Paperight book reviews: The Art of War – Sun Tzu

Some books are great. Some books aren’t so great. Some books, like Sun Tzu’s Art of War, are well-established classics for reasons that some people can’t quite understand. Yazeed Peters, our Outlets Development Manager, is one of those people. For this month’s Paperight staff book review, Yazeed reflects on paintball, collaborative Chinese authorship and about why people would ever think so highly of a millenniums-old general’s advice.

I gasp for air, my lungs struggling to suck in enough oxygen to feed my racing heart. I have almost completed my mission. Many men have fallen in this brave journey through this deadly forest. I scan the area carefully for the enemy before attempting my final dash towards victory. The coast is clear. I jump over the rocks and race towards safety but then, I hear it, that harrowing sound of gunfire. I feel the burning pain in the side of my neck. I’ve been hit. So close. But not close enough to win this game of paintball…

I love paintball. It’s more exciting than any video game would ever be. Victory is the ultimate glory for the avid paintballer, and as any paintballer would tell you, the better strategy often leads to victory. As a somewhat competitive person I decided that I need to find myself The Art of War, written by Chinese general Sun Tzu centuries ago, to improve my chances of victory next time I hit the battlefield. I have never read any review on it but I knew that there’s an action movie which carries the same title. Surely, that proved that The Art of War must be a very good book.

I hurried down to The Office Crew, my closest Paperight registered copy shop, to purchase myself a copy. To my delight,, the Paperight Edition only cost me R25 and I found the printing to be beautiful. Even though I had been working at Paperight for a few months, I had never truly appreciated the benefits Paperight could bring to me personally. Buying The Art of War changed all that.

Cheered by this experience, I was hoping that The Art of War would bring as much good to me as Paperight did. The problem is that Sun Tzu, or at least his translator, was clearly not a good writer. The book was written as a how-to guide on, as you might have guessed, war, but the book is filled with commentary and interpolations by other generals and Chinese commentators who all often have completely opposite understandings of the same sentence to each other. I would even be so brave as to say that only 10% of the book is what Sun Tzu actually wrote, and the other 90% is very confusing.

I am not the quickest reader, but I can finish a good book over a long weekend. With The Art of War I struggled, and in the end had to force myself to continue reading it. The point form in which Sun Tzu and the assorted generals and commentators wrote the text, additional comments, explanations and re-explanations made this book a very painful read. The numerous additions makes the book lacks fluidity and one often has to read the same paragraph several times to grasp it. I would rather get shot in the neck with a paintball gun again than to read this book. (In other words, it’s not for me.)

I don’t regret buying this book. It only cost me R25, after all. It did show me an unintended benefit of Paperight, though, because this book certainly is not worth purchasing an expensive copy with an ornate hardcover which would inevitably gather dust on the bookshelf trying to look important. I sleep easy knowing that I made the green choice – my copy of The Art of War is completely recyclable.

Although it would be a lie to say that reading is always an enjoyable experience, I suppose The Art of War reaffirms the old argument that you always learn something when you pick up a book, even if it’s not always the thing you thought you’d learn.

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