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The 33 Strategies of War summary

Robert Greene

A Comprehensive Guide to the Subtle Social Game of Everyday Life

4.1 (328 ratings)
16 mins

Brief summary

'The 33 Strategies of War' by Robert Greene is a guide that explores principles of war and their application to everyday life. It offers strategies for winning conflicts and overcoming obstacles through careful planning and strategic thinking.

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    The 33 Strategies of War
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    Section 1: We realize the value of life when death is close.

    December 22, 1849. It’s a bitterly cold morning in Saint Petersburg, Russia’s imperial capital.

    It’s also the morning of an execution. Shackled convicts are led from their cells into a cobbled square lined with carts carrying coffins. Soldiers load their rifles and a priest performs last rites for the condemned. Finally, an officer reads the verdict: death by firing squad.

    As the officer announces his fate, one of the convicts, a 28-year-old novelist, looks up. His name is Fyodor Dostoevsky. His gaze falls on the golden spire of a nearby church. It glitters in the sun. Then a cloud passes, extinguishing the gleaming light. The thought crosses his mind that he’s about to pass into darkness just as quickly – and forever.

    Dostoyevsky hadn’t reckoned with death. A few years earlier, in 1845, his first novel, Poor Folk, had been published. It had earned him critical acclaim. As he put it in his diary that year, the whole of Russia was talking about it. Dostoevsky’s interest in the empire’s poorest subjects wasn’t just literary. A political radical, he looked forward to a day when they’d rise up and overthrow the monarchy and its aristocratic supporters.

    In 1848, that day had seemed close at hand. A wave of uprisings had swept across Europe. Rebels called this continent-wide assault on conservative monarchies the “springtime of peoples.” The mood had been infectious. Dostoevsky had attended meetings and called for revolution. It was time to topple the tsar and liberate the empire’s long-suffering peasants. But there’d been no uprising in Russia. The tsar’s spies had also attended the meetings and they’d given the list of names they’d gathered to the police. Dostoevsky had duly been arrested and thrown in jail.

    Political dissidents were usually sentenced to hard labor in Siberian work camps. Dostoevsky had expected a similar punishment. But then, eight months after his arrest, he’d been taken from his cell on this cold morning and led into a square where he can now see empty coffins and soldiers loading their rifles. As he looks at the church spire, a second thought goes through his head. If he somehow escapes death, he thinks, his life will seem endless. It’ll be as if he has an eternity ahead of him. Each minute will feel like a century. 

    Luck’s on his side. A carriage comes flying into the square. A messenger passes an envelope to the officer. The tsar has commuted the convicts’ death sentences; there’ll be no executions. Instead, the convicts will be sent to Siberia for hard labor. That’s nothing compared to death. Later that evening, Dostoevsky writes to his brother. Looking back at all the time he has squandered, he says, is torture. Now, though, it’s as if he’s been reborn. He vows never to waste another second.

    When Dostoevsky returned from Siberia in 1854, he got to work. Writing had been a painful process before his imprisonment. Every sentence was a struggle; it took him months to complete a single page. Now, though, it was effortless. The words poured out of him. He maintained that frantic pace until his death in 1881. In just over 25 years, he wrote a series of epochal novels that included Crime and Punishment, The Possessed, and The Brothers Karamazov.

    Dostoevsky’s peers sometimes said that they pitied him for hardships he endured in Siberia. But Dostoevsky felt no bitterness. He was grateful. As he saw it, he’d have wasted his life if it hadn’t been for that morning when he felt death looming over him.

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    What is The 33 Strategies of War about?

    The 33 Strategies of War (2006) distills the essential lessons of military strategy into a series of memorable vignettes. Drawing on ancient and modern sources, this wide-ranging study of tactical masterstrokes and follies offers fascinating insights into human psychology and motivation.

    The 33 Strategies of War Review

    The 33 Strategies of War (2006) by Robert Greene is a thought-provoking exploration of ancient strategies and wisdom applied to the modern battlefield of life. Here's why you should definitely give it a read:

    • Packed with practical tactics and advice, it equips readers with powerful tools to navigate and succeed in highly competitive environments.
    • By drawing insights from historical figures and famous battles, the book provides a fascinating lens through which to view strategy and decision-making.
    • Its unique perspective on the dynamics of power and conflict keeps readers engaged, ensuring that each chapter offers fresh and intellectually stimulating insights.

    Who should read The 33 Strategies of War?

    • Thinkers and doers
    • History buffs
    • Psychologists

    About the Author

    Robert Greene is an author, playwright, and editor based in Los Angeles. He studied Classical Studies at the University of California, Berkeley, and the University of Wisconsin–Madison. Greene is the author of six best-selling books including Mastery, The 48 Laws of Power, and The Art of Seduction.

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    The 33 Strategies of War FAQs 

    What is the main message of The 33 Strategies of War?

    The main message of The 33 Strategies of War is to understand and utilize various strategies to win in any conflict or challenge.

    How long does it take to read The 33 Strategies of War?

    The estimated reading time for The 33 Strategies of War is several hours. The Blinkist summary can be read in just 15 minutes.

    Is The 33 Strategies of War a good book? Is it worth reading?

    The 33 Strategies of War is worth reading as it provides valuable insights into strategies for success. It offers practical advice for overcoming obstacles.

    Who is the author of The 33 Strategies of War?

    The author of The 33 Strategies of War is Robert Greene.

    What to read after The 33 Strategies of War?

    If you're wondering what to read next after The 33 Strategies of War, here are some recommendations we suggest:
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    • Mastery by Robert Greene
    • No More Mr. Nice Guy! by Robert A. Glover
    • The Daily Laws by Robert Greene
    • Level Up by Rob Dial
    • The Art of Seduction by Robert Greene
    • Decisions about Decisions by Cass R. Sunstein
    • The Game by Neil Strauss
    • How to Know a Person by David Brooks
    • Mind Shift by Erwin Raphael McManus