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
64 Reviews
75% of reviewers would recommend this product
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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The Art of War is rated 4.1 out of 5 by 65.
Rated 4 out of 5 by from Bringing greater depth to a classic While the number of lectures is small, the topics covered are concise to this classic of strategic thought. As the lecturer says, it's one thing to just pull platitudes from The Art of War as ancient Chinese wisdom. It's quite another to fully understand the application and continuing relevance of this work on our world today. The lecturer does a fantastic job in showcasing why this guide to warfare has endured through centuries.
Date published: 2020-11-21
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Great place to start "The Art of War" exploration With numerous editions of "The Art of War", this course is a great place to start exploring the classic book. The professor is very knowledgeable and presents the information clearly. He explains the principles in the book while also illustrating how the principles can be used in present day life. After completing this course, I explored other editions of this book.
Date published: 2020-04-20
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Great Stratrgies. The Art of War, is a wonderful book on understanding of how, in War, what is needed to make things happen,to get the best results, to learn moves and strategies, to help you win. this could be use in life as will, as War.
Date published: 2019-10-19
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Great course About 1/2 way through love it. great teacher. Very informative
Date published: 2019-06-08
Rated 4 out of 5 by from Interest rekindled in the Art of War I enjoyed this course. I have read The Art of War many times but I have not read it in the last 5 years. This course provided good reminder of how flexible the words of this book is about stragety and its application in a variety conflicts. The course was short and concise. My favorite part of the course is the first lecture that puts the origins of the book in its historical context something I am afraid to admit I was unfamiliar. The course is accessible to veterans of the book and newcomers.
Date published: 2019-06-04
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Informative and Engaging This is a great introduction and deeper dive into a classic that many people "know" but few people really know: The Art of War attributed to Sun Tzu. As Professor Wilson points out, you can find references and applications drawn from this ancient book in many fields, including military, business, and even romance. Most contemporary uses tend to be superficial based on a saying or principle drawn totally out of context. Understanding the historical background and context of the work is essential before attempting a modern application. Wilson is an expert on this book. How many western commentators are fluent in Mandarin Chinese, much less have participated in conferences in China discussing the book in its original language? He is a knowledgeable, engaging, and interesting teacher, and his speaking style is easy to take. I also enjoy how he weaves examples from history and contemporary life from a variety of fields to illustrate the book's principles. I recommend this short series to anyone interested in learning more about The Art of War.
Date published: 2018-09-02
Rated 3 out of 5 by from Poor Presentation by a Great Professor I feel “The Art of War” that has been presented by Andrew R. Wilson was poorly crafted. There are two reasons for this, one is how Mr. Wilson choose to create his presentation, and the other is how Great Courses choose to present it on the CD format. First, The Art of War by Sun Tzu, is a very short book, excluding translator’s comments. It appears to be divided into thirteen, relatively short chapters. With this in mind, Mr. Wilson (I feel) should have divided his lectures into a brief discussion of each chapter in chronological order, and then while speaking of that particular chapter, expand his discourse which reflected those key concepts. Instead, Mr. Wilson appeared to be all over the place as to his examples and how they related to multiple chapters. In other words, one would have had to read the entire book before understanding the concepts he was presenting. However, Mr. Wilson does a wonderful job of presenting multiple examples of ancient China wars, other ancient wars, past business successes or failures, and present war or business situations. I wish there had been a few more lectures presented by him, like maybe 8 rather than 6. He clearly knows the material, but I do not feel he was provided an ample opportunity to expand on them. And he clearly was correct in attempting to integrate this book into our modern business/ management strategies. Second, Great Courses, for whatever reason, choose to put this 3 hour course on three CDs. As this is just an audio course, I feel it should have been put on one CD. I feel they misappropriated their resources both on CDs and on the CD case box. If this had been the first program that I was introduced to on The Great Course program, I would not continue. But, since I have watched other programs, put out by them, I feel this is more of a fluke rather than the norm. I hope Mr. Wilson has an opportunity to go back and redo this program, his knowledge should not be wasted by this presentation.
Date published: 2018-08-21
Rated 3 out of 5 by from Warning! No Course Material A difficult review for me, as there is both good and not-so-good. First the good: Professor Wilson is a skilled presenter. His delivery is measured, clear and calm, although appropriately animated at times. As other reviewers have noted, he is well organized and the course flows well from beginning to end. I found his business and sports analogies appropriate, although a longer course might have allowed him a bit more time to link the present-day examples to “The Art of War”. I wrote in an earlier review of Dr. Wilson’s “Master’s of War: History’s Greatest Strategic Thinkers” the following based on some forced, misinformed classes I took in the business world. “I became very tired of quick quotes from the "Art of War" being used to justify irrational business behavior, so it was a relief to learn a bit more about that work from someone who had studied the work in depth and was in a position to compare it with other studies on strategic thought and action.” This was a comment based on only two lectures about Sun Tzu in that course and he has more time in this one to expand more fully. I gave “Master’s of War” a five star review. As much as I enjoyed that course of Professor Wilson’s, it took me three years to take another. Which brings me to the not-so-good. First the course is quite short. Now this is no bad thing in itself, as quite a bit of material is covered and that certainly meets my expectations for what can be done in three hours. But when this is coupled with no course guide, no bibliography, no glossary and no brief bios of mentioned, important persons, the course as a whole suffers from a lack of content. It would be particularly helpful to have a bibliography that covered some of the many translations of Sun Tzu and their various strengths and weaknesses. And seminal books that comment on "The Art of War" The normal course guide that is usually provided by TTC would have allowed Professor Wilson to expand a bit on some topics for which there was not enough time to fully cover in the lectures. And it is always helpful to be able to look up a term that is either unfamiliar or is being used in a slightly different way than in my usual understanding. This lack leads me to suspect that this course was one that Dr. Wilson uses as a one or one-half day seminar. I think that it is perfectly reasonable to reuse material already developed for other uses. But at the least the lectures should be brought up to TGC standards. It would appear that he (e)mailed it in. Although I cannot recommend the course, it would be just fine for those who are not bothered by the lack of accompanying material.
Date published: 2018-06-23
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