Life gets busy. Has The 33 Strategies of War been gathering dust on your bookshelf? Instead, pick up the key ideas now.
We’re scratching the surface here. If you don’t already have the book, order the book or get the audiobook for free to learn the juicy details.
This book summary and review of The 33 Strategies of War is divided into five parts: Self-Directed Warfare, Organizational (Team) Warfare, Defensive Warfare, Offensive Warfare, and Unconventional (Dirty) Warfare. Each part contains a different number of strategies, each explained in a separate chapter.
What is the book about?
The 33 Strategies of War by Robert Greene is a “guide to the subtle social game of everyday life informed by the … military principles in war.”.
It is comprised of discussions and examples of offensive and defensive strategies from a wide variety of people and conditions such as Napoleon Bonaparte, Lawrence of Arabia, Alexander the Great, and the Tet Offensive.
Descriptions of battles, political and business situations are accompanied by Greene’s interpretation. There are occasional instructional sections followed by examples. All chapters end with a “Reversal” to give a brief discussion of where the strategy may not apply, a contrary view or defense.
About the author
Book Summary of The 33 Strategies of War
PART I: SELF-DIRECTED WARFARE
1. DECLARE WAR ON YOUR ENEMIES: THE POLARITY STRATEGY
Life is an endless battle and conflict, and you cannot fight effectively unless you can identify your enemies. Learn to smoke out your enemies, to spot them by the signs and patterns that reveal hostility. Then, once you have them in your sights, inwardly declare war. Your enemies can fill you with purpose and direction.
Example: In 401 BC Xenophon led Greek mercenaries into Persian territory. When their leader died and they had nothing more to fight for, surrounded by the enemy, they had to become a concentrated force fighting their way back home. The soldiers’ spirit was crushed. They had weak morale and started fighting each other. Xenophon united them, thus defeating the inner enemy.
Explanation: Focusing on survival, the prospect of getting home alive to family and friends made them persevere. You cannot swing a sword without knowing what to hit with it. It’s you against the world and it’s you against yourself.
2. DO NOT FIGHT THE LAST WAR: THE GUERRILLA-WAR-OF-THE-MIND STRATEGY
What most often weighs you down and brings you misery is the past. You must consciously wage war against the past and force yourself to react to the present moment. Be ruthless on yourself; do not repeat the same tired methods. Wage guerrilla war on your mind, allowing no static lines of defense–make everything fluid and mobile.
Example: Miyamoto Musashi is one of history’s most dangerous Samurais because he used to switch up his fighting pattern, changing his tactics regularly to keep his opponents guessing and on the defensive.
The nervousness and paranoia this inflicted on his rivals made them easy targets. What has worked in the past, may not work again.
Explanation: Forget the past. Adapt to current times, ever-changing, ever-evolving. George Bernard Shaw said “The only man I know who behaves sensibly is my tailor; he takes my measurements anew each time he sees me. The rest go on with their old measurements and expect me to fit them.”
― Robert Greene #The33StrategiesofWar
Click to Tweet
3. AMIDST THE TURMOIL OF EVENTS, DO NOT LOSE YOUR PRESENCE OF MIND: THE COUNTERBALANCE STRATEGY
In the heat of battle, the mind tends to lose its balance. It is vital to keep your presence of mind, maintaining your mental powers, whatever the circumstances. Make the mind tougher by exposing it to adversity. Learn to detach yourself from the chaos of the battlefield.
Example: Lord Nelson disobeyed his hysterical commander in the battle at Copenhagen in 1801, keeping a calm head in a most hectic situation. By disregarding his commander’s authority and seeing the battlefield for what it was, Lord Nelson defeated the Danish navy.
Explanation: You have to stay alert when everyone else is in an uproar. Do not be intimidated by chaos. Do not panic. You seek out the conflict reacting swiftly when the opportunity presents itself.
― Robert Greene #The33StrategiesofWar
Click to Tweet
4. CREATE A SENSE OF URGENCY AND DESPERATION: THE DEATH-GROUND STRATEGY
You are your own worst enemy. You waste precious time dreaming of the future instead of engaging in the present. Cut your ties to the past; enter unknown territory. Place yourself on “death ground,” where your back is against the wall and you have to fight like hell to get out alive.
