From a UW-Madison graduate in classical studies to consultant of some of the wealthiest corporations in America for leadership skills, Robert Greene is not the typical image of a strategist. However, once one reads any of his books, which now include “The 33 Strategies of War,” one will soon think differently.
Greene has done it again by publishing a sure-to-be classic book on war. His book draws upon the great strategists of the past, from Sun Tzu to Clausewitz, Napoleon to Hannibal and a host of other lesser-known but equally valuable contributors..
Greene’s premise for the book is that even though our society is becoming less overtly war-like on the whole, daily interactions are mini-stages of warfare whose resolution comes largely through strategy.
Greene formulates this as: “The problem for us is that we are trained and prepared for peace, and we are not prepared for what confronts us in the real world – war.”
While “War” concentrates on the strategic element of the “real world,” his previous books contain significant overlap to this idea. Greene’s “The Art of Seduction” compares seduction to a campaign of small battles, and “The 48 Laws of Power” dealt with the common elements in both of the other works under the auspices of power – power to seduce, make critical decisions and adopt strategies to overwhelm your target.
“33 Strategies of War” thus completes a trinity of useful topics applicable to the seducer, strategist, charismatic and all those interested in the workings of power and self-improvement.
Greene’s book sets itself apart from the host of books on self-improvement by using educated, classic examples to illustrate the principles discussed, thus educating the reader in the principles and colorful history from the past. He has taken the useful strategy Dale Carnegie used in his books such as “How to win Friends and Influence People” that made it a perennial work as readable today as when it was first published, modernized and made interesting for reader. One hopes Greene’s books get it as much field testing as Carnegie’s.
Much of what characterizes Greene’s writing is its clarity and ability to deal with ideas in a very readable, memorable fashion.
He is able to take the essence of many classical texts on the subject and distill them into a more palatable form to read than the original.
The usefulness of his book doesn’t stop at his brevity, but can also be used as a touchstone to discovering the original texts to get their personal voice instead of the morsels that Greene intersperses in his text from chapter to chapter.
Greene divides the book’s contents into five parts which cover self-directed, organization, defensive, offensive and unconventional (dirty) warfare, each of which is composed of several chapters on specific strategies that would fall under the heading.
Each chapter is structured so that the principle is clearly stated at the beginning, like showing failure from ignorance. He then provides several examples of how the strategy works in real life through historic situations. Each chapter then finishes with a visual and textual memory device and a brief discussion of the strategy’s reversal.
“The 33 Strategies of War” is worth every penny you spend on it since it illustrates better ways to deal with everyday life, the accumulation of leadership skills essential to leading others, and its rich history packaged in an entertaining and educational form leading readers to what is best in life – according to Conan the barbarian: “To crush your enemies, see them driven before you, and hear the lamentations of their women.”