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Selected as a Financial Times Best Book of 2013 In Strategy: A History, Sir Lawrence Freedman, one of the world's leading authorities on war and international politics, captures the vast history of strategic thinking, in a consistently engaging and insightful account of how strategy came to pervade every aspect of our lives. The range of Freedman's narrative is extraordinary Selected as a Financial Times Best Book of 2013 In Strategy: A History, Sir Lawrence Freedman, one of the world's leading authorities on war and international politics, captures the vast history of strategic thinking, in a consistently engaging and insightful account of how strategy came to pervade every aspect of our lives. The range of Freedman's narrative is extraordinary, moving from the surprisingly advanced strategy practiced in primate groups, to the opposing strategies of Achilles and Odysseus in The Iliad, the strategic advice of Sun Tzu and Machiavelli, the great military innovations of Baron Henri de Jomini and Carl von Clausewitz, the grounding of revolutionary strategy in class struggles by Marx, the insights into corporate strategy found in Peter Drucker and Alfred Sloan, and the contributions of the leading social scientists working on strategy today. The core issue at the heart of strategy, the author notes, is whether it is possible to manipulate and shape our environment rather than simply become the victim of forces beyond one's control. Time and again, Freedman demonstrates that the inherent unpredictability of this environment-subject to chance events, the efforts of opponents, the missteps of friends-provides strategy with its challenge and its drama. Armies or corporations or nations rarely move from one predictable state of affairs to another, but instead feel their way through a series of states, each one not quite what was anticipated, requiring a reappraisal of the original strategy, including its ultimate objective. Thus the picture of strategy that emerges in this book is one that is fluid and flexible, governed by the starting point, not the end point. A brilliant overview of the most prominent strategic theories in history, from David's use of deception against Goliath, to the modern use of game theory in economics, this masterful volume sums up a lifetime of reflection on strategy.


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Selected as a Financial Times Best Book of 2013 In Strategy: A History, Sir Lawrence Freedman, one of the world's leading authorities on war and international politics, captures the vast history of strategic thinking, in a consistently engaging and insightful account of how strategy came to pervade every aspect of our lives. The range of Freedman's narrative is extraordinary Selected as a Financial Times Best Book of 2013 In Strategy: A History, Sir Lawrence Freedman, one of the world's leading authorities on war and international politics, captures the vast history of strategic thinking, in a consistently engaging and insightful account of how strategy came to pervade every aspect of our lives. The range of Freedman's narrative is extraordinary, moving from the surprisingly advanced strategy practiced in primate groups, to the opposing strategies of Achilles and Odysseus in The Iliad, the strategic advice of Sun Tzu and Machiavelli, the great military innovations of Baron Henri de Jomini and Carl von Clausewitz, the grounding of revolutionary strategy in class struggles by Marx, the insights into corporate strategy found in Peter Drucker and Alfred Sloan, and the contributions of the leading social scientists working on strategy today. The core issue at the heart of strategy, the author notes, is whether it is possible to manipulate and shape our environment rather than simply become the victim of forces beyond one's control. Time and again, Freedman demonstrates that the inherent unpredictability of this environment-subject to chance events, the efforts of opponents, the missteps of friends-provides strategy with its challenge and its drama. Armies or corporations or nations rarely move from one predictable state of affairs to another, but instead feel their way through a series of states, each one not quite what was anticipated, requiring a reappraisal of the original strategy, including its ultimate objective. Thus the picture of strategy that emerges in this book is one that is fluid and flexible, governed by the starting point, not the end point. A brilliant overview of the most prominent strategic theories in history, from David's use of deception against Goliath, to the modern use of game theory in economics, this masterful volume sums up a lifetime of reflection on strategy.

30 review for Strategy: A History

  1. 5 out of 5

    Morgan Blackledge

    Dude. This thing is EPIC. Lawrence Freedman does not play. He begins the book with an account of Chimpanzee warfare and pretty much runs the gauntlet of western (and some eastern but not much) theories, philosophies, methodologies etc. of strategy. I honestly didn't know what to expect when I began the book. I assumed it would be all about military strategy. And for the first third of the book it pretty much was. Beginning with the Achilles and Odysseus in The Iliad, then to the Bible (snore), t Dude. This thing is EPIC. Lawrence Freedman does not play. He begins the book with an account of Chimpanzee warfare and pretty much runs the gauntlet of western (and some eastern but not much) theories, philosophies, methodologies etc. of strategy. I honestly didn't know what to expect when I began the book. I assumed it would be all about military strategy. And for the first third of the book it pretty much was. Beginning with the Achilles and Odysseus in The Iliad, then to the Bible (snore), then to Sun Tzu and Machiavelli, and to the foundational military ideas of Baron Henri de Jomini and Carl von Clausewitz. None of which was a surprise. But then the book shifts gears and focuses on left wing revolutionary strategy including Marx, Gramsci, Lennon and the to Che Guevara and then Tolstoy and on and on. And that actually was a surprise. I did not expect that. But then he busted out with the right wing and corporate strategy of Peter Drucker and Alfred P. Sloan (of NPR underwriter fame) and Henry Ford. In fact the section on Ford blew my mind. It was great fun. Totally unexpected. But the he keeps going. Covering thinkers such as Thomas Kuhn (what a frickin genius) and Karl Popper (another frickin genius) all the way to Kahneman,Tversky and later, Talib. All the way to to the modern use of game theory in behavioral economics. Wow. Any way. He just goes on, and on, and on, and on (in the good way). No one will accuse Freedman of lacking breadth and depth. After all that, it may sound odd to hear that I wish I could give this one a 3.5 The book is an amazing accomplishment. Freedman set out to cover every important contribution to [western] strategic theory. That is not a trivial task. This book is clearly the life's work of a very bright and dedicated scholar/historian and that alone deserves respect and honorable mention. He gave fair balance between left, right and center politics. he gave even treatment of military, revolutionary, business and scientific methodologies. He rendered charming little biographies of characters as disperate as Henry Ford and Alan Ginsburg (yes Ginsy is prominently featured in a book about strategy). So why 4 (3.5) stars? The book needed to be trimmed. It wasn't tight. It also lacked a central theme, metaphor, orientation or central anything that could provide a through-line to help the text feel less like a "baggy compendium" or encyclopedia. I almost said text book, but most textbooks have central, orienting "big ideas" lacing them together. Another reason I'm bagging on the book a bit is because it's long and therefore it's a significant investment of time and energy to read this thing. I feel like long texts have to be held to a higher standard. they really have to justify their length. I just read Andrew Solomon's Far From The Tree. An equally long, potentially equally disparate text, made very cohesive thanks to a strong central metaphor and an even stronger narrative voice. It's a terrible comparison in some respects, but I feel it's apt in this one particular sense. This book is excellent. Monumental in some respects. But probably unfinishable if you're not a theory/history dork for the reasons cited. So four stars it is. .

  2. 5 out of 5

    Tim Pendry

    This is a wise and highly intelligent, if very long, attempt to come to grips with the slippery term 'strategy' by a prominent British academic distilling at least two decades of thinking on the subject. Although a Professor of War Studies, Freedman does not restrict himself to the conduct of war but reviews revolutionary and dissident stategy on the one hand and business strategy on the other. He is highly critical of some of the nonsense (he is too kind to call it that) from business gurus and I This is a wise and highly intelligent, if very long, attempt to come to grips with the slippery term 'strategy' by a prominent British academic distilling at least two decades of thinking on the subject. Although a Professor of War Studies, Freedman does not restrict himself to the conduct of war but reviews revolutionary and dissident stategy on the one hand and business strategy on the other. He is highly critical of some of the nonsense (he is too kind to call it that) from business gurus and I can only be pleased that I smelled the rat throughout the 1980s and 1990s and read few of them. Where he gets to is a sceptical view of what we can possibly know about our own futures or control them. He outlines, in the final section, the role of narratives and scripts in giving us the illusion of control. This is not a counsel of despair. There is no fatalism in Freedman's approach but he does suggest that 'real life' requires a degree of detachment from scripts and narratives while making use of them as tools. Educated readers will probably not be surprised by the general thrust of the section on war where there is a sort of master in Clausewitz (and the influence of Jomini) but it will bring you up to date. As we write, a rather odd crisis between the 'West' (whatever that is) and Russia, after some egregious blundering by the European Union, has allowed all sorts of absurd 'narratives' free rein. Trying to rein in historic stories about fascism and appeasement as well as more recent tales of humanitarian intervention and self determination has been part of the problem for intelligent diplomats. The Ukraine remains unresolved as we write but the undoubted strategic skills of Putin and Lavrov on the one hand and Obama and Kerry might be enhanced by having this text at their sides. The second section on the strategic attempts to overturn elites and systems gives due weight to the role of Marxism but is perhaps too easily seduced into a highly US-centred picture of political struggle. This provides us with one of the few 'strategic' criticisms of the book - the elephant in the room that Freedman assiduously dances around: the State. Military strategy is the expression of the force of the State, revolutionary strategies seek to overturn or capture the State and business strategies compete with the State ... but what of the State? The State, emergent out of warlordism and dynasticism (or small trading communities), is the thing that should interest us most because we are most stuck inside its narratives and scripts. Perhaps it was simply a matter of space (the book is over 600 pages long) but one senses sometimes that the broader academic community is always nervous of telling us the truth about what feeds it. But this may be unfair. The book is mostly easy reading (though the idiocies of academic social scientists often cause one to lose patience) and the assessments are honest and fair to all parties. Indeed, it is good to find a book that both gives due to the troubled struggle by educated revolutionaries to speak for the masses and to the games businessmen play to try to control what cannot be controlled. A book which treats Rockefeller of Standard Oil and Karl Marx fairly, let alone Tom Hayden, has a lot going for it though maybe Freedman should throw up his hands at Sun Tzu as perpetual strategic cliche. Will this book make you a better 'strategist'? Well, it will do a service if it makes you sceptical about books that claim to offer that particular pot of gold. Strategists are probably born rather than made but many of the skills can be learned - or rather 'bad' unstrategic narratives might be unlearned and 'scripts' recognised. His story of continuous failures to 'get it right' becomes a bit cheerier when rationalist progressives begin to be challenged by the behaviourial economists. Though I remain unconvinced by this particular discipline - and consider political science to be an utterly absurd concept - cognitive psychology has helped us here. Increasingly, we are beginning to stop whining that we are not 'rational' (or rather autistic academics are) and beginning to see our mentalities as extremely good survival machines for uncertainty. Freedman is persuasive that we have a sort of double action mind where intuition and 'art' working in real time gets things right most of the time under most conditions (his System 1 strategic thinking). Habit and narratives and scripts can get in our way in a crisis and the reasoning abilities of his System 2 thinking enable us analytically and critically correct our own biases and errors. However, we can only do this in real time, constantly adjusting to realities that are, in themselves, way beyond any form of reasonable long term analysis because of so many variables and unknowns. Perhaps the thinking started with John Boyd's simple but productive concept of OODA (observation, orientation, decision, action) but Freedman here develops a more interesting model of struggle. In essence, the only strategy is the intuitive positioning of oneself to win each battle as it comes within a general vision of where one wants to be - and this is not a matter for mathematicians.