Example: Fyodor Dostoevsky knew his days were numbered. Facing his execution he made use of his time by creating each of his works as if they were his last because they very well could’ve been.
Explanation: Once you come face to face with death, you eliminate life’s non-essentials. You overcome trivialities we foolishly care about every day taking our lives for granted.
Dostoevsky’s work is exceptional because he was restless. He did not seek comfort. You cannot wait for the right time. You are never fully prepared to start. “Tu fui ego eris.” As you are, I was. As I am, you will be. (A gravestone inscription reminding you that death is unavoidable)
― Robert Greene #The33StrategiesofWar
Click to Tweet
PART II: ORGANIZATIONAL (TEAM) WARFARE
5. AVOID THE SNARES OF GROUPTHINK: THE COMMAND-AND-CONTROL STRATEGY
The problem in leading any group is that people inevitably have their own agendas. You have to create a chain of command in which they do not feel constrained by your influence yet follow your lead. Create a sense of participation, but do not fall into groupthink–the irrationality of collective decision making.
Example: General George Marshall taught his philosophies on leadership to a handful of protégés he’d put into authoritative positions with high-risk responsibilities. One of these men was Dwight Eisenhower.
The General could rely on his subordinates, as they held the same beliefs and ran their positions according to his vision.
Explanation: You want a chain of command you can rely on. You are the General, but you cannot have your head everywhere. Put remote systems and loyal leaders into the place that will guarantee the desired outcome.
Use them to balance your weaknesses with their strengths and ensure they always keep you up to date. In any case, be careful not to give up too much of your own authority and leverage.
6. SEGMENT YOUR FORCES: THE CONTROLLED CHAOS STRATEGY
The critical elements in war are speed and adaptability–the ability to move and make decisions faster than the enemy. Break your forces into independent groups that can operate on their own. Make your forces elusive and unstoppable by infusing them with the spirit of the campaign, giving them a mission to accomplish, and then letting them run.
7. TRANSFORM YOUR WAR INTOACRUSADE: MORALE STRATEGIES
The secret to motivating people and maintaining their morale is to get them to think less about themselves and more about the group. Involve them in a cause, a crusade against a hated enemy. Make them see their survival as tied to the success of the army as a whole.
Example: 281 BC Hannibal arranged competitive war games to demonstrate how far his men would go to join the upcoming fight, to show what they were made of. This is a lesson in leadership.
Explanation: Managing men well means:
1) Leading by example. You use the effects of emotion by emphasizing that you are.
2) Fighting for a noble cause and that “God is on your side.”
3) It’s all about the team, its spirit, the collective energy.
4) The achievement of the mission ahead.
5) You punish and reward behavior accordingly.
6) You bond together through each action.
― Robert Greene #The33StrategiesofWar
Click to Tweet
PART III: DEFENSIVE WARFARE
8. PICK YOUR BATTLES CAREFULLY: THE PERFECT-ECONOMYSTRATEGY
We all have limitations–our energies and skills will take us only so far. You must know your limits and pick your battles carefully. Consider the hidden costs of a war: time lost, political goodwill squandered, an embittered enemy bent on revenge. Sometimes it is better to wait, to undermine your enemies covertly rather than hitting them straight on.
Example: Winston Churchill said, “You will never reach your destination if you stop and throw stones at every dog that barks.” Now the trick is in discerning which dogs not only bark but also bite.
Explanation: You’d be surprised how few of them actually do and even fewer ever get the opportunity. Control your ego and ignore the insignificant rest. Do not let pride worsen your situation. Some battles you cannot win. Never start them in the first place. Know your limits. Some battles you can win, but at too high a cost.
9. TURN THE TABLES: THE COUNTERATTACK STRATEGY
Moving first–initiating the attack–will often put you at a disadvantage: You are exposing your strategy and limiting your options. Instead, discover the power of holding back and letting the other side move first, giving you the flexibility to counterattack from any angle. If your opponents are aggressive, bait them into a rash attack that will leave them in a weak position.
Example: In the 1944 Democratic Presidential race, the Republican Party slandered Franklin Roosevelt, but he did not respond until they attacked his dog. Roosevelt humiliated his opponent by defending his pet friend and exposing their desperate move for what it was.
