War's spread throughout Asia and its later transmission to the West. What this course sets out to do, it does well. It impresses upon you some key insights into understanding the art of war. There is little hand holding; you are thrust right into the process of learning. You get a taste of the Art of War's broader use and context, but the course is intent on teaching you how to understand the book in and of itself. In that, it excels. While the student may desire more instruction, you are given just enough to seek out the material yourself and make up your own mind.
Date published: 2015-02-05
Rated 3 out of 5 by from Still Slightly Clueless I've read the Art of War several times. It's a foreign subject for me so I needed a lot of guidance and explanation to make this book make sense to me. I read several different author's interpretations of the Art of War, not particularly helpful. Prof Wilson's audio helps interpret the Art of War more but not enough especially when I am comparing what I am reading to what he is saying. I even made my own study guide from Professor's lecture by typing out verbatim of what he says. However, I'm probably going to try Prof Wilson's Masters of War, maybe that will help me understand Art of War a little better!
Date published: 2014-12-28
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Just One Thing Missing. This course was very informative. I had read The Art of War, but the course brought a great deal more meaning to it. The presentation was balanced and straight forward. Most of your courses come with what amounts to a study guide. This is the first one I have purchased that didn't have one. It would have been beneficial . It was the only thing missing. I still highly recommend the course . There's more to the Art of War than meets the eye .
Date published: 2014-12-23
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Informative and clear Found it clear to understand both the content and context, which was more important than I thought. The content aligned with my knowledge of the subject and gave it more reality and purpose.
Date published: 2014-10-09
Rated 2 out of 5 by from The Art Of War The fact that this is audio only takes away from the value of the course. Just not a pleasure to learn this way, and a less effective learning process. Boring.
Date published: 2014-07-18
Rated 5 out of 5 by from A wonderful course This is an excellent analysis of this masterpiece, the teacher who knows Chinese, clearly and interestingly conveys the depth and profoundity of this military classic.
Date published: 2014-04-11
Rated 4 out of 5 by from Great Set of Lectures I really enjoyed these lectures. He provided enough background for me to get a deeper understanding of the text, and expounded on what the text means for our lives today. Certainly worth the time. I think it works great along with Professor Wilson's Masters of Strategy set as well (which is easily my favorite of the great courses).
Date published: 2014-03-27
Rated 2 out of 5 by from Disappointing The instructor's entire course was similar to listening to a presentation on fast forward. The speed was excessive resulting in very difficult listening. The excellent content is obscured by the manner of presentation.
Date published: 2014-03-14
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Great Overview of Sun Tzu's Methods In retrospect, the accomplishments of a genius seem inevitable. Reading the works of genius, one has tough time understanding how something that looks so simple and obvious at this moment could be so revolutionary in the past. Only the intrigued few will make effort to understand the context of the period in which genius lived and worked. And then, with the "hindsight bias" removed, the metamorphosis happens. What looked so simple just a short time ago, has now become the most profound thought. Professor Wilson understands this and he does a great job at the very beginning of the course, spending a lot of time setting "Military Methods of Sun Tzu" in its proper context so that we could fully appreciate the revolutionary thought behind the writings. At the same time he provides an example of a framework that could be applied for analyzing the works of just about any genius in the past. I have studied the works of Strategy since high school and I know my Clausewitz, Jomini, Liddell Hart, Sun Tzu etc. very well. I have also studied campaigns and battles of the past. In my "real" life I have spent the most of my career working in technology startups where fast pace, constantly changing environment, constant competition and disruption are norm. I can only say that the methods of Sun Tzu are the best applicable to such business environment. I listened to this course in order to refresh my memory but I also read the book again along the course. I would suggest first listening Professor Wilson's excellent explanations of the parts of the book and then fully reading those parts from the book. Professor Wilson tells you exactly what to pay attention to. This is extremely useful considering the length of the course. One remark though... It would have been great if Professor Wilson had recommended his favorite translations of the book to go along with the course.
