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The Art of War

The Art of War

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The Art of War

Course No. 9456
Professor Andrew R. Wilson, Ph.D.
U.S. Naval War College
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4.1 out of 5
51 Reviews
72% of reviewers would recommend this series
Course No. 9456
Audio Streaming Included Free

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
 |  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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The Art of War is rated 4.0 out of 5 by 51.
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
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