Roosevelt was not easily irritated. He let his opponents make the first move, waiting and biding his time. This way he could analyze their strategy and attack his rivals’ weaknesses.
Explanation: In history, defenders are more often victorious, than attackers. We humans do not like aggressors. We don’t like bullies. We have a heart for the victims of such attacks, even when they lay the bait and provoke it. Stay calm and turn the situation into your favor.
― Robert Greene #The33StrategiesofWar
Click to Tweet
10. CREATE ATHREATENINGPRESENCE: DETERRENCE STRATEGIES
The best way to fight off aggressors is to keep them from attacking you in the first place. Build up a reputation: You’re a little crazy. Fighting you is not worth it. Uncertainty is sometimes better than overt threat: If your opponents are never sure what messing with you will cost, they will not want to find out.
Example: 1862 Stonewall Jackson put on a dominant act intimidating George McClellan during the American Civil War by pointing to all of his opponents’ flaws.
Explanation: Build the reputation of being a force of nature, a force to be reckoned with. Unpredictability, madness, sudden and bold aggression is terrifying. Plant a seed of doubt in your opponent’s mind and feed his paranoia. Make them believe they cannot win and they will retreat. To scare them means to break them. But be careful. Your opponent may call your bluff if you’re unwilling to back up your words with action. Don’t merely bark.
11. TRADE SPACE FOR TIME: THE NONENGAGEMENT STRATEGY
Retreat in the face of a strong enemy is a sign not of weakness but of strength. By resisting the temptation to respond to an aggressor, you buy yourself valuable time–time to recover, to think, to gain perspective. Sometimes you can accomplish most by doing nothing.
Example: At the beginning of the Chinese Civil War, Mao Tse-tung’s communists were forced to retreat. Had the national party fought them at that time, they would have won. But the communists took the opportunity and gathered support by uniting the peasantry, defeating the nationalists in 1949 with a decided advantage.
Explanation: This is similar to the Surrender Tactic. Napoleon Bonaparte said, “Space we can recover, time never.” You grant your opponent a small win in order to take up more space, grow your leverage and weaken the enemy before battle. Frustrate them by fighting on your terms. This is classic Sun Tzu’s Art of War material.
PART IV: OFFENSIVE WARFARE
12. LOSE BATTLES BUT WIN THE WAR: GRAND STRATEGY
Grand strategy is the art of looking beyond the battle and calculating ahead. It requires that you focus on your ultimate goal and plot to reach it. Let others get caught up in the twists and turns of the battle, relishing their little victories. The grand strategy will bring you the ultimate reward: the last laugh.
Example: Alexander the Great planned his campaign far into the future, which distinguished him from other leaders. One example of his purposeful goals was the capturing of all greater Persian Mediterranean ports, effectively leaving the enemy without a navy and taking the sea component out of future equations. It wasn’t obvious until it was too late.
Explanation: Even though it has become a cliché; think several moves ahead. Determine the bullseye, plan to the end and confuse your opponent leaving him unable to read your actions since they don’t seem to have a connection. In other words, make them focus on the trees so that they can’t see the forest.
― Robert Greene #The33StrategiesofWar
Click to Tweet
13. KNOW YOUR ENEMY: THE INTELLIGENCE STRATEGY
The target of your strategies should be less the army you face than the mind of the man or woman who runs it. If you understand how that mind works, you have the key to deceiving and controlling it. Train yourself to read people, picking up the signals they unconsciously send about their innermost thoughts and intentions
Example: Prince Metternich met Napoleon Bonaparte hoping he could find his weak spots. A few years later he had helped arrange Napoleon’s marriage to Marie Louise, who wasn’t the most pleasant wife Napoleon’s defeat at Waterloo had also been the work of Metternich’s spying in broad daylight.
Explanation: Know thyself and know thy rival. One of the greatest skills in war, as in seduction as in business is the ability to read people. Master non-verbal communication, hide your observations and devise the most effective tactics based on your insights.
14. OVERWHELM RESISTANCE WITH SPEED AND SUDDENNESS: THE BLITZKRIEG STRATEGY
In a world in which many people are indecisive and overly cautious, the use of speed will bring you untold power. Striking first, before your opponents have time to think or prepare, will make them emotional, unbalanced, and prone to error.