  3. 4 out of 5

    Ed

    A block buster history of strategy covering almost every conceivable aspect of the subject in great detail: military, political, business and personal. And written by a deep expert in the field who has the most incredible insights into the possibilities and limitations of strategic thought. Covers the main thinkers in this field and the application of their thought in the real world. Uncovers the main delusions strategists fall prey to and even questions if strategy is possible much of the time. A block buster history of strategy covering almost every conceivable aspect of the subject in great detail: military, political, business and personal. And written by a deep expert in the field who has the most incredible insights into the possibilities and limitations of strategic thought. Covers the main thinkers in this field and the application of their thought in the real world. Uncovers the main delusions strategists fall prey to and even questions if strategy is possible much of the time. I inhaled this book and will use it in my own conflict work. But I think it has major implications for how we think about strategy, how we plan our own lives not to mention those of our country, region, business etc. Well worth the effort.

  4. 4 out of 5

    Kaspar

    Lawrence has created a truly monstrous thing, which is a book as much as a saddled velociraptor is a racehorse. This should be taken as criticism only if you're not supremely enthused by the prospect of drowning yourself in a millennia-spanning history of strategic thinking. Be warned: venture into the den of this beast without a strategy, and it might consume you instead. But if you're deeply interested in strategy and building models of and for strategic thinking, you're in for an exhausting a Lawrence has created a truly monstrous thing, which is a book as much as a saddled velociraptor is a racehorse. This should be taken as criticism only if you're not supremely enthused by the prospect of drowning yourself in a millennia-spanning history of strategic thinking. Be warned: venture into the den of this beast without a strategy, and it might consume you instead. But if you're deeply interested in strategy and building models of and for strategic thinking, you're in for an exhausting and worthwhile journey. My edition spanned 815 pages of main text, followed by 200 pages of notes and citations and a 130-page index. Another important number is 20, which is how many years it took Lawrence to birth this work. The research and erudition at display are truly awe-inspiring. Whatever the book’s faults - and there are faults - Lawrence deserves respect just for undertaking the ordeal of writing something like this. Lawrence circumvents the task of working from a clear definition of strategy by breaking down history into arenas and periods where one might expect to find something resembling strategy at work (with an acknowledged Western and American bias) and looks for the theories, ideas and philosophies that informed them. These he then explores at length, sometimes ridiculously so, describing, comparing and critiquing various philosophies, practices, theories, thinkers, and doers. Over time, various strands of inquiry begin to resurface, highlighting intellectual legacies and grand themes. The book consists of 5 parts: 1. Origins 2. Strategies of Force 3. Strategies from Below 4. Strategy from Above 5. Theories of Strategy Part I is a (relatively) short warm-up, exploring strategies of conflict and cooperation in nature, Ancient Greece (in politics, war, philosophy, and mythology), the Bible, Sun Tzu and Machiavelli and, in somewhat jarring detail, Milton's Paradise Lost. Among other themes, Lawrence identifies a historic struggle between strategies of force or deception, the importance of language in pursuing goals and resolving conflicts in a human world, and the limits of guile. Part II turns up the heat considerably. Landing in the 19th century, Lawrence explores the theories of war that began to appear in persons such as Jomini and Clausewitz, while taking such detours as exploring the intellectual and critical position of Tolstoy (of War & Peace) towards these theories (which turns out to be significant later on). Weighed against each other are ideas of a war of annihilation or exhaustion, as the reader is whisked through time towards the World Wars, introducing new methods and domains of warfare. What does it mean to control a domain? How useful is the concept of the decisive victory? A midpoint climax is reached in the invention of the nuclear bomb, which leads Lawrence to ponder the nature of deterrence in the context of game theory. He then goes back through time to chart the history and logic of guerrilla warfare, its possibilities, and limits in the face of superior force. From there, he works his way towards contemporary theories and approaches to war, devoting special attention to Boyd, and arrives at the conclusion that a master strategist who resides exclusively and successfully in the military domain is, in a complex and political world, a myth. Part III is a history of struggle, resistance, and revolution, starting from the French revolution. From there, Lawrence takes the long route, and the reader is thus thoroughly educated in the history of Marxism, anarchism, the left, US politics, propaganda, the civil rights movement etc, making acquaintance with philosophies such as pragmatism or thinkers such as Kuhn, Gramsci, Foucault and many, many others. At 270 pages, this is the longest section of the book, and at times it falters in holding any semblance of a focus (rediscovered in the examination of nonviolence). It is up to the reader to keep in their mind and perhaps even chart out on paper the reasons and relationships that Lawrence explores at occasionally ridiculous length. But then again, this goes for the whole book: know what you’re looking for and use that intention to filter and chunk the content – or risk being dazed. Part IV is somewhat more focused, if only because the period under investigation is shorter and more recent. Here, Lawrence goes through the history of management and business strategy since the early 20th century, the conflicts between sociology and economics in theorizing about the business organization, and the limitations of strategy in business, from failed dreams such as strategic planning to the useless fluff of popular strategic literature. Many of the authors cited are contemporary, and it’s enlightening to see their lineage being traced from the likes of Taylor or Ford. At 250 pages, this section could stand on its own as a respectable study of 20th-century business, but it is elevated beyond that by the connections that Lawerence makes with previous sections, reinforcing key ideas such as the role of language and the unattainability of control under the dictate of a master strategist. Part V is a relatively short and cathartic summary, which tears into and exposes the limits of theories built on presumptions of rationality and inevitable conflict, exploring theories of cooperation and irrationality, veering heavily into cognitive science and the study of narratives. Lawrence then ties everything up into strong definitions of strategy and strategic thinking, referencing and incorporating many of the paths and ideas previously explored, emphasizing the ultimate limitations of strategic thought and aspiration. The book concludes with a somewhat poetic comparison between drama and strategy as narratives. Having just described the vastness of Lawrence’s scope, my criticism might sound silly, but it felt like too much was left out. The focus on 19th+ century Western thought (except for a brief section on Sun Tzu) means that some of the largest conquests and empires are left out. Notably MIA are Genghis Khan, the Roman Empire and the Crusades. The implicit claim seems to be that after the Greeks and before the 19th century, there wasn’t much theory of war and strategy to explore. Even if that was so, I can’t shake the feeling that Lawrence devotes too many pages to curiosities such as Milton or the struggles of Marx(ism), while neglecting examples that would create helpful contrast, for example, the failure of Napoleon vs the success of Genghis and how the problems of supply have been mitigated through history. Ultimately, these gripes are minor, perhaps derived from a peculiar sense of loss – that Lawrence didn’t give his grand treatment to even more things. I came away from this experience with a framework in which to chart out the lineages and limitations of various schools of strategic thought in a variety of domains, and position any future readings on the topic. I consider myself somewhat educated on issues of strategy, and even though Lawrence validated many of my ideas and past readings, I was still taking notes feverishly throughout my week with this book. Lawrence’s treatment of the subject is deep enough to facilitate the formulation of complete, powerful, and generalizable models of strategy and strategic thought, to be used to great effect in almost any setting, while remaining aware of their ultimate limitations. In conclusion, I’m not sure whether to recommend Strategy or not. If you’re merely curious, you might spend a month or two and learn a lot about history, but the usefulness of this exercise is suspect. The book is just so dense and overwhelming that a casual reading is probably not the best use of your time, not without full intellectual engagement and previous experience that you could relate the material with. But if you’re obsessed with strategy, then you’ve probably read it or have already decided to read it, and are now planning the requisite weeklong vacation that this book deserves and demands.

  5. 5 out of 5

    Franco Pasqualini

    I loved this book. I will have to reread some day as there is a lot of wisdom. At times, the author's writing style made it hard to follow the thread of his arguments (tendency for long sentences and listing). However, this i can overlook due to the amount of knowledge contained within the book. Give yourself a good 35 hours to read this one though, its long.

  6. 4 out of 5

    Son Tung

    What a long read on strategy, full of historical accounts and thier analyses in military, politics, economics and business. I was amazed by the breath presented by the author and feel like if these themes were expanded further, exploited deeper, i would not touch this except in holidays. The book gave a better grasp on the backdrop and implication of Machiavelli's The Price, Clausewitz's On War and Sun Tzu's Art of War. I might have had considered to reread the Price and Art of War because of th What a long read on strategy, full of historical accounts and thier analyses in military, politics, economics and business. I was amazed by the breath presented by the author and feel like if these themes were expanded further, exploited deeper, i would not touch this except in holidays. The book gave a better grasp on the backdrop and implication of Machiavelli's The Price, Clausewitz's On War and Sun Tzu's Art of War. I might have had considered to reread the Price and Art of War because of the intitial, shallow understanding of these books since my first read. Towards the end, game theory for cooperation and competition shows up again, with great resemblance from The Better Angel of Our Nature by Steven Pinker. The conclusions are pretty much compatible with each other: Establish logic of cooperation, repudiation for short or long term encounter. Like scientists, the author delivered a sense of wonder for complex reality and human understanding regarding it when formulating strategy.

