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Masters of War: History's Greatest Strategic Thinkers

Masters of War: History's Greatest Strategic Thinkers

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Masters of War: History's Greatest Strategic Thinkers

Course No. 9422
Professor Andrew R. Wilson, Ph.D.
U.S. Naval War College
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4.5 out of 5
77 Reviews
84% of reviewers would recommend this series
Course No. 9422
  • Audio or Video?
  • You should buy audio if you would enjoy the convenience of experiencing this course while driving, exercising, etc. While the video does contain visual elements, the professor presents the material in an engaging and clear manner, so the visuals are not necessary to understand the concepts. Additionally, the audio audience may refer to the accompanying course guidebook for names, works, and examples that are cited throughout the course.
  • You should buy video if you prefer learning visually and wish to take advantage of the visual elements featured in this course. The video version features hundreds of visual elements to enhance your learning experience, including period photos, quotes, and maps, particularly in Lecture 20, where the professor showcases how insurgency is more dependent on winning support of population centers than a territory. On-screen definitions and bulleted information also help to reinforce material for visual learners.
Streaming Included Free

What Will You Learn?

  • Take a look at what makes Thucydides history's first great strategist.
  • Explore the historical context for Sun Tzu's The Art of War and see how it's been used through the centuries.
  • Study the revolution of naval warfare between Napoleon's era and the advent of World War I.
  • Tackle the challenge of nuclear strategy - where preventing a war depends on having the weapons to fight in one.

Course Overview

What can Thucydides teach us about the war in Iraq in 2003? What is the key to adaptation during an ongoing conflict? How do you balance the tension between political and military objectives? Why are insurgency and terrorism such powerful military tactics, and how do you combat them?

As these questions show, 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, who serves on the faculty of the elite U.S. Naval War College, these 24 lectures will change the way you read newspaper headlines by instilling in you a new appreciation for the subtleties and complexities of strategy—and how nations and military leaders have adapted to the dynamic realm of fog, friction, and chance.

  • See how George Washington adapted his strategy after losing New York during the American Revolution.
  • Learn why FDR went against the advice of Chief of Staff George Marshall and embarked on a campaign in north Africa in the summer of 1942.
  • Trace the United States’ Pacific strategy, from War Plan Dog to Guadalcanal to the island-hopping campaign.
  • Apply Clausewitz’s “culminating point of victory” to the Persian Gulf War.
  • Consider the strategy behind recent U. N. airstrikes in Libya.

The great masters of war have been writing about strategy for thousands of years, and understanding their works can help a nation achieve military and political success. You’ll come away from this course with new insight that will allow you to take an informed, active interest in political and military debates—which ultimately will determine the course of our nation.

Explore Strategy from Ancient Greece to the 21st Century

Warfare has changed, yet the classics of strategic thought endure. From the triremes and hoplites of ancient Greece to the Special Forces in 21st-century Afghanistan, strategy is the process by which political objectives are translated into military action—using the means at a nation’s disposal to compel an enemy to bend to its political will.

The best way to hone your strategic analysis is to study the classics of strategic theory and to test these theories across a range of historical and contemporary cases. Masters of War offers a concise and rigorous survey of history’s greatest students of war, placing each theorist within his unique historical and strategic context:

  • Thucydides’ history of the Peloponnesian War
  • Sun Tzu’s famous The Art of War
  • Machiavelli’s strategy for a republic with a citizen-army
  • Jomini, Clausewitz, and the Napoleonic revolution in warfare
  • The development of naval strategy and the rise of airpower
  • Mao Tse-tung, David Galula, and Roger Trinquier’s reflections on insurgency and counterinsurgency—and their influence on the U. S. Army’s Field Manual 3-24
  • Just-war theory, from Thucydides’ Melian Dialogue to Operation Iraqi Freedom
  • Nuclear war, terrorism, and other strategic challenges for the 21st century

Throughout Masters of War: History’s Greatest Strategic Thinkers, you’ll explore the social and moral dimensions of war and statesmanship; you’ll probe unresolved questions about limited nuclear war, the possibility of a just war, and the efficacy of our counterterrorist tactics; and you’ll come away with the confidence to participate in strategic debates—not only about present conflicts, but those in the future.

