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How Great Generals Win Paperback – June 17, 2002

ISBN-13: 978-0393323160 ISBN-10: 0393323161 Edition: Reprint

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Product Details

  • Paperback: 320 pages
  • Publisher: W. W. Norton & Company; Reprint edition (June 17, 2002)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0393323161
  • ISBN-13: 978-0393323160
  • Product Dimensions: 0.6 x 0.1 x 0.8 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 14.9 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 3.7 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (17 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #814,570 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly

Alexander ( Korea: The First War We Lost ) reveals how some of the great military men of history applied common-sense principles of warfare that "nearly always will secure victory." Relying on deception, these generals usually won their campaigns with a surprise attack on the enemy's rear or flank. Leaving aside the killed-and-wounded advantage of such maneuvers, Alexander emphasizes the decisive psychological effect on enemy soldiers and their commanders. Generals whose deceptive, indirect, surprise tactics are considered here include Scipio Africanus ("The General Who Beat Hannibal"), Genghis Khan, Napoleon Bonaparte, Stonewall Jackson, William Tecumseh Sherman ("The General Who Won the Civil War"), Mao Zedong, Erwin Rommel and Douglas MacArthur. Alexander makes the interesting point that these principles are for the most part self-evident, yet most generals ignore them in favor of the direct frontal assault. He is surprisingly critical of the Confederacy's icon, Robert E. Lee, for his tendency to resort to direct (and costly) methods such as Pickett's charge at Gettysburg. He calls MacArthur "a military Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde, capable of both brilliant strategic insight and desolating error." This study is essential reading for students of military strategy and tactics.
Copyright 1993 Reed Business Information, Inc. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

From Kirkus Reviews

An astute military historian's mildly contrarian appraisal of what separates the sheep from the wolves in the great game of war. Arguing that von Clausewitz's thoughts about the bloody solution of battle have been misread over the years, Alexander (Lost Victories, 1992, etc.) asserts that the principal purpose of armed conflict is to reduce the possibility of an enemy's resistance (a view the author shares with Sun Tzu). Alexander then ranges back and forth through time to identify and comment upon commanders who were able, in the words of Stonewall Jackson, to ``mystify, mislead, and surprise'' their foes. Among those who measure up are Scipio Africanus (who bested Hannibal); Napoleon (who, in 1797, conquered northern Italy through innovative techniques); Sherman (whose march to the sea broke the South's will during the Civil War); Subedai (whose Mongol hordes sacked Buda and Pest during the mid-13th century), and MacArthur (whose daring Inchon assault turned the tide of the Korean War). Covered as well are the bold WW I campaigns mounted by Allenby and Lawrence in the Middle East; Mao's defeat of the Kuomintang; and the nervy genius of three top generals whose misfortune it was to serve Nazi Germany--Guderian, Rommel, and von Manstein. A merciless critic of annihilative, brute-force engagements (of the sort he witnessed as a US Army officer in Korea), Alexander makes a persuasive case for great captains who achieve their strategic ends via maneuver, stealth, guile, or a willingness to defy conventional wisdom. The author's analysis suggests that the doctrines that guide professional soldiers (be they Roman legionnaires or Norman Schwarzkopfs) have remained notably constant for more than two millennia. Informed opinions on the martial arts that draw provocative distinctions between victors and winners. (Maps--not seen) -- Copyright ©1993, Kirkus Associates, LP. All rights reserved. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

