on 18 February 2014
Most strategy books are quite boring because they easily become hagiographic and simplistic. Freedman does not fall into that trap but discusses the phenomenon from many angles. The writing style is easy and the book reads almost like a novel which makes it both information and enjoyable.
This is an important book by a leading war/strategic studies academic. He was also a member of the Chilcote enquiry into the Iraq war whose deliberations and findings we still await. He was for a time Professor of War Studies at King's College London, the leading centre for such studies.
In the book Freedman tackles the problem of how to define strategy in different contexts, eg military politics,and business. In so doing he examines and discusses:
the evolution of strategy from biblical times, through the Greeks, even Satan!
He analyses the key findings of: Sun Tzu, Machiavelli, and Von Clausewitz. Interesting, but this part adds little to what we have known for decades.
He then examines: nuclear war (about which he has written several stimulating texts), guerrilla warfare, the revolution in military affairs (RMA), the contribution of Marx and Herzen, the power of non-violence as practised by Ghandi, business strategy and theories of strategy. He divides most of this 730 page book into looking at: 'Strategy from Below' (ie Marx, Herzen and Bakunin), and 'Strategy from Above'( Management strategy, Economics and the Sociological challenge).
As he says, we all need a plan whether we are in the army, a corporation or government in order to make sense of the uncertainty and confusion of human affairs. Essentially, strategy deals with the long term whereas tactics focuses on the short term. In war, strategy is a bridge between policy and battlefield operations. Strategy considers causes not just symptoms, it focuses on woods rather than trees. Hence, we speak of marketing strategies, procurement strategies, winning strategies in chess, and overall strategies. In wartime the picture is somewhat sullied when we talk of 'the strategic bombing offensive'. We have strategies for raising children, improving infrastructure, education, and even getting a job.
The author points out that the term 'strategy' is misused and definitely overused.It has become, in brief, ubiquitous. No politician can outline a policy without telling us it is strategic. In most cases it simply means something is being planned for the future, it is a process or it is being used to impress. Whatever the reason, it has become far too imprecise.
Freedman believes that all good strategies have to evolve through a 'series of states....each requiring a reappraisal and modification of the original..'. It must be flexible, governed by the starting point and not the end point. He aims to provide an account of the development of strategic theory as it affects war, politics, and business. He admits his book is focused on Western culture only.
He s convinced there are elemental features of human strategy that 'are common across time and space', for example, deception, coalition formation and the use of violence as an instrument. To support this he gives examples of research by Goodall, Wrangham, Gat, de Waal, and Byrne into the behaviour of, for example, chimpanzees. From the Bible he quotes from Exodus and relates the story of David and Goliath as examples of trickery and deception. From the Greeks he discusses the trickery of the Trojan Horse, and the differences between Achilles and Odysseus. He reminds us of the well-known quote by Sun Tzu:'All warfare is based on deception'-insurgency and asymmetrical warfare is, of course, based on this precept.
This is a thought-provoking and stimulating book. Anyone, whatever their work can benefit from reading it. The military person ought to regard the book as essential reading along with the superb books on strategy by Professor Colin Gray.
If you have ever attempted to read clausewitz, then you will understand that books concerning stategy can be a real chore. This however does not, being that its an everyman book on stategy. not only does it cover the basic ideas from a military aspect but also ventures into its usage in politics and teh business world. freedman is essentaily proving a point that strategy is a plan and we all form plans to do everything- if you set an alarm clock to get up in teh morning you have the beginings of a strategy for your day- he covers alot of ground, and to be honest it makes a great touchstone to refer to when you need somthing written in academic speak interpreted into common usage language, also I find the best way to understand stategy is through example of it in action. there are some very imaginative chapters, covering topics I wouldnt have thought of, including the use of stategy in the bible, even some humour, but most of all it has that genre crossing ability to atract readers who have always been curious but been put off by an attempt at someone like clausewitz. The size isnt as daunting either when you realise its more to be dipped in and out of. all in all I found it a great book which is sure to grace many, stidents, soldiers, and business leaders shelves for years to come
This is one very large book, not only in size but in the detail the topic is covered in. The author has tried to cover every aspect of strategy and to do so almost everyone and everything is dragged in from ancient history, Milton's Paradise Lost, Napoleon, Von Clausewitz and the ships cat. Having said that the book is focused "largely on Western thinking...and for recent times (I) have particularly examined American approaches". The author is clear about the advantages of this approach and who am I to argue with him on that. Problem for me is that I formed the impression that the book the author really wanted to write was a `Machiavellian' guide for the modern politician.
