The Art of War may be one of the most adaptable books of the past two millennia. There's an Art of War for small businesses. There's an Art of War for dating. There's even an Art of War for librarians.
According to Jessica Hagy, author of the newest version, The Art of War Visualized, the book has spawned so many interpretations because it can be read as not really being about war at all. "It's about creative problem-solving," Hagy told me. Hagy, who doodles the quasi-mathematical logic of human foibles on the popular blog Indexed, found three copies of Sun Tzu's classic among college textbooks and Tom Clancy novels while cleaning out her basement last year, and she saw in its short verses the kind of logic she likes to draw, as in this recent example from Indexed:
"It was so much less hypermasculine and bloodthirsty and vicious than you think it is, and it's very thoughtful," Hagy said of The Art of War. “About the first read through I really saw that war was just a metaphor for hassles and problems and issues that people face in every scale of life from really petty, stupid things to really big, world-changing, ‘Should we invade this country?’ sorts of questions,” Hagy said.
Indeed, one under-appreciated feature of The Art of War is how much of it is devoted to avoiding actual fighting. “Supreme excellence consists in breaking the enemy’s resistance without fighting," Sun Tzu wrote. Also: "[T]he skillful leader subdues the enemy's troops without any fighting; he captures their cities without laying siege to them; he overthrows their kingdom without lengthy operations in the field." He also explained why this is: "When you engage in actual fighting, if victory is long in coming, then men's weapons will grow dull and their ardor will be damped."