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Masters of War: History's Greatest Strategic Thinkers

Take an inside look at both the content and historical context of the world's greatest war strategists, guided by a member of the elite U.S. Naval War College. You'll gain a new appreciation for the subtleties and complexities of strategy, in...
Masters of War: History's Greatest Strategic Thinkers is rated 4.5 out of 5 by 114.
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Rated 2 out of 5 by from Opinion over observation I was disappointed in this presentation because it felt more like a series of university lectures than a thought-out course. And in many cases, the presenter was inserting his own feelings and ego into the material in a way that distracted from the content. Also, it focused so much on strategy that there never seemed to be time to play out how this all worked in the field of battle.
Date published: 2023-12-29
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Immensely powerful! My teen daughter and I listened to the series and we BOTH loved it and gained real actionable insights. The series is outstanding, and we found lectures 1 - 11 to be especially relevant for business, career development, and life.
Date published: 2023-05-01
Rated 5 out of 5 by from First Rate Survey of Strategic Thinking Throughout This is a really good introductory survey of the thoughts of strategic thinking about war over history. I had read or knew of most of the thinkers covered but there were a couple I did not know of and I learned some things in the coverage of those I was familiar with. I wish the "masters of war" included "masters of preventing war" but alas... Maybe a future course?
Date published: 2023-04-17
Rated 4 out of 5 by from Insight for All Citizens into Security Policy It took me a while to grasp the flow of this course. This is not just a series of biographies of famous military figures. Nor is it an ethereal analysis of military strategy. Nor is it just a review of historical facts. Rather, it is an unfolding and coherent debate on how to achieve military objectives. It spans different kinds of conflict including conventional warfare, seapower, airpower, nuclear confrontation, insurgency, counterinsurgency, terrorism, and counterterrorism. It addresses the necessary integration of military and political aims with the concomitant integration of military and political control of operations. Given that there is always an important war somewhere, this course is an important subject for all informed citizens. Dr. Wilson is a good lecturer although not one of the elite among The Great Courses. He always speaks at the same pace and same volume although not monotonically. His organization conveys his points well. He is equally at ease whether discussion warfare on land, sea, or air. The course guide is in outline format rather than paragraph format, which would have been more readable. It averages more than seven pages per lecture, which is good coverage. There are no useful graphics, which is odd considering that the subject of the course is strategy in *war*. (There are useful maps in the video lectures but not in the course guide.) The appendix includes an extensive bibliography with short notes on each reference. There is no timeline or biographical notes. I used the video version. This graphics added little or nothing. Little would be lost using the lecture in audio-only mode, such as while jogging or commuting. The course was published in 2012.
Date published: 2023-01-16
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Relevant Today on Many Levels Wilson’s 2012 course on strategic analysis is needed at university. His analysis (Lecture 1=L1) of the Japanese strategic FAILURE at Pearl Harbor starts the course brilliantly. Wilson follows this with FDR’s noteworthy reasoning behind the US invasion of Africa in WW2. Having read the “Sunzi" mentioned in L4, I side with Wilson's observation (L1 and Machievelli [L5]) that “at the highest level of command, a general must be political”. Conversely the “Sunzi" chapter on spies remains intact (L5). EXAMPLE: WW2 used counter spies to convince Hitler that the Normandy landings were a diversion. L2: the “lethal trifecta of hear, honor, and interest” actually applies to situations beyond war. L2 also discusses post-conflict strategic failure. EXAMPLE: Sparta’s military victory over Athens caused its downward spiral due to Sparta’s eugenics policies. L3: Machiavelli on Athens: "Democracy is good but it must be balanced with elements of oligarchy”. EXAMPLE: Athen’s unnecessary extermination of the Melos island populace. Political “realists” view this slaughter as power/self-interest trumping morality/justice. Neoconservatives contrarily feel that “An expedition boldly conceived…but cautiously executed (is) the worst of all possible outcomes". L7 contains Machievlli’s (“Discourses”) observation: “The Roman legion (was) motivated by religion and the love of Rome.” Rome’s piety is well documented (Great Courses: “History of Ancient Rome"_Fagan, L44 and “Fall of the Pagans"_Harl, L2). “The French Revolution's "levee en masse" transformed warfare (L8) as much as Napoleon's decisive blows and generous terms to the defeated (see “Living French Rev"_Desan and G.A. Henty’s historical 19th century novel "A Woman of the Commune”). In L9-11,13-16 famous strategists are well critiqued. Clausewitz’ L10 contains an observation applicable to both Vietnam and the Middle East: "Limited wars are especially difficult to terminate.” L18 concerns nuclear strategy that has been a hot topic recently. A strategist named Brodie in the 50s said that nuclear weapons might be useful tactically "...only if the political and military leadership had identified ways to control escalation." 