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Strategy: A History Hardcover – October 2, 2013


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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 768 pages
  • Publisher: Oxford University Press (October 2, 2013)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0199325154
  • ISBN-13: 978-0199325153
  • Product Dimensions: 9.4 x 6.5 x 2.6 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 2.5 pounds (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 3.8 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (39 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #17,383 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Editorial Reviews

Review

This is an epic undertaking, of considerable intellectual ambition. It displays the familiar Freedmanian virtues: clarity, economy, proficiency, sagacity a compound of deep immersion, practised exposition, and a certain practical wisdom in it... In strategy, everything is connected. Freedman shows us how. the guardian To the best of my knowledge, this is the only book ever attempted on the entire historical and conceptual domain of strategy. Indeed, I am somewhat awestruck by the scope of the mission that Freedman set himself. ... Strategy is a very considerable, indeed monumental, product that no one else has had the temerity to attempt. Colin Gray, International Affairs A discursive account with many interesting passages ... There is much of interest in Freedman's book. Jeremy Black, History Today Arguably the best book ever written on strategy (in its widest sense). Gerard DeGroot, Washington Post Freedman offers a wide-ranging, scholarly and entertaining history of the concept. He ranges from David and Goliath to Peter Drucker, by way of Marx and Machiavelli - and emphasises the importance of responding flexibly to events. Books of the Year, Financial Times This is a book of startling scope, erudition and, more than anything, wisdom. Janan Ganesh, Financial Times Magisterial ... wide-ranging erudition and densely packed argument. The Economist [A] fascinating, at moments playful book. Bruce Anderson, The Sunday Times Freedman's writing is admirably lucid, and the breadth of his knowledge and scholarship astonishing...Both as a history of ideas and as a work of reference, it is invaluable Erudite, wise and illuminating, Strategy is a book to be savoured and treasured. Sir David Goodall, The Tablet This is an original and intriguing approach. Richard Overy, Literary Review [A] vast exploration of strategy that is difficult to read, full of surprises, and marked by unsurpassed erudition. It also is witty and reminds us that he in the world who knows most about strategy may be the one who is the most unimpressed with it. Victor Davis Hanson, National Review An ambitious and sprawling book ... With admirable candor, Freedman tells us that he received the contract for this book in (gulp!) 1994, and that he made a "number of false starts" with the manuscript. Considering the daunting scope of the subject, this is entirely understandable. Considering the wisdom and analytical brilliance he brings to bear on that subject, it's been well worth the wait. The Daily Beast Will surely become a standard reference in the discipline ... ambitious and impressive. strategy+business.com A marvelous grand tour of the meaning, implications, and consequences of strategic thinking through the ages and in multiple contexts. Freedman is a master of the subject and unsurpassed in his ability to unravel the twists and turns of strategic complexities and paradoxes. Robert Jervis, Adlai E. Stevenson Professor of International Politics, Columbia University Lawrence Freedman shows here why he is justly renowned as one of the world's leading thinkers about strategy, which he defines as the central art of getting more out of a situation than the starting balance of power would suggest. Joseph S. Nye, Jr., Harvard University and author of The Future of Power Erudite, wide-ranging, and covering an astonishing array of subjects relating to strategy. Azar Gat, author of War in Human Civilization Freedman's writing is admirably lucid, and the breadth of his knowledge and scholarship astonishing... Both as a history of ideas and as a work of reference, it is invaluable Erudite, wise and illuminating, Strategy is a book to be savoured and treasured, not least in its conclusion: that "in the end, all we can do is to act as if we can influence events. To do otherwise is to succumb to fatalism." The Tablet So erudite, so wide-ranging, and so knowledgeable ... impressive achievement. No single book on strategy is as intellectually intimidating; and none moves as easily as his does across time and space. The World Today

About the Author


Lawrence Freedman has been Professor of War Studies at King's College London since 1982, and Vice-Principal since 2003. Elected a Fellow of the British Academy in 1995 and awarded the CBE in 1996, he was appointed Official Historian of the Falklands Campaign in 1997. He was awarded the KCMG in 2003. In June 2009 he was appointed to serve as a member of the official inquiry into Britain and the 2003 Iraq War. Professor Freedman has written extensively on nuclear strategy and the cold war, as well as commentating regularly on contemporary security issues. His most recent book, A Choice of Enemies: America Confronts the Middle East, won the 2009 Lionel Gelber Prize and Duke of Westminster Medal for Military Literature.

