Within The Art of War are three distinct though similar treatise written across over 2000 years and three different cultures that instruct the reader not only how to succeed in war but also politics and business.
The opening treatise is the titular Art of War, Sun Tzu gives his readers a concise yet in-depth instruction into the how to achieve victory over one’s enemies. Though less than a hundred pages in length, it has to be read carefully to get the full meaning of what the author intends to convey. Yet when boiled down, the most important lesson is simply to be aware of one’s surroundings and other people’s intentions so as to continually be prepared for all situations.
The middle treatise is Machiavelli’s The Prince, a how-to course in how to gain and maintain power. The pragmatic program that councils that everything one does must be solely down to maintain one’s, if in the process you must victimize a small minority of your population, so be it, but if some of your actions improve the lives of the majority of your citizens so much the better. Yet, while Machiavelli’s thoughtful approach to studying power politics is the beginning of political theory, The Prince is also cutting satire on the Medici who had taken over Florence ending Machiavelli’s civil career. The astute reader realizes that “The Prince” is more than it appears while also achieving its apparent main aim.
The final treatise is Frederick the Great’s Instructions to His Generals, in which the celebrated Prussian monarch and military commander gave guidance to his general staff about how to fight war through his own failures and achievements. Unlike Machiavelli’s call for unity or Sun Tzu’s broad principles, Frederick main goal is for the betterment of Prussia and for detailed instructions on everything connected with a military campaign. This single-mindedness and painstaking approach is a lesson in and of itself to the reader to keep their focus on the here and now so as to achieve bigger things down the road, not dream of the far-off future while sacrificing the present.
While distinct, the three treatise in this book are in fact are three different life experiences on the same thing, achieving success at whatever one attempts.