Example: In 1218 Genghis Khan overcame his opponent, the one who shall not be named, with The Blitzkrieg Strategie. He segmented his forces for mobility, lost small battles on purpose, then shifted to serious and fast attacks, which the enemy had not anticipated.
Explanation: You start by making slow moves to set the pace to which your rival adjusts, then exploit the Überraschungs moment to win the war quickly.
15. CONTROL THE DYNAMIC: FORCING STRATEGIES
People are constantly struggling to control you. The only way to get the upper hand is to make your play for control more intelligent and insidious. Instead of trying to dominate the other side’s every move, work to define the nature of the relationship itself. Maneuver to control your opponents’ minds, pushing their emotional buttons and compelling them to make mistakes.
Example: In 1942 during the 2nd World War, Erwin Rommel fought the British on the North African deserts, using smaller units, keeping them on the move and out of the opponent’s reach. In order to reduce the gap between events and status updates, he’d often join the front line.
Explanation: You’re in control. Be assertive. Zigzag, navigate your opponent by forcing him to move, directly into your area of defense. The only downside to control might be not admitting that you have it.
SUGGESTED: Book review and summary of The 48 Laws of Power by Robert Greene
16. HIT THEM WHERE IT HURTS: THE CENTER-OF GRAVITY STRATEGY
Everyone has a source of power on which he or she depends. When you look at your rivals, search below the surface for that source, the center of gravity that holds the entire structure together. Hitting them there will inflict disproportionate pain. Find what the other side most cherishes and protects–that is where you must strike.
Example: In 209 BC Publius Scipio conquered Nova Carthago, which was the Carthaginian capital in Spain. Scipio destroyed Hannibal’s armies’ vital supply lines. Within 5 years Scipio captured Carthage and ended Hannibal’s saga.
Explanation: Everything has a center of gravity. Take a hold of it and unbalance the remaining structure, cutting supply lines, belief systems, and chains of command.
17. DEFEAT THEM IN DETAIL: THE DIVIDE-AND CONQUER STRATEGY
Never be intimidated by your enemy’s appearance. Instead, look at the parts that make up the whole. By separating the parts, sowing dissension and division, you can bring down even the most formidable foe. When you are facing troubles or enemies, turn a large problem into small, eminently defeatable parts.
Example: Divide et Impera — the Divide and Conquer Strategy. In 490 BC the Persians landed on the plains of Marathon 24 miles near Athens, splitting their army at night, planning to attack Athens by sea.
The Greeks attacked the remaining Persians, then ran all the way back to Athens to safeguard the city.
Explanation: Divide large units and they’re easier targets. When your enemies are on the defensive, they will try to unite and face you with their full force. You do not allow them such strength.
18. EXPOSE AND ATTACK YOUR OPPONENT’S SOFT FLANK: THE TURNING STRATEGY
When you attack people directly, you stiffen their resistance and make your task that much harder. There is a better way: Distract your opponents’ attention to the front, then attack them from the side, where they least expect it. Bait people into going out on a limb, exposing their weakness, then rake them with fire from the side.
Example: In 1796 Napoleon Bonaparte baited Baron Joseph Alvinczy into charging forward, hence exposing his armies flank. This was the opportunity Napoleon had hoped for, surrounding and defeating his opponent once more.
Explanation: Disorient your rival, make him drop his guard through indirection, then deliver a powerful blow to his exposed and vulnerable side.
19. ENVELOP THE ENEMY: THE ANNIHILATION STRATEGY
People will use any kind of gap in your defenses to attack you. So offer no gaps. The secret is to envelop your opponents–create relentless pressure on them from all sides and close off their access to the outside world. As you sense their weakening resolve, crush their willpower by tightening the noose.
Example: In 1778 the Zulu warriors fought the British in Natal pressuring them with surprise attacks out of nowhere by knowing their home territory by heart.
Explanation: Enclosing the opponent does a number on his mental well-being. Feeling trapped they will retreat, if they can.
20. MANEUVER THEM INTO WEAKNESS: THE RIPENING-FOR-THE-SICKLE STRATEGY
No matter how strong you are, fighting endless battles with people is exhausting, costly, and unimaginative. Wise strategists prefer the art of maneuver: Before the battle even begins, they find ways to put their opponents in positions of such weakness that victory is easy and quick. Create dilemmas: Devise maneuvers that give them a choice of ways to respond-all of them bad.
