Tag Archives: War

General Fox Conner: Pershing’s Chief of Operations and Eisenhower’s Mentor by Steven Rabalais


  1. Rabalais uncovers the details behind Fox Conner’s background and his influence on military history, including General Pershing and Dwight Eisenhower. “The legacy of this quintessential man-behind-the-scenes indeed endures. As Black Jack Pershing’s chief of operations and Dwight Eisenhower’s mentor, Fox Conner left an unmistakable imprint upon his nation’s military history. Were they alive today, Pershing and Eisenhower, as well as George Marshall and George Patton—all titans of 20th-century American military history—would each offer eloquent testimony that Conner’s memory belongs within their ranks. As Eisenhower said of Conner in a 1964 interview: “In sheer ability and character, he was the outstanding soldier of my time.”

Key Takeaways

  1. As Pershing’s chief of operations for the American Expeditionary Forces (AEF) during World War I, Fox Conner directed the development and successful deployment of American combat forces in France. Pershing considered Conner to have been “a brilliant soldier” and “one of the finest characters our Army has ever produced.” Pershing paid tribute to Conner by telling him: “I could have spared any other man in the AEF better than you.” Fox Conner commanded Dwight Eisenhower when both were stationed in the Panama Canal Zone in the 1920s. Despite having been part of the high command that had helped win the “War to End All Wars,” Conner held the then-unorthodox view that the American Army would fight a second war in Europe within two decades. Conner imparted that belief to his protégé Eisenhower and transformed him from a struggling young officer facing a court-martial into one of the Army’s rising stars.
  2. But as Fox Conner bore his burden in the cotton field, his daydreams carried him to fields of battle far away from Calhoun County. In Fox’s mind, his back carried a soldier’s pack rather than a burlap sack. Instead of stumbling behind a plow, he was marching behind a caisson. Even when raking manure in the Mississippi heat, Fox saw the pungent piles as the opposing lines of two armies; he maneuvered them with his rake as a general would move his divisions upon a map.
  3. Conner believed he could compete academically; those that he could not outthink, he could outwork.
  4. In the fall of 1897, Company A received a new tactical officer to enforce discipline in the company. The new “tac” himself had been the top graduate of the West Point Class of 1886; he knew all the cadet tricks, including the places where men hid to smoke.
  5. Leavenworth’s “applicatory method” drew heavily upon military history to analyze the quandaries faced by an army’s high command and to devise solutions under rapidly changing conditions. Students learned, through map exercises, to plan and control the movement of troops from afar.
  6. Conner also came to understand the shame that permeated the French Army over its defeat in the Franco-Prussian War, which resulted in France’s loss of the provinces of Alsace and Lorraine in 1871. Despite the passage of four decades, France’s desire for revenge—and for recapture of the lost provinces—still smoldered.
  7. President Wilson named one of his brightest generals to lead the incursion into Mexico: John J. Pershing. In a controversial move a decade earlier, Theodore Roosevelt had promoted Black Jack Pershing, over 762 superior officers, directly from captain to brigadier general. For the Mexican operation, Pershing selected several of the Army’s most promising young officers to accompany him, including George Patton.
  8. Believing that Conner was “exceptionally well qualified” to carry out the critical planning functions required of the Operations Section, Palmer resolved to “pry him loose” from the Inspector General. Palmer took his request to Chief of Staff Harbord, who warned Palmer of a potential problem with Conner’s transfer to the Operations Section: Conner of the field artillery and the infantryman Palmer each held the rank of lieutenant colonel. Each arm of service, however, controlled its own promotions. If the artillery promoted Conner to colonel first, Palmer would then have to step aside and serve under the higher-ranking officer. “If that should happen,” Palmer told Harbord, “I would be very glad to change desks with Conner.” He added: “I recommended him for the job because I believe that nobody else is so well fitted to serve in that capacity and I certainly would not revoke the recommendation even if it should prove prejudicial to my own fortunes.” Palmer recalled that “Harbord smiled somewhat at my high-minded speech but agreed to let me have the man I wanted.” According to Palmer, “Fox Conner soon proved his worth many times over in the Operations Section.”
  9. To begin lifting French morale, Pershing ordered his staff officers to display a sense of optimism at all times; a positive attitude became “a matter of duty,” as Conner put it.
  10. Conner recognized that the inability of either side to advance on the Western Front had produced a stalemate that “showed most of the characteristics of siege warfare.” Pershing, however, did not intend simply to feed his men into the same trenches that had devoured the young British and French men before them. Instead, the American commander aimed to “force the Germans out of their trenches and beat them in the open.”
