Strategy has become an overused, and often misused term, now covering a range of endeavours, from business to management strategies, rather than its original military application. Some refer to strategy with little understanding of its actual meaning, as seen when the term is used to address what are actually tactical issues. In this book Beatrice Heuser returns to its original military connotation. In a monumental work she investigates western approaches to strategic thought through the ages, and ‘The Evolution of Western Strategy’ might have been a better title. For although Asian approaches are considered briefly in Part VI - Asymmetric or ‘small wars - this book is overwhelmingly about European and American strategic thought.
Nonetheless, within the parameters of her work, Professor Heuser has presented a remarkable study and analysis of western strategic theory and ideas, and the abundant literature it has spawned. Never before in one book has such a comprehensive study of this enormous field of thought been compiled and considered. Clearly Heuser has an extensive knowledge of her subject, which she has mastered to deliver an excellent contribution to the study of military strategy.
After asking ‘ What is strategy?’ Heuser takes us on journey of strategic thought from Roman times to the early twenty-first century, addressing along the way such powerful influences as the Napoleonic paradigm; the World Wars of the twentieth century; maritime, air power and nuclear strategies; as well as those associated with ‘small wars’, counter-insurgency and wars without victory. In doing so she draws on a vast array of literature concerned with strategic thought, as evidenced by her considerable bibliography running to 65 pages, which makes this work much more interesting and useful than those espousing a particular strategic idea. Heuser concludes this masterful survey with three fine chapters pondering the changing and recurring nature of strategy.
Do not be mistaken - as Williamson Murray writes this is not merely ‘a survey of strategy through the ages, but a deep, intellectual examination of the complex relationships between strategy and war through the course of history.’ As Heuser makes clear, this book ‘is not about actual applied government strategies, but mainly about the thinking of strategists who published their works.’ In considering them, a fine thread questioning the ethics of various strategies runs throughout the book. Nor is this a turgid work, Heuser’s clear and lucid style engages the reader, and is a compelling study of the evolution of strategic ideas that makes thought provoking reading.
In this reviewer’s opinion, The Evolution of Strategy is one of the best books on strategic thought yet written, and should be read in conjunction with Murray, Knox and Bernstein’s The Making of Strategy, which addresses the practical application of grand strategy through the ages. Together, they are standouts in addressing the subject across a broad canvas of thought, ideas and application.