  7. 4 out of 5

    Randall Wallace

    The human brain uses 20% of our bodies energy, yet only takes up 2% of our weight. Think of strategy as Homer’s “bie” vs “metis” or strength vs smarts or courage vs imagination, or direct vs. indirect warfare. Those holding power & weaponry favor “bie” while the colonized & oppressed favor “metis”. Sun Tzu said all war is based on deception – lying to one’s soldiers to boost their morale is common, lying to your people to start a war is common, and we haven’t yet even discussed lying to the enem The human brain uses 20% of our bodies energy, yet only takes up 2% of our weight. Think of strategy as Homer’s “bie” vs “metis” or strength vs smarts or courage vs imagination, or direct vs. indirect warfare. Those holding power & weaponry favor “bie” while the colonized & oppressed favor “metis”. Sun Tzu said all war is based on deception – lying to one’s soldiers to boost their morale is common, lying to your people to start a war is common, and we haven’t yet even discussed lying to the enemy. Before 1800, Generals had to be on the battlefield because communication was slow. And so, few plans were complex and you were constantly making sure your supply lines didn’t get cut. Napoleon brought the idea of being able to destroy another nation and removing bargaining from the table. I was always saddened Herve Villechaize did not live to play Napoleon, a great loss for comedic film fans. Jomini and Clausewitz echoed the Napoleonic total-war schtick. Even so, the best General could still lose by ignoring alliances and/or being undermined by their enemy. Only attack will achieve the goals of war - something every Facebook troll today understands w/o reading Clausewitz. A post-Napoleon question: if strategies for victory could be taught, what is to keep BOTH sides from learning them? Trafalgar was considered by the British as a decisive victory, yet it still left Napoleon as “dictator of the continent”. Ideas of strategists varied; Liddell-Hart thought you should avoid battle while Fuller felt battle was the likely source of victory. To another, you were looking for the path of least resistance, or the path of least expectation. The development of the atomic bomb by both sides raised a novel short-lived idea, why not try to avoid wars? For most, “the power to hurt is bargaining power. To exploit it is diplomacy – vicious diplomacy, but diplomacy.” “Arms control” was coined in the 50’s. Originally, arms control was how war planners would get their Ken and Barbie to kiss during pentagon coffee breaks, but planners soon found a military use for it as well. The more you obliterate your opponent the more marginal returns you get on your investment. Go too far, and as Churchill would say, “All you are going to do is make the rubble bounce”. Lawrence of Arabia realized that a rebellion only required 2% of the population with the other 98% being passive. This is why the FBI has always been so paranoid – they also know David Hume’s observation that government only comes from the consent of the governed. Luckily, few Americans read, let alone read Hume, so the FBI’s job as our political police force is much easier. Liddell-Hart liked Lawrence because they both believed in the indirect approach. Mao’s Long March was 6,000 miles in one year, after which he only had 10,000 men. Mao took the long way to avoid running into a rival’s group, an act which helped him gain power as the sole rural and strategic expert. The nationalists had previously let Mao escape because Stalin was holding Chiang-Kai Shek’s son hostage (Chang and Halliday). Some strategies sound like they are from the Handbook for Conservative Facebook Trolls, “to shatter the enemy’s cohesion, organization, command, and psychological balance”. Or “create, exploit and magnify menace, uncertainty and mistrust.” Jomini mentioned a “decisive point” against which all your force should be spent. The Marine Corp with its smaller size became about attacking the enemy’s vulnerabilities, rather than strengths. Some successful campaigns were unexpected and clearly attritional, like Russia against Napoleon in 1812, or Vietnam against both the French and the United States, both which relied on slowly wearing down one’s invaders. 1940 taught Hitler that the Blitzkrieg was the way to go and yet he tried it against vast Russia in winter walking into a repeat of Napoleon’s attritional loss of 1812. In his Ostkrieg, Hitler had viewed the Slavs with such contempt he expected them to crumble in a quick victory. Oops. Hitler once gave, to all the “gaslighters” around us, their favorite technique when he said, “they were more likely to fall victim to the big lie than the small lie as it ‘would never come into their minds to fabricate colossal untruths.’” The author adds, “most people lack the time and the inclination to engage in a more disciplined search for the truth.” This explains why so few will actually read Noam. Bayard Rustin argued to King that non-violence had to be unconditional – if there were no guns, or no bodyguards it would work to tactical advantage. “By the end of the Montgomery campaign, King was personally committed to the Gandhian philosophy.” Two years later King was in India. Rustin saw that protest was effective when it made the power structure get violent and brutal. Bull Connor was thus chosen as the target because he was the most brutal. Such a tactic insured that demonstrators were the victims. Against Connor were deployed decoy marches, time delays, and 3,000 people in the city center all showing Connor’s loss of control. When local businessmen said it was enough, the elites couldn’t keep the repression going on their own. Do what is unexpected, give the opponent a surprise (and it MUST be a surprise). Surprise can suspend strategy and disrupt decision-making. Did you know in 1861, Proudhon showed Tolstoy his new book, War & Peace and later his friend Tolstoy released his own book with that same title in homage? Gramsci’s Notebooks were thoughts written in prison meant to be fleshed out later on. The Pentagon goes from platform-centered to network-centered warfare. Asymmetric wars – inflicting damage against superior opposition without winning the war – gaining time. Castro’s men numbered only about 45, and yet he won partially because he pretended he had a second column of men, that he had patented a couch that turned into a bed, and that he had rural support after urban guerrillas were killed. Batista, like Bull Connor fell from power because both had lost by their challengers “provoking the regime into atrocities, turning opinion against it.” Che never formed effective political alliances. “Roosevelt’s New Deal coalition had worked precisely because he found a way of keeping in the same party racists and blacks, anti-labor and pro-labor groups, ardent reformers and corrupt party machines” through shared economic interests. The author discusses Lee Atwater’s introduction of gutter strategies to take out political opponents by crook and crook. Atwater learned his craft through Clark Clifford’s vicious destruction of Henry A. Wallace in 1948 in a Memorandum in order for Truman to start the Cold War, knowing Wallace was the only one who could stop Truman. Rebroadcast lies easily destroyed Wallace, and Atwater decades later relished reusing Clifford’s moral-free technique on Dukakis. For Atwater, it was a moment like when Dahmer realized he could eat people. Atwater knew that once on TV, any lie could be a talking point for days. Henry Ford paid good wages in the 20’s but not later. He was a terrible strategist and took no advice. The business community raids military strategy literature for ideas on how to increase market share and profits. To screw your employees or keep your company from paying for that latest spill? Ask yourself what would Napoleon have done? Certainly, Alexander the Great would not have paid for overtime! Tolstoy saw Napoleon’s failure in Russia as proof that there was no such thing as strategy. Mr. Smith Goes to Washington was always one of my favorite moral movies about who we should be, and I knew Capra was a Republican, but learned here the screenplay was written by communist Sidney Buchman. It’s pretty funny how during Jim Crow and lynching it would take an outsider, even a communist like Buchman, to show our country accurately the real moral battle for basic human decency going on daily on Capitol Hill due to corporate anti-New Dealers. This was an amazing book – like a reference book really – great stuff in here also about Game Theory, deterrence, Edward Luttwak, Rosa Luxemburg, Edward Bernays, Saul Alinsky, Malcolm X, Franz Fanon, Stokely Carmichael, MLK, Camus, Sartre, Marcuse, C. Wright Mills, Gene Sharp, Foucalt and Peter Drucker.

  8. 4 out of 5

    Karl-O

    The book traces the origins of what might be called Strategy, which the author defines as the “art of creating power”, then explores the historical development of strategy in different domains, and ends with musings on how the concept of strategy evolved to what it might actually be considered today. Early on a distinction is made between the use of brute force (exemplified by the mythological figure Hercules) and the use of guile in achieving goals (exemplified by Odysseus), with of course Stra The book traces the origins of what might be called Strategy, which the author defines as the “art of creating power”, then explores the historical development of strategy in different domains, and ends with musings on how the concept of strategy evolved to what it might actually be considered today. Early on a distinction is made between the use of brute force (exemplified by the mythological figure Hercules) and the use of guile in achieving goals (exemplified by Odysseus), with of course Strategy tilting towards the latter. This distinction is examined and developed through the study of three domains: Military, Political (focusing on the underdog) and Business. However at points the author demonstrates how this distinction becomes blurred. While claiming to be a history, the author drives a couple of forceful arguments about Strategy, mostly coloured by recent theories of emergent vs. deliberate strategy models, and recent findings on the limits of rational choice by behavioural economics. These argument largely revolve around how Strategies are more about the past and present than a future state, and that it is better to think of strategy as a framework to survive in a constantly changing environment rather than one used to achieve a constant desired state in the future. Have a strategy, the author advises, but don't expect too much from it. While the book was tremendously enjoyable to read, the issue I had is that it is more an analysis of Strategy than an actual history. There is a lot of skimming over material and historical periods especially in the business section which Freedman arguably is least familiar with. Further, one gets a sense that when an author is writing about a history of an idea (as opposed to a place or a person, etc.), he is much more vulnerable to be selecting those instances, figures, elements that are in favour of his beliefs. Freedman is least concerned about this vulnerability. When you believe that strategies are emergent, or deliberate, or useless for that matter, examining the annals of history will surely give you ample material to justify and prove any of these theories. While the book has a sizeable amount of historical and current research to back up its claims, I would need to examine other views of the subject to be fully convinced of its - rather convincing - arguments.

  9. 4 out of 5

    Andrew Carr

    This is a re-read from when it first came out, but at 700+ pages (or 32 hours for the audio version) i'm claiming it. Strategy: A History was an instant classic on release in 2013. It features on the reading lists of just about every strategy course in civilian and military education institutions. It is accessible and engaging, yet vast in scope and wise in analysis. What makes this book somewhat unique is the effort to combine military strategy with political strategy and business strategy. For t This is a re-read from when it first came out, but at 700+ pages (or 32 hours for the audio version) i'm claiming it. Strategy: A History was an instant classic on release in 2013. It features on the reading lists of just about every strategy course in civilian and military education institutions. It is accessible and engaging, yet vast in scope and wise in analysis. What makes this book somewhat unique is the effort to combine military strategy with political strategy and business strategy. For those of us used to one of these fields, there is value in the comparison, and Freedman's own broad definition of strategy 'the art of creating power' and his key lessons are applicable across all three of the domains. Three insights stand out for me: First, the importance of coalition building. A theme he identifies in the initial look at the behaviour of apes and traces throughout mankind's strategic successes. Second, the importance of scripts, which have become increasingly important in the early 21st century. There is much in his discussion of narratives and language that bears careful reading (especially in light of naive claims about the 'new political warfare'). Finally, Freedman takes an axe to the 'Master Strategist' myth, puncturing the impossibility of humans knowing and computing all the vast amounts of details that many authors on strategy (stretching back to Sun Tzu) seem to claim is necessary. Strategy requires a possibly foolish belief that purposeful actors can cause meaningful change on a vast scale, (as Tolstoy argued), but given the stakes, it seems we have little option but to try. We should therefore do so with eyes wide open. Though very well written, this is not a quick book to get through. But it bears the effort. Not only once but again if you can. Each read revealing different elements and deeper wisdom than before. Buy it.

