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3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars TO BE OR NOT TO BE, 6 April 2014
By 
A. Taylor (Surrey England) - See all my reviews
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This review is from: Strategy: A History (Hardcover)
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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 get 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.
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6 of 6 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Enjoyable, 18 Feb 2014
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This review is from: Strategy: A History (Hardcover)
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.
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26 of 30 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A Perennial Problem, 2 Nov 2013
By 
Dr Barry Clayton (United Kingdom) - See all my reviews
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This review is from: Strategy: A History (Kindle Edition)
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.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Very readable, very interesting and very strategic, 28 April 2014
By 
Andrew Dalby "ardalby" (oxford) - See all my reviews
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This review is from: Strategy: A History (Hardcover)
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I had read Bobbitt's The Shield of Achilles some years ago and as an amateur student of strategic as well as one of the worst strategic thinkers of all time, I was interested to read this new book. Firstly it is in a different league to Bobbitt's American hagiography. It actually has some sensible arguments. It is in fact a truly an epic account of strategy of almost biblical proportions starting out with the Bible and Greek mythology before travelling through history to cover, Sun Tzu, Machiavelli, von Clausewitz and to look at strategy in business and politics.

There was a time in the 80s/90s when the saying was business is war and the required reading was the book of Five Rings by Musashi. Now Freedman is very much into the superiority of numbers and strength being the default best position of strategy and that under-dog strategies are more a rarity than the norm, but Musashi was a single fighter often facing poor odds. So while this is the more practical view of strategy and the view practiced by some general such as Montgomery, there is much more romance in the fight against the odds. Often we prefer David to Goliath, Odysseus to Achilles, the geek to the jock bully.

So the author has built a strategy to protect his thesis and is starts from the first chapter in chimps where he tells the story of Yeroen and Luit in Arnhem zoo. He says how with superiority of coalition formation Luit takes over from the old alpha male Yeroen and the superior forces rule the day. But he does not mention how that story continued. Yeroen secretly created a new alliance with another young chimp who was not the alpha Luit called Nikkie and then Yeroen attacked and killed Luit during a night attack. It was mature guile and not posturing youth that won the day.

There are many other strategists who over-powered superior forces by understanding their limitations. Hannibal at Cannae is a perfect example and Rommel on many occasions was another (even the first day of El Alamein went worse than expected for Montgomery because of ill-advised attacks with inferior armour). Even Leonidas at Thermopylae was a strategic success (like the Alamo) even if it was not a tactical success for those involved.

So while Freedman writes very evocatively and very persuasively, he does not tell the whole story. That is his strategy. Deny the enemy complete knowledge and frustrate their intelligence gathering. That is how modern business works by having imperfect knowledge between parties in the market. So it is not only a book, it is a lesson in strategy itself.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars excellent, 23 April 2014
By 
Mr. Pj Williams (cardiff uk) - See all my reviews
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This review is from: Strategy: A History (Hardcover)
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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
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5.0 out of 5 stars Excellent., 5 July 2014
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This review is from: Strategy: A History (Hardcover)
A book for Students of life, in every walk of life! A Pleasure to read and re-read. A fertile resource on the genesis and use of strategy. Grand strategies well explained. Excellent.
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4.0 out of 5 stars Clever weaving of a huge range of concepts into an easy to read book on Strategy, 30 May 2014
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This review is from: Strategy: A History (Hardcover)
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!
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4.0 out of 5 stars A clear and fascinating overview of strategy, 23 May 2014
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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.
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5.0 out of 5 stars Great book, 21 May 2014
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This review is from: Strategy: A History (Hardcover)
150ish pages in and really enjoying it so far. I've gone from the use of the word in ancient greece to its use and
Meaning in the cold war. I would highly recommend this book.
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5.0 out of 5 stars A masterpiece, 4 May 2014
By 
J. H. Bretts "jerard1" - See all my reviews
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This review is from: Strategy: A History (Hardcover)
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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.
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Strategy: A History by Lawrence Freedman
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