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On Grand Strategy

3.75  ·  Rating details ·  2,686 ratings  ·  297 reviews
A master class in strategic thinking, distilled from the legendary program the author has co-taught at Yale for decades

John Lewis Gaddis, the distinguished historian of the Cold War, has for almost two decades co-taught grand strategy at Yale University with his colleagues Charles Hill and Paul Kennedy. Now, in On Grand Strategy, Gaddis reflects on what he has learned. In
Hardcover, First Edition (U.S.), 368 pages
Published April 3rd 2018 by Penguin Press/Penguin Group (USA) Inc.
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Average rating 3.75  · 
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☘Misericordia☘ ⚡ϟ⚡⛈⚡☁ ❇️❤❣
Q: “The fox knows many things, but the hedgehog knows one big thing.” …
Hedgehogs, Berlin explained, “relate everything to a single central vision” through which “all that they say and do has significance.” Foxes, in contrast, “pursue many ends, often unrelated and even contradictory, connected, if at all, only in some de facto way.” The distinction was simple but not frivolous: it offered “a point of view from which to look and compare, a starting point for genuine investigation.” It might even
Scott Wozniak
Apr 19, 2018 rated it it was ok
This book had a strong start and I got really excited about it. But then he started making theological claims--and doing it really, really poorly. He introduced St. Augustine as a strategy thinker--which I found really interesting. But then he started poking fun at his theology (literally, sarcastic jabs and snide remarks). And then he started making claims about what Augustine actually believed--which contradicted all the known theological scholarship on Augustine. Oh, then he endorsed Machiave ...more
John Gaddis is a great scholar. His biography of Kennan is a fine book. His books on the history of the Cold War are excellent. I have former colleagues who still remember their undergraduate classes with him. This is a book about “Grand Strategy” - the linkage of the very top levels of political and military direction. Gaddis views the best examples of grand strategy as very messy, mixing general strategic theories with attention to situational complexities, personal differences among leaders, ...more
Bill Kupersmith
Sep 29, 2018 rated it liked it
Shelves: nonfiction
Awfully disappointed. If you missed out on an Ivy League education, don’t feel deprived. The book is basically a series of lectures to our future leaders. The examples of bad strategy are easy and obvious—Xerxes invades Greece, the Syracusian expedition, Napoleon’s advance to Moscow, Wilson and the League. The good ones: Lincoln and slavery, FDR and WWII (though Gaddis goes awfully easily on the betrayal of the Poles). I wish Gaddis had tackled some tough choices like Churchill in 1940 or LBJ an ...more
David Montgomery
May 25, 2018 rated it it was ok
This book really disappointed me. I expected a discussion of, well, strategy. Instead, this was more of a self-help book with historical examples. Those historical examples were largely context-light, presented as simplistic archetypes of styles of thinking. (Gaddis particularly loves the device of pitting two historical figures against each other as opposing archetypes.) A reader wouldn't come away from this book with any deeper understanding of military strategy, international relations or pol ...more
Jun 03, 2018 rated it it was amazing
John L. Gaddis uses these pages to reflect on what his decades of study have revealed to him regarding grand strategy. He brings together an extremely wide and varied treasure of historical sketches to illustrate his thoughts. It might seem a bit ponderous and overwhelming to a reader who has not studied a lot of history (and possibly even to some who have), but Gaddis’s effort is effective. At the center of his argument is the management of intellectual contradictions as well as the need to dif ...more
Rowena Abdul Razak
Apr 23, 2018 rated it really liked it
Feels like you’re following Gaddis’ thought process. Best takeaway point: common sense is like oxygen: the higher you go the thinner it becomes.
Aug 06, 2018 rated it liked it
On Grand Strategy, by John Lewis Gaddis, is an interesting book examining Grand Strategy from the perspective of various case studies. The book examines US strategies during its Civil War, and its Cold War struggle with the USSR. It looks at the British Empire in 1900, the collapse of Napoleon's short lived French Empire, and even strategy from the Peloponnesian War. Gaddis looks at the complexity of Grand Strategy, both from its political, military, and human dimensions. He does so by examining ...more
Dec 08, 2018 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: history, military
John Lewis Gaddis's On Grand Strategy (2018) is a fascinating book, an erudite tour de force by an eminent historian on what it is to think successfully in an arena of human conflict, in this case, war. Based on lectures at the Naval War College and at a Yale seminar "Studies in Grand Strategy," it focuses on effective strategic thinking: how should one think in a strategic context such as going to war? What principles should apply to limiting strategic decisions? How does history inform us abou ...more
Michael Huang
A number of not-so-closely-related lessons from history of leaders.