70 years later, I’ve not heard of any such plan. This segues into Soviet army commander Skolovsky's 1960’s book "Military Strategy” that promotes optimism that the Soviet Union could win a nuclear war. Though many felt it was written to rattle the West, we now face a much more open nuclear saber rattling as our government buys up anti-radiation drugs. L19: Today's U.S. media purge of non-conforming opinion recalls Mao Tse-tung’s (Lenin-inspired) totalitarian “…disciplined and ideologically pure party…to prevent the movement from losing focus". Mao openly referred to non-conformists as “enemies without guns". A controversial strategy appears in L20: how Trinquier successfully suppressed the vicious Islamic FLN stronghold in Algeria’s Casbah. Because of Trinquier's use of torture to destroy the FLN’s, he “…is not mentioned in the Army’s Counterinsurgency field manual". Wilson correctly points out in L21 on Just-War Theory that “jus ad bellum” must be proportional but does not discuss the Islamic division of earth into the World of Islam (“dar al Islam") and the World of War ("dar al Harib") nor the latter’s lack of proportionality. As Professor Fears stated (in the Great Course “Wisdom of History” L20): "Islam is not a religion of freedom; it is a religion of submission". Wilson correctly admits (L21), "No state can possibly meet all of the just war criteria..." While physical torture is absolutely repulsive, in war someone is going to get hurt. Proportionality is not static but shifts with what’s at stake. Thus, while it’s correctly not in the field manual, Wilson is correct in discussing Trinquier in historical literature. L24 contains excellent commentary on the “Weinberger-Powell Doctrine” - an idealized checklist to be completed before the U.S. commits to a war. As Wilson writes: “This linear linking is absolutely critical but…is not the entirety of strategy.” Of more concern is Wilson’s observation that the war in Iraq has weakened strategy as a unifying civil-military link. One might suspect that the knee-jerk Middle East pullout and its weaponry give-away have not helped. COMMENT: Strategy is foresight. Lone strategists are often ostracized because those living in the moment reject foresight. But when strategic acumen is combined with effective political ability (Wilson's L24 examples: Pericles, Lincoln, FDR, Churchill) it creates a country’s best hope. The audio and Guide are excellent.
Date published: 2022-12-12
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Masterful Overview This is a course that anyone should take who is interested in contemporary history, foreign relations, and the interrelationship between the civilian and military within the US government. Professor Wilson has done an excellent job of presenting the intellectual history of strategic thinking through vignettes of individuals whose writings constitute the foundation of how soldiers and civilians have gone about planning, conducting, and ending war. He integrates historical context and compelling examples to illustrate the relationship between policy, strategy, operations, and tactics, demonstrating why strategy remains an art notwithstanding the advent of military science and the triumph of technology. I only wish he would update the course (presented in 2012) to incorporate the lessons of Iraq and Afghanistan and the advent of the war in Ukraine. I would value his insights.
Date published: 2022-06-30
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Masters of War: History's Greatest Strategic Think Good course. Showing that nothing really is new in strategic thinking and planning.
Date published: 2022-05-20
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Great lecture This is an excellent set of lectures that really tought me a lot. The information is organized well and is taught at just the right level (e.g. not dummed down but not too technical). In some cases maps or images are used to illustrate the topic which was helpful. My only criticism is that the teacher wears a coat that clearly does not fit him.
Date published: 2022-05-03
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Military strategy matters. Civilizations with the greatest strategists-often coupled with the greatest resources-have had a powerful edge over competing civilizations. From Napoleon's revolutionary campaigns to the way insurgency, terrorism, and nuclear weaponry have defined the nature of warfare in the 21st century, the results of military strategy have changed the course of history. Masters of War: History's Greatest Strategic Thinkers gives you an inside look at both the content and historical context of the world's greatest war strategists. Taught by Professor Andrew R. Wilson, these 24 lectures will instill in you a new appreciation for the subtleties and complexities of strategy.