Example: Bokuden, a master samurai who was practicing the art of “winning without hands” was challenged by a young swordsman. Bokuden decided they should have the duel on an island.
As soon as the swordsman left the boat, the grandmaster pushed it away from the shore, leaving the young warrior stranded.
Explanation: Outsmart the opponent, avoiding an advantageless direct attack, through calculated moves, which grant you greater control over the situation at hand.
21. NEGOTIATE WHILE ADVANCING: THE DIPLOMATIC-WAR STRATEGY
Before and during negotiations, you must keep advancing, creating relentless pressure and compelling the other side to settle on your terms. The more you take, the more you can give back in meaningless concessions. Create a reputation for being tough and uncompromising, so that people are back on their heels before they even meet you.
Example: In 359 BC Alexander the Great’s father Philip II of Macedonia came to power, Athens refusing to recognize him.
He spoke of peace and prosperity as he continued to expand his empire uniting other Greek city-states to lead an attack on the Persians.
Explanation: Negotiate, willing to come to a win-win arrangement, but keep moving and focusing on your organization’s progress.
You avoid immediate conflict while furthering your interests. Your demands are bold, yet ever-more reasonable, as your shadow grows.
22. KNOW HOW TO END THINGS: THE EXIT STRATEGY
You are judged in this world by how well you bring things to an end. A messy or incomplete conclusion can reverberate for years to come. The art of ending things well is knowing when to stop. The height of strategic wisdom is to avoid all conflicts and entanglements from which there are no realistic exits.
Example: In 1937 Lyndon Johnson won the election for a Texas congressional seat with the help of his friends in the party, defeating the older and experienced politicians. Not wasting a second he humbly took to them, thanked them and expressed his hopes for future collaboration, successfully.
Explanation: Show humility in victory and let fresh wounds heal. It’s in your best interest that everyone accepts the outcome, comes to terms with it and moves on. The exit strategy — Ende gut, Alles gut.
PART V: UNCONVENTIONAL (DIRTY) WARFARE
23. WEAVE A SEAMLESS BLEND OF FACT AND FICTION: MISCONCEPTION STRATEGIES
Since no creature can survive without the ability to see or sense what is going on around it, make it hard for your enemies to know what is going on around them, including what you are doing. Feed their expectations, manufacture a reality to match their desires, and they will fool themselves. Control people’s perceptions of reality and you control them.
Example: In the 2nd World War, the allies made use of key tactics that would cloud and slow down Adolf Hitler’s decision-making before the invasion at Normandy. They sat a Doppelgänger of General Montgomery in a theater far away. In England, they set up what looked like an army, but wasn’t.
Explanation: Misinform your opponent, make him see upside down, while you see what is at all times. ake a weak spot look strong, make a strong spot look weak. o the opposite of what your opponent is really wishing for.
However, don’t fully rely on deception. A skilled opponent might see through the illusion, play along and beat you at your own game.
24. TAKE THE LINE OF LEAST EXPECTATION: THE ORDINARY-EXTRAORDINARY STRATEGY
People expect your behavior to conform to known patterns and conventions. Your task as a strategist is to upset their expectations. First, do something ordinary and conventional to fix their image of you, then hit them with the extraordinary. The terror is greater for being so sudden. Sometimes the ordinary is extraordinary because it is unexpected.
Example: In 219 BC Hannibal attacked the Roman army baiting them through erratic behavior. As the Romans crossed the Trebia, they found themselves facing gigantic war elephants. Other times the Romans tried to bait Hannibal but to no avail.
Explanation: Great advantage comes from not meeting your opponent’s expectations. Others have a mental model of you based on past experiences, stories, and conflict. By going against this image they’ve created you surprise them in your favor.
25. OCCUPY THE MORAL HIGH GROUND: THE RIGHTEOUS STRATEGY
In a political world, the cause you are fighting for must seem more just than the enemy’s. By questioning your opponents’ motives and making them appear evil, you can narrow their base of support and room to maneuver. When you yourself come under moral attack from a clever enemy, do not whine or get angry; fight fire with fire.