* Oxford professor Isaiah Berlin once categorized writers into two groups: “the fox knows many things, but the hedgehog knows one big thing”. Plato and Dostoevsky are hedgehogs while Shakespeare and Joyce foxes. It turns on, this can be used to describe leaders too. A good one should blend both. (The foxes, BTW, are far better in predicting outcomes of world politics.)

* Having realistic assessment of one’s own skill is highly use
Apr 20, 2018 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
This is a strong book on the considerations that go into grand strategy and the traits of someone who aspires to be a grand strategist. Gaddis offers a multitude of considerations using the teachings and lessons learned from the likes of Thucydides, Clausewitz, Octavian/Augustus, Napoleon, and Lincoln to name just a few. Some of these names, such as Napoleon serve as an example of poor strategy (albeit with outstanding tactics and operational art).
The only shortfall I saw in this book was it's
May 05, 2018 rated it liked it
The book is much drier and way less interesting than its title and intro make it out to be. Basically, it's a retelling of the peloponnesian wars and other wars and an explication of fox and hedgehog thinking in war and in life. The book was modeled on a class. I would imagine the class would be interesting and popular, but it's pretty war-focused and not all that broadly applicable. ...more
Daniel Chaikin
58. On Grand Strategy by John Lewis Gaddis
reader: Mike Chamberlain
published: 2018
format: 11:02 Libby audiobook (~306 pages equivalent, 368 pages on hardcover)
acquired: Library
listened: Oct 22 - Nov 2
rating: 3

from Litsy ~Nov 5: What's cool is all the historical analysis from Ancient Greece to Rome to St. Augustine and Machiavelli as applied by Queen Elizabeth vs Philip II of Spain, to Lincoln vs Napoleon (with Tolstoy's War and Peace), to Woodrow Wilson vs FDR. But his points are troublesome in t
Aug 11, 2020 rated it liked it
Brilliant start but unfortunately tailed off massively. Analysis of Xerxes at Hellespont and Octavian were incredibly interesting, especially considering the discussion of the ‘fox’ and the ‘hedgehog’. However after these chapters it lost me. I thought the analysis of Machiavelli was interesting but his comparison with Augustine was odd (it seemed these chapters were dedicated to making constant off hand comments). I thought it had been rescued with Napoleon and the comparison with Xerxes as wel ...more
Apr 18, 2020 rated it it was amazing
A delightful, thought-provoking, and instructive peek into the mind of one of the great historians of our time. This book is a collection of essays or case studies, each probing through a different approach, what exactly "grand strategy" is, should be, and can be. Gaddis' evocation of history's broad range—Xerxes to Lincoln to Cleopatra to Machiavelli and more—together with his nimble explanation of strategic maxims is downright delightful. What makes this book stand apart from others on the sam ...more
Nahua Kang
Mar 29, 2019 rated it it was amazing
Read my full review here:

John Lewis Gaddis’ book aims to train a new generation of leaders not with high-tech wizardry, theoretical frameworks, or ideologies. There are no 3-step formulae or life hacks promising you 10x success rate. Instead, it offers the kind of training that draws on principles extending across time and space, i.e. history, so a leader intuitively senses what has worked before or not and then re-apply the principles to the present situ
Dougie Whitehead
Mar 24, 2019 rated it it was amazing
After a lifetime and degree in military history and strategy, here is the best book on it I have read. Ever. Gaddis is an unbelievably engaging writer. He somehow makes the complexities of a dozen campaigns and twenty personalities simple, if not easy.

Any person, in any career or walk of life, can gain from reading this slim study. The examples of negative versus positive liberty, and of aspirations not exceeding the means, are applicable in many areas. His critique of theocracy/ideology blindi
Jim Jaqcobs
Turgid. Not an easy read. Some chapters, Lincoln in particular, flowed nicely. This book was uneven in its approach. Essentially, a collection of lectures and perhaps parts of his other books.

Jim, Wilmette
Jul 08, 2018 rated it liked it
This ambitious title is supported by the author’s note that he has been teaching this topic as a class at Yale and the Naval War College. It is a history of notable figures and how they handled decision making. In most cases, two contemporaries are analyzed. In most cases, I thought it was bunk psychological analysis of historical figures. However, it does provide some insights to strategy. His historical figures – Pericles, Julius Caesar, Augustine, Phillip II, George III, Napoleon, Wilson are ...more
Tammam Aloudat
Apr 25, 2018 rated it really liked it
This is a grand book, I loved the historical and quite entertaining take by Gaddis on moments that required great strategies and how they were taken by people who confronted them all the way from Xerxes invading Greece to our current times. The stories are told with focus on what strategies were taken and what could have been done.

