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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