Example: Martin Luther, a German priest, argued against Pope Leo X that only God can forgive one’s sins, as the pope was trying to earn money by selling privileges. Luther revealed the hypocrisy, justifying his arguments as moral, attacking the reputation of the pope and refuting him based solely on the bible.
Explanation: You’re good, your opponent is evil. You create us versus them dynamic, demonize the other and present your side as the virtuous one. However, you may lose support seeming righteous and condescending.
26. DENY THEM TARGETS: THE STRATEGY OF THE VOID
The feeling of emptiness or void–silence, isolation, non-engagement with others–is for most people intolerable. Give your enemies no target to attack, be dangerous but elusive, then watch as they chase you into the void. Instead of frontal battles, deliver irritating but damaging side attacks and pinprick bites.
Example: In 1812 Napoleon Bonaparte invaded Russia. His French forces of 450’000 men were decimated to a mere 100’000 losing even more men on their retreat. The Russians were playing for time, drawing the French forward with little conflict, destroying any resources they could not carry.
Explanation: Guerrilla (Geh-Rrih-Ya) warfare works best on the minds of large armies, tiring and starving the enemy, using nature to your advantage by letting them freeze in the cold or dry up in the sun. When your rival is ready to fight, frustrate him through your absence.
27. SEEM TO WORK FOR THE INTERESTS OF OTHERS WHILE FURTHERING YOUR OWN: THE ALLIANCE STRATEGY
The best way to advance your cause with the minimum of effort and bloodshed is to create a constantly shifting network of alliances, getting others to compensate for your deficiencies, do your dirty work, fight your wars. At the same time, you must work to sow dissension in the alliances of others, weakening your enemies by isolating them.
Example: In 1467 the Duke of Burgundy allied with England in the hopes of attacking Louis of France in unison. Louis, however, was informed of the Duke’s intentions and allied with England in the same breath, crossing his adversary’s plans.
Explanation: Make strategic alliances that benefit you. Do not hesitate to do favors for those who will be of help in the future. As you treat others kindly and generously, you put them in your debt. Keep in mind, rarely does anyone help you without an agenda.
28. GIVE YOUR RIVALS ENOUGH ROPE TO HANG THEMSELVES: THE ONE-UP MAN SHIP STRATEGY
Life’s greatest dangers often come not from external enemies but from our supposed colleagues and friends who pretend to work for the common cause while scheming to sabotage us. Work to instill doubts and insecurities in such rivals, getting them to think too much and act defensively. Make them hang themselves through their own self-destructive tendencies, leaving you blameless and clean.
Example: In 1635 the French founded L’Académie Française to protect their language from deteriorating. When the Bishop the Noyons was given the position of counsel his arrogant and repelling demeanor proved to be a threat to the cause.
He was given a speech to perform, with which he would make a total fool of himself. His blindspots didn’t allow him to recognize what humiliation he would bring over himself. At last, the Bishop left the academy on his own.
Explanation: Some individuals are inherently self- destructive. You let your adversaries end themselves as active agents in their own demise. As they overreact, hurting their own reputation, show your innocence. “Don’t interrupt your enemy when he is making a mistake.”
29. TAKE SMALL BITES: THE FAIT ACCOMPLIE STRATEGY
Overt power grabs and sharp rises to the top are dangerous, creating envy, distrust, and suspicion. Often the best solution is to take small bites, swallow little territories, playing upon people’s relatively short attention spans. Before people realize it, you have accumulated an empire.
Example: In the 2nd World War Charles de Gaulle visited Winston Churchill to ask for permission for a small broadcast to his fellow countrymen in France. It was a small favor and Churchill didn’t want to offend a fresh ally.
De Gaulle spoke to his people who had been suffering under the Blitzkrieg invasion of the Germans. De Gaulle promised to talk to them again the following day, which hadn’t been part of the bargain, but Churchill played along. What harm could it do? De Gaulle became more aggressive, calling the French people to arms, gathering ever-more support, eventually leading his newly-recruited forces in Africa, creating the French Resistance and becoming all too powerful, step by step.
When Churchill, regretting his decisions and Franklin Roosevelt wanted to replace de Gaulle with a passive alternative, de Gaulle’s supporters stood by him.
Explanation: In order to avoid confrontation, people will give you more leeway and give in to small demands. With short attention spans, they repeat mistakes, allowing your power to grow, as you play for time.
