A lively, erudite study of the past in service of the future.


A Pulitzer Prize–winning historian offers a capacious analysis of how leaders make strategic decisions.

Drawing on a yearlong “Grand Strategy” course he teaches to Yale undergraduates, Gaddis (History/Yale Univ.; George F. Kennan: An American Life, 2011, etc.), the recipient of a National Humanities Medal in 2005, analyzes the processes and complexities involved in devising grand strategies: “the alignment of potentially unlimited aspirations with necessarily limited capabilities.” The adjective “grand,” he adds, has to do with “what’s at stake,” which is why grand strategies traditionally have been associated “with the planning and fighting of wars.” Arguing that strategic leaders need to be flexible, creative, and observant, the author cites political theorist and philosopher Isaiah Berlin, who popularized a memorable line from an ancient Greek poet: “The fox knows many things, but the hedgehog knows one big thing.” That big thing—an obsessive idea or abstract ideal—may make a leader appear decisive but is likely to prevent innovation. “Assuming stability is one of the ways ruins get made,” Gaddis writes. “Resilience accommodates the unexpected.” Elizabeth I, whom he admires, defied traditional expectations by “reigning without marrying, tolerating (within limits) religious differences, and letting a language gloriously grow.” Rather than impose a grand design, she responded deftly to her changing world. Not so Xerxes and Napoleon, who mounted campaigns that failed because of limited “peripheral vision” blinding them to the variables of “landscapes, logistics, climates, the morale of their troops, and the strategies of their enemies.” Abraham Lincoln, too, merits Gaddis’ admiration: Self-taught and astoundingly intuitive, Lincoln “managed polarities: they didn’t manage him.” The author returns often to Tolstoy and Carl von Clausewitz, both of whom respect theory and practice “without enslaving themselves to either.” Abstraction and specificity “reinforce each other, but never in predetermined proportions.” Both writers, Gaddis argues, considered the contradictions and irony of history with “the amplitude, imagination, and honesty” that make them “the grandest of strategists.”

A lively, erudite study of the past in service of the future.

Pub Date: April 3, 2018

ISBN: 978-1-59420-351-0

Page Count: 304

Publisher: Penguin Press

Review Posted Online: Feb. 5, 2018

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Feb. 15, 2018

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Striking research showing the immense complexity of ordinary thought and revealing the identities of the gatekeepers in our...


A psychologist and Nobel Prize winner summarizes and synthesizes the recent decades of research on intuition and systematic thinking.

The author of several scholarly texts, Kahneman (Emeritus Psychology and Public Affairs/Princeton Univ.) now offers general readers not just the findings of psychological research but also a better understanding of how research questions arise and how scholars systematically frame and answer them. He begins with the distinction between System 1 and System 2 mental operations, the former referring to quick, automatic thought, the latter to more effortful, overt thinking. We rely heavily, writes, on System 1, resorting to the higher-energy System 2 only when we need or want to. Kahneman continually refers to System 2 as “lazy”: We don’t want to think rigorously about something. The author then explores the nuances of our two-system minds, showing how they perform in various situations. Psychological experiments have repeatedly revealed that our intuitions are generally wrong, that our assessments are based on biases and that our System 1 hates doubt and despises ambiguity. Kahneman largely avoids jargon; when he does use some (“heuristics,” for example), he argues that such terms really ought to join our everyday vocabulary. He reviews many fundamental concepts in psychology and statistics (regression to the mean, the narrative fallacy, the optimistic bias), showing how they relate to his overall concerns about how we think and why we make the decisions that we do. Some of the later chapters (dealing with risk-taking and statistics and probabilities) are denser than others (some readers may resent such demands on System 2!), but the passages that deal with the economic and political implications of the research are gripping.

Striking research showing the immense complexity of ordinary thought and revealing the identities of the gatekeepers in our minds.

Pub Date: Nov. 1, 2011

ISBN: 978-0-374-27563-1

Page Count: 512

Publisher: Farrar, Straus and Giroux

Review Posted Online: Sept. 4, 2011

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Sept. 15, 2011

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For Howard Zinn, long-time civil rights and anti-war activist, history and ideology have a lot in common. Since he thinks that everything is in someone's interest, the historian—Zinn posits—has to figure out whose interests he or she is defining/defending/reconstructing (hence one of his previous books, The Politics of History). Zinn has no doubts about where he stands in this "people's history": "it is a history disrespectful of governments and respectful of people's movements of resistance." So what we get here, instead of the usual survey of wars, presidents, and institutions, is a survey of the usual rebellions, strikes, and protest movements. Zinn starts out by depicting the arrival of Columbus in North America from the standpoint of the Indians (which amounts to their standpoint as constructed from the observations of the Europeans); and, after easily establishing the cultural disharmony that ensued, he goes on to the importation of slaves into the colonies. Add the laborers and indentured servants that followed, plus women and later immigrants, and you have Zinn's amorphous constituency. To hear Zinn tell it, all anyone did in America at any time was to oppress or be oppressed; and so he obscures as much as his hated mainstream historical foes do—only in Zinn's case there is that absurd presumption that virtually everything that came to pass was the work of ruling-class planning: this amounts to one great indictment for conspiracy. Despite surface similarities, this is not a social history, since we get no sense of the fabric of life. Instead of negating the one-sided histories he detests, Zinn has merely reversed the image; the distortion remains.

Pub Date: Jan. 1, 1979

ISBN: 0061965588

Page Count: 772

Publisher: Harper & Row

Review Posted Online: May 26, 2012

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Jan. 1, 1979

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