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Customer Reviews

3.7 out of 5 stars

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

15 of 17 people found the following review helpful By A Customer on November 16, 2003
Format: Hardcover
The choice of Generals to review did span much of recorded history, but huge chunks of history were missed. The first third of the book covers only 3 generals in all of recorded history up to 1800. Then the rest of the book (disporportionaly) covers the last 200 years. The review of campaigns was interesting, but some maps showed the flow of battles and others seemed to just be filler. The final two chapters on Rommel and MacArthur were done in too much detail. It became a deluge of unit identifiers and was hard to follow. All the recounts prior to these last two included not just historical review of engagement, but included analysis of what made the generals great -- not the last two recounts. I completely missed why reviewing and repreatedly reminding the reader of MacArthur's grand failure made him a great General? Finally, why were no naval and aviation generals included? Perhaps the book should have been "How Some Great Generals Won Some Ground Wars".
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15 of 17 people found the following review helpful By "benhai" on May 25, 2001
Format: Hardcover
Bevin Alexander's book may redefine the meaning of "great" commander for some of its readers. A lot of readers are in the same classroom as I when it comes to military history. I grew up accepting that the generals presented to me in history class were the best because my betters said they were. Especially,when it came to the Civil War. They don't cast bronzes of incompetents, right? Maybe, maybe not, but Mr. Alexander did a convincing job explaining why some of history's spotlights are on the wrong statues. A lack of military history won't prevent anyone from reading and enjoying his book. He will set the stage for each adventure and allow the reader to be swept along by the likes of Hannibal, Lawrence of Arabia and Erwin Rommel without loosing him. These stories are real, first class, adventures and that's how Mr. Alexander's book comes across.
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11 of 13 people found the following review helpful By Matthew G. Brist on April 25, 2004
Format: Paperback
Alexander has written a nice overview of some of military history's best generals. His overall thesis was certainly proven well, and he chose those generals who best proved his point. I particularly liked the chapters on Hannibal/Scipio, Genghis Khan, Sherman, and Rommel. This work could have been a five star book; however, his chapter on MacArthur was where the book lost me. Militarily speaking Alexander continued as he had throughout the book, but his political overview of the Communist threat was almost as ridiculous as was Toland's in 'In Mortal Combat', which dealt with Korea. Hence I do concur with one of the other individuals who reviewed this work that his objectivity is lacking in his more modern chapters. Nonetheless, save for the last chapter, this was a good overview for someone starting to learn about miliraty history and strategy, or it is a nice refresher.
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21 of 27 people found the following review helpful By Robert J. Murphy on March 26, 2000
Format: Hardcover
While Mr. Alexander writes in an colorful and gripping style, and the book is an enjoyable read, the few new insights he offers are often on the based on the most frivoulous ground, or simply untrue. For example: hie posit that a naval blockade was what ultimately defeated Germany in WW I is patently false. Germany had for centuries been the 'land power' of Europe - free of any need for supply from precious colonies - while Britain was Europes 'Sea Power.' Even before Bismarck unified Germany, she was quite self-sufficient in the vital raw materials that kept her war machine alive, (albeit vulnerably dependent upon weak allied states for some of these materials,) and in no way shared Britain's vulnerabilty to naval 'strangulation'. It was no accident that the overpopulated Island had long maintained the World's most Powerful Navy, or, that Kaiser Wilhelm II's rash attempt to challenge Britains dominance of the seas was a major contributing factor in Britain's entry into the War. Yet Mr. Alexander mentions 'naval stangulation' as the principle cause of Germany's defeat in WWI, in a short footnote in a chapter detailing Britains ultimately successful campaign against the Turks in Paalestine!
Sherman is his choice for the Unions best General - he is derisive in his treatment of Grant - yet he fails to recognize that the strategy that sent Sherman plunging deep into the South and destroying her capacity to wage war was one formulated by both Grant and Sherman, or, that Johnston's smaller and much more easily outflanked army, was hardly comparable to Lee's Army of Northern Virginia, nor that Grant largely followed same strategy of outmaneuvering his outnumbered opponent, until he had forced Lee to retreat to the Gates of Richmond.
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10 of 12 people found the following review helpful By Richard La Fianza on December 2, 2000
Format: Hardcover
This book takes the reader through time and history as the author describes why certain generals won, or lost their wars. In particular, the author tries to show how certain techniques or tactics used from Ancient Rome to Genghis Khan to Napoleon are still applicable today in the modern world. Indeed, when these tactics are not used, in Korean for example, the author reveals how he feels the generals have let down their men; and their country.
As a primer, this book is good. The author has a good grasp on basic tactics and very interesting facts about history. For example, when fighting armies who have elephants, the Romans had bells with them which they would shake, scarring the beasts and making them useless for the battle.
As I said, overall this book, as a basic guide, is very good. It is not for those who have a solid background in this area already. For me, though, it was very interesting. I particularlly like the earlier chapters. In my view, as the booked came closer to present times, the author's emotions and personal feelings made him less objective. This took away somewhat, from his conclusions but, overall, the book was still a fun read.
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