John Lewis Gaddis’s “On Grand Strategy”: Book Review, Notes + Analysis

Poor Ash’s Almanack > Book Reviews > History

Overall Rating: ★★★★★★★ (7/7) (life-changing)

Per-Hour Learning Potential / Utility: ★★★★★★★ (7/7)

Readability: ★★★★★★ (6/7)

Challenge Level: 3/5 (Intermediate) | 313 pages ex-notes (384 official)

Blurb/Description: Spanning history from Ancient Greece to World War II, Pulitzer Prize winning historian John Lewis Gaddis concisely – and astonishingly insightfully – breaks down three key elements of grand strategy (time, space, and scale) in a multidisciplinary, utility-focused way.

Summary: History is a hard category for me because so much of it, from a utility-oriented learner’s standpoint, is incredibly poorly written.  A lot of biographies and history books are filled with inane babble – a tedious catalog of names, dates, and irrelevant details, leaving the reader only dimly aware that the leaves belong to a tree, never mind a forest.

Gaddis is a rare exception.  He knows you and I ain’t got no time for that:

Theory extracts lessons from infinite variety. It sketches, informed by what you need to know, without trying to tell you too much. For in classrooms, as on battlefields, you don't have unlimited time to listen. - John Lewis Gaddis Click To Tweet

Gaddis goes on to note that we can distill these theories by “seeking patterns – across time, space, and status – by shifting perspectives.”  Sound familiar?  It’s  multidisciplinary rationality by another name

Gaddis approaches history from a thoroughly multidisciplinary standpoint, incorporating Philip Tetlock’s work on forecasts and expert judgment, Isaiah Berlin’s famous “fox-hedgehog” analogy, and even – for good measure – checklists, in the style of Atul Gawande.  

In merely ~300 pages, he manages to take us on a tour de force from Xerxes and Pericles to Octavian Caesar to Machiavelli to Queen Elizabeth and King Philip to Napoleon, Lincoln, and FDR – succinctly distilling lessons that would take readers tens of thousands of pages to learn on their own, while providing brilliant insight and some enjoyable wit along the way.  And – unlike “The Lessons of History” by Will and Ariel Durant, which I found to be profoundly trite, staid, uninteresting, and unhelpful – Gaddis will provide a lot of new and unique conclusions you wouldn’t have come to on your own, and likely wouldn’t find anywhere else.

Highlights: Gaddis is the most utility-focused historian I’ve ever met: not once, to my recollection, does he mention a pointless fact in this book.  Every detail ties back to an important takeaway, a usable lesson, a bigger picture. He’s also a talented writer whose prose is readable and engaging rather than dull and academic; while this book has parts that can be challenging (see next section), it’s never not readable – the prose is always very clear.

Lowlights: Gaddis frequently acknowledges tradeoffs, and one of the ones he made here is that to fit so much insight and learning into 300 pages, he had to sacrifice something.  There are parts of the book where those without an extensive grounding in history through the ages may find themselves a little lost by some of the names and events; Gaddis doesn’t thoroughly explain all of them.  Supplementing with external reading (on Wikipedia or elsewhere) was helpful for me to understand things a little more deeply and enrich certain parts; that said, as a standalone, On Grand Strategy is still perfectly understandable – you will get the lessons, although you may miss some of the nuance.

Additionally, not all of the book is as interesting as the rest.  Ironically, given my natural Amerocentrism, I found the parts of the book about the American Founders to be substantially less interesting than those about Ancient Greece, Machiavelli, Elizabethan England, etc.  This may simply be because of novelty (i.e., I was already more familiar with American history), but it’s worth noting.

Mental Model / ART Thinking Points: utilityschemamultidisciplinary rationalitybottlenecks, emergence / complexity, feedbacktrait adaptivityoverconfidenceprobabilistic thinking,opportunity costscognition / intuition / stressmemorynonlinearitymindfulnessculture,structural problem solvingn-order impactswillpowerlocal vs. global optimizationproduct vs. packagingsunk costsmargin of safetysocial proofsaliencezero-sum vs. win-win games,empathyloss aversionbase ratesinversionmulticausalityhyperbolic discountingBayesian reasoning

You should buy a copy of On Grand Strategy if: you want a fascinating, multidisciplinary, surprisingly concise yet astonishingly insightful

Reading Tips: consider reading this book with Wikipedia open; also consider reading Landscape first (see below).

Pairs Well With:

The Landscape of History by John Lewis Gaddis ( LandH review + notes).  This is a nice pairing because, in On Grand Strategy, Gaddis talks about theory vs. practice.

In a sense, On Grand Strategy is the practice of being a historian – i.e., Gaddis’s actual attempt to “zoom in and out” and take away key lessons – while The Landscape of History is the theory – i.e., Gaddis’s approach.

While some of both can be intuited from the other, I think the two books are more powerful together, particularly if you read the (very brief) Landscape first, so you’re fully prepared for the methodology Gaddis uses in OGS.

Surviving Survival by Laurence Gonzales (SvSv review + notes).  As I discuss in my inaugural Mental Models Memo – Resilience from Xerxes to Taylor Swift: Why Hedgehogs Aren’t Adaptive – there are a lot of parallels between On Grand Strategy and Surviving Survival.

While OGS explores resilience, flexibility, and trait adaptivity in the context of grand strategies by nations and kings, Surviving Survival explores it on a more personal, emotional level. It’s a powerful one-two: as Gaddis explains, we all have our own grand strategy, and our insecurities and emotions can be powerful cross-currents or “swamps” to fall into.

Gonzales explores the neuroscience of fighting back – with well-told stories.

Superforecasting by Philip Tetlock ( SF review + notes).

Superforecasting is a great book; Gaddis references Tetlock’s work frequently – SF will offer a complementary perspective on foxes and hedgehogs in a different environment (i.e., the world of business rather than politics).

Reread Value: 5/5 (Extreme)

More Detailed Notes + Analysis (SPOILERS BELOW):

IMPORTANT: the below commentary DOES NOT SUBSTITUTE for READING THE BOOK.  Full stop. This commentary is NOT a comprehensive summary of the lessons of the book, or intended to be comprehensive.  It was primarily created for my own personal reference.

Much of the below will be utterly incomprehensible if you have not read the book, or if you do not have the book on hand to reference.  Even if it was comprehensive, you would be depriving yourself of the vast majority of the learning opportunity by only reading the “Cliff Notes.”  Do so at your own peril.

I provide these notes and analysis for five use cases.  First, they may help you decide which books you should put on your shelf, based on a quick review of some of the ideas discussed.  