30. PENETRATE THEIR MINDS: COMMUNICATION STRATEGIES
Communication is a kind of war, its field of battle the resistant and defensive minds of the people you want to influence. The goal is to penetrate their defenses and occupy their minds. Learn to infiltrate your ideas behind enemy lines, sending messages through little details, luring people into coming to the conclusions you desire and into thinking they’ve gotten there by themselves.
Example: In Renaissance Florence, the Medici discharged Niccolò Machiavelli from his post. Aiming to regain favor he then wrote a titleless letter to the Florentine government, on how to take over and keep power as a ruler.
He didn’t receive the thanks he was hoping for, but he kept writing, which improved his remaining life and immortalized him as one of the most influential writers on the art of governance and modern politics. After his death, the letter was published as “The Prince”, another manuscript as “Discourses on Livy.”
Explanation: Words are weapons. Articulate and profound communication, the precise expression of valuable ideas, can lift you out of poverty, end wars before they begin, make powerful friends and with a bit of luck withstand the fall of time.
31. DESTROY FROM WITHIN: THE INNER-FRONT STRATEGY
By infiltrating your opponents’ ranks, working from within to bring them down, you give them nothing to see or react against–the ultimate advantage. To take something you want, do not fight those who have it, but rather join them- -then either slowly make it your own or wait for the moment to stage a coup d’etat.
Example: Wilhelm Canaris infiltrated the German Defense Ministry. Adolf Hitler himself assigned Canaris in 1933 trusting his counsel, being impressed by his skill. It would take the German SS a full decade until they realized he had been working against them, successfully. Troy’s walls were unbreakable, their archers well- seasoned and devastatingly accurate, but it was the Trojan horse that they willingly let inside the city, mistaking it for a gift that crushed them.
Explanation: Do not attack a fortification with full force, use deception and destroy from within.
32. DOMINATE WHILE SEEMING TO SUBMIT: THE PASSIVE-AGGRESSION STRATEGY
In a world where political considerations are paramount, the most effective form of aggression is the best-hidden one: aggression behind a compliant, even loving exterior. To follow the passive-aggression strategy you must seem to go along with people, offering no resistance. But actually you dominate the situation. Just make sure you have disguised your aggression enough that you can deny it exists.
Example: Mahatma Gandhi arranged a 200-mile march as a peaceful protest against an imposed Salt Tax and deeming it harmless the authorities stood idle, permitting it. The march turned out to be a big success, thousands walking the streets in support of Indians, but in disapproval of the British. The government was too late to sabotage the passive-aggressive move. Peaceful non- aggression can be more effective, than any act of violence.
Explanation: Your animosity is subtle. While your opponent feels in control, since you don’t appear to be eager for power, you covertly fight for your cause.
33. SOW UNCERTAINTY AND PANIC THROUGH ACTS OF TERROR: THE CHAIN-REACTION STRATEGY
Terror is the ultimate way to paralyze people’s will to resist and destroy their ability to plan a strategic response. The goal in a terror campaign is not battlefield victory but causing maximum chaos and provoking the other side into desperate overreaction. To plot the most effective counterstrategy, victims of terror must stay balanced. One’s rationality is the last line of defense.
Example: The Nizari were an organization pursuing their own interests by using assassins who hid in plain sight becoming one with large crowds in the streets only to emerge and assassinate their targets with a dagger creating chaos and spreading uncertainty in what was once a familiar and peaceful surrounding while increasing their power by recruiting anyone who felt betrayed by the state and its violent attempts to squash the rebellion.
Unlike some would lead you to believe, throughout history, the Templars had improved the lives of the common folk by building safe roads, the assassins, on the other hand, murdered to further their own selfish cause.
Explanation: However, not only evil can spread far and quickly through the chain reaction … you can be the change you want to see in the world and in popularizing this sentiment with your help good may triumph over evil.
― Robert Greene #The33StrategiesofWar
Click to Tweet
What did you learn from the book summary of The 33 Strategies of War? What was your favorite takeaway? Is there an important insight that we missed? Comment below or tweet to us @storyshots.
Related Book Summaries
Book review and summary of Mastery by Robert Greene (Open in the app)
Adapted from 10xreading blog post, Matthew McGill YouTube channel and wiki summaries.