  10. 4 out of 5

    James Murphy

    I've read a lot about military strategy in the last few years, even previous works by Freedman which touch on the subject, albeit less comprehensively than Strategy: A History. For that reason, there were few ideas in his tracing the development of strategic thought in military operations I was unfamiliar with. (Not to say I didn't learn some things--I did.) But this is a huge, exhaustive study of the subject which gives political strategy, particularly revolutionary politics, and business strat I've read a lot about military strategy in the last few years, even previous works by Freedman which touch on the subject, albeit less comprehensively than Strategy: A History. For that reason, there were few ideas in his tracing the development of strategic thought in military operations I was unfamiliar with. (Not to say I didn't learn some things--I did.) But this is a huge, exhaustive study of the subject which gives political strategy, particularly revolutionary politics, and business strategy equal weight with strategy's military application. I found his extended treatment of such thinkers as Marx, Engels, Tom Hayden, and Martin Luther King simply fascinating. Later in the book I enjoyed the discussion of how large corporations plan to market their products and how they expect to be more than a match for their competition. The final, shorter section on theory, though, was over my head. An impressive book and a worthwhile read.

  11. 5 out of 5

    Jan

    Strategy is an abused-maybe even worn out- term. Everybody has a a strategy for everything. This leads to strategy typically being studied in topic specific silos: Warfare, business, politics, research, sociology etc. The amazing feat of this book is that the author manages to explore and explain the concept of strategy as it has developed implicitly and consciously through time. The story takes the reader on a learned and learning voyage from scripture and biology through war, revolution, polit Strategy is an abused-maybe even worn out- term. Everybody has a a strategy for everything. This leads to strategy typically being studied in topic specific silos: Warfare, business, politics, research, sociology etc. The amazing feat of this book is that the author manages to explore and explain the concept of strategy as it has developed implicitly and consciously through time. The story takes the reader on a learned and learning voyage from scripture and biology through war, revolution, politics, business, sociology and finally to the mind itself. As you progress you exposed to multiple thinkers and practitioners of the strategic craft/art in various domains before the author himself in a most comprehensive and convincing way concludes how strategy becomes a narrative for both internal and external adoption and interaction. If you an interest in strategy in at least one of the domains mentioned above you will enjoy and learn from studying this book.

  12. 4 out of 5

    William

    This book is both magnificent and maddening. It is magnificent in its amazing scope, with short summaries and interesting insights on practically every strategic thinker in history, and many others who are not thought of as strategists, but whom Freedman rightly and insightfully includes. It is maddening in its failure to actually address the question of what strategy is best, under what conditions. In fact, the book is mis-titled, because it is not about strategy, but about theories of strategy This book is both magnificent and maddening. It is magnificent in its amazing scope, with short summaries and interesting insights on practically every strategic thinker in history, and many others who are not thought of as strategists, but whom Freedman rightly and insightfully includes. It is maddening in its failure to actually address the question of what strategy is best, under what conditions. In fact, the book is mis-titled, because it is not about strategy, but about theories of strategy. It could be more accurately titled: "The Pretensions of Strategists: A History," because that is its actual theme. What is most maddening about the book is its consistent ducking responsibility for saying that any strategy is good under certain circumstances. It is an "academic" book in both the best and worst ways. It has massive erudition, keen critical intelligence and brilliant insights. But it sticks to criticism, and fails to offer any positive advice on good strategy. For every thinker Freedman follows this formula: he summarizes the theory of the thinker, describes the initial case for it or temporary success, and then points out where it has failed. Then he magisterially pronounces all views limited in applicability. This is a maddening ivory tower game, because the author is so risk averse that in his evasion of possible criticism he avoids also avoids insights that might actually be helpful to a decision maker. In spite of the avoidance of positive recommendations, Freedman does have theme that he keeps coming back to, and are interesting and informative. One of these themes is that leaders often radically get wrong what can be accomplished by victory in a battle. G.W. Bush's "Mission Accomplished" is the most glaring example of this, but Freedman has numerous other illustrations, including Napoleon. In this respect, clearly Clausewitz is one of his heroes for his insight that battles need to serve political ends. As far as military strategy, one of Freedman's really interesting insights is that the decisive thing in wars is more often alliances more than any cleverness on the battle field. The weight of allies tips the balance. This would indicate, as with Napoleon and Hitler, ISIL has now doomed itself by allying the world against it. A third theme, and the one that he returns to most and is perhaps the most innovative in the book is that persuasion is a key part of strategic leadership, whether in battle, politics or business. Freedman's breathtaking breadth of scope really works in discussing this theme, where he brings people as disparate as Foucault and Lee Atwater into the same story—rightly. I couldn't put the book down, all 650 pages of it, and will return to study parts of it, which I made note of. But I had the weird sensation of being continually dazzled, grateful, and disappointed all at the same time.

  13. 5 out of 5

    Mario Sailer

    I found the book hard to digest. Not because of the sheer volume of 726 pages, but because of the way the book is structured, because citations and names are thrown in out of the nowhere and because some aspects can not be understood without background knowledge. The book covers interesting aspects about strategy, but there is a tendency to drift into philosophy (Satan's Strategy for example is pure philosophy the way it is written. It would make sense as a strategy only from the perspective of t I found the book hard to digest. Not because of the sheer volume of 726 pages, but because of the way the book is structured, because citations and names are thrown in out of the nowhere and because some aspects can not be understood without background knowledge. The book covers interesting aspects about strategy, but there is a tendency to drift into philosophy (Satan's Strategy for example is pure philosophy the way it is written. It would make sense as a strategy only from the perspective of the catholic church in order to move from monotheism with all the contradictions that are hardly to explain a duotheism that is able to explain all the evil in the world despite an omnipotent deity). At times I asked myself if the author really understood what he is writing about or if he has only collected passages from other authors and patched them together in this book. For example, although John Boyd with his OODA loop is often called a strategist, the OODA loop itself is more a tactical instrument in a (air) combat than a strategic one in a war. But if you look at John Boyd as a strategist, then you definitely have to cover von Molkte, who build on the concepts of Clausewitz, as a strategist as well. But von Molke is hardly mentioned (Stephen Bungay and his book "The art of action" that covers von Molkes strategy is mentioned once, but in a different context). Often I thought more background information (instead of the citations mentioned above) would help. And the perspective in the book is too one dimensional in my view. Napoleon is a good example. The focus in the book is on Napoleons strategy of an decisive battle. But this is an outcome (or an end, the term used in the book), like in the management of businesses revenue and profit are outcomes. The strategy ( at least as I see it) would be on how to achieve this outcome (the means in the book). As other sources explain Napoleon had the advantage to build on a huge reservoir on soldier (France had 44 mil. inhabitants at this time whereas Prussia, his main adversary then, had only 4 mil.) but France lacked the culture and system to educate soldiers properly. So Napoleon switched from line-formation (the standard warfare formation at that time requiring discipline and intensive training) to column formation that was better suited for him. This made possible that occasionally he hat 1 mil. soldiers under his command. There are also sources asserting that Napoleons army was very good at foraging and thus did not so heavenly depend on food supply. So he could move forward much faster and deeper into enemy territory than other armies could. If I put all this together, I personally would not read the book again. For me there was not enough value for the time invested.

  14. 5 out of 5

    Todd Davidson

    It was long, wordy, interesting, and comprehensive. I enjoyed it but I would frequently put it down for a month at a time. Some chapters were five stars while others were 1 Star. The section in war strategy was good, revolutionary strategy was ok, business strategy was not great, strategy theory was interesting but ended weak. In writing this book the author read more books than i could ever hope too. Hey t is very well researched and does a decent job of summarizing various strategies deployed It was long, wordy, interesting, and comprehensive. I enjoyed it but I would frequently put it down for a month at a time. Some chapters were five stars while others were 1 Star. The section in war strategy was good, revolutionary strategy was ok, business strategy was not great, strategy theory was interesting but ended weak. In writing this book the author read more books than i could ever hope too. Hey t is very well researched and does a decent job of summarizing various strategies deployed in history. I only recommend this book to those really interested in strategy.

  15. 5 out of 5

    Adrian

    A very ambitious and mammoth work, Freedman attempts to espouse, in a single volume, all the various forms of strategy, under every respective lens, and pretty much succeeds. Contained is every conceivable strategy, from Biblical understandings of the role of divine intervention, to an examination of Milton’s Paradise Lost, wherein Satan is a Machiavellian fallen Angel, competing against a superior opponent in a struggle he cannot possibly win. As one may expect, all the major exponents of strateg A very ambitious and mammoth work, Freedman attempts to espouse, in a single volume, all the various forms of strategy, under every respective lens, and pretty much succeeds. Contained is every conceivable strategy, from Biblical understandings of the role of divine intervention, to an examination of Milton’s Paradise Lost, wherein Satan is a Machiavellian fallen Angel, competing against a superior opponent in a struggle he cannot possibly win. As one may expect, all the major exponents of strategy are examined, including Machiavelli, Sun Tzu, and Clausewitz. Indeed, the two latter strategists, Sun Tzu and Clausewitz, receive the most frequent reference outside of their own respective chapters. An interesting part to note is the section on strategies of mass movements, particularly those of Revolutionaries, whether the theoreticians behind revolution, such as Marx and Engels, to the practitioners of revolutionary Marxism, particularly Rosa Luxemburg. The Civil Rights era contains interesting reference points, and it is entirely ironic that the fatal errors of the opponents of civil rights are replaying such errors in this present day, such as heavy handed responses that simply galvanize the opposition and attract wider sympathy for the cause. The section on Mao Zedong is of particular note, examining the role of strategy that ran contrary to official Marxist-Leninist Revolutionary strategy was applied to a largely agricultural nation, and in some ways how Maoism earned its place as a unique revolutionary strategy. The section on management strategy and the latter chapters become slightly muddled, and by the time these sections are reached, the book seems somewhat overlong, but that in itself is not a serious glitch on what is otherwise a masterful work. A work for all times and all peoples, which in time should earn itself a high place in the world literary cannon.

  16. 5 out of 5

    Allan Aksiim

    Strategy: A History is a massive book spanning a selective (read: Western) history of war and other conflict, the birth and development of the social sciences (especially economics and psychology) social movements and a little bit of business strategy (which as a jumble of approaches is still in its infancy). I honestly don't know what to do with all this knowledge and the approaches, theories and names. This will most likely become a reference book. Something to be returned to again and again t Strategy: A History is a massive book spanning a selective (read: Western) history of war and other conflict, the birth and development of the social sciences (especially economics and psychology) social movements and a little bit of business strategy (which as a jumble of approaches is still in its infancy). I honestly don't know what to do with all this knowledge and the approaches, theories and names. This will most likely become a reference book. Something to be returned to again and again to get a view from the author if a particular topic needs a different or historical view. This book will not make one a strategist but does give some skepticism towards the strategies of others which are oft created by hearsay, whatever is currently hyped (especially true in business) and overly academic and mathematical formula (almost everything RAND Corporation created during the Cold War and much of neoclassical economics to this day). It is not a book I would recommend to people. To devour this needs a special kind of enthusiasm and interest towards history. The major flaw is ... well a lack of synthesis. What is Strategy? Some parts of some elements of strategy are proposed at the end but that is not quite it. True universal strategy is still a work waiting to be done.

