These books will help you understand the fundamental principles for strategic thinking
Hello! Cristina here.
I started this collection of books as one dedicated to strategy overall – for personal means, but also for business. Since it was turning into a Gargantuan list, I decided it to split it into multiple parts, so it can be more easy to comprehend and follow.
The one that you’re currently reading, the first from this series, is filled with classical books that will help you understand the fundamental principles for strategic thinking.
In our next collection, I’ll go into deeper layers and show you what books to read if you need to improve your business strategy as well.
By the way, if there’s something we missed, a book that you feel like it HAS to be here, please just drop us a few lines and let us know. Help is always appreciated. Thanks!
You probably know Sun Tzu’s “War of Art” as a source of inspiration for Napoleon, but lots of today’s CEOs also recommend it as a valuable source for strategy.
Reid Hoffman, LinkedIn’s founder, said in a podcast he had with Tim Ferriss that he read Sun Tzu as a boy, which informed his strategic thinking.
Neil deGrasse Tyson also recommends this book to be read by every single intelligent person on the planet, to glean profound insight into most of what has driven the history of the world.
“The Art of War” is the most influential strategy book in East Asia. It’s an ancient Chinese book dating from the time of China’s Warring States Period (5th century BC). Written by the military strategist Sun Tzu (“Master Sun”), it wasn’t translated into an European language until 1782. “The Art of War” is composed of 13 chapters, each of them devoted to a distinct aspect of warfare, military strategies and tactics.
Ryan Holiday recommends both Carl Von Clausewitz’s “On War” and Sun Tzu’s “Art of War”, saying that:
“I know this will offend many strategy purists, but for most audiences I recommend these two books only with a pretty strong disclaimer. While both are clearly full of strategic wisdom, they are hard to separate from their respective eras and brands of warfare. As budding strategists in business and in life, most of us are really looking for advice that can help us with our own problems. The reality is that Napoleonic warfare does not exactly have its equivalents in today’s society. On the other hand, Sun-Tzu is so aphoristic that it’s hard to say what is concrete advice and what is just common sense. But the books are so convincing that you might still end up leaving thinking that they can be easily applied. So, again, check these books out if you’re really interested, but I think some of the other books are much better places to start.”
“On War” is considered to be one of the most important books written about war. Clausewitz, a Prussian officer who fought against the French during the Napoleonic Wars, sought to understand and analyse the phenomenon of war so that future leaders could conduct and win conflicts more effectively.
He studied the human and social factors that affect outcomes, as well as the tactical and technological ones, and understood that war was a weapon of government, and that political purpose, chance, and enmity combine to shape its dynamics.
This one’s another classic. Machiavelli’s “The Prince” is a 16th century political treatise, claimed to be one of the first works of modern political philosophy.
It’s one of the books that most shaped and influenced Stephen Schwarzman, CEO of Blackstone Group.
Ryan Holiday‘s “The Obstacle is the Way” is one of my favourite books and the one that opened my appetite for finding out more about the principles of stoicism. Based on the wisdom of the Stoics, it will completely change your mindset and show you how to embrace obstacles and challenge, thus turning them into your favor.
This is what Nancy F. Koehn, a historian of business at the Harvard Business School, said about this book: “In this tight, engaging book, Ryan Holiday shines a bright, powerful light on the path to living and leading well. By showing us how to turn failure, obstacles and plain old every-day frustration to our advantage, he offers up a host of easy-to-use tactics that each of us can put to work to follow our dreams. Read it, learn from it, and get cracking!”
“The 48 Laws of Power” is a fascinating collection of lessons drawn from the philosophies of Sun Tzu, Carl von Clausewitz, Machiavelli and other important figures. If you want to gain ultimate control, observe it or just defend against it, use Robert Greene’s book as a starting manual.
Here’s why Ryan Holiday recommends it:
“There is no living writer (or person) who has been more influential to me than Robert Greene. I met him when I was 19 years old and he’s shaped me as a person, as a writer, as a thinker. You MUST read his books. His work on power and strategy are critical for anyone trying to accomplish anything. In life, power is force we are constantly bumping up against. People have power of over us, we seek power ourselves that we might be free enough and influential enough to accomplish our goals—so we must understand where power comes from, how it works and how to get it. But pure power is meaningless. It must be joined to mastery and purpose. So read his book Mastery so that you can figure your life’s task and how to dedicate yourself to it.”
This one’s among the books that Jeff Bezos thinks everyone should read.
A “black swan” is any event, positive or negative, that is considered to be improbable, and yet has massive consequences. Nassim Nicholas Taleb‘s book is completely different from all the ones we listed before, but it will make you reconsider risks, randomness and predictability.
P.S. You probably noticed that we mention Ryan Holiday a lot in this article. That’s because he’s one of our favourite go-to persons for great book recommendations, but also one of our favourite writers. Besides being an author himself, he also contributed to some of the books mentioned in these collections, so it’s extremely likely that you’ll keep seeing his name. He also published an article about “Books To Hone Your Strategic Mind“, so many of his quotes were taken from there.