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27 of 27 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A rare book
"The Grand Strategy of Philip II" is a rare book. On the one hand, it is a convincing scholarly reassessment of Spanish imperial policy during the pivotal late 16th century. In that sense, the book is written to the high standards of the academy: exhaustive primary research - much of it in the original Spanish, Latin, Italian and French - and close consideration of...
Published on January 11, 2007 by T. Graczewski

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4 of 7 people found the following review helpful
1.0 out of 5 stars Very biased and Anglo-centric
A year after the defeat of the Armada, a similar English Counter Armada was defeated by Spanish forces in La Coruña and Lisbon ( curiously enough Parker does not even mention this episode). Spain's empire was not in decline after Philip II's death, quite on the contrary, it achieved its maximum expansion in the XVIII century. Neither England ( until the mid XIX...
Published 16 months ago by Aranda


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27 of 27 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A rare book, January 11, 2007
By 
T. Graczewski "tgraczewski" (Burlingame, CA United States) - See all my reviews
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This review is from: The Grand Strategy of Philip II (Paperback)
"The Grand Strategy of Philip II" is a rare book. On the one hand, it is a convincing scholarly reassessment of Spanish imperial policy during the pivotal late 16th century. In that sense, the book is written to the high standards of the academy: exhaustive primary research - much of it in the original Spanish, Latin, Italian and French - and close consideration of competing theories from previous, notable works on the period. On the other hand, the book is an exemplary work of modern strategic studies, with a dash of business school case study analysis. This is a piece of academic history that cites such distinguished and diverse authorities as Peter Drucker, Carl von Clausewitz and John Lewis Gaddis and uses a broad range of historical analogies - from the Vietnam War, the Second World War and the US Civil War - to illuminate and contrast critical points. The end result is one of the more compelling works on strategy written in the past few decades.

Geoffrey Parker very much wrote this book in response to Paul Kennedy's poor treatment of Philip II and the decline of the Spanish empire in Kennedy's enormously popular and influential 1987 book "The rise and fall of the Great Powers." On the surface, Parker seeks to refute the conventional academic wisdom that Philip II had no grand strategy in any sense of the term. While the issue of "grand strategy" is discussed throughout, the book really revolves around Philip's planned 1588 invasion of England, which featured the legendary Spanish Armada and ended in utter catastrophe before it really began.

The book is broken into three more-or-less equal components. The first section offers a fascinating overview of the world Philip lived in and the unmanageable world of paperwork and decision-making that he created for himself. Parker is none too kind to Philip in this book. Most of the challenges and failures of Philip's half-century reign Parker attributes to Philip's insistence on the centralization and compartmentalization of all information and decision-making (Parker openly compares his style and system to that of Hitler). Parker suggests that if Philip had been born 500 years later in similarly privileged circumstances, he might have been an awful CEO of a family-owned business. One of his great faults, in Parker's estimation, was his "zero-defects mentality" - the fear of failure that so dominated his actions that it paralyzed his ability to act on anything but certain knowledge.

Parker describes stunning scenes of Philip working 18-hours-a-day like some Wall Street attorney, hunched over a mountain of papers and embroiled in the most arcane details of imperial appointments and financial management (of which he had little understanding).

Much has been made of the long time it took for messages to travel from place to place in the 16th century. Parker argues that it was more the uncertainty of communications that presented the truly vexing problem of the age, not necessarily the long time it took for information to travel. For instance, a message from Venice to Paris could take anywhere from one to six weeks to arrive. It was the unknown margin that led leaders to fits of despair and uncertainty. Finally, Parker raises an issue in this first section that forms a central part of his indictment against Philip II - his profound and unshakeable conviction that the mission of Spain and that of God were one in the same, and thus any obstacle or shortfall could be overcome by the miraculous intervention of the Lord himself, a phenomenon that Parker calls "messianic imperialism." The issue of religion - Catholic vs. Protestant - trumped all other considerations and Philip consistently and confidently undertook any effort that involved upholding or reclaiming the faith with the sincere expectation of a Moses-parting-the-Red-Sea style miracle to carry him to victory.

