As such, you type in "Art of War" on Amazon and found a softback edition for an amazing low price of $3.99. Looks like it's also the "#1 Best Seller in Military History" says Amazon. And it's FREE shipping! A no-brainer decision, right?
Not so fast. Sun Tzu would not jump at that bait. And neither should you.
You scroll down to the second Art of War edition listed on that Amazon search. If you read the fine print, you would discover it has the same translation as the first except with a different cover. In fact, you would have to scroll down eight books listed -- yes, eight books -- before you could see an Art of War edition with original scholarship in modern times. (That edition just happens to be Dr. Thomas Cleary's, which I personally rank as #1 for someone starting out.)
Therefore, that would mean you'd have the patience of Sun Tzu to wade through and not bite on eight Art of War editions before coming to an original reputable one.
Shockingly, there are many more than these eight rehashed Art of War editions in the publishing world. They represent only a tip of the iceberg. They just happened to be ranked higher than the translation by Dr. Cleary on Amazon. In my estimation, there are probably more than 100 of these copycat editions released over the last 20 years with little to no scholarship value added.
So what exactly is this translation being recycled over and over again? It is the translation by Lionel Giles, M.A., published in 1910. It is also the exact one you can read for free since it's in the public domain.
Giles's translation is actually pretty good in my opinion. You can't beat the price, which is infinitely cheaper than $3.99. Of course Sonshi.com has a free translation too, so there is absolutely no excuse of having to pay to read The Art of War.
Looking at the big picture, I find this whole situation a disturbing trend in the business world today, not only in publishing. From foods to services, marketing has been given higher priority over quality and substance. That's a shame. Instead of proudly proclaiming what the company has done, it has largely come down to convincing people that they have done it. Whether they did or not is now at the risk of the buyer, who currently depends on other buyers' reviews, which are sometimes being manipulated by the retailers and marketers themselves.
Furthermore, too many companies perceived as manufacturing companies aren't manufacturers at all. They are marketers. They let workers in China or Vietnam do the stitching. They let poor Mr. Giles do the translating. They don't make anything except making up stuff. To me, they weave lies. They aren't big lies but lies nonetheless.
Sun Tzu said warfare is the Way of deception but this concept only applies to aggressive enemies who he would sooner treat well than to trick for trickery's sake. His goal was peace. What is a marketing company's goal?
Customers aren't stupid. Over time they will be better educated. Over time they will choose the good over the bad.
Well, let me save you some time. Here is our recommendation for the best Art of War editions based on three decades of experience. Similar to what you'll find out when you're in any hobby: Go for the best you can afford and you won't be tempted to buy more of the rest, even at discount.
By the way, if you indeed purchased a Giles edition in your past, that's OK. I hope you still have the book. Let it serve as a friendly reminder to always do your research. In fact, I wish every mistake in life costs only $3.99.