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Strategy MP3 CD – Unabridged, April 28, 2015
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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.
About the Author
- Publisher : Audible Studios on Brilliance Audio; Unabridged edition (April 28, 2015)
- Language : English
- ISBN-10 : 1501227726
- ISBN-13 : 978-1501227721
- Item Weight : 3.5 ounces
- Dimensions : 6.75 x 5.5 x 0.5 inches
- Best Sellers Rank: #2,711,249 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)
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Top reviews from the United States
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While my background in strategic study does not easily compare with the author’s, I do agree with the common dictionary definition that strategy is essentially a plan to obtain a goal. The author finds fault with this, saying it is much more when he writes:
"There is no agreed-upon definition of strategy that describes the field and limits its boundaries. One common contemporary definition describes it as being about maintaining a balance between ends, ways, and means; about identifying objectives; and about the resources and methods available for meeting such objectives. … By and large, strategy comes into play where there is actual or potential conflict, when interests collide and forms of resolution are required. This is why a strategy is much more than a plan. A plan supposes a sequence of events that allows one to move with confidence from one state of affairs to another. Strategy is required when others might frustrate one’s plans because they have different and possibly opposing interests and concerns."
All I can say to that is simply that one must plan to change plans! And that “failure to plan is planning to fail.” All this involves thinking and practice to gain facility. Despite any apparent objection, I believe the author understands this as well.
Now on to the more about the book. Again, it will likely not be a quick read for most. The author develops many high-level concepts that may be hard to hold in one’s mind, making it difficult to follow his train of thought. But, again, don’t get lost in the forest for the trees. Move on! Even then, however, as one reads the various vignettes of strategic actors, one even wonders if they had a plan (or strategy, with its definition changing throughout the book per different theorists), or just muddled along and lucked out, being in the right place at the right time. All’s well that ends well? We must have had a plan to be so successful, didn’t we? Regardless, the author sometimes throws out very few breadcrumbs to show you his path.
Sections I especially liked include the one on Saul Alinsky, the “notorious” author of “Rules for Radicals,” where Freedman mentions several hilarious solutions Alinsky used for getting his way. I also enjoyed many of Freedman’s comments about “universal” strategist John Boyd, whom I’d just recently discovered elsewhere. Boyd: “We need to deny our adversary the possibility of uncovering or discerning patterns that match our activity, or other aspects of reality in the world.” In addition, I appreciated the author’s recognition that luck (both good and bad) can play an important part in results, as does persuasion, when it aggregates, orients, and shapes our friends, enemies, and frenemies.
In the way of improvement, I could only wish that the author had spent a little more on some of the simpler aspects of strategy, things like option analysis, back-planning, and concepts found in chess, a subject the author seemed to dismiss quickly.
Overall, I thought the book was very well-researched, written, and produced. I found only one easily-corrected Kindle typo (page 446: At water vs. Atwater), which does not appear in the printed version. As I write this review, I might add that there are very few highlights in the Kindle version of the book. Perhaps my own many highlights of the things I think important will somehow be passed along to help future readers.
If you need further help in deciding to purchase, take advantage of the “Look Inside” feature to see the many, many strategic topics the author covers.
Bottom line, for the serious student of strategy, I highly recommend this Freedman masterpiece.
Of possible interest: Strategy Pure and Simple: Essential Moves for Winning in Competition and Cooperation and
George Washington’s Liberty Key: Mount Vernon’s Bastille Key – the Mystery and Magic of Its Body, Mind, and Soul , a best-seller at Mount Vernon. “Character is Key for Liberty!”
So what is the topic of this book: this book is about the history and the evolution of strategy through the ages. To do that, Mr. Freedman invites you to a voyage of four thousand years to see how this method for solving problems was changing over time, and how, despite of the changes, kept its tenets until today.
So the book is not only about war which is the strategy's most natural and common environment but also about politics, management, religion, bureaucracies, and so on. And that is so because strategy is a discipline that needs to be nurtured through other sciences and disciplines. Perhaps this is the most dependent of all disciplines and that's why it captures the attention and the dedication of scholars like Mr. Freedman. And of readers like myself. Or yourself.
