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IN BRIEF

Nonfiction

June 09, 1996|SUSAN SALTER REYNOLDS

THE LOST ART OF WAR: The Recently Discovered Companion to the Best-Selling "The Art of War" by Sun Tzu II, translated and with commentary by Thomas Cleary (HarperCollins: $17; 160 pp.). "The Lost Art of War," written by the military strategist Sun Tzu II on bamboo strips and discovered in 1972 in an ancient Chinese tomb, goes into greater and more practical depth than its predecessor, "The Art of War," which was written by Sun Tzu during China's Warring States Era.

Sun Tzu II, a descendant of Sun Tzu, wrote his manuscript about 100 years later. According to the introduction, it also bears the influence of his teacher, "the mysterious sage Wang Li," a Taoist recluse and the author of "The Master of Demon Valley," another strategic classic with an emphasis on converting the warlords to Taoism rather than hegemonism. The text is a collection of aphorisms, which, again according to our translator, seek to assure "victory at minimal cost" and lend themselves to much wider application (the power struggles of everyday life) than mere warfare.

These books, even between their modern covers, still bear the authority and mystery (the information they contained was considered powerful and dangerous when held in the wrong hands) they had when first written. The language, rather than being frustratingly vague, seems to glimmer with a million meanings, like a charm.

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