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On Grand Strategy

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On Grand Strategy

Penguin Press,

15 min read
9 take-aways
Audio & text

What's inside?

Are you a big-picture person or a detail-oriented one? This book makes a good case for being both.

Editorial Rating



  • Analytical
  • Well Structured
  • Background


Yale professor and Pulitzer winner John Lewis Gaddis sees his book’s title as referring to more than planning and fighting wars. It means connecting the dots, and understanding the big picture, while seeing details. He loads the text with illustrative, often playful, historical and cultural examples, with leaders who are both great and flawed. How well the book resonates with readers may vary. To some, it offers an inclusive theory of the world, with delightfully diverse examples. Others may feel that Gaddis’s focus on history and analogies blurs his overarching concepts. However, if you’re interested in clarifying different approaches to strategy, you’ve come to the right place.


“Grand strategy” describes how to plan and fight wars. It represents the connection between the ends and means of aligning capabilities and aspirations.

Traditionally, grand strategy describes how to plan and fight wars. It represents the connection between ends and means, and aligns “capabilities and aspirations.” The first recorded relationships of this kind were military, though such connections go back as far as the first human who identified how to get what he wanted by any means available. Strategy happens when you connect the dots that make up your situation.

The “grand” refers to how much is at stake. Think back to your decisions as a student. Sleeping an extra few minutes and rushing to class might not seem to have had a significant impact on you. But if you consider all the implications, the stakes increase: What you learn in the course, how it relates to your broader studies, the degree you earn and the profession you choose all contribute to the grand scope of your strategy. This alignment of ends and means is as necessary for states as it is for people. 

“Net assessment” is the...

About the Author

Pulitzer Prize and National Humanities Medal winner John Lewis Gaddis is Yale University’s Robert A. Lovett Professor of Military and Naval History, author of 10 previous books and founding director of the Brady-Johnson Program in Grand Strategy. 

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