  17. 4 out of 5

    Hans

    If Strategy is viewing the world from 30,000 feet, then stepping back and analyzing strategy is going higher to 50,000 feet. The problem once you get to that height is that the air is rather thin up there and concepts that seemed concrete start to appear more random and abstract. Strategy is the art of overcoming resistance and it must take into account such a vast number of complex variables that it makes one believe that chance and dumb luck play just as much of a role as exemplary planning. T If Strategy is viewing the world from 30,000 feet, then stepping back and analyzing strategy is going higher to 50,000 feet. The problem once you get to that height is that the air is rather thin up there and concepts that seemed concrete start to appear more random and abstract. Strategy is the art of overcoming resistance and it must take into account such a vast number of complex variables that it makes one believe that chance and dumb luck play just as much of a role as exemplary planning. Though war is the easiest example that can be highlighted it is by now means the only place where strategy is employed. As social creatures humans are constantly trying to find ways to overcome friction and resistance, especially when it comes from other humans. Strategy is employed as a way to gain those advantages need to achieve that desire end state. From business to religion, from politics to sports, strategy is everywhere. Eisenhower summed it up: "In preparing for battle I have always found that plans are useless, but planning is indispensable". Few in the history of warfare have likely been more meticulous planners than the Germans, especially during World War I when they attempted to execute the Schlieffen plan. The plan had attempted to account for nearly every minute detail and yet even with the precision of the Germans the strategy still fell apart.

  18. 4 out of 5

    Max Nova

    Strategy is a big book that doesn’t really seem to say much. It certainly is a grand sweep through history - from Sun Tzu, the Greeks, and the Bible all the way up to the current day. Lawrence’s military analysis is pretty solid (more for the anicent stuff than the modern), but when he tries to extrapolate into social movements and business strategy stuff in the second half of the book, he lost me. There’s also not much original content in here - the book is largely a summary of some (better wri Strategy is a big book that doesn’t really seem to say much. It certainly is a grand sweep through history - from Sun Tzu, the Greeks, and the Bible all the way up to the current day. Lawrence’s military analysis is pretty solid (more for the anicent stuff than the modern), but when he tries to extrapolate into social movements and business strategy stuff in the second half of the book, he lost me. There’s also not much original content in here - the book is largely a summary of some (better written!) original sources. The first half of this book is a summary of the Yale “Grand Strategy” cannon. It covers Clausewitz, Thucydides, Machiavelli, Tolstoy, Berlin. Would have been more interesting if Charles Hill and Gaddis hadn’t already pounded this into my skull in college. And like the Grand Strategy class at Yale, this book also fails to offer much useful insight to the reader. Part of the problem is the nature of strategy itself. Lawrence quotes Clausewitz: efforts to “equip the conduct of war with principles, rules, or even systems” failed because they could not “take an adequate account of the endless complexities involved.” “Pity the soldier,” wrote Clausewitz, “who is supposed to crawl among these scraps of rules, not good enough for genius, which genius can ignore, or laugh at. No; what genius does is the best rule, and theory can do no better than show how and why this should be the case.” So to be good at this, I should just be a genius. That’s helpful. The second chunk of this book revolves around more modern and less militarily-focused applications of strategy - specifically social movements and business “strategy”. Leaping from Tolstoy to Jane Addamms (Hull House), and then on to Dewey, William James, Ghandi, MLK, and Saul Alinksy, Lawrence explains how underdogs (and politicians) can try to win the “hearts and minds” by telling better stories. I see what he’s trying to say… but it was a stretch for me. Lawrence then goes on a rampage from Frederick Taylor to Pareto to Ford/GM to Thomas Kuhn (Structure of Scientific Revolutions) to Peter Drucker to Porter in an attempt to come up with something interesting to say that doesn’t come straight out of the first year curriculum at any business school. He didn’t succeed. Overall, this book (or at least the first half) makes sense to read if you want to get an approximation of what we talked about in the Grand Strategy class. The second half might be worthwhile if you want to have some context for what the MBA-types are talking about. But you’d probably be better off reading the original sources that Lawrence spends the book summarizing. Some relevant quotes from the book included below ##################### So the realm of strategy is one of bargaining and persuasion as well as threats and pressure, psychological as well as physical effects, and words as well as deeds. This is why strategy is the central political art. It is about getting more out of a situation than the starting balance of power would suggest. It is the art of creating power. I argue that there are elemental features of human strategy that are common across time and space. These include deception and coalition formation, and the instrumental use of violence. The most effective strategies do not depend solely on violence—though this can play an instrumental role, by demonstrating superiority as much as expressing aggression—but benefit instead from the ability to forge coalitions. Little in the rest of this book will suggest that this list should be expanded. The elements of strategic behavior have not changed, only the complexity of the situations in which they must be applied. From Homer came the contrasting qualities, represented respectively by Achilles and Odysseus, of biē and mētis (strength and cunning), which over time—for example, in Machiavelli—came to be represented as force and guile. Mētis was of most value when matters were fluid, fast moving, unfamiliar, and uncertain, combining “contrary features and forces that are opposed to each other.” It was suited to situations when there could be no formulaic or predictable behavior, benefiting from a “greater grip” of the present, “more awareness” of the future, “richer experience accumulated from the past,” an ability to adapt constantly to changing events, and sufficient pliability to accommodate the unexpected. Thucydides admired Pericles because of his ability to manage the Athenian political system by using his authority and eloquence to appeal to reason and persuade the crowd to adopt sensible policies rather than pandering to the demagoguery and mass irrationality that was an ever-present possibility in a democracy—and to which Athens succumbed after he died. Once he could not convince the Athenian people, he was undone. The tragedy for Thucydides, in offering Pericles as his hero, was that he could not accept an alternative approach. Words as action, analyzing reality and showing how it could be reshaped, were the only hope of controlling actuality. When conceptions and language struggled to keep up with reality, they became almost meaningless and turned into slogans, devoid of true meaning. Plato was no enthusiast for intellectual pluralism or the complex interaction of ideas and action that characterized a vibrant political system. The rulers must have supreme power to decide what was wise and just. This vision has had an occasional appeal to would-be philosopher-kings and has been identified as a source of totalitarianism. In Sun Tzu’s formulaic aphorisms, the key to deception was simply a matter of doing the opposite of what was expected—look incapacitated when capable, passive when active, near when far, far when near. This required good order and discipline. Vegetus expressed, in terms similar to Sun Tzu, a preference for starving enemies into submission rather than fighting them (“famine is more terrible than the sword”), and spoke of how it “is better to beat the enemy through want, surprises, and care for difficult places (i.e., through maneuver) than by a battle in the open field.” Machiavelli understood that even if power was obtained by force and guile and consolidated with cruelty, it required consent to be secured. The best power was that which had to be exercised least. The concept of free will raises questions about God’s role in human affairs. If God does not intervene, then what is the purpose of prayer and repentance? If he does intervene, then why do bad things happen to good people? Contemporary theologians may have come up with formulations to answer these questions, but in seventeenth-century Europe when Milton was writing, they were hot topics—politically as well as religiously… The best answer to the conundrum posed by Genesis was that without evil there would be no way to test the faith of humans and allow them to realize their potential for goodness. Milton has God explain that he made man Baron Henri de Jomini and Carl von Clausewitz. They developed their ideas at a time of great political turbulence, a time when individual battles redrew the maps of Europe and new challenges were thrown up by the need to mobilize, motivate, move, and direct mass armies. The focus was on battle and the possibility of inflicting such a defeat that the enemy would be left in a politically hopeless position. This was when the idea of the battle of annihilation was firmly implanted in military minds. Lost in this process was a view of battle as the “chance of arms” which until then had been accepted by the belligerents as an appropriate form of dispute resolution. always show confidence, for you can see your own troubles but you cannot see those facing your enemy. He observed that efforts to “equip the conduct of war with principles, rules, or even systems” failed because they could not “take an adequate account of the endless complexities involved.” “Pity the soldier,” wrote Clausewitz, “who is supposed to crawl among these scraps of rules, not good enough for genius, which genius can ignore, or laugh at. No; what genius does is the best rule, and theory can do no better than show how and why this should be the case.” This was put most succinctly by John Stuart Mill in 1848: “It is commerce which is rapidly rendering war obsolete, by strengthening and multiplying the personal interests which act in natural opposition to it.” As France became seen as a threat, people elsewhere rallied behind their own flags. The people identified not with each other but with the nation. “Between two peoples,” Clausewitz observed, “there can be such tensions, such a mass of inflammable material.” This went against notions of progressive civility in international affairs and added a cautionary note to demands for greater democracy. It undermined the claims of liberal reformers that war was an elite conspiracy. The speed and ease with which a belligerent nationalism could be tapped could therefore come as a rude shock to the radical, anti-war free-marketeers. This is why historical interpretations were regularly challenged and revised. On this basis, Gary Morson identified with Tolstoy’s belief that true understanding only existed in the present and events were decided “on the instant.” This is why Kutuzov’s best advice before the battle was to get a good night’s sleep: immediate attentiveness to unfolding possibilities was going to be more valuable than forward planning. This was evident in von Moltke’s definition of victory: “the highest goal attainable with available means. The key to success on land was control of territory; at sea it was control of communications. This was because the sea did not lend itself to possession. Offensive and defensive operations would tend to merge into one another. Because of this, the loss of command of the sea, which meant that passage might be opposed, did not necessarily imply that another power enjoyed command. As Azar Gat has demonstrated, behind the enthusiasm for the new engines of war, whether on land or in the air, was a modernist fascination with the possibility of a rationalist, technocratic super-efficient society built around machines, linked to elitism in political theory and futurism in art, and feeding naturally into fascism. Fuller became an advocate of “brain warfare,” that is, attacks aimed at disorganizing the enemy’s mental processes and ensuring the collapse of the enemy’s will to resist. There was no need to target the enemy army; better to target the command structure. Fuller saw a grasp of crowd psychology as the “foundation of leadership.” Their formidable joint work, The Theory of Games and Economic Behavior, was published in 1944. Why poker and not chess, which had always been seen as the strategist’s game? The scientist Jacob Bronowski records von Neumann’s reply: “No, no,” he said. “Chess is not a game. Chess is a well-defined form of computation. You may not be able to work out all the answers, but in theory there must be a solution, a right procedure in any position. Now real games,” he said, “are not like that at all. Real life is not like that. Real life consists of bluffing, of little tactics of deception, of asking yourself what is the other man going to think I mean to do. And that is what games are about in my theory.” Gray had an exalted view of the strategist as someone who could view the system as a whole, taking account of the multiple interdependencies and the numerous factors at play in order to identify where effort could be most profitably applied. In his Modern Strategy, he identified seventeen factors to take into account: people, society, culture, politics, ethics, economics and logistics, organization, administration, information and intelligence, strategic theory and doctrine, technology, operations, command, geography, friction/chance/uncertainty, adversary, and time. Master strategists, as described by Gray and Yarger, were therefore a myth. Operating solely in the military sphere, their view could only be partial. Operating in the political sphere they needed an impossible omniscience in grasping the totality of complex and dynamic situations as well as an ability to establish a credible and sustainable path toward distant goals that did not depend on good luck and a foolish enemy. The only people who could be master strategists were political leaders, because they were the ones who had to cope with the immediate and often competing demands of disparate actors, diplomats as well as generals, ministers along with technical experts, close allies and possible supporters. Even the best of these in the most straightforward situations could not begin to comprehend all the relevant factors and the interactions between them. They would therefore have to rely on the quality of their judgment to identify the most pressing problems arising out of the current state of affairs, plot a means of advance to a better state, and then improvise when events took an unexpected turn. The state’s authority would come from one of three sources: tradition, bureaucracy, or charisma. As tradition was no longer available and bureaucracy was too narrow, Weber looked to charisma, by which he meant a certain quality of political leadership, the ability to gain authority through sanctity, heroism, or exemplary character. Charisma was a political quality defining a leader’s separate role from a civil servant. The politician must be prepared to “take a stand, to be passionate,” while the civil servant must “execute conscientiously the order of the superior authorities, exactly as if the order agreed with his own conviction.” The issue was how would power best be exercised: “What kind of a man must one be if he is to be allowed to put his hand on the wheel of history?” Tolstoy found the division of labor a crime against nature; Addams accepted that it was unavoidable. Her whole project was about getting people to accept the logic of inter-dependence. Whereas Tolstoy gave up on the city because it forced divisions among humanity, Addams believed that the city could and must be made to work for all its inhabitants. The fundamental point of principle Addams, and other progressives, shared with Tolstoy was a belief that social divisions were unnatural and could and must be transcended. But whereas Tolstoy believed in a world in which men, the land, and the spirit joined in unity, Addams sought to create a world without struggle in one of the least likely cities of the world, Chicago. “Who says organization, says oligarchy.” This was Michels’s “iron law.” So only minorities could stay organized, which meant that key political struggles must also take place within the elite. To become preeminent, hard work and ambition made a difference, more so than a sense of justice and altruism. Most important were “perspicacity, a ready intuition of individual and mass psychology, strength of will and, especially confidence in oneself.” Making appeals to reason was pointless when illusion was the key. The requirement was for drama, for a compelling and startling image—“absolute, uncompromising and simple”—that “fills and bests the mind.” Mastering the “art of impressing the imagination of crowds is to know at the same time the art of governing them.” Le Bon became essential reading for governing elites. As Rustin observed, “protest becomes an effective tactic to the degree that it elicits brutality and oppression from the power structure.” Instead of the polarized class struggle anticipated by Marx, postwar capitalist society was marked by an improved standard of living, apparently developing into a self-satisfied but undifferentiated mass society. Sociologist Daniel Bell, a professor at Columbia, saw it coming. He remarked that “desperado tactics are never the mark of a coherent social movement, but the guttering last gasps of a romanticism soured by rancor and impotence.” Drucker, who came to be retrospectively described as the first of this class, disliked the term, observing sniffily that “guru” was used “because ‘charlatan’ is too long to fit into a headline.” Axelrod came up with four rules to establish cooperation. First, do not be envious. Be satisfied with absolute rather than relative gains, so that if you are doing nicely, do not worry is someone is doing even better. Second, do not be the first to defect, because you need to establish the logic of cooperation. Third, if another player defects, reciprocate in order to establish confidence in your retaliation. Last, do not be too clever, as others will not be sure what you are up to. Axelrod also pointed to the importance of a long-term perspective. If you were in a relationship for a long time then it made sense to continue cooperation, even when there were occasional wobbles, but in short-term encounters there were fewer incentives to do so. Little might then be lost by defecting.Read more at location 11580 Did this leave strategy with any value? “Plans are worthless,” observed President Eisenhower, drawing on his military experience, “but planning is everything.”3 The same could be said about strategy. The greatest power is that which achieves its effects without notice. “Research suggests that power comes less from knowing the right stories than from knowing how and [how] well to tell them: what to leave out, what to fill in, when to revise and when to challenge, and whom to tell or not to tell.”