For all that it is a very interesting and thought provoking book that is certainly worth the time to read. And I did enjoy it It's just that I was never sure quite whom the various points being made were aimed at. Of course it may just be me not quite having the level of understanding required of such a tome but I can't help that!
Four stars because as I say above I think this is really two books, one about military strategy and one about the application and meaning of strategy twinned with a political/business approach. Course it doesn't help that people can't seem to agree on a definitive meaning for the word strategy. A point the author makes and in fairness to him (and I'll assume that I've understood this bit) he does try to clear this up, basically the meaning he comes to is anything that one plans is a strategy.
Some 700 odd pages in length and 61/2" (15cm) x 91/2"(24cm) x 2 3/4"(7cm) in actual size it's not for reading in the bath! Written is a clear and readable style with a decent typeface.
With some exaggeration, but with some truth, it has been said that life is a battlefield. Before 1800, the word strategy wasn’t used by generals let alone anyone else but that does not mean that there was no such thing. Now, the word has become ubiquitous, to the point that it has become humbug. The first thing this book does then is to restore some depth to the meaning of this word, by examining how it has been understood in actual practice.
When we practise strategy, what is it we want to do? We want power, in the neutral sense of the word, in the sense of trying to get results. We want to get things done. That is why the book does not only cover strategy as envisaged and practised by the brass hats who are trying to win battles. It discusses strategy as practised by people who want to change the world, like Lenin, Ghandi and Martin Luther King. By capitalists who want to sell things and by bureaucrats who want to make organisations work better. Even chimpanzees use it – we have been practising strategy for a very long time. When our ancestors came down from the trees, they brought strategy down with them.
We are in a sense condemned to use strategy. We must do so because conflict is a fact of life. Most of us are unlikely to be caught up in a shooting war but that doesn’t mean we will escape conflict. Military conflict is only one form. There is moral, ideological, interpersonal, bureaucratic and emotional conflict, to name just a few. To manage this, we cannot do without strategy. But strategy is not salvation. It is hobbled by scarce resources, by imperfect information and by our own divided natures. We don’t necessarily do what is good for us. The supposedly calm, deliberative thinking we bring to strategic thinking can be influenced by all manner of irrational influences. But we cannot do without strategy. We need it not only to deal with human opponents but to counter natural and social forces. Strategy to acquire power should not be seen as merely an expression of a will to dominate, though it can be that, but as an essential tool of conscious, self-aware human beings facing an uncertain reality, trying to make that reality more tractable. They have no choice: either they do it, or that reality ends up dominating them. Of course, we often fail or have to settle for a less than perfect result.
This is not a ‘how to do strategy’ type of book. If you are devising a strategy, then should read this book, not because it is a recipe book. You will not learn how to devise the perfect strategy after you have finished reading it. In fact, you will come away with your scepticism about the sort of nonsense written by all manner of management gurus entrenched. That is no bad thing. You will though come away with a far stronger idea of what the rudiments of at least a plausible strategy are. First of all, form coalitions. Second, expect the unexpected. Third, if you are up against human opponents, try at least to see things from their point of view, even if you bitterly disagree with them. Remember that reason is a tool to work out what you don’t know as much as what you do. Try to be vigilant against your own biases and distortions. Give up any fantasy that strategy is about fighting the decisive battle which vanquish all your problems. When considering what you want to achieve, think of the next immediate stage rather than the end point alone. Be modest in what you hope to achieve. A strategy is not the same thing as a narrative. Be sure that your strategy is not really a story, either of an idealised retelling of the past or wishful thinking for the future.
