...an extraordinary treatise on the need to teach the principles of sound strategy to today’s leaders ... a kind of meta-textbook, an account of how his instruction of successive generations of military officers can in turn train us to think strategically ... Gaddis grasps that writing on strategy has to span world literature and popular culture ... It is a book that cares about liberty, choice and a moral compass, that warns against the hubris of an angry Bonaparte on the turn in a Russian winter, against leaders who do not listen or learn. A training manual for our troubled times.
Gaddis renders nuanced verdicts on an eclectic cohort of thinkers, writers, monarchs and conquerers, including Machiavelli, Carl von Clausewitz, Cicero, the Roman Empire of Mark Antony and Caius Julius Caesar Octavianus, Tolstoy, Shakespeare, the Oxford political philosopher Isaiah Berlin, and the Chinese military strategist Sun Tzu, whom the author marginalizes with sly derision for his imprecise generalizations ... Gaddis has indisputably earned the right to plow different fields of historical inquiry, which he does in On Grand Strategy with self-evident glee and peripatetic curiosity ... examples of misapplied strategic ambition and miscalculated military intervention are the most illuminating in the author’s elegantly composed study. They bind ancient and modern history to provide practical guidance to the contemporary strategist.
Ten lively essays proceed in chronological order from King Xerxes’ invasion of Greece to Isaiah Berlin’s thoughts on World War II and the Cold War. In all of them Gaddis keeps pounding — to the point of monotony — the seemingly self-evident: The grand strategist must prune away emotion, ego and conventional wisdom to accept that 'if you seek ends beyond your means, then sooner or later you’ll have to scale back your ends to fit your means' ... The book is as much personal remembrance as strategic reflection, and is chock-full of aphorisms and enigmatic adages ... On Grand Strategy is many things — a thoughtful validation of the liberal arts, an argument for literature over social science, an engaging reflection on university education and some timely advice to Americans that lasting victory comes from winning what you can rather than all that you want.