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24 lectures
 |  30 minutes each
  • 1
    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. x
  • 2
    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. x
  • 3
    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. x
  • 4
    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. x
  • 5
    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. x
  • 6
    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. x
  • 7
    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. x
  • 8
    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. x
  • 9
    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. x
  • 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. x
  • 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. x
  • 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. x
  • 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. x
  • 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. x
  • 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. x
  • 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. x
  • 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. x
  • 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. x
  • 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. x
  • 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. x
  • 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. x
  • 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. x
  • 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. x
  • 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. x

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Your professor

Andrew R. Wilson

About Your Professor

Andrew R. Wilson, Ph.D.
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,...
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Masters of War: History's Greatest Strategic Thinkers is rated 4.4 out of 5 by 77.
Rated 5 out of 5 by from A Great Strategic Move I really did not know what to expect with this class. I assumed, wrongly, that it would be a discussion about specific battles, generals, and wars. Instead, this class focused on the intellectual development of strategic thought over several thousand years by studying various masters who wrote books on military strategy. The professor discussed the historic context of each master, the key contributions or theories made by each, and how the master's works influenced leaders in various circumstances in world history. The highlight of the course was the discussion about theories on the use of terrorism and counter-terrorism strategies. This class provided very valuable insight into the challenges and issues facing the current War on Terror. It helped me better understand the current political context surrounding this issue, and I feel more informed as a result of taking this course. The professor was engaging and provided unique insights. I would enjoy seeing more classes by this professor.
Date published: 2016-07-11
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Rare opportunity to study the subject of strategy This course provides everyone the opportunity to study strategic thought at the same level offered to military officers at the American military war colleges and a very few civilian academic programs (which Professor Wilson lists in his last lecture). For most Great Course subject areas, there are many alternative avenues for learning. Not so here. This is a rare opportunity to delve deeply in a field that is absolutely central to today's world but for which there are very few opportunities for study. I am delighted that I found this course. Professor Wilson is a Clausewitzian. He considers Carl von Clausewitz (1780-1831) to be the strategist of strategists. Clausewitz contended that war was an extension of politics. Politics and war, he said, have the same logic but different grammars. The basis of his analysis is the "paradoxical trinity" of passion, genius, and logic. By passion, he meant the primal hatreds of mankind. By genius, he meant the art of the great generals in exercising their creative faculties in the midst of the chance, fog, and friction of armed conflict. By reason, he meant the strategic policies exercised by political leaders. Clausewitz abstracted the concept "absolute war", by which he meant a war without limits, an effort to annihilate the opponent utterly. Such a state of absolute war could never, Clausewitz believed, be reached in practice, because of the constraints of politics and circumstance. In this, I believe, he was proved wrong in the mid-20th century by the horrific actions of Nazi Germany and the new threat of mutual nuclear annihilation following World War II. Professor Wilson uses a Clausewitzian touchstone to analyze the writings of the other great military strategists throughout history. In successive lectures, he discourses on Thucydides' history of the Pelopennesian War; Sun Tzu and his Art of War; Machiavelli and Renaissance Italy; Jomini, the other leading strategist besides Clausewitz of the Napoleonic era; the 19th century theorists of naval power Mahan and Corbett; the air power theorists Douhet, Trenchard, Mitchell, and Warden; Mao and his concepts of revolutionary insurgency; the French theorists of counter-insurgency Galula and Trinquier; the nuclear theorists Brodie, Schelling, and Sokolovsky; and new theories of terrorism and counter-terrorism based on Fuller's view of "multiple theaters" of terrorist action. Throughout, Professor Wilson matches the theories of these strategic thinkers against historical examples. My one criticism of the course is that Professor Wilson does not elevate Sun Tzu to the same level of master strategist as Clausewitz. In contrast to Clausewitz, who viewed violent conflict as an inescapable party of history because of humanity's primal passions, Sun