  11. Summerall made enemies that day, but he also developed a much more important ally. Just as Pershing had not allowed the personal affront of a West Point cadet to affect his judgment as to Fox Conner’s suitability for duty on the AEF staff, he also looked past Charles P. Summerall’s arrogance. Impressed with the colonel’s abilities, Pershing asked the War Department to transfer Colonel Summerall to France for service in the AEF.
  12. Six months earlier, Conner had been on mundane duty as an inspector. The combination of Palmer’s misfortune and Conner’s own perseverance placed Fox Conner in position to direct the development and deployment of an army that would number in the millions and play a decisive role in the deadliest war humankind had fought to that time. In James G. Harbord’s opinion, Conner “probably had no superior as an operations chief in the Allied armies. How much he contributed to the success of the AEF has never been adequately stated.” In time, historians would label Conner “the genius of operations,” and “the brains of the AEF.”
  13. Eisenhower recalled that he mostly worked to “prevent the dry rot of tedious idleness.”
  14. “Conner had long had his eyes on Marshall.” On July 13, 1918, George Marshall reported for duty in Conner’s Operations Section. Marshall faced an adjustment to what he termed the “strange atmosphere” of Chaumont. As his new colleagues discussed the broad details of planning an army of millions, Marshall found himself in a “different world” from divisional headquarters, which concerned itself much more with how Chaumont’s directives affected soldiers in the field. Marshall wrote of the different viewpoints of the GHQ and field officers: “Each man was living in his own little world, ignorant to a surprising degree of all that occurred elsewhere.”
  15. Fox Conner had long-recognized the importance of Allied “unity of action.”
  16. Among the American casualties on the first day of the attack was Lieutenant Colonel George Patton. With his tanks unable to advance, Patton located some lost infantrymen and began to lead them forward when a bullet from a German machine gun tore into his left thigh. The upward trajectory of the slug left an exit wound “just at the crack of my bottom,” as Patton described it to his wife Beatrice. Patton also relayed his doctor’s amazement that the bullet had not damaged any nerves or arteries in the area. He attributed his survival to “fate.”
  17. By late October, as the French and British offensives to the west continued to succeed, Pershing and his staff began to recognize that Foch’s strategy to end the war in 1918 might actually work. Acutely aware of the AEF’s poor showing—and that jockeying among the Allies for postwar influence had begun—Pershing dispatched Fox Conner to meet the press and to tell the AEF’s side of the story regarding its contribution to the Allied cause.
  18. “You can’t let up,” Conner argued. “In order to keep up the push constantly, all the time, you have got to keep divisions in longer than we would like to.”
  19. At the war’s outset in April 1917, Fox Conner had been an undistinguished major, in one of the least glamorous bureaus of the War Department, whose primary battles had been against health problems. Nineteen months later, he wore a general’s star and sat in the inner circle that surrounded America’s most powerful soldier since Ulysses S. Grant. At age 44, Conner was only midway through his career. With Pershing’s sponsorship behind him, and another 20 years of military service ahead, Fox Conner stood poised to reach the pinnacle of his profession.
  20. Conner stressed the war’s “one great lesson”—which he feared was “soon to be forgotten” as the nation returned to peace: “The unprepared nation is helpless in a great war unless it can depend upon other nations to shield it while it prepares,” a lesson he thought had been borne out by “every scrap of the history” of the AEF. The highlight of Conner’s postwar service in France came on June 28, 1919, when he had accompanied Pershing to the Hall of Mirrors in the Palace of Versailles to witness the signing of the Treaty of Versailles. Among other provisions, the peace treaty required Germany to pay billions of dollars in reparations and to cede Alsace-Lorraine and other industrial regions to France. The terms also limited Germany to an army of 100,000 with no conscription or air force or submarines. Germany accepted sole responsibility for starting the war. The treaty also created a new League of Nations to establish the principle of collective security to maintain world peace. Amid the smiles and congratulations exchanged among the victors that day, Fox Conner felt uneasy. Having witnessed how the shame of defeat in the Franco-Prussian War in 1871 had fueled the desire for revenge in his French comrades, Conner doubted how long the words of a treaty would quell the warrior spirit of the militaristic—and humiliated—German nation.