  19. 5 out of 5

    SJ Loria

    All the world’s a stage. Strategy is not a science but an art. Introduction. Analysis. Critiques. Final Thoughts. Logistics: I am breaking this review into two parts. First (below) is an examination of the historical, military, and political trends. Part II will focus on strategy in the business world. I may or may not publish that one. Introduction If you think 600 plus incredibly well researched pages on strategy will unlock “the secret,” the algorithm, or even an agreed upon definition of strateg All the world’s a stage. Strategy is not a science but an art. Introduction. Analysis. Critiques. Final Thoughts. Logistics: I am breaking this review into two parts. First (below) is an examination of the historical, military, and political trends. Part II will focus on strategy in the business world. I may or may not publish that one. Introduction If you think 600 plus incredibly well researched pages on strategy will unlock “the secret,” the algorithm, or even an agreed upon definition of strategy, think again. Rather, like most nebulous concepts we humans put into action, there is a long history of people just figuring it out and plain making it up along the way. Strategy has usually been loosely defined, but it began to be a formal study in the military. It remained a military field for the majority of human history, only within the last 200 years trickling into the realms of politics, propaganda and mass media, business, and in watered down format everything. Analysis So what exactly is strategy? There are hundreds of definitions, but I like the author’s definition of “the art of creating power.” It’s the best attempt to optimally organize an attempt to achieve a desired end state. It involves system 2 thinking (the rider of logical thought) in terms of assessing the current state (counting your resources and building coalitions) and anticipating problems and formulizing plans. It also involves a great deal of system 1 thinking (the elephant of intuitive, emotional thinking) in terms of motiving others and sensing the right thing to do. What are strategies limitations? For one thing, there’s no clean definition. Probably what matters more than creating one definition is coming to a common understanding within the in group of what strategy means for the group. Next, and this is the part that was most surprising to me personally, it’s more art than science. Crunch the numbers all you want, and let’s watch when a start up announces their AI bot has figured out strategy because you know that’s coming, but ultimately everything is uncertain. Strategy is about planning but it’s also about responding to circumstances as they arise and finally just telling a story that helps make sense of it all. When I say making it up, I mean pure invention. The first real field of this was propaganda, which turned into marketing. As strategy seeped into the business world we never stop to think notions we hold as corporate doctrine were invented by a bunch of English majors in the early 1900s with pretty much zero evidence. Data is king was invented by the Ford Foundation and RAND Corporation post WWIII using evidence that is as strong as tissue paper. Business schools were founded to promote obedience among workers. Human Resources as a field came from the study of how to increase the productivity of workers through observation. Marketing evolved from war time propaganda. It’s fascinating how we just take it all for granted and assume it’s the best way to do things. Critiques The text isn’t completely linear. You’ll follow a narrative from WWI, into WWII, RAND into Schelling into John F. Kennedy and then jump back in the next chapter to guerrilla warfare in the 1800s. Iraq and Afghanistan war, back to Karl Marx. That can seem frustrating, but the author chooses to trace lines of thought rather than stick to the calendar, reuniting narratives in interesting ways. In this way you look more closely at one line of thought instead of bouncing from discipline to discipline in the 1800 and 1900s. Second, and this is more of a warning than a criticism, when you start to get into military theory, it’s not exactly like watching puppy videos. Though it’s unsettling, I think it’s important to be familiar with the concept of War in the Fourth Generation. The “nobility” or unspoken norm of limiting battle to the battlefield and military targets belongs to a different time. “The new generation began in the moral and cognitive spheres, where even physically stronger entities could be victims of shock, disorientation, and loss of confidence and coherence. This principle was then applied to society as a whole.” 225 Not to sound fatalistic, but this is why terrorism and cyber warfare are a part of life. Forget not the caveman inside of us. If anything, our steadfast faith in data, numbers, and charming people articulating plans demonstrates how powerful the concept of strategy. We’re programed for it. We needed it to get to where we are today, we need it to make sense of the rank and file nature of modern life, and we’ll need it to guide people to wherever we’re heading. The final chapter compares a strategist to a writer and says the only difference is a playwright can choose to write a comedy or a tragedy whereas a strategist looks ahead and writes a plan he hopes doesn’t turn into a tragedy. All the world’s a stage, including the world of cubicles and strategy. It takes over 600 pages of well presented and documented stories for the author to earn the right to say that. Brilliant book. Quotes Everyone has a plan till they get punched in the mouth. –Mike Tyson. From the study of [early hominid] societies and those of chimps we can identify some of the elemental features of strategic behavior. [Social structures that invite conflict…individuals who are potential opponents or allies…empathy...not depending solely on violence but the ability to form coalitions. 9 [The Bible has interesting points about the seeds of strategy. The serpent uses craftiness and deception to convince Adam and Eve.] The Ten Plagues as strategic coercion...the strategy, a standard form of coercion involving a progressive “turning of the screw” in an attempt to fid the target’s threshold of pain, led to regular promises of compliance upon which Pharaoh equally regularly reneged. [The patterns are described on page 15, nuisances, pain, dread. Escalating attacks. Surprises in every third plague. 13 There is however, a more intriguing explanation: Pharaoh was set up…God needed an obstinate Pharaoh because the only way he could demonstrate the full range of his power, and its superiority over all other powers on earth, was to put on the most awesome display. 16 [Greek vs. Roman depictions of the Hellenic Wars] From Homer came the contrasting qualities, represented respectively by Achilles and Odysseus, of bie and metis (strength and cunning), which over time – for example, in Machiavelli – came to be represented as force and guile. This polarity continued to find expression in strategic literature. 23 *Metis described a particular notion of strategic intelligence for which there is no obvious English equivalent. In Greek it was related to metiao “to consider, mediate, plan,” together with metioomai, “to contrive,” conveyed a sense of a capacity to think ahead, attend to detail, grasp how others think and behave, and possess a general resourcefulness. But it could also convey deception and trickery, capturing the moral ambivalence around a quality so essential to the strategist’s art. 23 *Rather than seeing reason and passion in opposition, practical intelligence was about finding the appropriate relations between competing ends, each with an associated bundle of passions and reasons. Odysseus’ understanding of how others viewed the world allowed him to manipulate their thought processes by giving out signs that he knew they would read in a particular way…Metis was forward-looking, with elements of anticipation and planning, as well as guile and trickery. 28 Machiavelli – The underlying assumption was that if you sought to be virtuous in both word and deed you would need suffer badly...This negative view of human nature was central to Machiavelli’s approach. 52 [Post-Napoleon military planning there emerged two main camps – Jomini and Clausewitz.] Jomini – strategy was the sphere of activity between the political, where decisions were made about who to fight, and the tactical, which was the sphere of actual combat. 84 *Clausewitz mature thought, that war was shaped by a remarkable trinity – composed of primordial violence, hatred, and enmity, which are to be regarded as a blind natural force; of the play of chance and probability within which the creative spirit is free to roam; and of its element of subordination, as an instrument of policy, which makes [war] subject to reason alone. 87 Subordination and Irrationality: The miseries and privations associated with the Napoleonic Wars led to the development of an international peace movement…War was denounced as not only uncivilized, wasteful, and destructive, but also fundamentally irrational…The factor that had so stunned Clausewitz during his early military career, a force that “beggared all imagination.” The French Revolution had brought the people, with all their passion and fervor, to the fore. Napoleon had turned this into a source of his power…the people and the army convinced of an inextricable, patriotic link between their own well-being and the success of the state. [In other words, subordination can be achieved through motivation, not just punishment] 97 WWI- The intention was to realize the potential of a new technology – the tank on the ground or the airplane in the air – to break the will of the enemy. In both cases the presumed impact of the new weaponry was assumed to be psychological as much as physical. The aim was to cause what would in effect be a collective nervous breakdown on the enemy side. This directly challenged the assumption that a decisive victory had to involve the annihilation of the enemy army. 124 WWII – The nuclear bomb changes everything. The idea that the resolution of strategic problems depended on intellect and analysis rather than character and intuition fit into with the trend to subject all human decisions to the dictates of rationality and the application of science. 