Tzu stated that the greatest victory is a victory achieved without battle. Although he is the oldest of the systematic strategists considered in this course, Sun Tzu may be the most important to consider today, as the infinite destructive capacity of today's weapons makes the avoidance of war a goal of the highest priority for our very survival. Modern nuclear theorists, whose bone chilling theories Professor Wilson examines in ghastly detail, may have pushed Clausewitz beyond his limits. It may well be time to turn to Sun Tzu's more harmonious outlook, which does not deny conflict but seeks to channel it away from violence through, paradoxically, a mastery of the tools of war itself (very much as mastery of a martial art can enable one to avoid fighting on a personal level). Even though this is fairly a recent Great Course (dating from 2012), I feel it already badly needs to be updated to consider the threat from ISIS, which because of its seizure of territory, is not a pure terrorist threat such as Al Qaeda and requires a somewhat different strategic analysis. Overall, this is a superb, and indeed an indispensable course to understand today's world.
Date published: 2016-01-31
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Wow! All I can say is Wow! I feel that this is one of the better courses that I have watched from the Great Courses. Dr. Wilson makes clear what the different theories on strategy are and how they relate to each other. Before this course, I had heard of Sun Tzu, Machiavelli and Clausewitz but I had never heard of Jomini, Mahan or Corbett. I especially liked the first part about the Sicily expedition, having previously watched the Peloponnesian War course by Dr. Kenneth Harl and from having lived close to that part of Sicily for a time. I also liked the how Dr. Wilson explained why the Japanese felt the need to attack the US fleet at Pearl Harbor and why all their battle plans were always looking for that one decisive victory. I am writing this review just after the terrorist attacks in Paris, France and my only quibble is that I feel this course was recorded too soon. I have found myself thinking numerous times while watching the lectures that someone in the White House should take the time to watch this course. It would have been nice to hear what Dr. Wilson would have said about today's events and how well the current administration is following the writings of the Masters of War.
Date published: 2015-11-19
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Finally An Understanding of Why Sun Tzu is Studied Video Download Reviewed I became very tired of quick quotes from the "Art of War" being used to justify irrational business behavior, so it was a relief to learn a bit more about that work from someone who had studied the work in depth and was in a position to compare it with other studies on strategic thought and action. Professor Wilson is most knowledgeable and explained clearly and succinctly not just early writers such as Sun Tzu and Thucudides but carrying their ideas through to the (almost) present day. I particularly enjoyed learning more about Machaivelli,moot quite the black hat I had presupposed. Also I found the discussion about Clausewitz interesting, as well as the comparison of Mahan and Corbett and their influence as to the war in the Pacific. And on a final note loved the discussion as to the Japanese success in the Russo-Janenese war and their failure from the very beginning of of the decision to attack Pearl Harbour in WWII. Professor Wilson's delivery is measured, clear and calm, although appropriately animated at times. He also provides recommendations for further reading.
Date published: 2015-11-14
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Great Course for Professionals and Civilians I'm in the profession of arms and would recommend this course to young and experienced personnel alike to continue their professional military education. This recommendation shouldn't intimidate civilians. You will gain much from this course even if you aren't studying this material for your profession. I hope this professor will do more courses in the future. I'd like to see him do an entire course dedicated to COIN or airpower.
Date published: 2015-09-28
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Excellent title encapsulating what will be covered One of the best speakers I've seen so far. I have downloaded many courses and Mr. Wilson is very articulate and an engaging speaker. He ensures you are entertained yet understand the course material on strategies in war. You will never again just watch news and listen to military events/conflicts without thinking about the causes and reasons for actions being implemented. Fascinating course and eye opening on various historical events he explains.
Date published: 2015-09-13
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Eye Opener I have a long-ago history background but have never studied politics or policy. I found this course fascinating in giving me ways to think about decision-making relative to war and national aims, particularly in the 19th and 20th centuries. The description of Napoleon's innovations with a non-deserting citizen army and resultant speed is just one detail that struck me . I will be listening to these lectures again as they give me some tools to evaluate foreign policy changes like the current Iran "deal" proposed for approval. The discussions of Mao's strategy, insurgency, counter-insurgency, and terrorism provide a framework for understanding news headlines. The professor is very enthusiastic and he manages to avoid "ums" and word stumbles almost completely, making for easy listening.
Date published: 2015-07-29
