The Art of War Visualized

May 14, 2015


Jessica Hagy has taken Sun Tsu's classic and put her illustrative slant on it. The result is The Art of War Visualized.

Jessica Hagy has been on our radar since before her first book, Indexed, was released. We published a ChangeThis manifesto from her way back in 2008, and since then she has helped illustrate Linchpin for Seth Godin and put out another book of her own—How to Be Interesting (in 10 Simple Steps). Her most recent book is The Art of War Visualized: The Sun Tzu Classic in Charts and Graphs, and the best way to show to give you a taste is to just show it, so other than the text for the Introduction below, that is what we're going to do...

The Art of War is a classic text attributed to the Chinese general Sun Tzu, who lived roughly 2,500 years ago. In recent centuries, it’s become not only the must-read book on military strategy (obviously), but it’s also become the go-to guide for domination in business, politics, management, marketing, logistical planning, and even sports. It has a concise, biblical rhythm, and a vaguely mythical tone. It’s so old and so mysterious that it is literally legendary.

Because I’m a visual storyteller by trade, when I first read The Art of War, I saw the short verses as captions for images that weren’t yet on the page; reimagining this globally revered classic with charts and graphs was something I felt almost compelled to do—to create a modern, visual translation that shakes off 2,500 years of dust and changes the way we ponder conflict. At first, illustrating it was a challenge. But halfway through the second chapter, I realized that his ideas aren’t as bloodthirsty and brutish as his legend might lead you to believe. I found I actually liked old Sun Tzu. He makes a lot (and I do mean a lot) of logical sense. Each of his verses is a kind of lesson, so feel free to hopscotch through the pages or pause to reflect as you go along—after all, the most important verses in this book will be the ones that help you best visualize your own experiences.

It became clear that The Art of War is massively popular because Sun Tzu’s insights apply to all conflicts, great or small. The advice in these pages is as applicable to a ten-year-old running for student council president as it is to a conquering general. It’s less about war than it is about problem solving—it’s a meta-metaphor. War is merely the stand-in noun for every hassle you’ve ever had in your life. We’re all fighting for something or other. Lucky for us, Sun Tzu gave us a game plan.





Jessica Hagy is an artist and writer best known for her Webby award-winning blog, Indexed. Her work has been described as “deceptively simple,” “undeniably brilliant,” and “our favorite reason for the Internet to exist.” Her style of visual storytelling allows readers to draw their own conclusions and to actively participate in each narrative. “Her images don’t always tell us what to think; quite often, they elegantly offer us ideas to think about.”

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