147 *The steady improvements in computational power made mathematical approaches to complex problems more practical…Quantitative analysis grew in strength and credibility. It is hard to overstate the importance of RAND, especially during its early years in transforming established patterns of thought not only in the military sphere but throughout the social sciences. The resources and tools it had available, including the most advanced computers of the day, provided it with a capacity to innovate, which it did with a remarkable sense of might and confidence…RAND analysts saw these new methods as supplanting rather than supplementing traditional patterns of thought. 148 Thomas Shelling – the theorist who did more than any other to explore the conundrums of deterrence and nuclear strategy…Schilling started with the special features of a game of strategy, compared with those of chance or skill: “Each player’s best choice depends on the action he expects the other to take, which he knows depends, in turn, on the other’s expectations of his own.” Strategy was all about interdependence, “the conditioning of one’s behavior on the behavior of others.”…on this basis the role of force could be rethought...in setting up an alternative to brute force, Shelling made one of his most startling assertions: “In addition to weakening an enemy militarily it can cause an enemy plain suffering.”…contrary to prevailing views – and established international law, for that matter – that stressed the importance of avoiding unnecessary suffering, Schelling claimed that the ability to hurt was “among the most impressive attributes of military force.” 163 Colonel John Boyd, an American fighter pilot with experience going back to the Korean War, wrote the definitive manual on the subject. As he did so he hit upon an insight which he developed into a formula of considerable influence…the key quality was not absolute speed but agility. Boyd summed this all up as the “OODA loop.” OODA stands for observation, orientation, decision, action. The sequence started with observation, as data concerning the environment was collected. This was analyzed in the orientation stage, leading to a decision and then to the execution of an action. The loop because the action changes the environment, which required that the process be repeated. 196 *” Fourth-generation warfare.” Like the RMA, this framework had parentage in OODA loops and maneuver warfare, but it had taken a quite different turn, away from regular war. Its origins lay in an article by a group led by William Lind, a follower of Boyd and energetic reformer. According to this scheme, the first three generations had developed in response to one another (line and column, massed firepower, and then blitzkrieg). The new generation began in the moral and cognitive spheres, where even physically strong entities could be victims of shock, disorientation, and loss of confidence and coherence. This principle was then applied to society as a whole. In the fourth generation, attacks would be directed at the sources of social cohesion, including shared norms and values, economic management, and institution structures. This was a move from the artificial operational level to a form of upside-down grand strategy, brining in questions of rival ideologies and ways of life, and forms of conflict that might not actually involve much fighting. 225 [America’s involvement in Afghanistan and Iraq post the dramatic “Mission Accomplished” moment] Yet in an apparent war of narratives the United States was on the defensive, preoccupied with challenging another’s message rather than promoting their own. Attempts were made to fashion nationally attractive communications rather than promoting their own. Attempts were made to fashion notionally attractive communications without being sure how they were received…People filtered out what they did and did not trust or what they found irrelevant, or they picked up odd fragments and variants of the core message, interpreting and synthesizing them according to their own prejudices and frameworks…There might be a group of professionals working under the label of information operations, but the audience could take their cues from whatever caught their attention. 234 [Marxism] It was one thing to develop an intellectually consistent narrative to explore how the revolution could work itself through to the desired outcomes, quite another to follow its lines when the moment for a revolution came. 251 “There can be only one permanent revolution – a moral one: the regeneration of the inner man.” –Tolstoy 310 John Dewey – What he sought from philosophy was not a “device for dealing with the problems of philosophers” but instead “a method, cultivated, by philosophers, for dealing with the problems of men.” It was to offer a challenge to conservatism and an alternative to revolution. The radicals and conservatives needed to be brought together...This created a special role for the social reformer. As “psychologist, social worker, and educator,” this person had to “interpret opposing sides to each other, simultaneously reconciling social antagonists and completing the incomplete personalities of individuals involved.” 316 * Antonio Gramsci – He was aware of the neo-Machiavellians and shared some of their conclusions. For example, he accepted that for the moment, while there were classes, there really were “rulers and ruled, leaders and led.” Any politics that ignored this “primordial, irreducible” fact was doomed to failure. For rulers, consent was preferable to coercion. This could only be achieved by convincing the ruled that the established political order served their interests. The ability to dominate through the power of ideas rather than brute force Gramsci called “hegemony.” 329 The U.S. Government’s Committee on Public Information (CPI), set up as the country entered the war in 1917, impressed all those involved with the apparent case with which a bellicose opinion could be shaped by using every available means to put out the world about the danger of German militarism and the need for a robust response. Led by the former progressive journalist George Creely, who famously observed that “people do not live by bread alone: they live mostly by catch phrases.” 337 As King began to turn his attention to issues of poverty, the question was whether the methods that had brought political gains in the South and launched him to national prominence could work across the country on issues that were much more intractable. 364 Instead of the polarized class struggle anticipated by Marx, postwar capitalist society was marked by an improved standard of living…the salaried middle classes were on the ascendant, largely to be found in large, impersonal organizations. The daily grind of life was hardly grueling. Yet there appeared to be something missing. The critique was not of growing misery and poverty but of dreariness, not so much physical deprivation but of a psychological void…William Whyte’s The Organization Man suggested a degree of homogenization in the American middle class…the fault, he argued, was not in organization but its worship, “the soft-minded denial that there is a conflict between the individual and society.” 369 A strategy of absolute ends emerged, heroic and romantic, doomed to fail but magnificent in its amibiton and noble in its honesty. The aim was to affirm existence rather than realize goals, and in this there was a nod across the Atlantic to the French existentialists with their deep musing about the human condition, full of absurdity, abandonment, and despair, but also stressing the unavoidability of choice. [I think he’s misunderstanding existentialism a bit, but anyway.] 371 “I am convinced that the truest act of courage, the strongest act of manliness is to sacrifice ourselves for others in a totally non-violent struggle for justice. To be a man is to suffer for others. God help us to be men.” –Cesar Chavez 387 Ronald Regan – The make believe and real worlds coalesced in his mind. He always sounded sincere because he said what he believed, even if it did not correspond to the facts. In any conflicts between feelings and fact, feelings won. “He believed in the power of stories, sincerely told.” 442 This messy, infuriating, unceasing political activity reflected the limiting logic of an ethic of responsibility. 456

  20. 4 out of 5

    Travis High

    This book takes the reader from Ancient Greece to MLK Jr., from Henry Ford to Michael Porter, giving him or her insights from the history of strategy. It is a good read for someone like me, who has had exposure to currents of strategy in different settings (history, geopolitics, politics, business) and would like to see how the dots connect. Towards the end, the author says "The world of strategy is full of disappointment and frustration, of means not working and ends not reached.” I certainly u This book takes the reader from Ancient Greece to MLK Jr., from Henry Ford to Michael Porter, giving him or her insights from the history of strategy. It is a good read for someone like me, who has had exposure to currents of strategy in different settings (history, geopolitics, politics, business) and would like to see how the dots connect. Towards the end, the author says "The world of strategy is full of disappointment and frustration, of means not working and ends not reached.” I certainly understand that from my own professional experience, and I feel like I have some ideas about how to improve my work.

  21. 5 out of 5

    Sebastian Woller

    Great book - very insightful! Turned out to be a lot more about management than strategy towards the end.