Second, as I discuss in the memory mental model, time-delayed re-encoding strengthens memory, and notes can also serve as a “cue” to enhance recall.  However, taking notes is a time consuming process that many busy students and professionals opt out of, so hopefully these notes can serve as a starting point to which you can append your own thoughts, marginalia, insights, etc.

Third, perhaps most importantly of all, I contextualize authors’ points with points from other books that either serve to strengthen, or weaken, the arguments made.  I also point out how specific examples tie in to specific mental models, which you are encouraged to read, thereby enriching your understanding and accelerating your learning.  Combining two and three, I recommend that you read these notes while the book’s still fresh in your mind – after a few days, perhaps.

Fourth, they will hopefully serve as a “discovery mechanism” for further related reading.

Fifth and finally, they will hopefully serve as an index for you to return to at a future point in time, to identify sections of the book worth rereading to help you better address current challenges and opportunities in your life – or to reinterpret and reimagine elements of the book in a light you didn’t see previously because you weren’t familiar with all the other models or books discussed in the third use case.

Page xi: John Lewis Gaddis uses “concision” (i.e., conciseness) to justify why he added to Carl von Clausewitz’s “On War” and other similar books.  It’s a valid and wanted addition: I have certainly found Gaddis, unlike too many other historians, to be concise and utility-focused – not getting lost in the weeds of the details, but rather “zooming in and out” – as he puts it in “ The Landscape of History ( LandH review + notes) – to abstract the key takeaways.

Pages xii – xiii: Again mirroring Landscape, Gaddis notes that:

“Because I seek patterns across time, space, and scale, I’ve felt free to suspend such constraints for comparative, even conversational purposes.”

Page 4: Isaiah Berlin did not invent the fox-hedgehog dichotomy: it came from a Greek poet, Archiolochus of Paros.  The famous line is:

“The fox knows many things, but the hedgehog knows one big thing.”

Hedgehogs can be thought of as people who have a strong ideology and see the world exclusively through that schema as opposed to using a multifaceted or multidisciplinary approach.

This fox-vs-hedgehog metaphor has been used as a metaphor by many – for example, Philip Tetlock in “ Superforecasting ( SF review + notes) explores why hedgehogs make less accurate predictions than foxes.  Gaddis returns to it throughout the book.

Pages 8 – 10: Gaddis here references Tetlock and briefly summarizes many of his conclusions (which, again, are elegantly overviewed in Superforecasting, a great book.)  Gaddis does his first “zoom,” taking this fox-hedgehog metaphor and applying it to Xerxes of Persia, whose story is relayed by Greek historian Herodotus.

Pages 12 – 13: Reviewing why Xerxes – with one of the greatest military forces assembled as of that time – was rebuffed when trying to invade Greece, Gaddis notes one of the core premises / theses of the book:

“Xerxes failed, as is the habit of hedgehogs, to establish a proper relationship between his ends and his means.

Because ends exist only in the imagination, they can be infinite: a throne on the moon, perhaps, with a great view.

Means, though, are stubbornly finite: they’re boots on the ground, ships in the sea, and bodies required to fill them.

Ends and means have to connect if anything is to happen.  They’re never, however, interchangeable.

Means, then, are constraints – or bottlenecks – on the ends you can achieve.  We will return to this repeatedly.

Gaddis also references the idea of emergence / complexity here.  He noted in Landscape that phenomena like traffic are complex because of the feedback effects of each driver reacting to everyone else’s decisions.  Similarly, here, he notes that for many of the risks Xerxes faced,

“Because their causes were knowable, their consequences were predictable.  But only individually, for not even the canniest seer can specify cumulative effects.  Little things add up in unpredictably big ways – and yet, leaders can’t let uncertainties paralyze them.”

Finally, Gaddis notes the trait adaptivity issue related to overconfidence and probabilistic thinking – while it’s more rational and effective (objectively) to be a fox, the problem is that, as Tetlock overviews extensively in “ Superforecasting ( SF review + notes), confidence is sexy – and everyone likes a hedgehog as a leader / TV presence – so there’s a tradeoff between what’s good for your performance and what’s good for your career.

Pages 14 – 15: Gaddis continues the thread of opportunity costs here: his argument throughout the book is a mixture of this and trait adaptivity – the idea that opposites can be true; namely, for example, for states, sometimes fighting is the answer, and sometimes not fighting is the answer.

How do you resolve this internal contradiction?  Gaddis suggests that “scale, time and space” are three dimensions along which you have to think.

Pages 16 – 17: Gaddis also quotes Abraham Lincoln – not the real one, I don’t think, but the fictional version in Steven Spielberg’s eponymous 2012 film Lincoln:

A compass, I learned when I was surveying, it’ll… it’ll point you true north from where you’re standing, but it’s got no advice about the swamps, deserts and chasms that you’ll encounter along the way.

If in pursuit of your destination, you plunge ahead heedless of obstacles, and achieve nothing more than to sink in a swamp… what’s the use of knowing true north?

Gaddis uses this metaphor throughout the book.

Page 18: Gaddis thinks one of the biggest takeaways from Tolstoy’s “War and Peace” is that “everything relates to everything else.”

Or, as Munger might put it, everything is one damn relatedness after another.

Pages 19 – 21: Gaddis paraphrases the fake-Lincoln quote above as a:

“short-term sensitivity to surroundings [with] a long-term sense of direction.”

He goes on to bring up Daniel Kahneman’s System 1 / System 2; see, of course, cognition vs.intuitionequating the fox to intuition and the hedgehog to cognition.  Gaddis quotes Tetlock on trait adaptivity:

“Foxes were better equipped to survive in rapidly changing environments in which those who abandoned bad ideas quickly held the advantage.  Hedgehogs were better equipped to survive in static environments that rewarded persisting with tried-and-true formulas. Our species – homo sapiens – is better off for having both temperaments.”

Gaddis quotes Spider-Man’s Uncle Ben, which made me laugh.

Gaddis also provides a formal definition of grand strategy:

“The alignment of potentially unlimited aspirations with necessarily limited capabilities.”   

Opportunity costs and bottlenecks are key models here.

Gaddis goes on to note that “grand” means there’s more at stake than what you’re having for lunch… but he notes that you don’t have to be a nation to have a grand strategy.  Finally, he reiterates that time, space, and scale are three of the dimensions across which you have to align grand strategy.

Page 24: Gaddis notes that society “sharply segregates” the phases of life, such that, citing Kissinger, leaders have no time to learn on the job and must rely on what they’ve learned up to that point.  He also observes how historians and theorists both:

“neglect relationships between the general and the particular… that nurture strategic thinking.”  