Some reviews say that this is not a book for amateurs, but who is an expert on strategy if it is so hard to define what strategy is. Maybe an expert in strategy is a general who has lost all his battles. Or the scholar who follows and studies him. I don't know, but I do know that strategy is about the facts of the world when the world posses questions with no definitive answers. So all that you have as a capital is a handful of solutions. Which one will you pick?
As long as the complexity of a problem increases, less certain is the future even if you don't do nothing at all. And this is because to do nothing is a strategy too. And it has its costs. Sometimes to lose today is a way of winning tomorrow. Sometimes that excellent strategy won't work. And this is the point in Mr. Freedman's book: there is no prescription or recipe. And if this is so, what we can do?
Strategy is one of the best approaches to the topic I've ever read. The strategy of the devil in Milton's Lost Paradise or the strategy of the nonviolence's promoters in the U.S. during the twentieth century, both share the same dilemmas and the same old conundrums that faced Julius Cesar and Napoleon. To link people, facts and ideas with a very elusive concept like strategy is a task that demands not only a good professor but a good writer also.
Mr. Freedman exercises the art of writing with the same simplicity that Hemingway used to encourage. And this is no small. To talk about strategy is one thing; to write about it, is another. I highly recommend this book to whoever want to know about this topic which mingles science and art in strange and veiled proportions. Just as the author says, this is not a book for those interested in being advised on how to win a "battle." This is a book for knowing what strategy is and how has changed over time to become what it is today.
Top reviews from other countries
The first section looks at military strategy which begins with a fairly brisk trot through Sun Tzu, Clausewitz, Liddell Hart and their ilk before settling in to the interesting developments at the RAND Corporation in the 50s and 60s and the evolution of the strategies of nuclear deterrence. Game theory comes up a lot in this book and it is first aired here. From here on we concentrate on US military strategic doctrine and its repeated failures to find a solution to assymetric insurgencies with massive firepower, first in Vietnam, then later in Afghanistan and Iraq. The overall conclusion here is that no one has been able to develop a reliable model for optimal military strategies, and if there is such a thing as military strategic genius, a question that is difficult to answer, then nobody thus far has come up with a reliable summary of what it amounts to.
The second section is the one i found most interesting and deals with political strategy, first from the point of view of social transformation through revolution and then at the conduct of election campaigns as fought out in democracies, again with the US being the focus. The role of ideology, propaganda and media messaging is pretty thoroughly examined here. I already had the basic background of Marx and Engels, the Internationals, Lenin and Trotsky, etc. but i was introduced to quite a few thinkers and activists here that i had never previously encountered or payed proper attention to.
The third section examines strategy from the point of view of business, mostly of the large corporate variety. The initial chapters were very interesting looking at the evolving approaches of Henry Ford and then Alfred Sloan at General Motors in the construction of corporate organisations on hitherto unknown scales. However, i found this section gradually became more hard work as we moved along to look at the management consultancy doctrines and fads of the 60s right up to the 2008 crash. I found this tough going in particular because it reminded me so much of some of the more awkward and frustrating aspects of my own working life. This was really my problem rather than the book's so it keeps its five stars.
The final section is sort of an attempt to draw a general summary of what has gone before but it also brings in Kahnamen and Tversky's work on the irrationality of most human decision making, first with respect to economics but then for its implications for all those corporate management fads and their competing claims to have identified reliable and decisive strategic formulae. The book ends by asking the question to what extent post hoc analyses of strategic successes are really rationalisations of processes that were objectively as much matters of luck as judgement.
In summary this book was not what i was expecting but turned out to be very wide ranging and thought provoking, introducing me to a wide variety of thinkers and their ideas. Very worthwhile.
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.
Exceptionally well-researched and rich with historical facts, quotes and stories.
Some problems with the way the Notes section is displayed in the Kindle book format was only a slight distraction.
Highly recommended for students of strategy as a fantastic overview that links the thoughts on this fascinating subject across the ages.