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Sun Tzu at Gettysburg

Ancient Military Wisdom in the Modern World
Narrated by: Edoardo Ballerini
Categories: History, Military
4.5 out of 5 stars

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Editorial Reviews

Military history audiobooks call for extra special attention: the bloody manoeuvres and counterattacks need to be followed step-by-step otherwise the thread of action is easily lost. Sun Tzu at Gettysburg comes with its own downloadable maps but thanks to Edoardo Ballerini's matchlessly clear reading they're barely necessary. It's an important point: in applying Sun Tzu's maxims to decisive battles of the past, author Bevin Alexander puts those battles under a microscope and Ballerini's measured delivery ensures the listener knows where he or she stands.

Sun Tzu at Gettysburg plays the "what if?" game of historical conjecture, and plays it well. Military wisdom that's over 2,000 years old is if nothing else a fresh angle on famous episodes in war, and if some of Alexander's findings seem to be more due to common sense that ancient Chinese wisdom, he has an un-showy persuasiveness that makes for an entertaining listen. Chapters range from the British defeat at the hands of American colonists through the Napoleonic and two World Wars to the North Korean War. Each chapter is peppered with references to what would Sun Tzu do ("The situation called for an intense application of a Sun Tzu axiom"). This approach also brings into relief other aspects, such as the difference between orthodox "cheng" and unorthodox "chi" strategies: according to Alexander, Stonewall Jackson used both in his manoeuvres against the Union.

Sometimes there's a hint of smugness to hindsight ("Rommel was wrong of course.") but Alexander's approach does highlight mistakes and how they happened. His chapter on the liberation of France in 1944 is especially illuminating, showing how Eisenhower, attempting to accommodate the interests of both the British and Americans, hobbled Patton in favour of Montgomery and led to disastrous consequences and arguments for years to come. "The allies," writes Alexander, "won the war in the wrong way." His clever application of Sun Tzu shows why that happened and, as Ballerini carefully adds up each word one after the other, the logic of his argument is self-evident. —Dafydd Phillips

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Publisher's Summary

Ten major battles or campaigns that could have been won by using the principles of The Art of War.

Imagine the impact on world history if Robert E. Lee had listened to General Longstreet at Gettysburg and withdrawn to higher ground instead of sending Pickett uphill against the entrenched Union line. Or if Napolon, at Waterloo, had avoided mistakes he'd never made before. The advice that would have changed the outcome of these crucial battles is found in a book on strategy written centuries before Christ was born.

Lee, Napoleon, and Adolf Hitler never read Sun Tzu's The Art of War; the book only became widely available in the West in the mid-20th century. But as Bevin Alexander shows, Sun Tzu's maxims often boil down to common sense, in a particularly pure and clear form. The lessons of contemporary military practice, or their own experience, might have guided these commanders to success. It is stunning to see, however, the degree to which the precepts laid down 2,400 years ago apply to warfare of the modern era.

©2011 Bevin Alexander (P)2011 Audible, Inc.
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5 out of 5 stars
By michael on 26-10-2015


If your a lover of history then its worth a listen to. i have heard this about 3 tomes now and will still listen to it.

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4 out of 5 stars
By Me & My Girls on 13-09-2014

How Different History Could Be

Bevin Alexander concentrates on eight battles where better strategies or reactions by the men guiding their armies could have changed history. Warning for those of you have idolized Robert E Lee, he doesn't fare very well in this work; nor does George Washington for that matter. Using the works of Sun Tzu the author points out mistakes made by military leaders that cost battles, and or wars.
It's an interesting take on historical events; particularly the battle of Gettysburg, the turning point of the American Civil War. I visited the sight and took the tour of the battlefield, and what Lee tried to accomplish there always confused me.
There are times when the audio version bogs down in detail that probably worked better in print. Still for those of you fascinated by military history this is a definite add to your collection.

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3 of 4 people found this review helpful

5 out of 5 stars
By Anthony on 30-08-2011

Simply Excellent

I've been an Audible member for many years, but this is the first review I've taken the time to write. This book explores how the principles of Sun Tzu were or were not followed in ten battles or campaigns in the last 200 years. It is fairly easy to follow, even without the maps in front of you which is not true for many narrated military histories

The narration is excellent, I highly recommend the narrator.

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2 of 3 people found this review helpful

3 out of 5 stars
By Robert on 01-01-2020

The performance is stellar but the story is incorrect

I disliked that many of the assumptions are blatantly untrue: Sun Tzu’s work is not the only approach to war. Not in classical Chinese litrrature and certainly not in world literature.

I love assertive and confident writing but this lacks substantive research to back brave claims.

Very difficult to listen for intelligent, well-educated people.

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5 out of 5 stars
By Max on 12-12-2011

One of the best books I've ever owned!

Would you recommend this audiobook to a friend? If so, why?

Definitely! The book is not only well written, it is well narrated, too!

Who was your favorite character and why?

All of the chapters were interesting, but perhaps Stonewall Jackson was the most exciting of the characters.

Have you listened to any of Edoardo Ballerini’s other performances before? How does this one compare?

No, I never have -- but his voice and inflection was perfect for the task.

Was this a book you wanted to listen to all in one sitting?

Yes -- and will do so again!

Any additional comments?

My title says it all: it's one of the best books I've ever owned, and the fact that it is in audible form is perhaps the icing on the cake!

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0 of 1 people found this review helpful

5 out of 5 stars
By John on 05-11-2011

Its a wonder the North won...

Its a testament to numbers and resources. Otherwise we'd be using confederate dollars and all eating grits for breakfast... maybe even a better government, who knows.

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0 of 2 people found this review helpful

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2 out of 5 stars
By Matchu on 09-11-2015

A little too superficial

As a backdrop to this review I have read/listened to a number of books associated with each of the battles/wars described in this book bar the Korean War. Also I have read "The Art of War".

Given the above I was very much looking forward to listening to this book and gleaning some insights as to "what might have been". However, I felt disappointed as it is just too superficial and simplistic.

The book does not fully explore the reaction(s) to changes that could have been adopted by following the teachings of Sun Tzu. Battles can be like a game of chess, where once your opponent makes a move you need to consider and react to this whilst developing your own strategy to win. This kind of analysis is not sufficiently included for me. Instead it looks at some specific decisions, critiques it, uses the Sun Tzu philosophy, and describes what should have happened. As if that is the end of the story.

For every action there is a reaction.

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