Gaddis believes, however, the training helps – training allows us to:

 “draw upon principles extending across time and space, so that you’ll have a sense of what’s worked before and what hasn’t.  You then apply these to the situation at hand: that’s the role of scale. The result is a plan, informed by the past, linked to the present, for achieving some future goal.”

Gaddis goes on to note, however, that the world is uncertain and evolving, such that:

“the only solution then is to improvise, but this is not just making it up as you go along… you’ll known your compass heading, whatever the unknowns that lie between you and your destination.”

Gaddis goes into this more elsewhere, but it mimics the discussion of “practices” vs. “principles” in Stephen Covey’s “ The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People (7H review + notes), as I discuss more in the multidisciplinary rationality mental model.  Principles, in Covey’s evaluation, are timeless; practices are more temporary and situational in nature.  Principles are Gaddis’s compass; practices are his improvisations.

Page 30: Gaddis compares and contrasts Xerxes and his Persians with the Greeks he intended to conquer: Xerxes assumed his capabilities were infinite and thus saw no need for strategy; the Greeks were very aware of their scarce resources and thus strategy was more respected.

Page 32: Gaddis here invokes memory and probabilistic thinking to note that history is imperfect, while the future is unknowable, but he does believe we can find patterns.

Again with trait adaptivity, however, echoing a point he made in “ The Landscape of History ( LandH review + notes) about the dangers of trying to abstract realities about human nature and the world from a limited set of circumstances, he notes:

“The past prepares us for the future only when, however imperfectly, it transfers.”

Page 36: Really fascinating and intriguing exploration of trait adaptivity here that I want to return to in the future (and deepen by better understanding the historical context).  Remember how, in the mindfulness mental model, I talk about critical thresholds – and why being a little “over” the threshold that forces you to recognize the negative impact of your emotions on your behavior can actually be a little better than being “under” – because in the latter case, you never feel the need to improve?

Well, the Spartans (of the famous 300) were in the latter camp, per Gaddis: the Persian Wars didn’t make them feel the need to adopt a new culture.  On the other hand, Athens began to fear Sparta, and as such moved to a wall-based, naval strategy… which devalued farmers and prized ships.

Pages 37 – 38: There were challenges and opportunity costs with this, of course.  For example, a navy required people to be motivated by something other than their own self-interest… so Pericles started to face a challenge that many corporate leaders have since faced: how do you create a culture?

Pericles tried his hand at democracy, which (spoiler alert) didn’t end up working well…

Pages 38 – 40: … it did presage the idea that democracy begets democracy and freedom begets freedom.

Pages 41? – 45?: There is important stuff here but I got lost in the history – Gaddis went too fast and assumed I knew too much.  (I am, admittedly, probably not Gaddis’s target audience.)

Pages 47 – 49: Gaddis notes that there are various approaches to leadership: the end of the dichotomy that is more effective is:

“to find flows you can go with… avoid shoals and rocks… and expend finite energy efficiently.”  

The mental model is, of course, structural problem solving.  The antithesis to this – in my imagination – is arrogance, which could be viewed as “ grit” (see willpower) or any other mindset that doesn’t acknowledge constraints – whether those are on predictability,

But Gaddis goes – with far more depth – into the idea of being a “foxhog.”  I’m not sure he ever uses that term, but Tetlock does – the idea is being both fox-like and hedgehog-like in various circumstances.

You could sort of accuse Gaddis of equivocation, and I think there are perhaps better ways to frame the discussion, but we’ll go with it.

There are some n-order impacts here (Athens becoming more powerful led to fear; going back to Batman, think of “you die a hero or live long enough to become the villain.”)  Gaddis notes that after Pericles,

 “it would take well over two millennia for democracy again to become a model with mass appeal.”

Page 53: Reviewing a particularly brutal part of Athens’ history, Gaddis cites Thucydides as stating that war:

 “brings most men’s character to a level with their fortunes.”

Pages 54 – 55: Another interesting bit here which I don’t feel like I fully understand.  Basically, Gaddis discusses the local vs. global optimization problem of utility, specifically the product vs. packaging bit.  He notes that – from ancient Greece through post-WWII America – an important issue in foreign policy is “credibility” – even if the issue at hand is, as Gaddis puts it, a “molehill” in the absolute utilitarian sense, from a perception standpoint, it can seem much bigger… whether rationally or emotionally.

Page 56: I thought this was one of the great quotes that applies far beyond the realm of war and foreign policy:

“It’s one thing for an enemy to test your resolve in a manner that all can see: you can then decide, in consultation with others, what to do, and you can usually determine when you’ve done it.  

It’s quite another thing to test your nation’s resolve against your own insecurities, for where do these stop? What prevents projecting anxieties onto indefinitely expanding screens?”

Page 58: Strategy requires, as Shawn Achor might put it in “ Before Happiness ( BH review + notes), “adding vantage points.”  Gaddis here notes that:

“Strategy requires a sense of the whole that reveals the significance of respective parts.”

Here he’s talking about Athens and the Greeks, but the lessons apply equally well throughout the book…

Pages 59 – 60: Indeed, he skips far forward here to discuss Vietnam, widely recognized as an example of sunk costs.  Gaddis focuses less on this angle than on the question of why the U.S. entered this conflict in the first place.

His conclusion?  Going back to credibility:

“If credibility is always in doubt, then capabilities must become infinite or bluffs must become routine.  Neither approach is sustainable: that’s why walls exist in the first place. They buffer what’s important from what’s not.”

Gaddis goes on to note that it’s not tenable to “not give anything up.”  Gaddis doesn’t spell it out explicitly, but there’s a clear angle here on opportunity costs and utility, as well as margin of safety.  It’s important to know what’s important and what’s not, otherwise you end up tilting at windmills.

Pages 61 – 62: Discussing discussions of the Vietnam War – as well as Tolstoy – Gaddis notes that understanding history and the human condition (whether through real events or stories) helps, as his students put it, “make us feel less lonely.”

He makes a statement here very similar to Munger’s discussion about making friends with the eminent dead.

Page 63: Here, Gaddis explicitly uses the terms “principles” and “practices” from Sun Tzu – the formed are valid across time and space (i.e. universal), while the latter are “bound by” time and space (i.e., situational.)

I’ve never read The Art of War, but I’ve appreciated some of it secondhand via books like Marc Benioff’s “ Behind the Cloud ( BtC review + notes).