  21. “From the beginning,” Eisenhower recalled in his 1967 memoirs, he and Patton “got along famously.” The two officers shared similar views concerning the potential of armored warfare. Although prevailing Army doctrine limited the tank’s role—and speed—to the support of advancing foot soldiers, Patton and Eisenhower each foresaw the tank’s potential to become the spearhead of an independent and rapid-attack force. According to Eisenhower, Patton predicted in 1919: “I’ll be Jackson, you’ll be Lee. I don’t want to do the heavy thinking; you do that and I’ll get loose among our – – – – [sic] enemies, and really tear them to pieces.” Patton and Eisenhower also became close personal friends. In their spare time, Eisenhower distilled gin while Patton brewed beer, which they enjoyed at “Club Eisenhower,” their name for Eisenhower’s quarters. Eager for advancement, the two officers also studied the exercises given students at the Leavenworth staff college. Mostly, though, Patton and Eisenhower talked tanks with “the enthusiasm of zealots,” as Eisenhower put it. Dwight Eisenhower had found a good friend in George Patton— as he would learn in the coming year.
  22. In a 1967 monograph, Chynoweth recounted a conversation in which Eisenhower acknowledged his “guiding philosophy” for serving under Conner: “I forget my own ideas and do everything in my power to promote what he says is right.” Chynoweth asked: “Right or wrong?” Eisenhower purportedly replied: “The Commanding Officer is never wrong with me.” 
  23. Conner also interacted with his men on a daily basis as he made his rounds through the post on a horse named Old Bill. As Eisenhower put it, Conner “never abandoned the position—and no senior officer ever should—of being an instructor.” Once, Conner encountered some Puerto Rican soldiers on a work detail who did not know how to use a scythe to cut grass, so he dismounted and gave a demonstration. When a team of horses got a wagon stuck in jungle mud and would not move, despite the cursing and beating of their teamsters, Conner took the reins and calmed the horses; according to Eisenhower, Conner “just talked to them and they went right out of the mud.” Similarly, Betsey Conner’s 1987 letter recalled an instance in which her father worked with his troops to tame a gun-shy mule that bolted each time any cannon fired. Conner had the mule hitched to a sled loaded with rocks. When the guns resumed fire, the frightened beast kicked up a whirlwind of dirt as it tried to run but could not move. Eventually, the mule, like the men of the 20th Brigade, settled down under Conner’s firm leadership.
  24. In Betsey Conner’s estimation, “Daddy really knew mules and horses and men.” Conner briefly discussed his views on the relationship between a commander and his troops in the foreword to a 1922 book, titled Principles of Command, by Major Ralph Jones. Conner began with the premise, borrowed from an Alexander Pope poem, that “the proper study of mankind is man.” He then addressed the importance, to a military commander, of a basic understanding of human psychology. Despite his view that “the usual text on psychology is so abstruse as to be understandable only to the professor,” Conner nonetheless believed that “the motives which control the majority of men and the mainsprings which actuate those motives are comparatively simple and few in number.” He then referred his readers to Major Jones’s book to learn the fundamental principles of applying psychological principles to command of troops.
  25. Fox Conner did not speak to Eisenhower about Napoleon or any other great commander of the past, nor did he discuss the importance of history to the development of a well-rounded military officer. Instead, Conner drew three novels from the shelves of his collection and handed them to his assistant. “You might be interested in these,” Conner suggested in his quiet Mississippi drawl. Thus began what Eisenhower described in At Ease, as a three-year “graduate school in military affairs and humanities.”In his 1986 work, The Challenge of Command, former West Point history professor Roger Nye cited the examples of what “Eisenhower had in Fox Conner, Napoleon in de Guibert, and Philip of Macedon in Socrates,” as examples of how “a great teacher” can impart to a young officer the “insights and values” necessary for later success in high command. Professor Nye also lauded Fox Conner as “the most celebrated” example of a mentor—one whose “chief function is to cause his people to become better learners.” Eisenhower said as much of Conner, but in simpler terms: “He was my teacher.” As Eisenhower phrased it, his commander was a “smart, patient man, and he decided that I ought to amount to something; so he was going to see if I would.”
    1. Conner loaned Eisenhower three works of historical fiction—The Exploits of Brigadier Gerard by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle (of Sherlock Holmes fame), The Long Roll by Mary Johnston (granddaughter of Confederate General Joseph Johnston), and The Crisis by American author Winston Churchill (no relation to the more famous Briton of the same name.)
    2. Conner gradually led Eisenhower to a more advanced level of military study. The general introduced his assistant to the writings of the 19th-century Prussian military theorist Carl von Clausewitz, whose On War remains an influential treatise on warfare. Eisenhower struggled to grasp the military maxims set forth by Clausewitz, so Conner had Eisenhower read the book three times to drive home the lessons. Conner would quiz Eisenhower as to what each Clausewitzian principle meant. In a 1966 letter, Eisenhower identified On War as the book that had most profoundly influenced his military career. George Patton recounted one World War II debate over strategy in which Eisenhower became “very pontifical and quoted Clausewitz to us.”