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Highly recommended This course was my first Great Course, and brought me back for more. The content of the course exceeded my expectations, covering actual strategic theories as well as how their implementation worked or failed in particular scenarios. Sometimes the amount of information given was overwhelming (e.g., in the Sun Tzu session) and required multiple viewings. But, I'm not going to complain about learning too much. Two thumbs up.
Date published: 2015-07-06
Rated 4 out of 5 by from Good Course, Disappointed by the PC I am a retired military officer and none of the concepts of strategy, nor the masters of war were new to me. However, Dr. Wilson does a very good job of presenting the salient concepts of grand strategy and its evolution. Somewhat disappointing was the political correctness laced through his lectures. For example, he mentions Grant, Sherman and Halleck but makes no mention of their antagonists, the Confederate Generals the majority of whom were also trained by the military academies in the same concepts. Why bring up Grant, if you are not going to contrast with Lee in the operational conduct of the USA's most bloody conflict. I guess we have to excuse Dr. Wilson as he was merely following the methods of today's armed forces instructional institutions. You are not allowed to discuss the Confederates or their leaders as any more than the opposing force. He just should have left the entire Civil War era out. Very sad and certainly not what I expected nor have experienced with the Great Courses. Still, I would recommend this course to others.
Date published: 2015-05-18
Rated 5 out of 5 by from great course for all Besides the fact that the author is my cousin, the course is a great explanation of why we go to war. it helps to understand why war should not be easily entered into and why we need both civil and military people involved both in the political decisions and the military strategies to accomplish the political end desired.. I especially enjoyed the just war theory and the focus on exhausting all political options before considering going to war. I am a believer in non violence except in very rare occasions. I highly recommend the course to all even those like myself who believe in non violence and peaceful settlements to conflict whenever possible. thank you cousin Andrew for a most informative course,. You are a great teacher!!
Date published: 2015-03-13
Rated 3 out of 5 by from Im on the fence It's clear that the instructor is familiar with military history, he's articulate, and the presented material is well rounded. Im not sure Id agree with all of his conclusions. The biggest issue I had with this course is the lecture delivery. The sentences were long and complex such that as he spoke there were pauses between the cue cards. This made it difficult to tell if he was pausing to finishing an idea or just waiting for the next cue card to come up so he could continue the sentence. As a result I found myself spending more time trying to piece together his sentences so that at the end of viewing the lecture I wasn't completely clear about what it was he was saying. Along with this there were times were he was trying to emphasize a point by facial/voice gesturing that made me think he was getting angry. I know he wasn't, but that was his gesturing pattern. Im not sure Id recommend this course, while not a bad course I was expecting more, especially after viewing the course Decisive Battles. I agree with one reviewer that suggested reading Sunnzi (sp) and the Art of War, it would probably provide more about Strategic Thinking.
Date published: 2015-03-12
Rated 5 out of 5 by from One of the best courses I've ever taken Andrew Wilson is a masterful teacher. Whatever he talks about comes alive. Just sit back and enjoy the course!
Date published: 2015-03-11
Rated 5 out of 5 by from One of my favorite courses Detailed look into the Third Reich. If you love WWII history like I do, this is a must have.
Date published: 2015-03-07
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Trails of Evidence: How Forensic Science Works This is a difficult subject matter. At times, it was pretty gruesome. Dead bodies aren't fun. I bought this course to help me with one of my passions -- thrillers and police procedurals. Dr. Murray presentation was beautifully designed and equally well presented. I was surprised at how much I already knew, but more importantly, how much I "knew" that was just wrong! Her compassion and love for her subject permeated every lecture. I highly recommend this course.
Date published: 2015-01-08
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Eye opener Very well written and well presented course. Dr. Wilson delivers a very thorough, yet easy to grasp, analysis of the history of war strategy, with an outline of the most influential strategic thinkers in history, and their schools of thought. He explains how the strategic theories evolved in response to the new advancement in war machine technologies, and in response to the different political and social changes that happened through the course of human history. I specifically liked the way he used the different strategic theories when analyzing the recent military conflicts. It was a kind of case study, and it helped me to better understand the course, and to appreciate the role of strategy in war, and in life in general. All the lectures were excellent and engaging. To name only few: the ones on the Napoleonic wars, and on Mao Tse-Tung theory of revolutionary war, were exceptionally brilliant. But the crown of the whole course were the lectures on Terrorism, it was really an eye opener. I rarely came across anything that enlightened me the way these two lectures did. It will change the way you analyze what is happening around you. Highly recommended.
Date published: 2014-12-15