Page 65: Back to the structural problem solving mantra: Sun Tzu states that generals:

 “should act expediently in accordance with what is advantageous.”

Going back to his earlier analogy, Gaddis notes that:

“wise leaders… sail with the winds, not against them.  They’ll skirt swamps, not slog through them.”

Page 66: Gaddis also notes that thanks to complexity (and the probabilistic nature of reality), we can’t predict the future perfectly – but:

 “sensing possibilities… is better than having no sense at all of what to expect.”

I think Philip Tetlock’s “ Superforecasting ( SF review + notes) is a good read-across here: Gaddis and Tetlock both get at the point that confidence (even overconfidence) is adaptive in a dose-dependent manner.

Too much, and you end up like Xerxes… or Pericles… or Napoleon (as we’ll get to).  You can’t makethe world conform to your demands; some part of it will always be inherently unpredictable.

On the other hand, too little, and you’ll end up a nihilist – which may, if written provocatively, make you famous, but will also make you an idiot who can’t accomplish anything of value.

Tetlock deftly bridges the gap here, exploring how “superforecasters” are humble where it counts – but also take a growth mindset and view making predictions as an improvable skill.

Pages 68 – 69: Octavian (later Augustus) was an unlikely heir to Julius Caesar: sickly, among other things.  But he turned out to be quite adept, per Gaddis. Two interesting bits: first, Octavian, as basically a teenager when Caesar died, didn’t start swinging his (something) around and acting like a petty boy tyrant; rather, as Gaddis explains, he:

“saw the difference… between inheriting a title and mastering the art of command.”

Gaddis also notes that Caesar taught Octavian without putting the expectations of being the heir on him; Gaddis believes this helped Octavian.

Page 70: I’m always intrigued to learn the origin of words that are used in senses far from their original context.  One of my many favorite bits of David Oshinsky’s “ Polio: An American Story ( PaaS review + notes) is the discussion of the literal “poster children” that the March of Dimes used to fundraise and raise awareness – i.e., posters with pictures of courageous polio-afflicted children who exemplified why we needed to vanquish the disease with a vaccine.  There are no longer children on posters, but we still use the phrase “poster child.”

Here, Gaddis – in passing – explains the origin of the term “decimate.”  Decimations were the arbitrary execution of every tenth man. Marc Antony did this when he lost his temper and, naturally, it caused “resentment” – the legions “defected, as soon as they got the chance” to Octavian.

The mental model here is n-order impacts – be too harsh a disciplinarian, and you’ll get compliance in the short-term, but not in the long-term (Gaddis talks about time a lot) – but honestly I’m more fascinated by the linguistic angle.

Page 76: Deftly contrasting the leadership styles – and strategic visions – of Octavian and Marc Antony, Gaddis notes that:

 “Octavian was thinking ahead: how one decision can be made to affect what happens next.  Antony wasn’t.”

 Local vs. global optimization.

Gaddis here talks about how Octavian

“retained a purpose and acted accordingly.”

On the other hand, Antony,

 “when he acted at all, reacted.  It was no longer much of a contest.”

This is a “principle” – in fact, it’s explicitly one in Stephen Covey’s “ The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People ( 7H review + notes).  It’s the first habit: be proactive, not reactive.

Page 77: Gaddis returns to the swamp-compass metaphor here: Octavian knew where he was going (the compass), which helped him avoid unanticipated swamps along the way.

Conversely, and amusingly,

“it’s almost as if Antony sought out swamps, sank into them, and then got bored of them.”

Pages 82 – 83: Alexander the “Great” – not so great, says Gaddis, noting that he

“learned limits only through failures.”

Octavian, on the other hand, understood constraints and unlike Alexander,

“rarely confused aspirations with capabilities.”

Here is the advice from Sun Tzu: misdirection.

“When capable, feign incapacity; when active, inactivity… when near, make it appear that you are far; when far away, that you are near.”

And so on.

Page 85: I am not sure I fully understand this, but my interpretation (possibly wrong) is that Octavian used time to his advantage: to grow things.  I need to return here later.

Pages 90 – 91: Gaddis notes that while empires may die, their cultures – or at least parts of them – may live on.  (My analogy: polio is dead; poster children, as metaphors, live on.)

Gaddis notes, on the shaping influence of culture and social proof, that:

“Plants aren’t aware that they’re being made to mature in a certain way, but if firmly rooted and carefully tended, they’ll cooperate.”

Gaddis points out that many of the principles between Octavian and Sun Tzu are similar, even though they knew nothing of each other.  Gaddis uses this to suggest that there is an underlying logic, or “grammar” of strategy.

Page 94: Salience bias spotting!  I’ve been succumbing to some salience bias myself recently…

Page 102: Gaddis really is multidisciplinary: here’s a checklist sighting.  Gaddis notes that:

 “checklists adapt better to change than commandments… checklists pose common questions in situations that may surprise: the idea is to approach these having, as much as possible, reduced the likelihood that they will.”

The idea behind checklists is wonderfully explored, of course, in Atul Gawande’s “ The Checklist Manifesto ( TCM review + notes).  Good checklists are not supposed to:

turn people’s brains off rather than turn them on,”

as Gawande puts it (to Gaddis’s point about them adapting to the environment.)

A broader review of structural problem solving solutions to flawed memory can be found in Don Norman’s wonderful “ The Design of Everyday Things ( DOET review + notes).

Page 105: Earlier in the book, Gaddis discussed the need to connect the past and future; here, he asks how to connect practices with principles.  His answer is “proportionality” – by which he means that:

 “the means employed must be appropriate to – or at least not corrupt – the end envisaged.”

Page 109: Gaddis introduces a phrase I’ve never heard before – “lightness of being” – which I’m not clear on the origin of; it’s either Machiavelli’s or Gaddis’s own creation.  It’s something akin to the Serenity Prayer – controlling what you can control and accepting the rest, and just generally not taking things too seriously (unless they need to be taken as such).  Again, proportionality…

Pages 111 – 112: Echoing the earlier discussion of Antony’s decimations, Gaddis notes, drylyl:

“If you have to use force, don’t destroy what you’re trying to preserve.”

Much better than randomly slaughtering every tenth man in a legion, per Gaddis via Machiavelli, is killing one person and making it very salient.

On win-win vs. zero-sum games, Gaddis comes to the same conclusion that I did recently: he quotes Machiavelli as stating:

“a man who wants to make a profession of good in all regards must come to ruin among so many who are not good.”