    3. Conner told his protégé: “In all military history, only one thing never changes—human nature. Terrain may change, weather may change, weapons may change … but never human nature.”
    4. Eisenhower frequently used-two particular sayings he had learned from Conner: “Always take your job seriously, never yourself ” and “All generalities are false, including this one.”
    5. “There is no question of his molding my thinking on this from the time I was thirty-one,” Eisenhower said in a 1964 interview. Eisenhower similarly recalled, in other interviews, that Conner “kept dinning into me that I had to prepare myself for command because the future of the nation depended on my readiness and that of men of my time.” According to Eisenhower, “the necessity of being prepared for war was a product of something that just seeped into me from the teachings of this man.”
  26. Fox Conner also viewed Woodrow Wilson’s concept that the nation had actually fought a “war to end all wars” as a “mere slogan of propaganda.” In contrast to the isolationist sentiment then prevalent in the United States, Conner repeatedly told Eisenhower that American participation in another large-scale European war was “almost a certainty.” Again reflecting his admiration for the defeated Germans, Conner told his assistant: “You can’t take the strongest, most virile people in Europe and put them in the kind of straitjacket that this treaty attempts to do.” According to Eisenhower, Conner also foresaw a future German–Japanese alliance, which he thought the Soviet Union might join as well.
  27. Regarding the necessity of junior officers being subordinate to their superiors, Chynoweth wrote: “There is a lesson in it. I never learned the lesson.”
  28. Conner also addressed the inadequacy of military spending in a 1928 article titled “The National Defense.” True to form, Conner grounded his thesis in history, beginning with the War of 1812 and proceeding through the Mexican War, Civil War, Spanish–American War, and the recently concluded Great War. Conner quoted each era’s leading lawmakers, who had all argued—shortly before the outbreak of war—that military spending constituted an unnecessary waste. Conner pointed out that the same views prevailed in the America of the 1920s, again imperiling the nation’s defense.
  29. In France, Eisenhower studied the areas of the Western Front he had written about in 1927; he then revised his guidebook. According to historian Carlo D’Este, “Eisenhower’s sense of history had been so well honed by Fox Conner,” that he was able to fully grasp the significance of the sites.
  30. Fox Conner soon learned that he, as a high-ranking military officer during the 1930s, was almost as removed from the American mainstream as were his monastic neighbors. As noted in historian Russell Weigley’s History of the United States Army, a “gloomy, negative kind of pacifism, automatically hostile to any measure which might improve the Army” prevailed in the nation during the Great Depression. Bug recalled that when her husband opened a bank account, the teller “eyed him with great suspicion” and “was not impressed.” Despite a number of public appearances by Conner that were covered by the The Boston Daily Globe newspaper, Bug wrote that “the Proper Bostonians [did] not even know we were there.”
  31. According to one newspaper article, Conner kept a schedule that “would have exhausted many a younger man.” He inspected each of the camps, several of which required treks into remote forest locations. Conner ate with the men to assure the quality of their rations; he also took the time to ask questions and listen to answers.
  32. Marshall offered encouraging words: “With your literary ability, your general military knowledge and your comprehensive knowledge of affairs in France, coupled with your ability to reduce things to simplicities, you are better prepared to write such a book than anyone else I know in the Army.”
  33. “Division, corps, and army commanders must be capable of sitting in front of a map and dictating a complete field order,” Conner proclaimed.
  34. The president heeded their advice. On September 1, 1939—the day Germany invaded Poland to trigger World War II in Europe—George Marshall became the Army’s chief of staff. Marshall’s appointment reflected the president’s selection of yet another general in the mold of Fox Conner lead the Army.
  35. Letter from Eisenhower to Fox: Dear General, More and more in the last few days my mind has turned back to you and to the days when I was privileged to serve intimately under your wise counsel and leadership. I cannot tell you how much I would appreciate, at this moment, an opportunity for an hour’s discussion with you on problems that constantly beset me
  36. Eisenhower wrote in 1948: “Allied unity, and the ways and means of attaining it, constituted the principal war lesson”—as Fox Conner had told him it would be. In a 1967 interview with historian Stephen Ambrose, Eisenhower credited his many discussions with Conner, as well as his own reading on the history of coalition warfare, as the keys to his success in effective allied unity.

