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Publisher's Summary

Throughout history great generals have done what their enemies have least expected. Instead of direct, predictable attack, they have deceived, encircled, outflanked, out-thought, and triumphed over often superior armies commanded by conventional thinkers.

Collected here are the stories of the most successful commanders of all time, among them Hannibal, Genghis Khan, Napoleon, Stonewall Jackson, Sherman, Rommel, Mao Zedong, who have demonstrated, at their own points in history, the strategic and tactical genius essential for victory. Ironically this virtue does not come naturally to military organizations, since more often than not the straight-ahead, narrow-thinking soldier will be promoted over his more lateral-minded, devious counterpart. Yet when the latter gets control, the results may be spectacular.

©1993 Bevin Alexander; (P)1995 Blackstone Audiobooks

Critic Reviews

"This study is essential reading for students of military strategy and tactics." (Publishers Weekly)

What members say

Average Customer Ratings

Overall

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  • Overall
  • Charlie
  • Lethbridge, AB, Canada
  • 06-26-07

Intriguing

Alexander draws on several examples through history to illustrate many of the traits common to successful military leaders.

I found the historical overviews excellent. At times the material is a little thick as the sheer volume of facts can get overwhelming. Listening to an audiobook, I find it difficult to keep track of the number of mm of armour a specific generation of German tank has in WWII. Also, I think it would have been nice to have an atlas at hand, as I found it difficult to keep track of locations.

This book will be of interest to: armchair historians, soldiers (past or present or considering a military career), writers, or anyone who wants to undertand a little more about how battles work, and some of the catastophes that we (people in general) have either avoided, or brought on ourselves.

Overall, it's worth slogging through in my opinion.

4 of 4 people found this review helpful

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  • Kenneth
  • LEESBURG, VA, United States
  • 03-30-14

The Problem with Case-Study-Centric Analysis

The book presents 11 case studies of brilliant generals. For each general it presents a short history of key battles that illustrate the general’s particular brand of greatness and then provides a set of lessons that could be applied more broadly to military style command. The first time through this book I thought it was great. It’s well written, historically informative, and provided an emotional touchstone for a lot of things I already believed, including a lot that was consistent with my beliefs about strategy. I was inclined to give it 5 stars.

The problem started a few weeks after I read this book when I was telling a Chinese friend about the inclusion of Mao Zedong in the list of great generals. The friend somewhat patronizingly claimed that that the key battle narratives in this book were not historical; rather they were a retelling of fictional propaganda created long after the fact. I didn’t believe my fried. But there was something about the particular interaction that started an extended investigation. I needed to know if Mao was a great general; the answer seemed to affect too many other aspects of my world view.

After 2 years of part time armature research, I came to believe that Mao was in fact a great general, but that the accounts of his greatness in this book are completely fictionalized.

IMHO Mao’s greatness as a general was in his use of what Sun Tzu called “dead spies”. This is best illustrated by the Manchurian Campaign, in which prepositioned assets (i.e., sleepers) played a decisive role. The trouble is that the author, I, and most of western culture view this use of dead spies as expletive, immoral, and evil or at least as unmanly. The repulsiveness of the implied lessons, inclines us to believe other versions of history. On the other hand the fictional propaganda was designed to fit with what we want to believe … The deeper trouble is that the facts matter but are only approximately knowable, and at least in this case even small progress in uncovering the facts requires excessive effort.

So … what lesson do I draw from the meta-case study of the Mao Case Study. For starters I do NOT find that the meta-case study leads me to something a kin to epistemological relativism. That would be too much like embracing one case study (or meta-case study) as absolute proof that all cases studies are wrong. But these kinds of case studies feel much deeper much more insightful than they are. It’s a kind of vividness bias. Stories are manipulative; in case studies the story takes pursuance over the facts.

On the other hand, thinking in stories seems to be necessary in order to explore less superficial truths, i.e., truths involving extended chains of cause and effect.

2 of 2 people found this review helpful

  • Overall

Good but Challenging

This is an excellent book, but it is a challenging one to listen to as an audiobook. There is a lot technical in here and some of it is a little hard to follow as an audiobook. Still, the historical content is excellent and there is a great deal to learn from this reading. I feel like I have a much different perspecitve on key historical military figures and the state of warfare in their times.

2 of 2 people found this review helpful

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  • Nate
  • CHICAGO, IL, United States
  • 01-15-12

For a military history buff, this is very good.

I'm a military history fan and always have been. However, like most fans of military history I read about the eras that I'm most passionate about.

The author does a good job of retaining credibility and covering those portions that I'm most familiar with well while also increasing my interest in other eras.

He also does a good job of demonstrating that the military maxims he advises are ageless. In fact, some of them are essential points that I would classify as "common sense that is uncommon"; the type of points that seem obvious, but that somehow escape so many military leaders over and over.

Great listen overall, good delivery, and it's just the right length.

1 of 1 people found this review helpful

  • Overall

Some Aspects of the Narration are Unpleasant

So far I've really liked the book, except for one thing none of the other reviews mention. The narrator often pauses, and whatever he is doing (swallowing, licking his lips, whatever he does to prep for the next part...) is very audible and detracts from the Audiobook a lot, for me at least. That is the *only* reason I did not rate this as a 5.

3 of 4 people found this review helpful

  • Overall

Absolutely Great!

I don't know if I agree with all of the Great General selections but this book delivered. I have a great newfound appreciation for Skipio Africanis, Stonewall Jackson, Lawrence of Arabai and Chairman Mao. The narration was good, not great, as you could hear him swallowing, etc. However, it did not take away from the story. If you like military history this is a MUST read.

2 of 3 people found this review helpful

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The great one .

The book is great and had a great time listening to the narrator thanks .

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A great primer on strategy

This book changed the way I view military strategy and history, and gave me a whole new perspective on Alexander the Great, Hannibal, Napoleon, Ghengis Khan, and others. The author takes a look at both sides - what the great Generals did right and what others did that cost them battles, and the basic principals are deceptively simple: Never hit the enemy head on and avoid the fight until the odds are in your favor.

This may seem basic, but when the U.S. military command in Vietnam had a "football field" mentality about the campaign (and even named battles after football plays), you get a sense of why we lost. Great Generals force the enemy into disadvantages positions and hit the weak areas to force the enemy to abandon their positions and react to them. They flee when they need to, and attach from the corners when it is in their best interest.

The author provides plenty of fascinating examples and narratives throughout history, and the book is well paced and easy to listen to. One of my favorites!

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Very Interesting subject matter

Would you recommend this audiobook to a friend? If so, why?

Yes, I would recommend this to a friend. However, at times it was difficult to keep up with the narration as the level of detail was such that it was a challenge to grasp it all. I will listen to it again but I will make sure to have maps in front of me to understand the tactics employed by these Captains and Generals. I also found myself googling all sorts of military equipment and Generals to complement the mental image provided by the book.

Which scene was your favorite?

The last chapter on McArthur and Korea was my favorite.

Was this a book you wanted to listen to all in one sitting?

No, it took a few sessions to get through it. This book is almost a text book in the sense that it provides very detail information about different battles and military campaigns. I like to let the information settle in before moving forward on to the next chapter.