THE ART OF WAR VISUALISED – Review by Mark Barnes

Some things arrive out of the blue and others are off the wall. This book by Jessica Hagy is, at first glance, the best of both; but more careful analysis shows it to be a very clever piece of work indeed.  Google Sun Tzu and it will offer up about twelve and a half million results. Not bad for a bloke who died around five hundred years before the birth of Jesus Christ.

The thing with Sun Tzu is everybody knows who he is and has heard of The Art of War. But how many people have actually read the thing or can quote him without recourse to watching martial arts type movies graced by the likes of Keanu Reeves? Pass.  I have never previously read anything relating to Sun Tzu and do wonder if he is still required reading at the military academy near you. I suppose he is a bit like Clausewitz in as much as he is important and all that, but how do we transfer his philosophy into the every day?

Step up Jessica Hagy who we could assume has been drinking way too much coffee out there in Seattle, but she has recognised much of this problem and chosen to interpret the teachings of the great man in this frankly bewildering little book.

Why bewildering? Well, Sun Tzu isn’t just used to develop strategies for armed conflict anymore and his ideas have been modified for use in business and all manner of industrial situations. So the author has stripped it all down and turned it into a kind of pocket flipchart you might wish to use when you are attempting to alleviate living death in the buying department or wherever you have a team meeting to attend or problems to solve. I can tell you I would love the halfwits running the place where I do my day job in London to look at some of Ms Hagy’sgraphics.

We don’t have full team meetings here at War History Online.  I am aware Jack and Joris bridge the miles with Skype and I join in occasionally. I get handed down instructions from whatever passes for Mount Olympus in Dorset, Maiden Castle perhaps; and I usually see some of my reviews team colleagues at military themed events or on the battlefield trail. Once I have stopped bitching they usually go away enthused or bemused. It’s a thin line…

I don’t claim to be the sharpest tool in the box but I think I get this book. It is well proven that many of the lessons handed down by great thinkers and strategists of the past are open to misinterpretation and a little abuse. But the point of the exercise is to show that if you stick to the program and cut out some of the chaff these two thousand year old lessons do have a value in our oh so clever twenty first century. This book is clever for all the good reasons.

Our man Beckett loves all the motivational and thinking man’s stuff and this book is definitely heading his way now I am done with it.  I think I need to highlight a few of Ms Hagy’s graphs so I can be sure I will get my expenses paid. I note the author has already written a book called How To Be Interesting and I know quite a few candidates who could use a copy of that!

My old corporal used to bark perfect planning prevents piss poor performance while I was doubling across the parade ground and dropping my kit.  Ms Hagy might not be able to stop a repeat of that, but in all seriousness if you have a logjam in your head then this book might just clear some of it.

Review by Mark Barnes for War History Online

The Sun Tzu Classic in Charts and Graphs
By Jessica Nagy
Workman Publishing
ISBN: 9780-7611-8238-2

Mark Barnes

Mark Barnes is a longstanding friend of WHO, providing features, photography and reviews. He has contributed to The Times of London and other publications. He is the author of The Liberation of Europe (pub 2016) and If War Should Come due later in 2020.