The second section is a review of the situation in the Netherlands and foreign relations with England's Elizabeth Tudor. As background, these chapters are necessary and highly informative, but they aren't nearly as absorbing and exciting to the layman as the first and final sections.

The third and final section offers a focused treatment of the question: "Why did the Armada fail?" For contemporary strategists, this section is by far the most compelling. He addresses in turn the three topics most often cited as the reasons for the failure of the Armada to link with the ground forces under the duke of Parma in the Netherlands and then to launch the cross channel conquest of England.

First, Parker addresses the fact that the planned invasion of England was "the worst kept secret in Europe." Parker likens the intelligence situation facing Elizabeth to that of the US government before Pearl Harbor. Yes, much of the enemy's plan was compromised, but the high noise-to-signals ratio and the repeated false warnings of impending invasion meant that strategic surprise, especially the well-concealed intended landing site of Kent, was still achieved. Like the FDR administration in 1941, Elizabeth knew everything, and yet knew nothing.

Second, and perhaps most dramatically given the generally sober and academic tone of the rest of the book, Parker vigorously defends the actions and preparations of the invasion forces commander in the Netherlands, the duke of Parma. He argues that Parma achieved unparalleled logistical feats to get his 27,000-man invasion force in place and ready to embark within a day-and-a-half, so any notion that the plan failed because Parma either intentionally sabotaged the invasion or was incompetent must be rejected, if one accepts Parker's reasoning.

Finally, Parked concludes that the superior English naval capabilities - better ships, bigger guns, more effective leadership, better tactics, more experience in general - ultimately doomed the Armada and thus the invasion plans to failure. Everything hinged on the ability of the Spanish to establish sea control in the Channel to get Parma's forces to England, and the British naval superiority made that basic objective nearly impossible. The British advantage is very much described in terms that we today would refer to a "revolution in military affairs " (RMA). Indeed, Max Boot used the defeat of the Armada as one of his case studies in his recent, excellent review of the RMA argument in "War Made New." Parker writes that the Spanish fully anticipated English tactics and appreciated their advantages in long-range gunnery and maneuverability, and were simply unable to overcome them.

Parker sums up the Armada's failure and Philip's direct role in causing the disaster this way: "Philip's flawed 'management style' frustrated the Armada's success far more than the loss of secrecy, the lack of communication between the two theater commanders, and the technical differences between the two fleets. His refusal to delegate, his 'zero-defects mentality', his self-generated information overload and his messianic outlook produced grave strategic errors that rendered operational success almost impossible."
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23 of 23 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars History that illuminates the near past and present, June 6, 2001
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This review is from: The Grand Strategy of Philip II (Paperback)
Geoffrey Parker's study of Philip II is a landmark. In this penetrating analysis, Parker has successfully distilled and tied together four decades of modern scholarship on strategy, decision making, and organization theory with an original evaluation of Philip of Spain's motivations, priorities, and execution. Gone are the nationalistic generalizations and the structural excuses. Structural and institutional factors get coverage, but the real story is in the man at the top, who had to make the decisions, good and bad.
Parker starts with a discussion on the strategic culture surrounding Philip, to include his "strategic inheritence" from his father, Charles V, the massive information network over which Philip presided (and the irresistable temptation to micro-manage), and the 'messianic imperialism' context that was of Philip's own making.
Messianic imperialism is the backbone for the rest of the book, which deals with the formation and the execution of grand strategy. Parker clearly evaluates Philip's strategy v. the Dutch and the English. For reasons that he explained early in his preface, the Mediterranean theater gets shorter coverage, but it is clear that the Med. concerns were never far from Philip's mind. The French Huguenots also don't get as detailed treatment as they could have gotten, but Parker's summation of the results of Philip's policy towards France is still satisfying.
Parker makes many allusions to strategic and policy issues of the recent past, and it is clear that Philip's problems were not all the different in scope, if not in scale, than those faced by political and military leaders today. Philip's inability to discipline himself to focus on one event to see it through to completion, his inabiltiy to keep himself from micromanaging decisions from over 600 miles away, and his inability to see past his divine mission to perceive reality will all strike familiar chords.
Bottom line: Great history, great interpretation, great analysis. It has got to be a classic in the field.
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26 of 30 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Perfect!, September 14, 1999
By A Customer
Some people still insist military tactics apply to business. Once I took a public relations course, and our textbook was Clausewitz's treaty on war. If you want to avoid mistakes, to design a sound and practical strategy for whatever your business, then read Geoffrey Parker. In this book, Philip II is judged through the lenses of planning, and most importantly, of results and achievements. Why did Philip failed in his great enterprise? To make decisions is not only a matter of information -Philip was well informed of affairs- but of judgement, passion, and careful coordination with those who execute decisions.
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7 of 8 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Very Good, July 21, 2005
By 
R. Albin (Ann Arbor, Michigan United States) - See all my reviews
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This very good book is an examination of Philip II's methods of foreign policy formulation and execution. As such, this is a detailed look at the governance methods of the most powerful monarch of the early modern period and is illuminating on how states and monarchs functioned during this period. This detailed examination is possible because of the extensive documentation surviving from much of Philip's reign including a huge amount of his personal correspondence and own state papers. Parker is a leading expert on Philip and early modern Europe and a good writer.

