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31 of 35 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A Perennial Problem, 2 Nov. 2013
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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Initial post: 4 Jan 2016 13:50:30 GMT
Urbanmeister says:
What a quality review! Really insightful and helpful. Thank you. I'll now order this book.
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