THE BOOK OF STRATAGEMS by Harro von Senger


Tactics for Triumph and Survival
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 Among other contributions to civilization, the Far East can claim credit for a handbook of down-and-dirty tricks known as The 36 Stratagems. Just 138 Chinese ideographs suffice to convey the catalogue's wily wisdom. While Swiss Sinologist von Senger requires rather more characters to cover but half of the crafty canons, his text is entertaining enough to interest readers in the promised follow-up. Meanwhile, those impatient for the full story can check Yuan Gao's Lure the Tiger Out of the Mountains (1990). Von Senger ranges widely over time and place to illuminate the 18 precepts he does address, drawing on five millennia of Asian history as well as a broad spectrum of recorded events in the West. In construing the injunction to ``Create Something from Nothing,'' for instance, the author employs examples ranging from the Hapsburgs, Hannibal, and Rommel through Deng Xiaoping. Von Senger's scholarship is not only helpful but essential, since many of the allusive precepts offer counsel not readily apparent to the Occidental mind. Cases in point include: ``Borrow a Corpse for the Soul's Return''; ``Openly Repair the Walkway, Secretly March to Chencang''; ``Loot a Burning House''; and ``Observe the Fire on the Opposite Shore.'' On the other hand, Br'er Rabbit buffs won't miss the point of ``To Catch Something, First Let It Go.'' Nor will fans of Teddy Roosevelt misapprehend ``Hide Your Dagger Behind a Smile.'' Whether von Senger's analyses of an ancient age's guileful gambits can prove helpful (as the promotional material promises) in business, politics, personal affairs, and allied endeavors will strike most observers as a decidedly dubious proposition. At a minimum, though, his interpretive appraisals afford substantial support for Leo Durocher's contention that ``Nice Guys Finish Last.''

Pub Date: Dec. 1st, 1991
ISBN: 0-670-83962-0
Page count: 416pp
Publisher: Viking
Review Posted Online:
Kirkus Reviews Issue: Oct. 1st, 1991