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Great Overview of the Strategic Thinkers/concepts Ok, let me be upfront and state that due to my profession, my interest was both personal and professional and as a result my review may be colored by those facts. Having said that though, I think this course was extremely well done and well thought out in its coverage of strategic thinkers and concepts. The professor is very knowledgeable on all of the areas (which is good to see since he is an instructor at the Naval War College...) and I believe makes what could be difficult concepts much easier to understand by linking the ideas with historical events. As an instructor, he is a good speaker, interesting to listen to and important if you have the audio only version, has a good voice to listen to - doesn't drone for example. To the person not familiar with strategic thinking but considering this course, I think that it is given at an appropriate level that any person with an interest can understand the concepts and as importantly, learn enough that you can form your own opinions about the strategic concepts. You do NOT need to be a military or security professional to enjoy this course. I purchased the audio download version and found it very sufficient to understanding the course material. I never found myself wishing I had purchased the video version.
Date published: 2014-12-06
Rated 4 out of 5 by from Much more than just war strategy Parts of this lecture went over my head. Parts of it are so specific to exact moments in time that I'm dubious as to their use in any field. But other parts of this course have caused me to think about the nature of conflict, about why it happens and what it causes, and those parts are going to influence the way I think for the rest of my life. That is the highest praise I think i can impart on an educator.
Date published: 2014-09-25
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Superb course about all the major insights of war. If you really want to learn some serious strategic insights to war, buy this course. And take your time with it; there's a lot to let marinate in your brain. I had read the Sunzi many times, and I thought I knew a thing or two about the theoretical side of war. But I was wrong. Not only did I gain a much better historical and practical understanding of Sun Tzu and his Art of War, but my whole view of strategy has been hugely opened. I think the chapters on the Peloponnesian War (Thucydides) and especially Clausewitz were probably my favorites, as well as the modern theories of war. As the theories became more modern, they became ever more detailed, building off strategic ideas from earlier strategic thinkers. The insurgency/counter-insurgency and terrorism/counter-terrorism chapters showed me so much of the intricacies and political considerations of these kinds of engagements. I also quite enjoyed the chapters about naval warfare and air power. The only thing I wish he went into more specifics about was the formulaic and geometric theories of Jomini, and then compare them to the criticisms of Clausewitz. However, those details of military logistics and operations are admittedly less important, very detailed, and probably way beyond the scope of the course. All in all, buy this course, commit to it, and you won't regret it.
Date published: 2014-08-20
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Great review of the Masters of Strategy. Professor Wilson did such a great job providing an overview of the masters and relaying the importance that each of them have to us in our current world affairs. I have studied each of these masters individually but never in one series like this. The only one that has come close to this kind of presentation is Michael Handel's Master's of War, a great book that complements this lecture nicely. I would recommend this as a way to wade into the water of strategy before plunging off the deep end and plowing into Clausewitz or Jomini etc...
Date published: 2014-08-02
Rated 5 out of 5 by from A great resource Professor Wilson has taught for years in the Strategy and Policy Department of the Naval War College. This is literally the leading center for the study of warfare in the entire world. Every faculty member there has to be well versed in the great strategic thinkers, and he is among the best read. Anyone interested in war or strategy will benefit from this course.
Date published: 2014-07-02
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Superb course This was an incredibly informative, interesting and helpful course, I used his material and critical analysis of each military strategist in my own research.
Date published: 2014-04-11
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Elegant and Enriching I'm currently a student of business strategy and found these lectures extremely enriching. They have enhanced my ability to understand strategy in all contexts. Professor Wilson goes through the frameworks and methods of thinking used by the great strategists which can be translated to other aspects of life. The explanation then application of the frameworks made this a highly elegant, interesting, and useful series of lectures. Easily my favorite set of lectures. I loved his set on Sun Tzu as well.
Date published: 2014-03-27
