I am planning to buy "The Art of War" by Sun Tzu (in English translation) but I've found versions of 90 pages, 170 pages and 200 pages. What is the difference between these versions? Is there a standard version or a comprehensive translation?

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    We really can't say what the difference is between those versions without knowing which versions they are. Do you have links to them? Names of the translators? Dates? Jun 7, 2018 at 11:50
  • @SeanDuggan I have an edit in queue. But till is approved, let me give you some names: Lionel Giles (Translator, 38 pages), Ralph D. Sawyer (Translator, 384 pages), Jonathan Clements (Author, 192 pages. The title is The art of war, it has the name of Sun Tzu, but it seems tha this book is reinterpreted...) Jun 7, 2018 at 12:56
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    Ah. I see you have apparently split your accounts. You may be interested in stackoverflow.com/help/merging-accounts Jun 7, 2018 at 14:03

1 Answer 1


The original Art of War is composed of slightly over 6000 Chinese characters. In translation, the average English version clocks in at 10,000 words, about the length of an in-depth New Yorker magazine article. Differences in various translators book lengths are primarily due to how much supplementary information they provide along with the original text. Some, like Sawyer and Ames provide lengthy introductions and textual notes. Others like Denma and Minford republish the original text but then add extracts from the various historical commentators who have opined on the work over the centuries. Preferred translations, obviously, are subjective, but I think the Ames, Sawyer or Mair versions are good. Minford has the shortest translation (about 7300 words) so is closest to reading it in the original Chinese, but be advised that this makes the text more difficult to comprehend for the modern reader. Just be sure to avoid the translations by Gary Gagliardi and Colin Thorne as they are hacks who clearly don’t understand how to translate Classical Chinese script.

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    Hi JFS, welcome to the site! If you're new to the way the Stack Exchange system works, check out the tour and How to Answer (and the rest of the help center is a helpful read too). You can always edit questions and answers if you you want to correct something (comments like this can't be edited after five minutes, and are considered ephemeral and may be deleted at any time, so if you want to keep something around best to put it in a question or answer). Thanks for the interesting insights, and see you around!
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    Jun 21, 2018 at 6:48

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