For those of you who are familiar with the 48 Laws of Power, Robert Greene requires no introduction. His earlier works (The Art of Seduction and 48) are referred to as the “amoral series”, while his most recent work, Mastery is a departure in some respects from his earlier work in that it reads almost like an inspiring self-help book. Greene has been a writer, editor and has also contributed in Hollywood.
The 33 Strategies of War uses the term war in a broader context by including the characteristic use of the term meaning battles but it also covers activities by politicians and those in Hollywood amongst others. The work is structured by providing a strategy followed by historical references as examples. These examples can be diverse in the sense that providing evidence can include: a Hollywood actress, Alfred Hitchcock, samurai warrior, political activist, and or a Napoleon….in any combination as a reference to the strategy at hand. The examples are then distilled into a modern day lesson which offers context and thought provoking ideas.
Each section also has numerous quotes in the margins taken from various sources that pertain to the strategy in question. If you like notes in the margin these are often interesting. On occasion the stories are lengthier and detract somewhat from the flow of the stories at hand.
The book is broken into 5 sections:
Self-Directed Warfare, Organizational (Team) Warfare, Defensive Warfare, Offensive Warfare and Unconventional Warfare. Each section contains several strategies elaborately presented and followed by interesting historical stories and interpretations of those stories in a section called keys to warfare. At the end of each strategy is the reversal, or opposite which may or may not be applicable to a given strategy.
There is no moralizing about a given event, but rather an assessment based on a detached evaluation.
This work is meaty in that it is not a sit down and consume in a short easy read. It is more of a pick up and read a strategy, mull it over and come back to the book later for the next one. I can think of more than one stand out section of the book, and you may find others that appeal depending on what you are looking for. By placing each strategy in a modern and personal context, Greene brilliantly ties the work together making the book all the more interesting and readable.
Almost anyone can benefit from Greene’s unique approach to writing. If you are interested in history, this book will provide an original take on a variety of historical moments and characters. As a person working in a highly competitive and or bureaucratic environment, there may be some things in here that can help you make sense of what is going on around you or even assist in the development of a strategy to get ahead.
Anyone with an interest in politics will gain perhaps a better insight into how to interpret the various moves and statements made by the political class. In this way the book might prove helpful in interpreting complex situations for investment purposes.
If one has an interest in the press and how news flow is developed and why it plays out the way it does, you will recognize some of the strategies based on thoughts in this book. They are not always cut and dry, but clear enough to draw a passing conclusion.
In the financial field one is faced with various strategies outlined in this book. Some are in the stories and narratives you hear every day, others are central to the business you are involved in. For the investment professional, this work offers a rich template of ideas.
George Santayana said: Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it, while Robert Greene is reaching into the rich treasure trove of history to derive lessons for the present and the future.
This was an outstanding book and I recommend it.