Philip emerges as a man with many admirable features, in some respects, a model King. Clearly intelligent and well educated, he was remarkably diligent, spending many hours per day engaged in state business and was very conscientious about his responsibilities. While his work capacity and attention waned in his later years, he was able to sustain a prodigious work load over a period of decades. If there can be said to be a heroic bureaucrat, it was Philip. Given the huge extent of the world wide empire he inherited and the wide array of challenges he faced with a relatively primitive supporting bureacracy and poor communications technologies, Philip did surprisingly well. There were, however, significant limitations, some structural, some a function of Philip's personality. The enormous diversity of the empire creates a huge variety of problems, and policies useful for on part of the empire could be destructive for other parts of the empire. The relatively primitive administrative apparatus made these conflicts difficult to reconcile. This system demanded an active and hard working autocrat at the center and while Philip did well in this role, it was simply not humanly possible for one man to shoulder the burdens he assumed. As Parker makes clear, many of Philip's problems were inherent in the nature of monarchy in early modern Europe, though of greater magnitude because of the scope of the empire. Philip's personality added additional significant problems. Philip, like many autocrats, was a micromanager who had difficulty in discriminating when to delegate and when to be personally involved. This often led to inefficient formulation and execution of policy. He was also intensely pious. His dedication to orthodox Catholicism led him to policies that were sometimes counter to the pragmatic interests of the empire. This is certainly true of his failure to deal successfully with Protestantism in the Netherlands and the Dutch Revolt. His faith also led him to the conclusion that when things were uncertain, divine providence would somehow provide. This religous assurance was probably personally comforting but didn't help the Armada overcome key tactical obstacles during the attempted conquest of England.

Parker provides some comparative perspective by comparing Philip to other contemporary monarchs, particularly Elizabeth I of England. He also tries to develop a more general perspective by extracting broad lessons about executive performance. This effort has mixed success. His resort to Business school literature about efficient executives is not very informative. His broad historical comparisons are more fruitful though his attempts to differentiate his analyses from those of Paul Kennedy in The Rise and Fall of Great Powers are not entirely successful. In a couple of respects, however, I found Parker's analyses surprisingly apposite. Writing about the use of intelligence information, Parker makes the good point that decision makers under pressure, like Philip in 1587-1588, tend to interpret intelligence in a way that confirms their preconceptions, often willfully distorting potentially contradictory information. Sound familiar? Parker has a telling discussion of how Philip used diplomacy (we would now say soft power) in Italy as the most resource effective method of obtaining objectives and quotes one of Philip's administrative officials as pointing out that once you lose your diplomatic credibility, it is difficult and expensive to recover. Another familiar problem.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Fascinating reading about a unique time, June 8, 2013
This review is from: The Grand Strategy of Philip II (Paperback)
This is a great book for the serious student of history, but it is even more than that.

First of all, this is not a general history of 16th Century Europe, nor even of 16th Century Spain. It is not even a general history of the Spanish Armada nor of Philip II. It is, instead, a detailed analysis of planning and decision making in a turbulent world, when communications were slow and unreliable and religious idealism tainted or inspired men.

