Essential Reading for the Corporate Warrior

In corporate language, everyone loves a war metaphor. There’s nothing like a heroic narrative, comparing physically unthreatening office work with historical military campaigns, whether those of generals like Hannibal of Carthage, Alexander the Great or George ‘Blood & Guts’ Patton. But the idea of the ‘warrior philosopher’ appeals even more – those who’ve not only pondered the battlefield from a commander’s perspective, but who have written books on the matter. Books which can be bought and either pored over for inspiration, or merely displayed prominently on an office shelf while gathering dust. Whatever the motives behind their purchase, here are a few of the business world’s most popular titles.

1)                  The Art of War – Sun Tzu

This Chinese military masterpiece was written by Master Sun (the author’s name is pronounced “Soon-zuh”) and annotated by 11 others over hundreds of years. Not translated into English until the 20th century, it is the undisputed authority on strategy, tactics and motivation of subordinates, with recent adaptations published specifically for different business disciplines including marketing and accountancy.

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Master Sun: unlikely pinup for captains of industry

Sage advice: “Every battle is won before it is ever fought.”

As referenced in: Wall Street and The Sopranos – sales reportedly spiked after mentions by dubiously inspirational protagonists Gordon Gekko and Tony Soprano.

Warrior rating: five swords.

2)                  The Prince – Niccolo Machiavelli

A diplomat and shrewd adviser to the infamously debauched and murderous Borgias of Renaissance Italy, Machiavelli conceived of this book as a gift to a young prince, and used it to distil all his best ideas about – and experience of – operating to one’s own advantage. It’s more about intrigue and deception than military campaigns, but is no less concerned with strategies and tactics. Although not everyone’s a fan: Bertrand Russell reputedly described it as a “handbook for gangsters”.

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Big Mach

Sage advice: “Since love and fear can hardly exist together, if we must choose between them, it is far safer to be feared than loved.”

As referenced in: The Sopranos (again) and Dallas (JR Ewing was an admirer).

Warrior rating: one cloak and one dagger.

3)                  The Book of Five Rings – Miyamoto Musashi

This 17th-century collection represents the spiritual and martial-arts teachings of Musashi, a Japanese rōnin and pioneer of a double-sworded fighting style, who was famously never defeated in a duel (despite having fought around 60 of them).

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Two swords are better than one

Sage advice: “If you master the principles of sword-fencing, when you freely beat one man, you beat any man in the world. The spirit of defeating a man is the same for ten million men.”

As referenced in: Musashi’s influence on popular culture’s depiction of samurai, from Akira Kurosawa to Zatoichi, is immeasurable.

Warrior rating: five rings.

4)                  On War – Carl Von Clausewitz

Von Clausewitz was a Prussian veteran of the Napoleonic wars. This, his most famous work, was unfinished at the time of his death and has been widely misinterpreted since its publication, chiefly because of misleading translations. The much-misquoted reference to ‘total war’, for example, never appears in the text. Nevertheless, his concepts of ‘fog’ (unknown factors) and ‘friction’ (differences between real and theoretical performance) in military campaigns hold true for strategic planning of any kind.

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Art (of war) Garfunkel?

Sage advice: “Never engage the same enemy for too long or he will adapt to your tactics.”

As referenced in: Law Abiding Citizen (misquoted by Gerard Butler’s criminal mastermind) and Sam Peckinpah’s Cross of Iron, where German soldiers share a chuckle over the quote, “War is a continuation of state policy… by other means.” Before everyone gets shot.

Warrior rating: two epaulettes; lots of medals.