  22. 5 out of 5

    Jay Waghray

    History of power

  23. 5 out of 5

    Matt

    March 20th, nearing the end of Part II: Rather disappointing so far. I think my problem is that it's caught at a no-man's-land level of abstraction. It's not concrete enough to be engaging at the 'human' level, or as a series of interlinked narratives. But neither is it up at that clean level of abstraction where everything seems to make logical sense, and you get a satisfying feeling of high-level insight. And it's far too long-winded to be an enjoyably breezy overview. I'm reminded of a lot of March 20th, nearing the end of Part II: Rather disappointing so far. I think my problem is that it's caught at a no-man's-land level of abstraction. It's not concrete enough to be engaging at the 'human' level, or as a series of interlinked narratives. But neither is it up at that clean level of abstraction where everything seems to make logical sense, and you get a satisfying feeling of high-level insight. And it's far too long-winded to be an enjoyably breezy overview. I'm reminded of a lot of boring writing on philosophy: the kind where the author tells you that Plato thought this, and Aristotle thought that, and so on and so on, never giving enough detail for you to genuinely understand the ideas, but somehow going on at great length and with an air of authority. ('Magisterial' indeed, /The Economist/!) Sentence-by-sentence the writing is fine, but structurally it seems fairly aimless, and as I said above it's hardly compelling. I'll continue anyway, partly because of the sunk-cost fallacy and my completionist tendency, but also because (despite my whinging above) it's not /that/ bad, and I've heard that the final 200 pages or so are more interesting than the first 400. Also I have the audiobook, so when reading feels like a chore I can listen instead. Caveats: so far the main focus has been military strategy, on which I have no prior knowledge and no particular interest. Also, at times when I've been listening rather than reading, I've been less attentive than usual, accepting that some bits are going to go over my head while I'm distracted by my own thoughts. I blame the book for that -- if it were less tedious I'd be more inclined to focus -- but it does mean my complaints might not be entirely fair. March 27th: Part 3 is proving a bit more interesting so far -- maybe because it has some more compelling narrative threads, maybe because 20th-century politics feels more real to me than abstract discussion of military strategy. This still doesn't seem like a very focused or coherent history of strategy, though. April 2nd: Having finished the book, I haven't really changed my opinion. The section on business strategy suffered from similar flaws as the section on military strategy, and the final section seemed rather perfunctory. It also contained a small but strange error, which made me wonder about the author's credibility on other topics: "One researcher suggested that the “experience of taking a course in microeconomics actually altered students’ conceptions of the appropriateness of acting in a self-interested manner, not merely their definition of self-interest.” In studies of traders in financial markets, it transpired that while the inexperienced might be influenced by Thaler’s “endowment effect,” for example, the experienced were not. This might not be flattering to economists, but it did show that egotistical behavior could also be quite natural." Overall I don't recommend this. It contains a few interesting or thought-provoking nuggets, but is largely a not-particularly-coherent grab-bag of other people's ideas, covered at enough length to be tedious but in insufficient depth to be enlightening. If the book has one big point to make, I think it's something to do with the hubris and naivety of overly rationalistic (and optimistic) attempts to turn strategy into a precise science & to rely on it to solve complex and fluid problems. I can readily believe that, but I don't think the case was made clearly or coherently or comprehensively enough to convince someone inclined to believe the opposite. (The audiobook also has its flaws -- my opinion on the narrator's voice and style isn't really relevant, but he makes quite a few errors, including some that suggest neither he nor whoever signed off on the finished product were following the meaning of what he was saying.)

  24. 5 out of 5

    Jey

    very thorough but if you don't have interest in the topic it may feel like a bit of a drag.

  25. 5 out of 5

    Marks54

    This book attempts to provide a history of "strategy" in all of its varied meanings, spanning from classical literature, to traditional military strategy, to political strategy, to modern business and organizational strategy. Having some familiarity with these literature areas, I was intrigued with the idea but somewhat skeptical about the prospects for such a project. For example, while I have read deeply in military history, allusions to corporate "offensives" seem to me to mask a lack of subs This book attempts to provide a history of "strategy" in all of its varied meanings, spanning from classical literature, to traditional military strategy, to political strategy, to modern business and organizational strategy. Having some familiarity with these literature areas, I was intrigued with the idea but somewhat skeptical about the prospects for such a project. For example, while I have read deeply in military history, allusions to corporate "offensives" seem to me to mask a lack of substance rather than inform thinking. There are, of course, obvious areas of some similarities but there are also many many differences. ... I was wrong about the book. It is a thoughtful and well-researched study that comes very close to accomplishing its objectives - at least as far as it is possible to do so. In the process, the author (who is a distinguished British military historian) displays a wealth of interesting detail that is amazing. On top of that, the book is extremely well written and not bogged down with the particular jargon so common to popular treatments of strategy even though the author assumes that his readers have brains and can digest complex arguments. It is a very well done book. While this book does not provide an integration, the linkages provided are stronger than usual. The first two parts of the book are the strongest. The third part (strategy from below - on political strategies) is good but came across to me as diverging from the book's intent. The last part - on business and organizational strategies was weakest, but that is likely because the area display the greatest lack of theoretical integration. In providing a history of organizational theories and strategic fads and fashions, the book mimics the development of the field as a whole. I don't blame him for doing so. I would have appreciated more on work concerned with technology strategy and entrepreneurship, but given the length of the book, it is unclear what the payoff would have been. As it stands, I learned something from the book and the last chapter, which tried to tie things together, was really interesting. This is something that cannot be said about many books on strategy or military history.

  26. 5 out of 5

    Scott Templeman

    This book is a bruiser, yet I left with more than I honestly expected going into it. Having read almost all of the military greats going into this, I expected this to reinforce or reorganize things I already knew. This book is divided into major topics and then chronological order, and of all the parts it surprised that it was the section on Politics which I found most enlightening. I ended up taking a break from this book when it seemed to stall on the rise of communism, which despite being in This book is a bruiser, yet I left with more than I honestly expected going into it. Having read almost all of the military greats going into this, I expected this to reinforce or reorganize things I already knew. This book is divided into major topics and then chronological order, and of all the parts it surprised that it was the section on Politics which I found most enlightening. I ended up taking a break from this book when it seemed to stall on the rise of communism, which despite being in my favorite section, was it's dullest stretch for me. Once it started covering 20th century american politics however, I found it riveting. In an election year where many in this US are left pondering why our country is in such a distinct fall-from-grace, this book left me with insight as to why and how we got to Nepotism vs. Realty TV in 2016 (this history takes us all the way to Obama's election so you needn't fill in many blanks). How did extremist minorities on both sides of the political scale hijack our elections? This book helps explain that. Beyond politics, it also highlights business strategy and schools of thought. If you are in the private sector you will likely enjoy this section as well, more to identify the toxic roots of your least favorite boss' philosophy and management than anything else. If there is a key takeaway from this book it is that strategy is a nebulous term we throw on anything we believe will improve our odds of achieving our goals. We are often wrong. It repeatedly highlights how attempts to tack the term science onto any of the sub-topics he identified only prove laughable in retrospect. True strategy is iterative and situational, and the greatest strategists have had the right combination of innate genius and luck in order to be remembered as the greatest. This truth irritates people who spend the hours slogging through every field of social science and human interaction thinking they will unlock secrets to success. One should go into this expecting to learn more about how chaos is inevitable rather than preventable, you will end up a tad more satisfied.

  27. 5 out of 5

    Larissa

    This book is LONG and so broad. I have picked it up and put it down a multitude of times. The beginning tackles what strategy may mean at its very, very original: from chimpanzees to the Bible. It then moves onto what it has meant for military history. All interesting, but not at the core of what i personally find most interesting. As I was listening to this on Audio, and had first picked it up years ago, I was then completely taken by surprise when the topic changed: all of a sudden, he tackles This book is LONG and so broad. I have picked it up and put it down a multitude of times. The beginning tackles what strategy may mean at its very, very original: from chimpanzees to the Bible. It then moves onto what it has meant for military history. All interesting, but not at the core of what i personally find most interesting. As I was listening to this on Audio, and had first picked it up years ago, I was then completely taken by surprise when the topic changed: all of a sudden, he tackles history of "strategies from below", i.e. strategy for revolutionaries. This section is absolutely brilliant and then the book became a binge read. It moves onto discuss "strategies from above" (i.e. what strategy has meant for organizations and management), before a short section with some concluding thoughts on what IS strategy and how to make sense of it today. It's definitely breath over depth, but his writing is clear and his examples compelling. The central themes and thesis of the book aren't necessarily apparent, but I do think there's an organizing principle: strategies as ever shifting narratives to compel action. If it seems less compelling stated so simply, it's because the message is definitely worth it for the journey, as it spans so many different facets of western modern civilization.

  28. 5 out of 5

    Nilesh

    Writing a review of this book is as difficult as the subject matter in the hands of the author! Until the very end, it is not too clear exactly where the author's own views are and where the book is headed. The detailed sections in the first two-thirds of the book are often full of needless details and for long stretches without relevance to the topic. These sections traverse all sort of histories - Marxian and early communist era, US presidential races, social science philosophers with their tho Writing a review of this book is as difficult as the subject matter in the hands of the author! Until the very end, it is not too clear exactly where the author's own views are and where the book is headed. The detailed sections in the first two-thirds of the book are often full of needless details and for long stretches without relevance to the topic. These sections traverse all sort of histories - Marxian and early communist era, US presidential races, social science philosophers with their thoughts, 1960s race struggles etc are some diverse examples - in fairly uneven fashion while making barely any connections to the topic at hand. Some of it makes sense in the final section but more time is spent refuting all sort of previous theories (including theories that debunk strategy as any sort of tool) rather than providing constructive views of the author's own framework. One gets a glimpse of the author's stand in the final chapter, which is not only too little too late but also with full of controversial claims that needed more details. There is a lot to learn in the topics covered in the book, even if without much coherence. The book could have worked far better with a different structure and tighter editing.

  29. 5 out of 5

    Louai Al Roumani

    If you're going to read one serious book on strategy, let it be this. I could not imagine a more comprehensive and holistic approach; starting from primates and spanning through biblical times and all the way to modern warfare, Freedman studies meticulously the evolution of strategic thought. He then ventures onto the world of business strategy, how it evolved and how it was influenced by strategies of warfare; an impeccably researched chapter incorporating an analysis of all major management th If you're going to read one serious book on strategy, let it be this. I could not imagine a more comprehensive and holistic approach; starting from primates and spanning through biblical times and all the way to modern warfare, Freedman studies meticulously the evolution of strategic thought. He then ventures onto the world of business strategy, how it evolved and how it was influenced by strategies of warfare; an impeccably researched chapter incorporating an analysis of all major management theories on strategy. The behavioral and social elements are also examined. This book is for serious strategy enthusiasists; a long heavy read that will prove very rewarding if you are drawn to the world of strategy.

  30. 5 out of 5

    Nick Harriss

    I listened to this book on Audible (my first download), but I also have the rather weighty tome sat on my shelf, which will be to refer back easily on issues I forget. I thought this was a a well balanced approach to strategy as a subject in general, splitting the context into military, political and business in roughly equal proportions, while also pulling strands together in all three areas. It gave me plenty of new insight as well of reminding me of things I had studied many years ago; things I listened to this book on Audible (my first download), but I also have the rather weighty tome sat on my shelf, which will be to refer back easily on issues I forget. I thought this was a a well balanced approach to strategy as a subject in general, splitting the context into military, political and business in roughly equal proportions, while also pulling strands together in all three areas. It gave me plenty of new insight as well of reminding me of things I had studied many years ago; things that I had approached rather differently as a fresh faced youngster. Well worth the time if you are interested in the subject.

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