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Excellent Eye-Opener! DVD This is an eye-opening course in a new area of study for me. Professor Wilson has succeeded in his mission to ensure that I “…will never again be able to watch the nightly news or read the daily paper without thinking about Thucydides, or Machiavelli, or Mao” (Course Guidebook, Page 3). The course merits a wider viewership than the usual military buffs and specialists, as it contributes to making one a much more well-informed citizen on a matter of critical importance. Professor Wilson is an excellent guide: his lectures are well-crafted and delivered in a clear and easily understandable manner, and are supplemented by a great number of useful visuals. I particularly enjoyed seeing otherwise familiar figures in a new light, specifically Thucydides (building on Kenneth Harl’s excellent TC course, the Peloponnesian War) and Machiavelli. It was also good to finally go beyond name recognition for such other ‘masters of war’ as Sun Tzu, Jomini, Clausewitz, Mahan, and Corbett, with Professor Wilson expertly explaining the thought and impact of each on strategic thinking about war. As well as detailing the expected political and military background (including pertinent tactical and operational details), he provides just right amount of historical details and social, technological, economic, and cultural context to enhance one’s understanding. This really made the course more interesting and compelling for me. Professor Wilson makes the case that strategic thinking must be grounded in the complexities of context, that “Strategic analysis involves objectively weighing the risks and rewards of different courses of action—thinking through the chains of cause and effect in each action before making a move. The best way to develop skills in strategic analysis is to study the classics of strategic theory and test their utility across a range of historical cases” (Page 4). He does this in an admirable fashion, not only in top-notch explanations and justifications for the enduring influence of the ‘masters’ (for instance, Al Qaeda finds useful material in the 4th century B.C. Sun Tzu and the early 19th century Carl von Clausewitz, as well as Mao Tse-tung), but also in testing each of these ‘masters’ in historical case studies. In doing so, Professor Wilson demonstrates their strengths and limitations, and in the process provides excellent treatments of incredibly numerous wars and other conflicts, right up to the present day challenges posed by the possibility of nuclear war and, increasingly, the actuality of terror. Clausewitz, as Professor Wilson reveals in a “confession” at the end of lecture 10, provides the framework for the course, being “the masters’ master”. Most notable are the now familiar injunctions in his ‘On War’ (1832), that war is “…a continuation of political competition between states by military means” (Course Guidebook, page 70) requiring military subordination to political leadership. According to Professor Wilson, ‘On War’ is, in effect, “…the first and fullest exposition of strategic theory.” He even goes so far as to use Clausewitz’s framework/principles in analyzing earlier masters of strategic thinking. This perspective, combined with Professor Wilson’s richly detailed context for so many really interesting historical cases, makes this one of the outstanding TC courses for me. I am looking forward to a second viewing and dipping in here and there as a refresher on specific themes and wars/conflicts.
Date published: 2014-02-03
Rated 1 out of 5 by from Only One I've Returned We've used dozens of Teaching Company courses over the years, and this is the only one we've ever returned for a refund. The instructor relies on an oddly simplistic interpretation of the lessons of history and ignores facts and examples that run counter to his narrative. Serious students of history interested in learning about masters of strategy would be better served using the time to read Sun Tzu and various Wikipedia pages.
Date published: 2013-12-21
Rated 3 out of 5 by from The higher purpose What matters the most in this course is on the just war theory and the rest is trivial details to me. War is the extreme expression of ethical or moral behavior of mankind. I was bit confused when Professor Wilson uses W's speech for his crusade on this issue - "self-defense against possible attack" as a great and just cause? While professor's overall work deserves 4 star I give 0 star for the general interpretation of the Art of War on the morality of war. The following excerpt from the internet by Lionel Giles is presumably translated from any modern Chinese version translated from the ancient text. "IV. Tactical Dispositions 1. Sun Tzu said: The good fighters of old first put themselves beyond the possibility of defeat, and then waited for an opportunity of defeating the enemy. 2. To secure ourselves against defeat lies in our own hands, but the opportunity of defeating the enemy is provided by the enemy himself. 3. Thus the good fighter is able to secure himself against defeat, but cannot make certain of defeating the enemy. 4. Hence the saying: One may know how to conquer without being able to do it. " What Sunzi really saying in the text is as follows - my personal interpretation based on his text. 1. Master commander of the past says that you cannot win if you go (do or initiate war first) for your victory. You can win only after your enemy goes (first). 2. Being incapable of winning is up to yourself and being capable of winning is up to your enemy. 3. Thus being a master commander you know that going for it cannot win, and making yourself unmatchable by your enemy can win. 4. Hence the saying: you can see victory but cannot go for it (first). It's not easy to express and catch Sunzi's exact wording and meaning in this double translations due to the nature of multiple meanings of characters and virtually zero grammar in mandarin. In short Sunzi is basically saying "You can only win your defensive war - you definitely lose your offensive one." This sounds strange and illogical when you think about e.g., victorious preemptive wars. However it makes sense because he is emphasizing the morality of war - you cannot win in a moral sense if you initiate your war. Professor talks about Collin Power framed Thucydides' motto “Of all manifestations of power, restraint impresses men the most.” In a similar reasoning Sunzi sets up a clear rule of engagement for