Book Review: Grand Strategies: Literature, Statecraft, and World Order


by Charles Hill

New Haven: Yale University Press, 2011. Pp. xii, 368. Notes, biblio., index. $18.00 paper. ISBN: 0300171331

In Grand Strategies, career foreign service officer and distinguished scholar Hill, also author of the recent Trial of a Thousand Years: World Order and Islamism ,  looks at how literature has reflected and shaped strategy and policy from earliest times. 

While the standard works are here, from Sun Tzu and Thucydides through Machiavelli and Grotius, we also find Hill discussing the works of Locke, Gibbon, Hobbes and even Lincoln, which are perhaps unexpected but understandable.  But Hill goes further, giving us excerpts from Homer, Virgil, Dante, Schiller, Shakespeare, Kipling, T.E. Lawrence (fans of whom will not like Hill’s assessment), Malraux, Rushdie, even Pope John Paul II, and many more.  In the process of reviewing the value of the numerous and very different works by these diverse authors, Hill also draws upon historical examples across the ages, including his own experience garnered from decades of contact with figures as different as Mao and Kissinger. 

In the end, Hill’s point, well made, is that to shape strategy and policy effectively, leaders must know as much as possible about the human experience, not only their own, also that of their adversaries and partners, and that literature, even fiction, can help provide that knowledge, thus in a sense, reminding us of Sun Tzu’s adage, “If you know the enemy and know yourself, you need not fear the result of a hundred battles.”

Grand Strategies is an important read for anyone interested in policy, strategy, and war.


Reviewer: A. A. Nofi, Review Editor   

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