What I got out of it

  1. I had hardly heard about Fox Conner before reading this book but his influence on military history is profound. He was a mentor to Pershing and Eisenhower, impacting how WWI and WWII were fought and prepared for. “He operated behind the scenes, so to speak,” Mac Conner wrote. “The general public was and is unaware of his value to the military and to the country … his true legacy stretched far beyond his own wonderful military career.”

Swimming Across: A Memoir by Andy Grove


  1. Andris Grof (Andy Grove) tells us about his childhood in Hungary and how he lived through and dealt with WWII, Russian communist influences, and how he escaped to America. “I was born in Budapest, Hungary, in 1936. By the time I was twenty, I had lived through a Hungarian Fascist dictatorship, German military occupation, the Nazis’ “Final Solution,” the siege of Budapest by the Soviet Red Army, a period of chaotic democracy in the years immediately after the war, a variety of repressive Communist regimes, and a popular uprising that was put down at gunpoint. This is the story of that time and what happened to my family and me.”

Key Takeaways

  1. But I could see in my mother’s face that there was something else. She went on, “I think it’s time for you to become Andris Grof again.” I was stunned. I had become Andris Malesevics so through and through that for a moment I was confused. But only for a moment. Then the significance of being free to use my real name engulfed me.
  2. The sensation of being in a dream kept me from feeling fatigue and also kept me from wondering what would await us at the end of our journey. I just kept walking, numb. After a while, I was neither particularly surprised nor unsurprised by anything we encountered.
  3. My father was an outgoing man. I was impressed and also a little envious at how easily he struck up conversations even with complete strangers. He was able to find a common bond with everyone he encountered — the waiter at the restaurant, the conductor on the streetcar, or somebody sitting at the table next to him. He seemed genuinely interested in these other people. Every once in a while, in his enthusiasm, he got me involved in these conversations. Most of the time, I would listen for a while, but I would soon get impatient to go home.
  4. I discovered C. S. Forester’s books about the nineteenth-century British navy captain Horatio Hornblower. Something about the character really intrigued me. Although I wouldn’t tell anyone this, I fancied myself as a latter-day Captain Hornblower, a man of few but deeply thought-out words, carrying the weight of the world on my shoulders, pacing an imaginary deck with my hands behind my back, living a rich inner life that my classmates never suspected.
  5. I felt distinctly inferior in comparison with my friends. I didn’t play the violin — or any instrument, for that matter — and I wasn’t a math or physics genius. While I was a good student, I wasn’t particularly outstanding in any one area. And I was still bad at all sports except swimming. But they accepted me as their equal. I think that the main asset I brought was that I was more comfortable with the rest of the class than they were. I served as their bridge to the wild bunch. We had something else in common: All five of us were Jewish. We weren’t the only Jews in the class. There were a few more whom we had not become friendly with. But as we gravitated to each other’s company, and hung around with each other at recess and after school, a subtle wall formed around us. No explicit acts of anti-Semitism were ever expressed toward us. But the separation was real. We never discussed the fact that we were Jewish. We just knew that we were, just as the other members of the class knew it, too. Hungarians almost always knew who was or wasn’t Jewish, kids or adults. It became a sixth sense for all of us, never a subject of explicit discussion, but one of constant tacit awareness.
  6. Even the places that specialized in chemical compounds generally didn’t have them in stock. In an economy that operated by central planning, shortages of just about everything were commonplace.
