Friday, December 21st, 2012

Strategy lends itself to paradoxes, Edward Luttwak says.

Right now I’m wrapping my brain around the fact that left-libertarian philosopher-type-guy Aretae has declared WarfightingMCDP1, or the U.S. Marine Corps Book of Strategy — the best (nonfiction) book he has ever read:

It is more concise, to the point, correct, profound, unconventional, easy to read, and concept-dense than anything else on my bookshelf. Wow. For a moderately fast reader, the 100 pages of the book should take about 20 minutes to read. Large type, short sentences, clear meanings. But it is incredibly well thought through.

If you are overeducated in the ways of the Academy/Cathedral, and you want to learn additional ways to think, the military strategists/military historians are the best anti-academic thinkers around. But this book just blew me away. I thought I had learned to simplify, and say clearly (in in person presentations, not on the blog — the blog is for complex thinking that I need to share with someone). I am thoroughly impressed.


  1. Aretae says:

    Have you read it? It’s just that good. Also, they get feedback systems, epistemology, and learning right. And then they present it in a way that an average Marine can understand. Wow!

  2. Michael says:

    It really is a primer on great writing. I’ve used it in a a number of Thinking Like a Leader classes as well as in my TOC programs.

    Note that it’s a free download, in pdf, at the link in the article.

  3. Isegoria says:

    I just re-read Warfighting — or, rather, I think I re-read it. I’m pretty sure I’d read it before — which is one way to say that I wasn’t profoundly affected by it.

    I agree that it’s lucid and chock-full of powerful ideas, but I have my doubts that the average Marine — or average college student — would get much out of it that they didn’t already bring to it. It’s rather spare, like a good summary of a semester-long course.

  4. Aretae says:

    As my co-worker says: That’s not one of those books that you read once. It’s a book you can read once a week for your tour as a marine and get something new every time.

    Or else you can go work your ass off, discover every one of the ideas independently with blood, sweat, and tears… and then come find them all written down in one 80 page book, nicely packaged.

  5. Faze says:

    I downloaded the book in response to this post and was also underwhelmed. If you have an interest in things military, you’ve already absorbed the facts through observation, experience or the rich historical literature of war. In a fact, Warfighting’s unadorned statement approach is probably a poor didactic strategy. Its target audience would probably learn all this much better through stories.

  6. Aretae says:


    I am primarily a teacher. And currently I’m teaching Agile software to a notably military audience. I don’t expect anyone to absorb much of anything without extensive practice.

    The first chapter on Friction is the most concise, thorough anti-pre-planning thing I’ve read in my entire life. I can cite Hume, or the Positivists, but this is clear, simple, and it applies perfectly both in and out of combat (minus the violence section). I’ve been trying to sell the notion of uncertainty and friction (in order to push Agile software) to this business-military audience I’m in for about 6 months… and this presentation is magnificently suited.

    The section on education is the most intelligent commentary I’ve ever heard a large organization say about education. Really. By a factor of probably 8x. “Large organization” includes colleges.

    The final chapter or section — it’s not in front of me — on the importance of decisions being made by the leader on the ground with knowledge of the goals 2 layers up, the importance of leading from the front, the importance of encouraging mistakes — those ideas, implemented, could by themselves fix two-thirds of the business problems we see in corporate America.

    I don’t know that there’s even anything I haven’t said before in the book. It is, however, the most concise, easy-to-read presentation of a huge number of very good, very widely dis-understood ideas for its target audience (moderate-IQ leaders).

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