Leadership In War: Essential Lessons From Those Who Made History, by Andrew Roberts
It would be easy, just looking at the people who the author talks about in terms of their historymaking, to misjudge a book like this one. It should be noted, to be fair to the author, that the author looks at people who he does not necessarily like or approve of and draws lessons that are not necessarily positive. In discussing war leadership, moreover, the author does not only look at generals and focus on military history but he also looks at political leaders and provides a discussion of their dark arts as well. The author’s longtime interest in how war shapes the demands that are put on leaders and how it is that people can show their leadership in good or bad ways for the sake of the people that they lead makes this book a labor of love, but the book is not quite what many readers would automatically expect of it, and frequently the author finds it necessary to wage into the territory of engaging in discussions about matters like reputation and in interpreting the behavior of leaders through a look at their challenges and a discussion of the diplomatic and logistical concerns involved in leadership as well.
This book is a relatively short one at just over 200 pages and it is divided into nine chapters. The book begins with an introduction that discusses the conundrum of leadership and how it is that people can serve their people for good or ill based on the qualities that they possess and how these are revealed through war and other serious matters. The author then looks at a series of leaders and seeks to judge their impact and figure out their qualities, being mostly positive on Napoleon Bonaparte (1) and appreciative of the bravery (if not the character) of Horatio Nelson (2) and very praiseworthy about Winston Churchill (3) even if he did not succeed in preserving the British Empire. The author spends some time talking about the bad side of World War II leadership by giving very critical discussions of Hitler (4) and Stalin (5) before turning his attention again to those leaders whom he finds easier to praise, finding in George Marshall a very praiseworthy amount of personal modesty (6) and seeing Eisenhower (8) as a very diplomatic general whose tact was necessary to deal with the prima donnas that he had to wrestle together for victory. The author also shows the skill of Charles de Gualle in providing a way for France to recover honor (7) while closing with a chapter on the leadership of Thatcher (9) in the Falklands War, before ending with a look at a leadership paradigm that he views as more generally applicable to war leaders as a whole, before acknowledgements and notes.
Overall, this is a solid work. If it is not exactly the last word one would want to read on either political or military leaders in war, and if it is highly skewed towards examples that would be familiar to those who are more fond of 20th century European and American history than I would be, it certainly does show a grasp of the nuance and complexity that is involved in effective leadership and provides a look at how this task has proven to be difficult for a great many people. The author also wades into the area of how leaders are to be judged as good and evil and how this relates to the effectiveness of leaders and the lessons that we draw from them. The author judges leaders by pragmatic means, and thus finds those leaders who engaged in the willful slaughter of many of their own people poorly, and also judges Hitler and Stalin as not only being wicked but also being lazy because they did not work as hard as Churchill and others (like FDR) did at motivating the people through powerful speeches and showing an obvious concern for the well-being of their people. But if Hitler and Stalin had been the sort of people who cared about the well-being of the people they misruled, they would not have been elite tier evil dictators in the first place.