Or, from elsewhere: the always-cheat strategy dominates the tit-for-tat strategy, so as Stephen Covey puts it in The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People (7H review + notes), it has to be “ win win or no deal” – a win-lose deal (where you lose, they win) is not acceptable.

Similarly, in the landmark “ Getting to Yes ( GTY review + notes), the authors propose the concept of a “BATNA” – a Best Alternative to Negotiated Agreement.

You have to be willing to walk away and know what you’re dealing with if you do.

Gaddis also includes a Machiavelli quote on justice that reminds me a little bit of Richard Rhodes’ opening to The Making of the Atomic Bomb (TMAB review + notes), where he notes that humans interpret justice as fairness, essentially, which drives nuclear proliferation.

Page 113: On precision vs. accuracy – going back to concepts discussed in “ The Landscape of History ( LandH review + notes), Gaddis here discusses “sketches” – which, he notes, via Machiavelli (Gaddis paraphrasing),

“convey complexity usably.  They’re not reality. They’re not even finished representations of it.  But they can transmit essential if incomplete information on short notice.  They thus enhance, although they never replace, good judgment… like […] checklists.”

How do you draw these sketches?  By

 “seeking patterns – across time, space, and status – by shifting perspectives.”

 In other words, an application of schema and multidisciplinary rationality.  Gaddis discusses this process somewhat more extensively in Landscape; as Covey might put it,

“the map is not the territory.”

 Gaddis, himself in Landscape, notes that a 1-to-1 map would be the territory and thus not be helpful for purposes of navigating the territory – but you need to have map if you’re going somewhere.  We’ll return to this later with another wonderful quote / discussion.

Pages 117 – 118: Aspirations must be proportioned to capabilities; Isaiah Berlin viewed Machiavelli’s great “transgression” – and Gaddis, his great insight – that, per Berlin, ideals

“cannot be attained.”

Berlin goes on to opine that it’s not possible to discover a :

“correct, objectively valid solution to the question of how men should live.”

Gaddis’s advice?  It goes back to that “lightness of being” – “don’t sweat it,” says Gaddis.

Page 119: Gaddis goes on to note that while the different solutions to the above problem lead to different cultures, that doesn’t mean we can’t display empathy towards others with different values, or form social connection.  This is, per Gaddis, the “roots of toleration.”

Page 123: Gaddis now contrasts King Philip II of Spain with Queen Elizabeth of England, directionally and respectively, it’s Alexander vs. Octavian – Philip, with an empire on which the sun literally never sets, thinks he’s Batman and has no limits; Elizabeth is acutely aware of hers, given, I believe, critical thresholds – England knows its weaknesses and vulnerabilities.  We’ll get into it.

Pages 125 – 126: Philip was a micromanager; Elizabeth delegated.

I wrote a note on page 126: “much better than GGS.”

Some PAA readers may be aware that I had a rather tepid response to reading the much-praised “Guns, Germs and Steel” (GGS review) by Jared Diamond – although the book makes some interesting points and is a compelling narrative, it basically completely falls apart around the Renaissance and explains little to nothing about the modern world (which, for obvious reasons, is far more interesting than what came before it).

Gaddis, here, does what Diamond does not: sheds light and insight on how to world came to be modern, as Greenblatt might put it in The Swerve.  Gaddis notes that “the ruler of a microstate who macromanaged” (Queen Elizabeth) managed to best “the ruler of a microstate who micromanaged” (King Phil;ip)– which, as Gaddis points out,

“made no sense in terms of geography, logistics, or communications.  But as a reflection of royal minds – and, through them, of contrasting philosophies… it made perfect sense, so much so that the future of the world Europe would soon rule pivoted on the distinction.”

This passage helped me clarify some previously-unrecognized interrelations.  Let’s, as Gaddis would approve of, “zoom out” and zoom back in somewhere else in time, space, and scale: the classic “ The Innovator’s Dilemma by Clayton Christensen (InD review + notes).

Does there not appear to be at least the potential for correlation between how massive Spain, with (nearly) infinite resources, ceded ground to tiny England, with very constrained resources – and how retail giants like Wal-Mart ceded ground to upstarts like Amazon, as explored in Brad Stone’s “ The Everything Store ( TES review + notes)?

There are a lot of answers.  In the business case, local vs. global optimization applies.  But another element that applies is agency and culture / status quo bias – Walton, in “ Made in America ( WMT review + notes), observes how a lot of Wal-Mart’s success itself as a “disruptor” was due to Walton doing things in a way that hadn’t been done before, and ensuring that constant change was part of the culture.

He also, like Bezos, was described as a master of learning from the lessons of others.

Philip, like Marc Antony, appears to have been incapable of learning, and simply took the wrong philosophy – he did not use multidisciplinary rationality, but rather, was a hedgehog with massive overconfidence.  We’ll get to this.

Guns, Germs, and Steel has its merits, but completely fails to address the human side of the story – and the modern world, as well as historical events like this, demonstrate that having more resources doesn’t always mean winning the war.  See U.S. vs. Vietnam, earlier discussed by Gaddis.

Page 129: Gaddis has some great writing in this book:

“Philip found himself more often a pincushion than a pivot, stuck on multiple points at once.”

Page 136: Geography does matter, of course – the positioning of England and its ability to commission long-distance piracy (which she could disavow if caught) meant that its navy could strangle Spain’s imports and exports.

Pages 137 – 138: The Duke of Alba, commander of Philip’s armies in the Netherlands, understood bottlenecks / constraints and humbly suggest that Philip consider them too.  Philip, however, thought he had God on his side – a dangerous belief… Philip is presented here as being massively overconfident.

Page 139: Gaddis points out another example of a contradiction: the Elizabethan “golden age,” per Gaddis,

“survived only through surveillance and terror.”

Pages 141 – 142: Elizabeth needed to get rid of Bloody Mary, but for various reasons, it was not adaptive for her to just outright order her execution.  Politics at its best (worst?) here – Elizabeth came out looking like she didn’t want Mary dead, even weeping upon her death.

Pages 143 – 145: Gaddis highlights how treacherous the world was for Elizabeth, with manny plotting her death and demise, and her nation not really prepared to stave off an invasion.

She knew she couldn’t beat the Spanish head on, so she appears to have tried the equivalent of guerrilla warfare tactics (ironic that the Redcoats, a few centuries latter, succumbed to the same).  She had her navy follow the Spanish fleet, and wait for opportunities.

This – wait for it – more than decimated the Spanish Armada; half their ships (and men) were lost, with the English not losing any ships other than the ones they intentionally converted into fireships, and losing 100x less men than the Spanish.