The author attempts (with only partial success) to draw parallels with modern times. In fact, Philip II was an unusual man in unusual times. This book goes into great detail about how Philip's decisions were made, paying particular attention to the information that was available to him and the often conflicting forces that were at play in his decision making. Philip was, after all, faced with a task that (while he had his own personal failures) most likely no man (no matter how perfect) could have successfully managed.

I especially appreciate that the author details the problems in 16th Century communication and how every decision was impacted by its imperfections. Letters took weeks to deliver. This meant that replies to one set of instructions would cross other, sometimes conflicting, instructions. Since Philip ruled an extensive empire, massive amounts of information flowed into and out of Spain, all of it outdated. Even with today's near instantaneous communications, Philip would have faced a daunting task.

This is an impressive book, well researched and excellently presented. I consider it must-reading for anyone wanting to understand late-16th Century Spain. I came away from it with a great appreciation of the tremendous problems that faced Philip in dealing with his far-flung empire. Without judging the merits of his goals or beliefs, a lot can be learned from analyzing his decision making.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars one of the best history books out there, October 13, 2006
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This review is from: The Grand Strategy of Philip II (Paperback)
The author weaves this chapter in Spanish history with ease. The result is very impressive. Comparisons to other periods in history prove very enlightening, especially those related to the follies of micromanagement.
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5.0 out of 5 stars Good information of the Spanish Civil War!!, May 18, 2014
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This book takes it context during the 1400 and 1500s. The Series King Philip and King Philip II and the dynasties of King George begin the finalize with the Spanish Civil War as a tied with the later American Civil War.
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4.0 out of 5 stars Insightful !, May 16, 2013
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This review is from: The Grand Strategy of Philip II (Paperback)
This is a good read, particularly if you had an English schooling in history that painted Philip II as a 'black hearted tyrant' intent on destroying the 'happy peace loving English'. Read this book !
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5.0 out of 5 stars SHORT REVIEW ON "THE GRAND STRATEGY OF PHILIP II", June 11, 2012
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This review is from: The Grand Strategy of Philip II (Paperback)
THE GRAND STRATEGY OF PHILIP II BY GEOFFREY PARKER SHOULD BE REQUIRED READING FOR ANYONE IN STRATEGIC POLICY MAKING POSITIONS OR FOR THAT MATTER ANYONE WHO JUST WANTS TO READ GREAT HISTORY. RICH IN DETAILS AND LARGE IN SCOPE. THIS BOOK IS TRULY A MASTERPIECE. EVEN IF YOU DON'T HAVE MUCH KNOWLEDGE ABOUT THE ERA THE AUTHOR GUIDES THE READER THROUGH ONE OF THE MOST COMPLEX TIMES IN EUROPEAN HISTORY. THIS BOOK AND GEOFFREY PARKER'S ANALYTICAL WORK ON THIS SUBJECT WILL STAND AS THE MOST INFORMATIVE AND STIMULATING WORK FOR MANY YEARS TO COME.
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4 of 7 people found the following review helpful
1.0 out of 5 stars Very biased and Anglo-centric, June 25, 2013
By 
Aranda "Aranda" (ALMATY, ALMATY Kazakhstan) - See all my reviews
This review is from: The Grand Strategy of Philip II (Paperback)
A year after the defeat of the Armada, a similar English Counter Armada was defeated by Spanish forces in La Coruña and Lisbon ( curiously enough Parker does not even mention this episode). Spain's empire was not in decline after Philip II's death, quite on the contrary, it achieved its maximum expansion in the XVIII century. Neither England ( until the mid XIX century) nor the Netherlands ( ever) were actually able to create empires similar to the one bequeathed by Philip II to his successors. Neither were both Protestant nations able to elbow out Spain from the core of its territories in America and Asia. Drake and Hawkins both failed to conquer Central America and the Dutch were defeated thrice when they tried to conquer the Philippines in the XVII century.
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The Grand Strategy of Philip II
The Grand Strategy of Philip II by Geoffrey Parker (Paperback - April 1, 2000)
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