fighting the lack of good ideas

the 33 strategies of war by robert greene

I’ve now read [almost] all of Robert Greene’s books (just pending is The 50th Law, which I’ll have reviewed in a couple weeks). Thanks to my local library, I have not had to spend gobs o’ cash in the process (though at least one of his books I think is most definitely worth the expenditure).

The 33 Strategies of War is Greene’s rewriting of Sun Tzu’s The Art of War (review and chapters) with “modern insights” and the inclusion of a vast network of historical examples. It’s certainly an interesting text, but not one that I personally think warrants its own work – especially when the 2500-year-old book is still so insightful.

That being said, since I have read and/or skimmed the book, here are some thoughts. The best aspect of the book is still the “Joost Elffers-ification” of the book, with extensive marginal comments, highlights, funny textual formatting, etc.

Greene does an admirable job in this book, and it’s worth skimming – though I think the table of contents (reproduced below) is more useful than the whole text. It’s more of a pick-and-choose type of reading than something you should consume cover-to-cover.


Part 1 | Self-Directed Warfare

  1. Declare war on your enemies: The polarity strategy
  2. Do not fight the last war: The guerrilla-war-of-the-mind strategy
  3. Amidst the turmoil of events, do ot lose your presence of mind: The counterbalance strategy
  4. Create a sense of urgency and desperation: The death-ground strategy

Part 2 | Organizational (Team) Warfare

  1. Avoid the sense of groupthink: The command-and-control strategy
  2. Segment your forces: The controlled-chaos strategy
  3. Transform your war into a crusade: Morale strategies

Part 3 | Defensive Warfare

  1. Pick your battles carefully: The perfect-economy strategy
  2. Turn the tables: The counterattack strategy
  3. Create a threatening presence: Deterrence strategies
  4. Trade space for time: The nonengagement strategy

Part 4 | Offensive Warfare

  1. Lose battles but win the war: Grand strategy
  2. Know your enemy: The intelligence strategy
  3. Overwhelm resistance with speed and suddenness: The blitzkrieg strategy
  4. Control the dynamic: Forcing strategies
  5. Hit them where it hurts: The center-of-gravity strategy
  6. Defeat them in detail: The divide-and-conquer strategy
  7. Expose and attack your opponent’s soft flank: The turning strategy
  8. Envelop the enemy: The annihilation strategy
  9. Maneuver them into weakness: The ripening-for-the-sickle strategy
  10. Negotiate while advancing: The diplomatic war strategy
  11. Know how to end things: The exit strategy

Part 5 | Unconventional (Dirty) Warfare

  1. Weave a seamless blend of fact and fiction: Misperception strategies
  2. Take the line of least expectation: The ordinary-extraordinary strategy
  3. Occupy the moral high ground: The righteous strategy
  4. Deny them targets: The strategy of the void
  5. Seem to work for the interests of others while furthering your own: The alliance strategy
  6. Give your rivals enough rope to hang themselves: The one-upmanship strategy
  7. Take small bites: The fait accompli strategy
  8. Penetrate their minds: Communication strategies
  9. Destroy from within: The inner-front strategy
  10. Dominate while seeming to submit: The passive-aggression strategy
  11. Sow uncertainty and panic through acts of terror: The chain-reaction strategy