Date published: 2014-03-11
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Great for perspective, depth, context Over nearly five decades Sun Tzu's classic has been important to me at least three times and for three different purposes. Despite three academic experiences with it and many hours of situation-oriented contemplation I started this course with modest expectations -- what could I possibly have missed in a book that takes but a couple of hours to read that could fill three lecture hours? As it turned out Dr. Wilson added a lot of perspective that made the quasi-allegorical nature of some passages far more poignant. He also provides great perspective for situations Sun Tzu could never have anticipated -- like cyber warfare. Were I to advise a young officer or business person on studying the Art of War I'd suggest a preliminary reading, followed by Dr. Wilson's course, concluded with a careful re-reading. With roughly a day's academic effort a lifetime of knowledge and perspective could be gained. Pacing of the lectures is perfect -- fast, but stimulating and expository. The package would benefit from a course book for notes and summaries of Dr. Wilson's insights. A copy of the book itself might be nice for the first-time experience. I got a lot more from this course than I anticipated possible. It's a giant step to a higher understanding of a great and useful classic.
Date published: 2014-01-31
Rated 4 out of 5 by from Cure for Rush Hour Blues Professor Wilson's course was my first exposure to Sun Tzu's The Art of War. I was so fascinated I wanted to learn more, and contacted Prof. Wilson to get his recommendation on obtaining a translation of the original text. I was pleasantly surprised when I received a response almost immediately. I have found Prof. Wilson's delivery to be entertaining and informative. I have enjoyed this and other Teaching Comany courses, and have found that my daily commute to and from work is not only tolerable now, but something I actually look forward to each day!
Date published: 2014-01-27
Rated 3 out of 5 by from Not what I expected It is different from the other courses that I listened to till now. While every other course I listened to was a detailed and a comprehensive study into a certain subject, this one seemed like a short overview of a subject : Historic examples from here and there, while trying to link them to the book chapters. There was no much quoting from the book, the details about the writer and his time was unclear, and there was no mention of the history of the book, how it first came to be known by the rest of the world or the influence it had over the art of war, on it's time and afterward. Although it is obvious that Prof. Wilson has a great knowledge in his field, and masters the Chinese language very well, but the course was kind of shallow and lacked depth and coherence. Certainly I got some new facts after finishing it, but I didn't feel I gained any true knowledge about the book or about the art of war in general. To be fair though, the course price is not high, and it is a short listen. So it is not a complete waste of time, and some people might find it entertaining.
Date published: 2013-08-17
Rated 2 out of 5 by from Somewhat dissapointing I was hoping for interesting revelations about success to winning a war, but only found very general concepts that were somewhat obvious.
Date published: 2013-05-21
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Very useful for Training the Business Mind I really enjoyed The Art of War because I work as a strategist in the business world. There are so many useful insights I gleaned from this course. Professor Wilson does a great job of simplifying the message. I only wish more people that I work with could get this type of information - it would really help drive up productivity. I look forward to more episodes!
Date published: 2013-05-16
Rated 5 out of 5 by from The Art of War I have just enjoyed listening to "The Art of War". I chose this as I had presented on the subject when I studied at Staff College. As I was unfamiliar with the subject (and constrained by time), I was interested in hearing this version to see how much I got right. Professor Wilson's course demystified a subject that a lot of people cite, but few seem to genuinely understand. It was not only very informative, but entertaining as well.
Date published: 2013-05-14
Rated 2 out of 5 by from Basic with few military examples I was expecting more from someone that lectures at the Naval War College. Let's face it. Sun Tzu's "Art of War" is a book on military strategy. My pet peeve is when someone tries to make this about business. And it seems that most of Dr. Wilson's examples come from the business world. The one terrain example was King Leonidas and the Persians. Sun Tzu has 2 chapters on terrain and all Dr. Wilson did was basically read the "types of ground" with no explanation. That was my whole purpose of buying these was for a little more insight on this one topic. I find it hard to believe that Dr. Wilson couldn't find military examples for his other lectures. I listened to 3 of the 6 lectures and finally couldn't take anymore. Even my wife, who knows just a little about military history, thought the subject matter was weak. If I wanted to know more about business, I'd get an MBA. I have an M.A. in military history and was hoping for military examples. Overall, this is stripped down lecture series. I learned more from reading the actual book than from these. I really can't recommend this to anyone.
Date published: 2013-05-10
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