Gaddis here cites loss aversion – Philip was loathe to lose any of his empire.

Pages 147 – 148: Gaddis uses a word I didn’t previously know and likely will never use again – “hendiadys” – which the internet defines more clearly than Gaddis: hendiadys means saying “it’s nice and warm” rather than “it’s nicely warm.”

Anyway, here is one area where I think Gaddis presents great ideas, but in the wrong language.  He praises Elizabeth for “dithering” rather than being “decisive” but I don’t think dithering quite conveys the right thing here.  I think the better terminology comes from cognition- intuition writer extraordinaire Laurence Gonzales, who, in both “ Deep Survival ( DpSv review + notes) and Surviving Survival (SvSv review + notes) raises the option of “active waiting” as an important survival option / tactic.

It’s well known that humans tend to suffer from action bias – in many cases, however, the best course of action is simply doing nothing at all and waiting.  That might be waiting for a favorable opportunity to harass the Spanish Armada, as Elizabeth’s navy did – or it might be waiting for a favorable investment opportunity to arise, as Charlie Munger and Warren Buffett extol the virtues of.

Many other parallels between On Grand Strategy and Surviving Survival (SvSv review + notes) on the topic of resilience.

Also, nice parallel: at the top of page 148, Gaddis notes that the rise of the Protestant Church was in part due to

“speaking to them, without condescension, in their own tongue.”

Think back to the section in Charles Duhigg’s “ The Power of Habit ( PoH review + notes) on how the Saddleback Church was built by killing the veto vote – have good music, make the sermons interesting and practical, etc.

Pages 154 – 155: Again on tradeoffs and trait adaptivity: imposing uniformity across different cultures can make things easier for the ruler, but makes the empire less adaptable.

And here’s where Gaddis goes into resilience:

“A heavy hand and a focused mind can appear to achieve monumentality, but only by smoothing out if not flattening topography… you can’t do this, though, all the way down.  Assuming stability is one of the ways ruins get made. Resilience accommodates the unexpected.”

This is, of course, a local vs. global optimization problem and goes back to the “foxhog” trait adaptivity issue.  In a stable environment, being a hedgehog (knowing one “big thing” that helps you succeed in your environment) helps.  In a changing environment, being an adaptable fox, quickly picking up new behaviors, helps.

I think there’s a nice biological parallel here: intelligence.   Intelligence is not always selected for, as discussed variously by Sam Kean in “ The Violinist’s Thumb ( TVT review + notes) as it relates to humans and, more topically, Jennifer Ackerman’s “ The Genius of Birds ( Bird review + notes).  Ackerman touches on flexibility and intelligence a lot: it helps in many environments; for example, it’s why the sparrow has adapted to urban life so well.

But it’s not necessarily selected for in other environments – in fact, in many environments, it can be selected against, both because it’s expensive and because (if the environment doesn’t change very much) being quicker to respond doesn’t really create much of an advantage.

Page 159: I like/love this quote from a colonial governor:

“I imagined, like most young beginners, that… I should be able to make a mighty change in the face of affairs, but a little experience of the people… has absolutely cur[e]d me of this mistake.”

See also, of course, Buffett/Munger’s commentary on their poor track record of changing people’s minds.   Base rates and overconfidence.

Page 164: Gaddis notes that ideology is often in conflict with details… there are a lot of angles here, including trait adaptivity and the earlier-referenced discussion of overconfidence.  I think the most interesting one is simply 80/20: again, the map isn’t the territory, and a summary that captures “enough” is often helpful – as with my cognition / intuition / habit / stress mental model, which doesn’t aim to be perfectly neuroscientifically accurate, but rather just provide a usable overview.

Page 169: There’s a long historical precedent of self-deference among authority figures: Gaddis notes that, like Octavian or Elizabeth, Washington was able to achieve so much power by, per one biographer, “restraint in seeking [it].”

Pages 173 – 174: Gaddis notes that – with ends having to be proportional to means – revoking liberty was not an option for the newfledged American government.  Then too, human nature causes strife, so it was impossible to solve the root cause of disagreements – but the effects could be controlled. The solution?   Scale – too much “local government” and people don’t care about the whole; too much “national government” and nobody’s satisfied. It’s a balancing act.

Page 175: Gaddis briefly reviews the well-known fact that the Founders wouldn’t have been able to get the Constitution passed if they’d banned slavery…

Page 177: Jefferson was not on the side of the law being an end in and of itself…

Page 179: The Monroe Doctrine…

Page 181: … much is made of America’s geographic situation from the rest of the world, but – in the pre-railroad era – equally important was its geographical separation from itself.

Pages 186 – 187: There’s a difference between theory and practice… Gaddis excerpts a passage from Clausewitz’s “On War” that reminds me of Erich Maria Remarque’s All Quiet on the Western Front – mentioned by Laurence Gonzales in “ Deep Survival ( DpSv review + notes).  All quiet provides a nice look into what life is actually like on military front lines.

Pages 188 – 189: An interesting discussion here about “time” – the modern world has dramatically compressed time; Gaddis here observes, via Tolstoy’s War and Peace, how by the time a general’s orders were carried to the place of battle, conditions might have changed so dramatically that the orders no longer made sense.

And, of course, here’s the quintessential story about Napoleon being bested in Moscow by General Frost.

Page 197: Mass armies were a relatively modern invention…

Page 198: … nice example of inversion here, as well as structural problem solving and trait adaptivity in the “going with the flow” sense.  Gaddis observes that the Russians couldn’t have beaten Napoleon’s force head-on – but, like the undermanned Greeks fighting Xerxes, they could certainly get Napoleon into a position where his supply lines were stretched thin.  The farther Napoleon went, the longer his retreat would take – and the more difficult it would be.

Napoleon compounded his own problem with overconfidence and sunk cost thinking.

Page 201: More on sketching and planning.

Page 203: A summary of what happens when intimidation meets retreat.

Pages 204 – 205: there appears to be some level of feedback here… cross-reference Groopman’s quote (via another doctor) in How Doctors Think ( HDT review + notes) about how in the face of uncertainty, we seek and cling to certainty.  There appears to be a bit of the same here: faced with things going badly, overconfidence and desire bias kick in.

Page 206: Gaddis, via Tolstoy, notes that Napoleon used, like Philip, circular reasoning in which everything he believed was true or good… except Philip believed in God; Napoleon basically believed he was god.

Page 208: There’s a great discussion of training and theory here, and bridging the gap between not learning too little (i.e. not taking away lessons) and not learning too much (i.e. assuming the same lessons will always apply in the future.)

