Review: Strategy – A History

5 Star, Strategy
Amazon Page
Amazon Page

Lawrence Freedman

5.0 out of 5 stars Extraordinary Effort, Surprise Turn, One Gap, October 16, 2013


The original review and its links remain valid. The book is misrepresented as a history of military strategy – despite flyleaf comments about the book also covering business strategy, the fullness of the book is not properly presented to the public.

Had this book included Herman Daly and the entire underlying foundation of true cost economics, perhaps augmented by holistic analytics, and had the book focused on win-win and non-zero strategies in its conclusion, it would easily have moved into my six-star (top ten percent) category. As it is the book is assuredly at the top of the five star group.

Click on Image to Enlarge
Click on Image to Enlarge

The author touches briefly on a core point where we converge: he states in passing that “victory” is a military concept while “peace” is a political concept. Across the book he addresses persistent conflicts as those whose underlying disputes are never fully resolved, with peace and prosperity made ever less likely by the persistence of rulers striving to optimize their self-interest rather than the public interest. Exactly! Strategy without integrity is not strategy, it is systemic looting.

I have two notes from the latter half of the book that are inspired by the author’s treatment of this topic:

01 Bad or non-existent strategy encourages atrocities such as gas warfare or unrestricted submarine warfare (to which I would add today, CIA’s assuredly criminal drone warfare with its 98% collateral damage “score.”)

02 Proper open communication negates — makes obsolete — all prior assumptions about strategy, deterrence, and game theory.

I found the book to be a literature review, a tour of the horizon that placed many of those I have already read in context, and introduced me to a number of authors I have not encountered.

This book, which reflects on every page the author’s quite extraordinary investigation and integration of a vast range of literature (including his discover of 91 distinct definitions for strategy from 1962 to 2008)is most righteous starting point — along with the other books I recommend below — for anyone thinking about strategy. It falls short is not making the leap from win-lose to win-win.

I have a sketch on the final fly-leaf page just before Chapter 16, “The Limits of Rational Choice” that I am also posting at Phi Beta Iota the Public Intelligence Blog, since Amazon no longer accepts reader posting of images.

CHOICE is central. Around choice there are four elements to be brought together by a strategy. Existing Assets, True Cost Knowledge, Objectives, and Non-Zero Outcomes. All of these presupposes transparency, truth, & trust in the context of legitimate governance, I realize that does not exist today, hence the strategy I am interested in is a populist strategy that creates a prosperous world at peace, a world that works for all.

This book — read on the long road from Afghanistan back to the USA — is inspiring. I have removed three links from recommended books listed in the preliminary review, and am adding three links here as a further sign of my enormous regard for the value of what this author has done with this book.

The Health of Nations: Society and Law beyond the State
Grand Strategies: Literature, Statecraft, and World Order
Strategic Intelligence and Statecraft: Selected Essays (Brassey’s Intelligence & National Security Library)

Original preliminary review:

I received this book yesterday in Afghanistan, and since I get less than an hour a day to myself, it is going to take me months to read this book, but I certainly plan to work my way steadily along. At 751 pages this is a major effort by the author, and certain to demand considerable reflection. It lacks a bibliography which is a huge disappointment. Below I list ten other books related to strategy that I recommend (my Amazon reviews are also summary in nature since I now give all my books away — cliff notes for busy professionals as well as myself).

At first glance what I notice is that the author is focused on creating advantage against others in context, but ethics, ecological boundaries, and true cost economics as well as whole of government and hybrid government information sharing and sense-making are not part of this book, as best I can tell from the rather mediocre index. This book deserves a vastly better index, not the near moronic names only index that it has.

Surely worthy of a next edition, I would urge the publisher to add an annotated bibliography and a proper index. This is a five star book in relation to the current state of thinking, four stars in relation to the moral and intellectual constructs that Morin and a few others as well as myself have been pursuing. It may be that the author will be moved to add an epilogue one day, when he is ready to integrate holistic analytics, true cost economics, and intra-terrestial, extra-terrestial, and public intelligence (decision-support) to his thinking.

Here are some “big picture” books helpful to 21st century strategic thinking that must of necessity return to what the author calls “remarkable” pre-European indigenous strategic thinking:

Homeland Earth : A Manifesto for the New Millennium (Advances in Systems Theory, Complexity and the Human Sciences)
Ecological Economics, Second Edition: Principles and Applications
Philosophy and the Social Problem: The Annotated Edition
Ideas and Integrities: A Spontaneous Autobiographical Disclosure
Redesigning Society (Stanford Business Books)

There are my top strategy books as of right now, there are many others (see my easily found list online, “World a Look: Book Reviews on Strategy”) within the collection of lists of reviewed books at Phi Beta Iota the Public Intelligence Blog/Books.

The Search for Security: A U.S. Grand Strategy for the Twenty-First Century
Modern Strategy
Environmental Security and Global Stability: Problems and Responses
Strategy: Process, Content, Context–An International Perspective 3rd edition by Wit, Bob de; Meyer, Ron published by South-Western College Pub Paperback
High Noon: 20 Global Problems, 20 Years To Solve Them

There is so much moral and intellectual heavy-lifting to do as we reconnect with our Earth and ourselves as humanity, while unblocking the erroneously classified paths to extra-terrestial intelligence and opening new paths to intra-terrestial intelligence, it has to be said: in the here and now, Western civilization is retarded, and Eastern civilization is not far ahead. It would be quite interesting to see if a Southern civilization as well as a Far North civilization (Nordics plus Iceland and New Canada (Washington, Oregon, Alaska, BC, Yukon, and NWT) might not be able to devise and profer a truly humane, holistic, and even holy strategy for God is We, Heaven on Earth. Anything less is a sad statement on our limitations.

Best wishes to all,
Robert David STEELE Vivas
INTELLIGENCE for EARTH: Clarity, Diversity, Integrity, & Sustainability