You could just use this book as reference but I think you will get more out of it if you read it cover to cover first, then come back to it. I got the feeling, after I finished it, that I had not assimilated even half of what the author had to offer. It is definitely one I will return to. It is the sort of book that will keep on giving, each time you go back to it. Without doubt, it deserves five stars.
on 1 November 2014
An impressive overview of the use (and abuse) of strategy throughout history, from The Iliad, through SunTzu, Machiavelli, Clausewitz, Marx to Drucker, Porter and Mintzberg. One of the many themes is the difference between strategies based on the application of superior force, and those essentially based on being clever, although also recognising that those that combine the two are likely to be particularly hard to beat. The book is likely to become a classic that will become essential reading for anyone with a serious interest in the subject. It is inevitably presumptuous to suggest that such a massive study should have been even more extensive, but greater coverage of issues around values, learning and sustainability (words not mentioned in the extensive 30 page index) might have helped provide even more useful lessons for the future. To just argue that it is usually better to have some kind of strategy than not, and that the ‘critical success factor’ (again not mentioned in the index?) is to be able to change any strategy effectively in the light of new information, doesn’t really tell us anything that we didn’t already know. But the historic journey is still worth taking
This is a very long comprehensive book that covers every aspect of strategy and will appeal to many readers who are interested in not only the historical aspect but also the biblical and political aspect of this subject. It is a very detailed definition of the theme .
Lawrence Freedman’s book traces the strategic events that have shaped the world in which we now live.The strategic timeline in the book places historical events in context . His very detailed explanation of these events enable the reader to fully understand how strategic policies have helped to shape the outcome of many conflicts and the future of many countries.He highlights this in great detail giving the background and then the outcome .
The book also enables the reader to think about how they use personal strategies at work and in home life. He writes about the practicalities of dealing with mortgages and other financial situations that are encountered in everyday life .Lawrence Freedman writes about the need to be able to think through a situation and the possible consequences of action.
A compelling and thought provoking read that will appeal to many.
on 30 May 2014
This is a well written, lengthy book on the concept of strategy - from a military, political and business viewpoint. You have to be interested in strategy as a subject, and enjoy the history of ideas, but if you do, you will find a surprisingly easy read. Given its size there are one or two bits which drag, but overall Freedman has done a masterful job of weaving a huge range of material into a coherent book.
A couple of small criticisms and hence 4 rather than 5 stars. The introductory section of the origins of strategy is not as strong and I think the biblical link is not convincing. In the sections on political and business strategy there is a strong bias towards America. I have no doubt American thinkers have played a significant and possibly dominant role in these domains, but the very limited examples from other cultures made me wonder if this book was really targeted specifically at the US market. Nothing wrong with that of course, but then it should make that clearer to buyers!
on 23 May 2014
This is a really good, thoughful and thought-provoking book. For anyone who has a fascination with humans and what they get up to this is a refreshing take on many of the great events in history - as well as a look behind the sccenes of much of modern corporate life. Despite its slightly overwhelming size (it's a big old book) it is a pleasure to sit and read. I found mysefl effortlessly drawn forward by the unfolding drama of strategy as a world changing philosophy. I particaularily enjoyed the insights into the narrow mindedness of so many of the so-called greats with their obviously circumscribed interests followed through to the exclusion of anything resembling common sense. Really good.
This is an amazing work of scholarship that is also suitable for the general reader. Not only is it very well written, every concept clearly and elegantly explained, it is also very comprehensive. It takes the meaning and history of strategy in all its manifestations from the ancient Greece and China to today's world in which 'strategy' dominates thinking in the world of management and elsewhere. Highly recommended either to read from beginning to end or just dip into.