All these strategies and strategists are framed within a view proposed by Isaiah Berlin in a short book about foxes and hedgehogs. Hedgehogs look only at ends and do n
Michael Samerdyke
Jul 05, 2018 rated it it was amazing
I was a student of Dr. Gaddis' thirty years ago at Ohio University.

I was fascinated by this book, which distills Gaddis' thoughts on leadership. I took Dr. Gaddis' three classes on US Foreign Policy, so it was very interesting to read his thoughts here on Ancient Greece and Rome and also on Lincoln's political career, things that didn't come up in the class. It was also a revelation to see how interested he is in literature and religion. That showed a side of him that I had not been aware of.

Aug 25, 2018 rated it liked it
Starts of with some mind-provoking concepts like distinguishing 'foxes' from 'hedgehogs' or the aspirations-capabilities dilemma and then slowly becomes fuzzy and long-winded, leaving the reader with an unrelated sequence of analyses of historical characters without a common thread. Gaddis wasn't able to match aspirations with capabilities for this one. ...more
Rajesh Kandaswamy
Oct 15, 2018 rated it really liked it
This book is based on long-running seminar at Yale on strategy, written by one of the professors who lead it. The strategy in question is related to military and building empires, but is a fascinating read of some aspects of history through its use in examples. The authors uses a wide range of rulers – Xerxes, Pericles, Octavian (Augustus Caesar), King Philip, Queen Elizabeth 1, Lincoln, the founding fathers and FDR are some of them. The book begins with a supposition of Isiah Berlin on the diff ...more
Jul 23, 2019 rated it liked it
Shelves: nonfiction
Turns out this book is more in the vein of Robert Greene's strategic aphorisms as psychological self improvement than it really is about grand strategy proper. It makes most of its cases very well, (have the grounding mooring and purpose of the hedgehog but the practicality and flexibility of the fox. And err on the side of the fox if unsure.

The sections vary as to quality and usefulness in illustrating the point. The entire Twentieth Century section seems tacked on in order to get modern-centri
Gonzalo Escribano
Jan 11, 2021 rated it liked it
Shelves: 2021
John Lewis Gaddis is fantastic and I expected this book to be grand. The first part is formidable, Gaddis’ handling of the classics is inspiring. But the book starts showing a lack of coherence when Gaddis starts dealing with modern cases. By accumulating one case study after another, Gaddis gives fell short of my expectation for an authoritative book on grand strategy.

Gaddis tries to address many issues of strategy (military, political, religious, etc) but it is unclear why he addresses some of
Dec 30, 2018 rated it liked it
Shelves: 2018
The best way to describe this book is "ambitious"--Gaddis covers essentially 2500 years of human history--ranging from Xerxes to FDR--in a pretty tight 300 pages. At times it felt *overly* ambitious for what he was trying to do, and I think it would have benefitted from a more... systematic approach--instead of trying to build a narrative, treat his examples as *case studies* that demonstrated the aspects of grand strategy that he wanted to highlight. This is such a big, big topic, and I felt li ...more
John Lewis Gaddis and Paul Kennedy taught a strategy class at Yale and ranged thru history looking for examples of leaders who were strategic or not in their thinking. Ancient Greeks, Machiavelli, Abraham Lincoln... it was a broad list in this book with varied comparisons.

Why I started this book: The author and title caught my eye as I was browsing thru Overdrive's new audio.

Why I finished it: Listening to the audio was like attending class... however I think that this class would have benefited
Andrew Schlaepfer
Sep 10, 2018 rated it really liked it
Hoo boy I was not prepared for this book. Definitely interesting, but it felt like I needed a much better understanding of history to fully appreciate this. An understanding of Machiavelli, St. Augustine, and Isaiah Berlin would have been super helpful as well. As it stands, I probably absorbed 20% of what this book has to offer. Listening to the book probably didn't help either, this would have benefited from a physical book reading. Probably coming back to this in a few years. ...more
Paul Womack
Oct 10, 2018 rated it it was amazing
Using as a foundation Isaiah Berlin’s essay foxes and hedgehogs, Gaddis offers thoughtful summations of historical figures and the events in which they were involved. This is a volume to which I shall return, as I ponder the contradictions and confusions of our own times and the temptation to collapse them into one positive understanding. The book presents then a challenge to live with contradictions. A very good read this was.
Jake Goretzki
Sep 30, 2019 rated it really liked it
Shelves: 2019
Waffly but curiously enjoyable company. It all pretty much amounts to 'don't keep your eggs in one basket', 'keep your head', 'do things for a reason', 'play to your strengths' - and could have been boiled down to two chapters.

But memorably, this was the first time in many years I've spent so much time in the company of the Classics and not fallen asleep. God, I find Classics so tedious. Or perhaps I mean Ancient Persians / Greeks / Roman.
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