Page 209: Again on the differences between theory and practice and the need to expose theory to reality… otherwise, as Tolstoy puts it, you end up in a circular trap where your theory proves itself.

See, of course, Richard Thaler’s “ Misbehaving ( M review + notes), particularly the bits about economists refusing to believe reality when it conflicted with their theory – see also Tavris/Aronson’s quips about Freud in “ Mistakes were Made (but not by me) ( MwM review + notes), and Megan McArdle’s discussion of conspiracy theories in “ The Up Side of Down ( UpD review + notes).

Pages 212 – 213: Gaddis here discusses something he discussed in “ The Landscape of History ( LandH review + notes): the fact that emergence means that disaggregation is dose-dependent; in other words, there is a point beyond which breaking things down further doesn’t help you learn things.

My quick and dirty metaphors: knowing how a car’s engine works at the level of combustion doesn’t help you respond to traffic; similarly, knowing how quarks work doesn’t help you make better decisions in your relationships – even if your friends and family are composed of quarks.

Pages 214 – 215: One of my favorite parts of the whole book.  What Gaddis has been leading up to is the idea that:

Theory extracts lessons from infinite variety. It sketches, informed by what you need to know, without trying to tell you too much. For in classrooms as on battlefields, you don’t have unlimited time to listen. - John Lewis Gaddis Click To Tweet

Gaddis goes on to tie together the idea of proportionality with the dose-dependency and trait adaptivity of certain behaviors.

Page 218: A bit of history on John Quincy Adams…

Pages 220 – 221: I thought this compare/contrast between JQA and Napoleon was interesting.  John Quincy Adams, upon realizing that he wasn’t going to serve in the role he wanted to (President), decided instead to still play – at a lower level.  He was the driving force behind tying together the Constitution (which allowed slavery) with the Declaration (which proclaimed that all men were created equal).

Next, Gaddis points out that presidents like Lincoln never knew the Founders, like JQA did.  We tend to compress the past as all being in the past – think of the cartoon related to hyperbolic discounting included in Richard Thaler’s “ Misbehaving ( M review + notes) – beyond a certain critical threshold, everything in “the past” was “the past.”  But to Abe Lincoln, the Founders were as long ago as, say, JFK was to us (directionally).

Pages 222 – 224: Lincoln used humor to make up for his looks; he was also a good storyteller.  He was also an autodidact with a formal education he described as “defective.”  Gaddis implies he was multidisciplinary.

He also had a sense of timing, like Octavian, not seeking to go too far too fast but rather building up his capabilities and his reputation before strategically using them.

Pages 225 – 226: interesting overview of the Kansas-Nebraska Act and perception / schema.

Page 227: Lincoln used the power of rhetoric as an equalizer…

Page 228: … he also made an interesting deductive logic argument regarding slavery…

Page 232: This is one of the bits I’m not sure I fully understand; need to return – Gaddis is discussing moral frameworks in politics.

Pages 233 – 234: Lincoln is often lauded for surrounding himself with people who held opposite opinions – creating the opposite of an echo chamber (which would delight Tavris/Aronson of “ Mistakes were Made (but not by me) – MwM review + notes).  Gaddis points out, however, that Lincoln didn’t really have another choice – he needed them for both their experience and their political pull.

Lincoln did underestimate the South, thinking as of January 1861 that only two or three regiments would enforce the Union’s integrity…

Pages 236 – 237: Another example of “ The Innovator’s Dilemma ( InD review + notes), or Elizabeth beating Philip – the Union, per Gaddis,

“had superior manpower, industry, and logistics,”

in comparison to the Confederacy’s

 “disadvantages of a slave-based agrarian economy ill-suited to modern war.”

yet for much time, the Union didn’t make a lot of headway.

Lincoln was aware of what his advantages and disadvantages were… his military theories were unorthodox given the time’s focus on

“the occupation, fortification, and defense of fixed positions”

– but they ended up working.  For Lincoln, war was what it was for Clausewitz:

“an act of force to compel our enemy to do our will.”

Pages 238 – 239: Gaddis lauds Lincoln for using time properly.  Lincoln wrote in 1864 that:

“If slavery is not wrong, nothing is wrong.  I cannot remember when I did not so think, and feel.  And yet, I have never understood that the Presidency conferred upon me an unrestricted right to officially act upon this judgment and feeling.”

Gaddis goes on to discuss opportunity costs –

“Lincoln here stated… that it made no sense to save a part while losing the whole…. Means can never be considered in isolation from their purpose.”

Lincoln freed the slaves stepwise, not risking political backlash, but instead waiting until it could be presented as necessary to win the war.

Pages 240 – 242: There’s a lovely discussion here of contrast bias and just-noticeable differences – Lincoln, despite being an abolitionist, at first

“forbade his commanders from freeing captured slaves, but he didn’t object when they put slaves to work supplying the army.  It then seemed reasonable to arm some… and once former slaves had fought for the Union, no Northerner could credibly support re-enslavement.”

Richard Thaler discusses the psychological phenomenon underlying this in “ Misbehaving ( M review + notes), as do Tavris/Aronson in “ Mistakes were Made (but not by me) ( MwM review + notes) – it’s the false but useful Twainism about how to properly boil a frog.

Lincoln also invoked sunk costs to his advantage: Gaddis notes that

“the more blood the Union shed the more just – and, therefore, the more legitimate – emancipation would become.”

Cross-reference Richard Rhodes’ “ The Making of the Atomic Bomb ( TMAB review + notes), where he notes that dropping the bomb – though not really a military or strategic necessity at that point – was necessary to justify the cost of the bomb and the decisions of all involved with it.

Page 244: The two sources of the States’ power, per Lincoln (partially via John Adams) – the national homestead (geography), and its liberty.

Pages 245 – 246: Lincoln openly admitted that he was inexperienced with diplomacy – i.e. not overconfident, not a boy tyrant, like Octavian, not like Marc Antony.

Dunning-Kruger here?  Gaddis notes despite Lincoln’s trepidation and lack of experience, he “made very few” foreign policy blunders.

Page 247: Lincoln knew his constraints: he couldn’t fight multiple wars at once.  Also, interestingly, Lincoln used war powers to free the slaves but not to guarantee his own Presidency… following in the footsteps of Octavian, Elizabeth, Washington, etc.

Pages 250 – 251: One of Lincoln’s biographers praised his

“psychological maturity unmatched in the history of American public life.”

Gaddis attributes this to, guess what, multidisciplinary rationality:

“But how, with so ‘defective’ an education?  The answer lies, I think, in the common sense Lincoln extracted from an uncommon mastery of scale, space, and time.”

