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The 33 Strategies of War
Published: 12/14/2007
Brilliant distillations of the strategies of war—and the subtle social game of everyday life—by the bestselling author of The 48 Laws of Power and MasteryRobert Greene’s groundbreaking guides, The 48 Laws of Power, The Art of Seduction, and his latest book, Mastery, espouse profound, timeless lessons from the events of history to help readers vanquish an enemy, ensnare an unsuspecting victim, or become the greatest in your field. In The 33 Strategies of War, Greene…
3.5Overall Score

The 33 Strategies of War

A book with lessons that can be applied to a wide range of contexts. The 33 strategies offer a useful schema for thinking about competition, by drawing from a large number of historical anecdotes.

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A book with lessons that can be applied to a wide range of contexts. The 33 strategies offer a useful schema for thinking about competition, by drawing from a large number of historical anecdotes.

In The 33 Strategies of War, Robert Greene cites anecdotes from military warfare, politics, psychoanalysis, and sports – to describe timeless strategies of war that have been used by people in the past. There are patterns of behavior that will help you achieve victory in war – and war in this case includes the social sphere, where the most insidious forms of war can be found.

Studying these rules will help you identify ways in which others may be exploiting you, or even ways in which you may be inadvertently exploiting others. War is not always deliberate or conscious, but it is an undeniable fact of life – you will be better off if you understand it better.

Strategy 1: Declare War on Your Enemies

It is difficult to know who your enemies are – people are evasive and subtle. But to win in life, you must become great at spotting your enemies, by looking out for signs that show their hostility towards you. 

Strategy 2: Do Not Fight The Last War 

Tradition, tired formulas, and attachments to the past will trap you. You must wage war against your past victories and defeats and react to the present moment

Strategy 3: Amidst the Turmoil of Events, Do Not Lose Your Presence of Mind

It is easy to control your emotions when you are following your routine. Since there is no surprise in your routine, you can use your calm rationality well, but when you’re in a situation that is chaotic, your strength of mind and your calm will be tested.

Strategy 4: Create a Sense of Urgency and Desperation

This chapter is about cultivating a mindset of scarcity. If you think that everything will be fine, then you will make no progress.

Strategy 5: Avoid the Snares of Groupthink

The reason why well-run militaries don’t use flamboyant language is because it is ineffective and vague. The execution of clearly defined goals is the purpose of the military, there is no room for ambiguity.

Strategy 6: Segment Your Forces

People often look for strategies in life because they fear independent thinking.

Strategy 7: Transform Your War into a Crusade: Morale Strategies

In this chapter, Greene turns our attention to team motivation. To successfully build a winning army of any kind, you must know how to appeal to their psychology.

Strategy 8: Pick Your Battles Carefully 

The costs of battle are often great, especially when you are over-committed. There are many people who sacrifice everything for a cause, business, or project – only to realize that the costs they had incurred were far too great. 

Strategy 9: Turn the Tables

The counterattack is a classic approach to warfare. Most people either spend their time attacking, leaving themselves vulnerable or they are extremely defensive and miss out on valuable opportunities.

Strategy 10: Create a Threatening Presence 

Everyone is vulnerable. but some people are more aggressive. The ruthless see the weak and the timid as easy targets that they can prey upon, and it is not that they know for sure who is weak and who is not, but there are signs that inform their judgments.

Strategy 11: Trade Space for Time

In the 1930’s, Mao Tse-tung was a rising hero of the Communist army. His philosophy and guerilla tactics led them to many victories against the Nationalist party, even though he was often outnumbered. 

Strategy 12: Lose Battles but Win the War

Everyone is a strategist angling for power, trying to promote their interests, often at your expense. Your daily battles with them make you lose sight of what really matters: victory.

Strategy 13: Know Your Enemy

The key to success in battle is to know the mind of your opponent. If you understand their psychology, then you will know how to deceive and control them, while avoiding being preyed upon yourself. 

Strategy 14: Overwhelm Resistance with Speed and Suddenness

In 1218, Muhammad II, the shah of Khwarazm, received a delegation from the Mongol Empire to the east. Genghis Khan had sent the shah three ambassadors who offered gifts, and a treaty that recognized the shah as the superior partner.

Strategy 15: Control the Dynamic

In 1833, Mr. Thomas Auld, a slave owner of a plantation in Maryland, called back his slave Frederick Douglass, who was 15 at the time, from Baltimore. Douglass had spent several years in the city, serving Auld’s brother.

Strategy 16: Hit Them Where it Hurts 

Man depends on his throat to survive. If his throat is strangled, his give sense organs will become useless. 

Strategy 17: Defeat Them in Detail 

In division there is weakness. The two things we take from this is to be wary of being divided ourselves as individuals, as groups, and to understand that the best way to fight an enemy is to divide them first.

Strategy 18: Expose and Attack Your Opponent’s Soft Flank

Attacking directly is rarely a good idea. Napoleon had a name for the opposite strategy, the ‘manoeuvre sur les derrieres’ – it would become a favorite of his. 

Strategy 19: Envelop the Enemy – The Annihilation Strategy

The Zulus defeated the British, even though their technology was inferior. 

Strategy 20: Maneuver Them into Weakness

Fighting endless battles is costly, it is much wiser to master the art of maneuver.

Strategy 21: Negotiate While Advancing 

What people failed to take from you through direct battle, they will try to take from you under the guise of morality and fairness.

Strategy 22: Know How to End Things 

The Soviets needed control Afghanistan for strategic geopolitical reasons, they installed a puppet dictator, and tried to counter the rise of the Islamic fundamentalists. 

Strategy 23: Weave a Seamless Blend of Fact and Fiction

Hitler knew that the allies were deceptive, and he was alert to their covert tactics, but the Allies, in a masterclass of deception, managed to fool him.

Strategy 24: Take the Line of Least Expectation

People expect you to conform to old patterns of behavior, which is why you never should. Instead, keep doing things they don’t expect. An unorthodox strategy that may have worked before should not always be used. 

Strategy 25: Occupy the Moral High Ground

Martin Luther attacked the Catholic’s church by creating a law of morals against the pope. 

Strategy 26: Deny them Targets

When Napoleon tried to invade Russia, he was sure it was going to be an easy victory. In the past, his predictions had been accurate. But this time, things did not go so well.

Strategy 27: Seem to Work for the Interests of the Group

Make alliances with others, but make sure you don’t get emotionally attached.

Strategy 28: Give your Rivals Enough Rope to Hang Themselves

Your enemies are not only external, they are internal – they also close to you, they are your colleagues and rivals. Fighting on both fronts is exhausting, so you must be efficient.

Strategy 29: Take Small Bites

Never seem to ambitious, you will stir up resentment. Gradually take small bites, and before anyone knows it, you will have acquired an empire.

Strategy 30: Penetrate Their Minds

Communication is a type of war. You can trick some people by disguising your great ideas in ordinary form.

Strategy 31: Destroy from Within

War can only be fought against an enemy who exposes himself. Infilitrate into your opponents’ ranks to accumulate valuable information – their weaknesses and schemes.

Strategy 32: Dominate while Seeming to Submit

President Roosevelt faced a dilemma in 1940, he was approaching the end of his second term in office, and in American politics, it was an unwritten tradition that no president would run for a third term. But Roosevelt had plenty of unfinished business.

Strategy 33: Sow Uncertainty and Panic 

Terrorists are born out of feelings of weakness and despair, and a conviction that the cause they stand for is worth the damage. 

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"Silence is the best expression of scorn" - G.B. Shaw

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