Andrew R. Wilson

Who are our masters of war? Paradoxically some of the great works of theory come not from the victors, but from the vanquished. The lessons of failure are often far more powerful, more enduring.


U.S. Naval War College

Dr. Andrew R. Wilson is Professor of Strategy and Policy at the United States Naval War College in Newport, RI. He received a B.A. in East Asian Studies from the University of California, Santa Barbara, and earned his Ph.D. in History and East Asian Languages from Harvard University. An award-winning professor and an expert in both military history and strategic theory, Professor Wilson has lectured on Asian military history, the classics of strategic theory, Chinese military modernization, and Sun Tzu's The Art of War, among other topics. Prior to joining the Naval War College, he taught Chinese history at Wellesley College and at Harvard University. Additionally, he has been invited to speak at numerous military colleges and universities in the United States. Professor Wilson is the author of numerous articles on Chinese military history, Chinese sea power, and Sun Tzu's The Art of War. His books include Ambition and Identity: Chinese Merchant-Elites in Colonial Manila, 1885-1916; The Chinese in the Caribbean; China's Future Nuclear Submarine Force; and War, Virtual War and Society. He has lectured on strategic theory and international security in nearly two dozen countries and six continents, and he has contributed to the curriculum of military colleges all over the world. The views expressed in this course are those of the professor and do not necessarily reflect the position or policy of the U.S. Navy, the U.S. Department of Defense, or the U.S. government.

By This Professor

Understanding Imperial China: Dynasties, Life, and Culture
Masters of War: History's Greatest Strategic Thinkers
Masters of War: History's Greatest Strategic Thinkers


Why Strategy Matters

01: Why Strategy Matters

If war is a gamble, then strategy-the process by which political purpose is translated into military action-is key to success. This course opens with a survey of why strategy is important, and it looks at World War II's "Operation Torch" as a case study for how the military should be used as an instrument of policy....

33 min
Thucydides on Strategy

02: Thucydides on Strategy

Take a systematic look at what makes Thucydides perhaps history's first great strategist. In his analysis of the Peloponnesian War, he examines the political origins of the war, the Spartan and Athenian leadership, and the social and moral implications of war-all in an effort to prevent future generations from repeating Athens' mistakes....

32 min
Thucydides as a Possession for All Time

03: Thucydides as a Possession for All Time

Join the lively debate over the efficacy of the Sicilian Expedition-was it good for the Athenians to engage in a preventive war far from home? Then turn to the Melian Dialogue and the debate between realists and neoconservatives over the conduct of war, and consider how this debate still plays out in contemporary America....

32 min
Sun Tzu's The Art of War

04: Sun Tzu's The Art of War

War. Business school. Professional sports. Sun Tzu's writing is wildly popular in today's world. This lecture lays out the historical context for "Master Sun's Military Methods" and provides an overview of Sun Tzu's strategy for war: (1) Be efficient, (2) avoid protracted wars, and (3) value the commander's intellect and skill....

31 min
Sun Tzu through Time

05: Sun Tzu through Time

After charting Sun Tzu's historical importance throughout Chinese history, in feudal and modern Japan, and in the modern West, Dr. Wilson demonstrates Sun Tzu's strategy of deception in action by taking you inside Operation Fortitude, a critical component of the Allied invasion of Normandy....

33 min
Machiavelli's The Art of War

06: Machiavelli's The Art of War

Learn about Machiavelli, the Italian Renaissance man who, in addition to his famous political treatise, The Prince, wrote his own The Art of War, in which he advocated a citizen-army modeled on that of the Roman Republic. This lecture takes you through Machiavelli's book of tactics, his recommendation for Florentine military rulers....

30 min
Machiavelli's Discourses on Livy

07: Machiavelli's Discourses on Livy

If Machiavelli's The Art of War is a book of tactics, his Discourses on Livy is a book of strategy. Discover Machiavelli's philosophy of circumstances, fortuna, and his recipe for military action, virtu. See what strategies he thinks a republican military should adopt-and what qualities to look for in a good commander....

32 min
The Napoleonic Revolution in War

08: The Napoleonic Revolution in War

Experience the battles of Jena and Auerstedt during the Napoleonic Wars. These two decisive victories fought on the same day against the Prussians demonstrate the radical transformation of warfare and gave rise to two important masters of war: Antoine-Henri Jomini and Carl von Clausewitz....

31 min
Baron Jomini as a Strategist

09: Baron Jomini as a Strategist

Delve into the life of Baron Antoine Henri Jomini, whose widely read strategic works defined Napoleonic warfare-using a concentrated force to win decisive victories-and whose tactics and operations are still used in today's modern military. You'll also weigh the validity of key criticisms of Jominian strategy....

30 min
Clausewitz's On War

10: Clausewitz's On War

This lecture introduces you to Carl von Clausewitz, who might be the most influential modern master of war. His key ideas-the paradoxical trinity, assessing the international context, striking the enemy's center of gravity, and the principle of continuity-make Clausewitz the "master's master" and provide the basis for modern military strategy....

