Strategy: A History by Lawrence Freedman

A rambling, overly-long book. Spends so much time digressing from his core topic — dipping into cognitive theory, the history of Standard Oil, and Greek mythology, among others — that he doesn’t find time (in 700+ pages!) to tie anything together.

The final section is the biggest offender, becoming just a parade of names and quotes with no background, no context, and no focus.

The one point he hammers on constantly is that any attempt to resolve conflicts by playing up the common interests of the parties involved is an “anti-strategy,” as he labels it. This quirky obsession puts him in some odd positions, like when he spends some time talking about the amazing Jane Addams, only to disparage her thinking on conflict by slapping the “anti-strategic” label on it. Many of the women he discusses end up dismissed in a similar fashion, making his attempts to undermine their thinking seem motivated by something other than rational thought.

Even though I felt like putting it down multiple times, I did learn a few things:

  • Chimps not only compete politically, they use coalition building within the group, and engage in raids and genocidal warfare outside the group.
  • Clausewitz is more famous today, but the most popular writer on military strategy in the 19th century was Jomini.
  • Martin Luther King wasn’t originally committed to non-violence. Only once some of Gandhi’s followers joined his organization — and after Rosa Parks’ successful boycott of buses — did he commit to nonviolence as a strategy