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Customer Reviews

Pointless, rambling and disorganized, it had really very little to do with the rest of the book, or strategy in general.
W. COX
If you have ever had to read a "strategy" document - and particularly if you have ever been assigned the responsibility to write one - you should read this book.
Justin Anderson
The concept of strategy is applied to many other things, and no consistent understanding of the idea of strategy as a whole emerges from the book.
Vincent J. Curtis

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

23 of 23 people found the following review helpful By R. Blanchard on December 21, 2013
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
This book presents a sweeping historical narrative in a way that is intellectually challenging and stimulating. Even "experts" (those heavily engaged in military, business or other strategic studies or research) will enjoy a nicely-written (and flawlessly edited) overview that starts with chimps (as a proxy for prehistoric man) and ends with contemporary theories of rational decision-making based on the latest brain science (Kahneman, et al). The book is long (650 pages) and has an additional 100 pages of annotated footnotes. Freedman is careful to credit the many other writers and specialists upon whom he relies both in the text and notes. However, there is no bibliography. Nevertheless this book is an ideal starting point for the serious student or researcher who is in the early stages of delving into the history and challenges of strategic thinking.

Freedman may be a specialist in war studies but I found his chapters on business and other non-military topics more interesting and insightful. He does an especially good job of weaving game theory into the narrative (without the math that so often gets in the way).

The book is not without biases (he tears Tom Peters and his ilk to shreds). There are also a few imbalances and peculiarities. The sections on biblical analysis (David and Goliath, etc.) bring nothing new to the discussion. And, like many authors and historians before him, he occasionally gets lost in the endless cast of revolutionaries and the equally endless permutations in bottom-up strategic thinking in the decades after the French Revolution.
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39 of 44 people found the following review helpful By W. COX on January 7, 2014
Format: Kindle Edition Verified Purchase
The reviewer who said that this is not one history but several histories was spot on. The first third of the book, dealing with military strategy, was very good, although the first couple of chapters dealing with chimpanzees and Biblical history did not add much. The second third of the book, dealing with "bottom-up" strategy and including revolutionaries and Marxism, was terrible. Pointless, rambling and disorganized, it had really very little to do with the rest of the book, or strategy in general. I didn't go back and check but I would guess that there the book would go 20, 30 pages at a time without addressing anything related to strategy. It became really a history of political change and revolutionaries at that point, but tough to tell as it jumped around quite a bit.

I was thankful that I did not stop reading during the middle third (I was tempted many times) because the final third, dealing with business and economic strategy, was much better. The conclusion, talking about strategy as a script or story, was a decent attempt at bringing the subject together and moving it forward, probably the best that could be done with such a broad subject.

I think the author could have done a better job with half the pages. I recommend reading the first section, skimming the second and then reading the third section and conclusion.
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23 of 25 people found the following review helpful By Justin Anderson on December 11, 2013
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
This book arrives at an important time for "strategy," which in the early 21st century is a term that is applied everywhere, from public and private organizations to every aspect of personal life. As a result, strategy - once associated most closely with military or geopolitical endeavors, but gradually appropriated by institutions or individuals who wished to convey a sense of purpose, importance, and long range thinking to their corporate plans or personal goals - has become a buzzword essentially devoid of meaning.

On one level, Freedman's book is a history of strategy, with the first section tracing military strategy from ancient to modern times, before moving on to in depth discussions of strategy in other fields, such as business. The book nimbly moves between eras and strategic thinkers, offering rich insights into strategy as it was developed (and practiced) by individual philosophers and field marshals and then bringing these key strategic thinkers into dialogue with one another. In doing so, it stands on its own as a compelling work of history both in terms of strategists and strategizing. But the book goes beyond historical narrative in offering a compelling commentary on how strategy as a distinct concept is defined and used, while also serving up a pointed critique of the the idea that no challenge, in whatever field, is beyond the reach of near-omniscient "strategists." History, commentary, and critique are brought together seamlessly by Freedman's writing, which simultaneously educates and charms the reader with crisp prose and wry anecdotes. In addition to representing an important work of scholarship, it serves to raise important questions for the consideration of strategies (and strategists) from a across a range of fields. If you have ever had to read a "strategy" document - and particularly if you have ever been assigned the responsibility to write one - you should read this book.
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Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
Lawrence Freedman thoroughly reviews the permutations of strategy in war, politics, and business mainly in the Western thinking since its beginnings in the Hebrew Bible and Ancient Greece. Mr. Freedman defines strategy as the art of creating power which is measured as the difference between the outcome anticipated by reference to the prevailing balance of power and the actual outcome after the application of strategy. Strategy comes to the fore in the presence of conflict.

To his credit, the author convincingly demonstrates that strategy is not about reaching some prior objective due to its dynamic and fluid nature. This conclusion remains true regardless of the use of superior force and / or guile for that purpose. Think for example about the evolving fortunes of Honda in business after WWII, the early victories of Nazi Germany during the Second World War, or the successes and failures of Republicans and Democrats in the U.S. in the last decades.

Strategy is at best a tool that will allow you to move from one stage to the next one, which will not necessarily be a better place. The next stage is a place that can be realistically reached from the current stage. Mr. Freedman adds that without some sense where the journey should be leading it will be challenging to assess alternative outcomes for reaching the next stage. The author also recommends that the strategist display both flexibility and imagination so that he / she can better keep up with an evolving situation, regularly re-evaluating risks and opportunities.

In summary, strategy invites its practitioners to display humility and realize its strengths and weaknesses in the absence of a final, stable destination.
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