31 min
Jomini and Clausewitz through the Ages

11: Jomini and Clausewitz through the Ages

Compare two modern masters: Jomini, whose ideas are best suited for the tactics and operations level, and Clausewitz, whose philosophy explains why you can win all the battles and still lose the war. Then dive into the question of how much and what kind of political oversight is needed in war....

30 min
From Sail to Steam-The Sea-Power Revolution

12: From Sail to Steam-The Sea-Power Revolution

Study the revolution of naval warfare that took place between Napoleon's era and the beginning of World War I. The Industrial Revolution, the growth of global markets, the demand for raw materials, and the transition from sail to steam transformed navies and set the stage for 20th-century warfare....

31 min
Alfred Thayer Mahan

13: Alfred Thayer Mahan

Meet the first of this course's naval masters of war. Impressed by the audacity of Lord Nelson at the battle of Trafalgar, Mahan's grand naval strategy was that a concentrated fleet and a global network of naval bases were the keys to naval dominance, which, in turn, would lead to economic prosperity....

30 min
Sir Julian Corbett

14: Sir Julian Corbett

Building on lessons from Clausewitz and Mahan, Sir Julian Corbett offered a complete strategy that integrated land and sea operations. You'll study his text, Some Principles of Maritime Strategy, and see how his principles played out in Wellington's Iberian campaign and in the Russo-Japanese War....

31 min
Mahan, Corbett, and the Pacific War

15: Mahan, Corbett, and the Pacific War

Why did the Japanese attack Pearl Harbor? Discover Japan's reasoning and why it failed, and you'll see how the United States applied Mahan's and Corbett's strategies to defeat Japan, from Plan Dog to Midway to Guadalcanal to the end game in 1945....

31 min
Air Power in Theory and Practice

16: Air Power in Theory and Practice

The 20th century saw the rise of air power and the creation of independent air forces in Britain, the United States, and elsewhere. Here you'll explore the history of air strategy, from General Giulio Douhet's theory of air power as the ultimate strategic weapon to the American "bomber mafia," and you'll see how these theories held up in action during World War II....

29 min
From Rolling Thunder to Instant Thunder

17: From Rolling Thunder to Instant Thunder

During the Vietnam War, the failure of coercive persuasion in Operation Rolling Thunder raised questions about air power theory, but the development of improved targeting, better technology, and stealth aircraft allowed for successful air strikes during the Gulf War's Operation Instant Thunder. You'll also examine the strategic impact of bombing campaigns in Yugoslavia and most recently in Libya....

31 min
Nuclear Strategy

18: Nuclear Strategy

Tackle the challenge of nuclear strategy where, paradoxically, preventing war depends on having massive capabilities for fighting a war. Professor Wilson explains the nuances of deterrence, retaliation, mutual assured destruction, arms limitation, and more. You'll meet three nuclear strategists who have influenced nuclear policy in the nuclear era....

31 min
Mao Tse-tung in Theory and Practice

19: Mao Tse-tung in Theory and Practice

Turn now to China and Mao's three phases of revolutionary war. The key to an insurgent uprising is to buy time with a strategic defense, to build legitimacy and cultivate friends abroad during a strategic stalemate, and to take over in a strategic counteroffensive. You'll see this theory in action as Mao's revolutionaries rose up against Chiang Kai-shek....

31 min
Classics of Counterinsurgency

20: Classics of Counterinsurgency

How do you fight a revolutionary uprising? The French theorists David Galula and Roger Trinquier offered strategic theories based on the anti-French insurgency in Algeria. This lecture shows how these theories from the 1960s apply in 21st-century Iraq and Afghanistan....

31 min
Just-War Theory

21: Just-War Theory

Is war ever morally justified? Consider the three categories of just-war doctrine-jus ad bellum (the just recourse to war), jus in bello (the just conduct of war), and just post bellum (the just conclusion to war)-and apply them to Operation Iraqi Freedom....

32 min
Terrorism as Strategy

22: Terrorism as Strategy

As frightening as it is, terrorism may be the most strategic form of war. In the post-9/11 era, scholars have devised ways to objectively discuss terrorism as a strategy. Here, Professor Wilson explains the five audiences of terrorist action and presents Michael Collins and the war for Irish independence as a case study....

31 min
Strategies of Counterterrorism

23: Strategies of Counterterrorism

Reflect on the challenges of a counterterrorism strategy and the spectrum of responses, from simply ignoring terrorists to taking full-blown military action against them....

30 min
From the Jaws of Defeat-Strategic Adaptation

24: From the Jaws of Defeat-Strategic Adaptation

Conclude with a look at how General Washington adapted his strategy after the Battle of New York. Take one last look at the relationship between civilians and the military and how that nexus can create the optimal strategy....

33 min