  7. One reaction to the growing political oppression was the number of jokes that sprang up about it. They acted as a safety valve for feelings that couldn’t be expressed otherwise. Jokes about current events in Budapest were an art form. They were created and transmitted almost instantaneously.
  8. (The most annoying slogan was “Work is a matter of honor and duty.” It was posted everywhere — on factory walls, in stores, and even on street signs — right above the heads of people who were listlessly trying to get away with the minimum amount of work.)
  9. I realized that I needed help. Everything, from getting a job to getting a telephone, required “connections.” My father found somebody who knew somebody who knew somebody inside Chinoin. This person moved my application along, and I got hired as a laborer.
  10. I realized that it’s good to have at least two interests in your life. If you have only one interest and that goes sour, there’s nothing to act as a counterbalance to lift your mood. But if you have more than one interest, chances are something will always go okay.
  11. This evening, I was hanging on the outside as usual, looking ahead in the gathering May dusk, but I didn’t see the traffic or the familiar streets going by. My mind was filled with atoms and molecules and experimental schemes. Then, all of a sudden, I got it. I don’t know what set it off. The experimental results that were floating around in my head suddenly jelled and the confusion of the previous weeks coalesced into a solid vision of where I was and where I needed to go. I jumped off the tram and ran home. I took out my notes and checked to see whether my recollections of the past experimental results were correct. They were. I couldn’t wait to get back into the lab the next day. With complete confidence, I planned the next sequence of experiments to confirm my hypothesis. They worked.
  12. Political parties that had long been disbanded came back to life, and dozens of newspapers sprang up to publicize their beliefs. It was as if the gradual thaw that had slowly been taking place over the past couple of years had suddenly turned into a flood.
  13. The coffee we got was made from real coffee beans. In Hungary, “coffee” was made from ground, roasted hickory nuts. Since coffee wasn’t produced in any of the Communist-bloc countries, we didn’t have it. Real coffee tasted very good.
  14. I’ve never gone back to Hungary. To be sure, as the years went on, political and economic life both improved, at least as far as I could tell. Hungary even ended up becoming a member of NATO. But although I’ve retained fond memories of Hungarian music and literature, and I still look with some warmth at picture postcards of Budapest sent to me by friends who visit there, I have never desired to revisit it myself. I’m not entirely sure why. Maybe I don’t want to remind myself of the events I wrote about. Maybe I want to let memories stay memories. Or maybe the reason is something simpler than that: My life started over in the United States. I have set roots here. Whatever roots I had in Hungary were cut off when I left and have since withered and died.
  15. I went through graduate school on scholarships, got a fantastic job at Fairchild Semiconductor, the high-flying company of its day, then participated in the founding of Intel, which in time has become the largest maker of semiconductors in the world. I rose to be its chief executive officer, a position I held for eleven years, until I stepped down from it in 1998; I continue as chairman today. I’ve continued to be amazed by the fact that as I progressed through school and my career, no one has ever resented my success on account of my being an immigrant. I became a U.S. citizen. I was named Time magazine’s Man of the Year in 1997. My two daughters now have children of their own. In fact, it was the arrival of the grandchildren that stimulated me to tell my story. As my teacher Volenski predicted, I managed to swim across the lake — not without effort, not without setbacks, and with a great deal of help and encouragement from others. I am still swimming.

