Reading List (Update): On Strategy

By | December 16, 2018

[December 16, 2018]  Joining my local library and getting one of those scannable electronic tags has provided my wife and I another level of entertainment and learning.  As I noted last month, I picked up The Odyssey of Echo Company by Doug Stanton and enjoyed it so much I put it on my Reading List (link here).  A few days later, I stumbled upon several books on strategy; most found their place in my circular file 13.  But one stood out.  Yes, I know, I’m a sucker for anything having to do with grand strategy but John Lewis Gaddis’ newest book On Grand Strategy was just what I needed to read to get through a rainy weekend.  I’ll be putting this book on my recommended reading list because it follows Mr. Gaddis’ loosely-connected thinking on strategy in an interesting way.

On Grand Strategy, John Lewis Gaddis, 2018.

Historian John Lewis Gaddis held the distinguished Robert A. Lovett Professor of Military and Naval History at Yale University.  Gaddis was seen as a goldmine of data from the world’s Cold War and had witnessed the inside of grand strategy development.  This provided him with a wealth of perspectives from which to draw his ideas on Cold War strategy; specifically what we now call “containment.”

At the center of his book, Gaddis uses Isaiah Berlin’s parable of the hedgehog and the fox.  According to Gaddis, who often states the obvious, those who develop strategy must have focus (the hedgehog) but also flexibility (the fox) so that they do not succumb to ego and hubris.  In his book, we are taught that there must be a relationship between “means” and “ends.”  For example, his favorite strategists are Abraham Lincoln and Franklin D. Roosevelt; two wartime U.S. presidents.  Gaddis writes about the “ways” (i.e., the methodology) by which these two men were able to devise a grand strategy to win two of the most significant wars in American history.

Professor Gaddis also does a superb job of tying tactics at the lower echelon levels to grand strategy, centralized and decentralized thinking, and leadership as they work together that a strategist would expect.  While the book is written for the reader who has a basic understanding of military history and some inkling of strategy development, it is not required.  I found his book sometimes to be a little too detailed and at other times, too short on the goods of logic.  Overall, an exceptional book.

Highly recommended.

To go to the full Professional Reading list, simply click on this direct link:

Side Note: Please remember and take a look at Tom Copeland’s reading blog.  His website, which I highly recommend, can be found here:

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Author: Douglas R. Satterfield

Hello. I'm Doug and I provide at least one article everyday on some leadership topic. I welcome comments and also guests who would like to write an article. Thanks for reading my blog.

16 thoughts on “Reading List (Update): On Strategy

  1. Dennis Mathes

    Thank you for the review and recommendation, Gen. Satterfield. Your series on book reviews has been valuable of the months I’ve been reading your blog. 🙂

  2. Tracey Brockman

    ven in the military few really grasp the fundamental differences in grand strategy, strategy, tactical concepts, and day to day tactics

  3. Max Foster

    This is not the book I thought it was going to be. It is far more wonderful than I could image. While part history (through so many stories), part philosophy/political science (through discussions of Augustine and Machiavelli), part literature (with a focus on Tolstoy’s War and Peace), part fable (the hedgehog and the fox) and part science (understanding who is the better predictor-of-the-future: foxes or hedgehogs). As I understand it, the book is based on years of teaching a course of this name at Yale, and it is a great read, and a great re-read to help sew together the threads that this reader lost along the way.

    1. Darryl Sitterly

      Good comment, Max. I haven’t read it yet but based on what you and others have written, I might just get the book.

  4. Lynn Pitts

    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 only half of what this book has to offer.

    1. Wilson Cox

      I agree. This is one of those books that will need to be a re-read multiple times to truly absorb its key themes.

    2. Eric Coda

      I thoroughly enjoyed the content and the author’s writing and wit. He must be a wonderful lecturer. This is a great read that enlightened me on characters of history as well as how they led in times of crisis.

  5. Lady Hawk

    One reviewer wrote, “The best education in grand strategy available in a single volume . . . a book that should be read by every American leader or would-be leader.”—The Wall Street Journal

    1. Danny Burkholder

      Some say his book is the best education on grand strategy in a single book. I plan on purchasing it soon and expect to have it read before the new year. Then I will make my New Year’s Resolutions.

    2. Jerome Smith

      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.

  6. Greg Heyman

    In chapters extending from the ancient world through World War II, Gaddis assesses grand strategic theory and practice in Herodotus, Thucydides, Sun Tzu, Octavian/Augustus, St. Augustine, Machiavelli, Elizabeth I, Philip II, the American Founding Fathers, Clausewitz, Tolstoy, Lincoln, Wilson, Franklin D. Roosevelt, and Isaiah Berlin.

  7. Mike Baker

    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.

  8. Nick Lighthouse

    A summary of the complex concepts explored in Gaddis’s Grand Strategy seminar, full of vivid examples of leadership and strategic thinking, from the Persian king Xerxes to Churchill’s and Roosevelt’s WWII strategies…Gaddis brings a deep knowledge of history and a pleasingly economical prose style to this rigorous study of leadership.

  9. Janna Faulkner

    Enjoyed your review as always, Gen. Satterfield. Keep ’em coming our way. You might want to consider compiling your long list of reviews into a book form yourself. Just a thought. Thanks.

  10. Army Captain

    Good book. I read it when it came out and also highly recommend it to anyone, regardless of their understanding level of tactics or strategy.

    1. Ronny Fisher

      Thanks Army Captain for giving the book a thumb’s up.

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