Gaddis goes on to more formally explore these terms: scale sets ranges; he brings up complexity here – see Geoffrey West’s “ Scale ( Scale review + notes) for a deeper exploration thereof.

As for space: Lincoln, unlike Napoleon, didn’t intend on fighting in areas where he didn’t have an advantage.  He figured out, as Gaddis might put it, the winds to sail with and the currents to flow with: the North’s exterior lines and technology.   Structural problem solving.  Sun Tzu would be proud.

Time, of course, has already been discussed.

Page 256: Interesting exploration here of how Britain came to fear the U.S…

Page 263: World War 1 was the reverse of Xerxes: capabilities outran intentions, thanks to modern-sized armies with modern-technology armaments.

Pages 265 – 266: By 1914, the U.S. was a very economically wealthy country – but not yet a major military power, due in part to our “continental hegemony” (what, are we worried about Canada?  Eh? Whatcha talkin’ aboot?) Apparently, around this time, hard as it may be to believe, our army was comparable in size to Bulgaria’s.

Page 267: Gaddis notes that culturally, we’re more aligned with Britain than most of Europe; Britain, as a naval power, also in some senses protected our hegemony – so their interests were our interests, and when Britain got involved in WWI, it necessitated that we would as well.

Pages 268 – 270: WWI was good for the U.S. economy… President Woodrow Wilson, along with his advisor Colonel House, took the approach of what Gonzales calls “active waiting” in Surviving Survival (SvSv review + notes).  Choosing to do nothing is still a choice, and, as discussed earlier when I referenced action bias, in many cases the right one.

Wilson waited until 1917 to ask for a declaration of war, which proved timely as Germany was trying to offer Mexico territories in the Southwest.  America’s hour on the foreign policy stage was not yet here, however…

Pages 271 – 272: Wilson’s principles turned out to be practices, oops.

Pages 273 – 275: On arms races: leaders hoped the next weapon or offensive would provide meaning, but it didn’t.  See also, of course, Rhodes. Some interesting commentary here that I need to return to…

Page 277: Gaddis discusses the local vs. global optimization problem (more specifically, hyperbolic discounting) faced by the West, which opened the way for Lenin.  (A mistake that would be repeated – the Taliban, etc.)

Pages 278 – 282: Isolationism started to crumble because it was no longer tenable.  FDR, in 1933, recognized the importance of having Russia as a partner against Nazi Germany and Japan.  Communist Russia seemed like the lesser evil due to being landlocked. FDR was also fox-like, and focused on maintaining public support.

Pages 283 – 284: Another quote I liked (although I admittedly don’t know or understand fully the context):

“Roosevelt didn’t so much distrust experts as lament their limited horizons.  It irked him that his own agents… were close to considering Stalin worse than Hitler: they failed to see the larger possibilities that came with a wider view… Roosevelt would need deal makers… with more breadth than depth, not specialists who knew too much to make deals.”

Again, local vs. global optimization and schema.

Pages 286 – 287: Similarly to Lincoln garnering public support for emancipation by finding the right time, Roosevelt set up the conditions to provide military aid to Russia, but waited to pull the trigger until it would be supported.  Meanwhile, Winston Churchill was gleeful when he learned the U.S. was in the war.

Page 288: Gaddis cites a couple historians – Hal Brands and Patrick Porter – who proclaim that

“If [Roosevelt’s] wasn’t a successful grand strategy… nothing would be.”

 U.S. casualties in WWII were very low, but the impact was very high, and America came out of the war the predominant global superpower.

Page 297: Not 100% clear who Gaddis is quoting here – John Wheeler-Bennett of the British embassy? – but one of Isaiah Berlin’s

“most priceless attributes is that he … gives others] the impression that they are really more coruscating and witty than they would otherwise believe themselves to be.”

Cough, “ How to Win Friends and Influence People ( HWFIP review + notes), cough.  Somewhere, Dale Carnegie is smiling.

Page 301: Random note: Gaddis sort of dropped the “lightness of being” bit after Elizabeth.  Didn’t see it pop up with Lincoln, Roosevelt, or anything subsequent.

Page 304: On American moral superiority, per Berlin.

Page 305: Gaddis notes that Marxists assumed “the irrefutability of their own theory.”  To copy/paste an earlier note: see, of course, Richard Thaler’s “ Misbehaving ( M review + notes), particularly the bits about economists refusing to believe reality when it conflicted with their theory – see also Tavris/Aronson’s quips about Freud in “ Mistakes were Made (but not by me) ( MwM review + notes), and Megan McArdle’s discussion of conspiracy theories in “ The Up Side of Down ( UpD review + notes).

Pages 307 – 308: Scale resolves some paradoxes: Gaddis quotes FDR:

“I may be entirely inconsistent if it will help win the war.”

Gaddis notes that

“what made no sense to subordinates could make perfect sense to him.”

And, retired SCOTUS justice Oliver Wendell Holmes on FDR:

“A second-class intellect.  But a first-class temperament.”

Page 309: Gaddis closes the book talking about temperament, using the literal definition of temperance to describe what it means to him: he notes that containing fears and ambitions is equally important; that is to say, you can be neither cowardly nor foolhardy and expect to succeed.  He goes back to the “foxhog” idea… the tension of Bayesian reasoning: how do you be a filter without being a sponge?  Your schema needs to be strong enough to keep bad ideas out, while letting new good ones in.

Pages 310 – 311: Gaddis here notes that Berlin, by the early 1950s, realized something similar to Tetlock’s discussion (in “ Superforecasting – SF review + notes) of, in some cases, erring to one side being better – margin of safety, in other words.  You’re less concerned about false alarms than false misses when it comes to terrorist attacks, for example.

Gaddis differentiates “positive liberty” (the freedom “from” choice) from “negative liberty” (the freedom to MAKE choices).  The former, he describes as hedgehogs trying to herd foxes; the latter, foxes with compasses, ranging from Octavian to Elizabeth to Lincoln, who all:

“Had the humility to be unsure of what lay ahead, the flexibility to adjust to and the ingenuity to accept, perhaps even leverage, inconsistencies.”

Page 312: What does Gaddis believe is fair?  Proportionality… bending toward freedom.

Page 313: Death is final – or, as I like to say, all geometric series that include a zero multiply to zero.


First Read: summer 2018

Last Read: summer 2018

Number of Times Read: 1

Planning to Read Again?: absolutely


Review Date: summer 2018

Notes Date: summer 2018