On Grand Strategy Book Summary - On Grand Strategy Book explained in key points
Listen to the Intro
00:00

On Grand Strategy summary

John Lewis Gaddis

A master class in strategic thinking

4.2 (189 ratings)
16 mins
Table of Contents

    On Grand Strategy
    summarized in 5 key ideas

    Audio & text in the Blinkist app
    Key idea 1 of 5

    The best leaders balance their grand ambitious vision with caution and an attention to details.

    The legendary Oxford professor and president of Wolfson College, Isaiah Berlin, once categorized writers by saying that “the fox knows many things, but the hedgehog knows one big thing.”

    Berlin was comparing two types of writer: hedgehogs, who were people with a worldview consisting of one central idea around which everything else is related, and foxes, who paid attention to the small details and saw the world as a complex place with a variety of different, even contradictory, aspects.

    Plato and Dostoevsky, for example, with their devotion to a single guiding philosophy in life, are hedgehogs, while Shakespeare and Joyce, who saw life as being far from black and white, were foxes.

    Berlin’s analogy was quickly expanded upon by others to include famous leaders of our time. This time, the hedgehog represented a highly-driven and single-minded leader, while the fox represented someone who’s cautious and sees all the obstacles in their way.

    With this analogy, it became apparent that the best leaders had a healthy mixture of both fox and hedgehog characteristics. Those leaders at the extreme ends of the spectrum were either too cautious or they failed to see the big picture.

    Consider the story of two leaders with two different dispositions: King Xerxes of Persia, who was a hedgehog, and his advisor Artabanus, a fox.

    In 480 BC, these two were considering a possible invasion of Greece. Being a fox, Artabanus was cautious and saw many potential pitfalls ahead. So he advised against the invasion and tried to warn Xerxes that the journey was too long and that they’d surely run out of food and be too exhausted to fight the mighty Greek soldiers.

    Being a hedgehog, Xerxes was single-minded and bold in his decision-making. In his opinion, nothing risked meant nothing gained, so he ignored Artabanus’s worries and invaded. Artabanus proved to be right, as the Persians were too exhausted by the time they reached the Greek army.

    Artabanus may have been correct on this occasion, but a leader should be wary of his approach. There are times when a leader needs to make bold decisions, and when leaders are always like Artabanus they may never make a move.

    So, the ideal leader is part hedgehog and part fox – they can assess all the different angles while still being able to take determined action.

    Abraham Lincoln was one such leader. He was determined to get the 13th Amendment passed in order to abolish slavery and, like a fox, he pursued a variety of angles to achieve this goal – including bribery, flattery and lies.

    Want to see all full key ideas from On Grand Strategy?

    Key ideas in On Grand Strategy

    More knowledge in less time
    Read or listen
    Read or listen
    Get the key ideas from nonfiction bestsellers in minutes, not hours.
    Find your next read
    Find your next read
    Get book lists curated by experts and personalized recommendations.
    Shortcasts
    Shortcasts New
    We’ve teamed up with podcast creators to bring you key insights from podcasts.

    What is On Grand Strategy about?

    On Grand Strategy (2018) takes case studies from throughout history, including ancient Rome and the Cold War, to examine the common characteristics of the world’s best leaders. Pulitzer Prize-winning author John Lewis Gaddis also looks at the common mistakes made over the years which have brought even the mightiest of leaders to their knees.

    Best quote from On Grand Strategy

    Napoleon entered Russia with 600,000 men and retreated with only 90,000.

    —John Lewis Gaddis
    example alt text

    Who should read On Grand Strategy?

    • History and military buffs
    • Anyone interested in the best leadership qualities
    • Managers, CEOs and other leaders

    About the Author

    John Lewis Gaddis is a history professor at Yale University, where he’s been teaching a course on military and naval history for over 15 years. He’s also an esteemed writer of the books The Cold War: A New History (2005) and George F. Kennan: An American Life (2011), for which he earned a Pulitzer Prize.

    Categories with On Grand Strategy

    Books like On Grand Strategy

    People ❤️ Blinkist
    Sven O.

    It's highly addictive to get core insights on personally relevant topics without repetition or triviality. Added to that the apps ability to suggest kindred interests opens up a foundation of knowledge.

    Thi Viet Quynh N.

    Great app. Good selection of book summaries you can read or listen to while commuting. Instead of scrolling through your social media news feed, this is a much better way to spend your spare time in my opinion.

    Jonathan A.

    Life changing. The concept of being able to grasp a book's main point in such a short time truly opens multiple opportunities to grow every area of your life at a faster rate.

    Renee D.

    Great app. Addicting. Perfect for wait times, morning coffee, evening before bed. Extremely well written, thorough, easy to use.

    People also liked

    Start growing with Blinkist now
    26 Million
    Downloads on all platforms
    4.7 Stars
    Average ratings on iOS and Google Play
    91%
    Of Blinkist members create a better reading habit*
    *Based on survey data from Blinkist customers
    Powerful ideas from top nonfiction

    Try Blinkist to get the key ideas from 5,500+ bestselling nonfiction titles and podcasts. Listen or read in just 15 minutes.

    Start your free trial