What I got out of it

  1. Amazing what Grove went through by the time he was 20. You can see the foundation, the grit, the perspective he got from these difficult times and how it later informed his life at Intel, becoming one of the most respected CEOs of all time. 

The Last Lion by William Manchester


  1. Manchester describes not only the man, but the times, context, history, background, “gestalt” in which he lived. “This is a biography and not a history, but you are often confused because they are in fact quite different. A biography details the life, context, times, and decisions of a man and is not merely a chronological recounting of the past. As a biographer, we try to re-create an illusion of the man’s life to give people a true sense for who they were and the circumstances they were dealt.”

My favorite Churchill speeches – Blood, Toil, Tears and Sweat, We Shall Fight on the Beaches, Their Finest Hour

Favorite quotes

  • What is our [Britain’s] War Policy? – I can answer in one word: It is victory, victory at all costs, victory in spite of all terror, victory, however long and hard the road may be; for without victory, there is no survival.” Just as Churchill predicted, the road to victory in World War II was long and difficult: France fell to the Nazis in June 1940.
  • On a particular day when the Royal Air Force had amazing results, Winston’s famous line was, “never have so many owed so much to so few.”

Key Takeaways

Vol. 1: 1847-1932 Visions of Glory

  1. Many men have judgment, few have insight. He was an extroverted intuitive and his capacity to inspire and unite was unrivaled. He preferred to work by intuition and impulse rather than analysis. This is what the country needed at this time but it rubbed many people the wrong way. Most men misjudge their importance, Churchill did not. He was indispensable
  2. In the age of the specialist, he was the antithesis. He was a Renaissance man in every sense of the word. The defender of freedom, a poet a writer, a statesman, a politician, a biographer, a historian, one who is a force of character and can never be summed up easily. He is one of history‘s great men.  It is pointless to expect consistency and balance in genius.  He was different from other men and had what seemed to be built in shock absorbers that allowed him to continue on through all his defeat and downturns.  It was said that one of the strongest traits was his ability to focus on one thing and doing it exceedingly exceedingly well. That is a trait of genius .
  3. Deep insight and not stability were his forte. He knew the British people had to be united when Hitler came to power.
  4. Although Winston was brave and a strategic mastermind, it was his mastery of the English language which set him apart and helped him shape history.
  5. The book begins with a deep dive of the British empire and how large and dominant it was at its height –  spanning 3x the size of the Roman empire! This unstoppable mindset and the belief that it was the British right to rule is important to understand and cover because it heavily influenced Churchill in many ways 
  6. He spoke to the British people, the world, like nobody before or since. He was raw, real, unabashed
  7. In all his life he showed incredible courage – from his time in the military to his final days as a politician. He was accused of loving war but this was not the case. He felt the heaviness but knew he had to step up or things would get much worse
  8. Winston was as much American as he was British. His mother was from New York and he loved her dearly but she neglected him early on. Later, however, because of her promiscuity and relationships with multiple wealthy and influential men, she was able to open many doors for Winston. His nurse was the most important person in his life until he was 20. He was also beat savagely at his boarding school, was bored in class, and rebelled against authority. His only defense was an unconquerable will and he showed how stubborn and iconoclastic he was early on.  He struggled mightily in school, never achieving good grades and hardly getting into colleges or prestigious schools.  
  9. His father was a prominent politician but played his cards wrong and ended up being kicked out, never to return again. He deeply loved his father and considered him an idol, but his father neglected him and hardly spoke to him because he didn’t achieve in traditional measures. Famous men are typically the product of unhappy childhoods
