~ There is only one journey: going inside yourself. ~
- Rainer Maria Rilke


How Great Generals Win ~ Thursday, December 14, 2006

I found a great quote by Borges today: "I have always imagined Paradise will be a kind of library." True enough.

Or perhaps libraries are paradise enow... At least, for me.

Whichever way it goes, something I do enjoy doing is randomly walking through the bookshelves and grabbing a title that catches my eye. Which is how I ended up with the catchily-titled How Great Generals Win by Bevin Alexander. I'm about forty pages or so in--but thankfully, he comes to the point pretty quickly. Like the no-frills title, he doesn't withold the information. The introduction tells us up front how great generals win: by being tricksters and doing the unexpected.

Simple enough, it would seem (though there's also the factor of how difficult it might be to figure out what would be considered unexpected to your adversary). His argument for why it's not followed as often as it ought to be is that the military generally encourages straightforward heroism (as, indeed, does culture as a whole) and so promotes straightforward thinkers and so on.

So: attack from the rear, or march on some undefended, strategically important target that no-one would ever imagine being assailed. For instance, while Hannibal led the Romans on a run for their money in Italy, Scipio Africanus led a seige on Carthage, which was ill-defended. He won it--a strategic victory that served to demoralise his adversaries and helped turn the tide.

Thus far, certainly, it's not particularly complex in conception or premise, but it's readably written, reasonably convincing (though it's hard to say when looking at just one book) and engagingly narrated.

I also find the setup of the book refreshing in its straighforwardness--none of the coy, trendy "hooks" and "keep 'em reading by dangling tantalizing questions while withholding the answers"--it addresses the title up front, and the rest of the book presents examples and specifics.

So, why would I be reading a book about war and generals anyway? Well, firstly, it might be useful for something I might work on in the future. Secondly, war is one of the great plagues of mankind--one that we can't seem to shake off, unfortunately. I suppose that if it's to happen, then better to have a wily general who is sufficiently good with strategy and tactics that he can shorten the suffering and horror as much as possible. Also, I like chess, even though I'm not very good at it. But I wish I were--the game has, for me, an aura of glamour, brilliance and utter coolness. So, this sort of reading is by way of compensation.

::Posted by Anduril Elessar @ 10:37 PM::::


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