his followers by putting morality ahead of military strategy, even if his rule is against tactic logic. His moral reasoning is clear - there can be no wars if nobody starts one - this is consistent with Laozi and Confucius' moral teaching in the same era. And Sunzi's highest philosophy on war is anti-war or zero casualties - "Overcoming the enemy's army without a battle." Most people take it as impossibility because that sentence is often mistranslated as "Victorious or breaking the enemy's resistance without a battle." A latest example is Syria's getaway from a US invasion by surrendering chemical weapons. Is it a victory to them? It's hard to say but they sure got lucky because Obama dislikes war. Back to the just war theory it is presumably based on the theory of justice (discounting the theology). However I don't think any philosophers in human history had any clear definition or perhaps even understanding of justice. What is justice? Human beings initiate violence and war only to serve their desire or so-called just cause. Recall Professor Stevens' course the game theory. He talks about nuclear war and based on the game theory, whoever uses the weapon first wins and the heavier the damage of first blow the greater his victory. The fact is nobody has tried so far. Perhaps we can blow up our moral conscience a bit whenever we're attempted to start war on any scale.
Date published: 2013-11-07
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Truly a Great Course! As a member of the Vietnam generation this course rekindled my interest in war and strategy, especially as we consider further military action in the Middle East. As Professor Wilson argues compellingly, it is our responsibility as citizens to be strategically literate. This course is an invaluable entree into the classics of strategic thought with an eye to their eternal value. It is taught with rigor, imagination and style. Wilson has obviously read deeply and widely, but this course is easily accessible to the layman. Professor Wilson has inspired me to revisit the classics I already knew (Thucydides, Clausewitz and Sun Tzu) and to pick up the works of the other Masters, especially the insurgents and counter-insurgents. Truly a Great Course!
Date published: 2013-09-21
Rated 4 out of 5 by from A Good Start to Learning about War and Strategy 'Masters of War' is a first rate course for people interested in but not familiar with military strategy. Before this course, I had no understanding of the power politics of war and was only familiar with a handful of strategists. Having finished the course, I can now say that I have a greater grasp of war and strategy. Professor Wilson has put together a well written and brilliantly organized course. I know more now about important European and Asian military thinkers, and how the environments they lived in shaped their views on power politics. Of all the military thinkers he looked at, Thucydides was the most interested to learn about. It is amazing that this work from over two thousand years ago is still taught in colleges and officer's training schools today. It is a real testament to the skills of a military historian like Thucydides that his work contains themes and ideas that are still present today. One of the most important aspects to me about the professors of these lectures is that they do not give their own views on their subject. Professor Wilson, it is safe to say, does not express his current views on U.S. Foreign policy and, to me, that is a mark of a good teacher. You want your students to make up their own minds about the past rather than give them a opinionated view of history. I look forward to the future courses that Professor Wilson will be doing in the future.
Date published: 2013-08-09
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Terrific course This course was among the very best I have had - both complete and concise, with a true grand view of the area through history. As someone with zero military background, but a strong interest in policy and politics, this was a great approachable survey of many aspects of war strategy. It is also nicely current, with references to very recent developments around the world. The course prompted me to seek other resources in this area to follow up on thoughts developed by listening to this course. No qualifications in this recommendation - truly first rate.
Date published: 2013-07-25
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Top Notch Professor Wilson is a very earnest, capable lecturer, and this course succeeds because he has organized the course in a logical, coherent way and does a great job of connecting information from earlier lectures into later ones in tight, thoughtful lectures. I approached this course as I suspect many will - that is as someone who has studied and read history extensively, including military history, but who was not in the military or otherwise a student of military strategy and tactics. What I knew of military strategy is what I knew from the study of history, not from the study of strategy. I bought this course because I wanted to address that gap in my perspective, and the course was just what I hoped it would be on that score. The course provides the student a much better understanding of the military strategy that I think many historians either ignore or assume the reader already knows. i would note that Prof. Wilson is not without opinions, and he is not shy about expressing the ones he has. In some contexts, that would be off-putting, but in this course it is not distracting and is more in the nature of food for thought. In sum, I think this course is well worth the investment and i highly recommend it.
Date published: 2013-07-17
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Date published: 2013-06-22
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