The 33 Strategies of War by Robert Greene

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Are you beating the competition in business? Are you winning at life?

Best-selling author Robert Greene (The 48 Laws of Power, The Laws of Human Nature) asserts that life is a daily struggle—a war between you and the people, organizations, or other forces that work against you. To be successful in life you need to win the war, and to win the war you need a winning strategy.

Read more to learn the basics of The 33 Strategies of War by Robert Greene.

The 33 Strategies of War by Robert Greene

In The 33 Strategies of War, Robert Greene presents strategic insights based on his synthesis of military history, historic writings on strategy, and modern-day business dealings. Greene argues that applying these principles of strategy can help you succeed in almost any arena of life.

Is Life About War or Peace?

While The 33 Strategies of War has generally been praised by a majority of reviewers, it does have its critics. The most common criticism of the book is that its basic premise is flawed: Life doesn’t have to be war.

For example, in The Anatomy of Peace, the Arbinger Institute argues that a combative mindset provokes others to resist you and makes life seem like war. If you adopt a cooperative mindset instead of a combative one, others will reciprocate. Then, by cooperating instead of fighting each other, you can all be more successful.

Greene would probably argue that Arbinger’s assertion is a strategic deception: By ostensibly promoting peace, they make themselves look harmless, but by convincing you to adopt a cooperative mindset, they make you easier to control.

Ultimately, it becomes a question of human nature. If humans are fundamentally selfish and competitive, then Greene’s strategies can help you survive and succeed in a hostile world. If humans are only combative when provoked to defend themselves, then The Anatomy of Peace may offer a better path to success.

General Principles

Greene cautions that “strategy” is not a formula that you can blindly follow to achieve success. Every situation is unique and constantly changing, so you need to formulate your own strategy for your own situation and adapt it over time. Greene presents his 33 strategies as general principles that can help you develop your strategy.

(Shortform note: Greene’s observation that your strategy needs to adapt to changing scenarios is a well-acknowledged topic in management advice books. One of the first books to popularize this idea was Who Moved My Cheese, in which Spencer Johnson discusses the inevitability of change. Johnson illustrates how learning to adapt to changing circumstances enables you to succeed in the workplace and life in general. This, in turn, demonstrates that the principle applies to civilian life as well as military battlefields.)

Greene discusses strategies related to the big picture, which is where you’ll begin formulating your strategy. Then he shows how you develop your plan and how to keep your enemies from learning enough about your strategy to counter it. He also provides advice on fighting a large enemy with a small force—as well as advice on finishing off your opponents.

The 33 Strategies of War by Robert Greene

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Here's what you'll find in our full The 33 Strategies of War summary :

  • How to win the war between you and those that seek to control you
  • Insights based on military history, historic writings, and modern-day business dealings
  • Why the little guy may actually have the biggest advantage

Elizabeth Whitworth

Elizabeth has a lifelong love of books. She devours nonfiction, especially in the areas of history, theology, and philosophy. A switch to audiobooks has kindled her enjoyment of well-narrated fiction, particularly Victorian and early 20th-century works. She appreciates idea-driven books—and a classic murder mystery now and then. Elizabeth has a blog and is writing a book about the beginning and the end of suffering.

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