  10. Churchill had great faith but also believed you have the power to change things. He changed his image to one of an athlete, a bulldog, to display to others his courage and confidence
  11. Churchill is one of the most losing politicians of all time. He switched parties numerous times, rubbed people the wrong way, and was often thought as a charlatan who had a lot of talent and intellect but didn’t know how to harness it 
  12. He always fought for and rooted for the underdog, as he himself was the underdog. He suffered serious bouts of depression and melancholy, was bullied as a kid and never fit in. The most insecure and oppressed people seek external approval and Churchill was no different. He simply wanted people to applaud him and tell him how great his works were, not to offer critical feedback or advice. He always thought that he was destined for greatness and was rather arrogant about it at times. He loved being the center of attention and would often listen to his own speeches and re-read his own work to listen to himself 
  13. It was said that Churchill was a simple man – he simply enjoyed the best of everything 
  14. Churchill never had a feel for the British public. He simply did his own thing. He was born into a society where class differences were prevalent and accepted. It was said that he would’ve been just fine in the feudal society.  His aristocratic heritage was the cause of many blind spots but it was also responsible for his great talents as well. He was never accused for being humble and owned up to that
  15.  Churchill had an incredible memory, able to remember and recite thousands of lines of poetry and what he remembered he hardly forgot.  He was also an incredible writer and made his money as a journalist and author.  Since he was young, the only thing he wanted was become master of the written and spoken word.  He didn’t improvise. He planned and wrote ahead of time and wrote most of his speeches in the bathtub with a cigar. He dictated his speeches to a secretary who typed them up then came the scissors and the glue to rearrange the lines multiple times before the final draft was ready.  The final draft had bigger letters for what he wanted to emphasize spacing between words that he wanted to stress and bolded others what he thought most important 
  16. Churchill was a voracious reader, remembering everything he read and calling the dead authors his friends from whom he often pulled from. He was never a man for small talk
  17.  In his early 20s he got shipped off to India with the British army. It was at this point that he started becoming an auto didactic, reading everything from Aristotle to Plato to Socrates, learning from the lessons of history.  He allowed himself to believe whatever he wanted to believe even if paradoxical or contradictory and let reason take him wherever she might.  It was at this time he decided he wanted to get into parliament, but first he decided he needed to be a famous war hero who displayed courage. He brilliantly manipulated his mother and her lovers so that he could be on the front lines where ever the fiercest battles were 
  18. Churchill had his own path, he fashioned his own life. He didn’t follow anyone 
  19. Churchill went down to South Africa during the Boer War. He was held captive there for some time and showed great courage throughout his time there. Once he came back to Britain, he had earned a lot of political power and recognition. He had parties fighting for him to join their constituencies and the people were excited about him.  He became magnetic around this time and soon a great speaker. He memorized every word he wanted to say, just like his father had.  Nobody put in more work to prepare for his speeches but it was paradoxical that he was also the quickest on his feet. Churchill didn’t care about  approval, he simply wanted attention.  
  20. One of Churchill‘s advantages was his lack of formal education. He questioned everything, thought from first principles, and wasn’t afraid of stating simple truths. These were things which others, who were more buttoned up and had more classical training, did not even consider or were too afraid to even think about 
  21. One must be always ready to change sides, if that is the side of justice.  What is the use of supporting your side only when it’s right? It is exactly at the time when they are wrong, when there is disagreement, that you must step up and speak.  He fought for what he thought was right, not what his party said was right. This made him many enemies on all sides and when he was young, he wasn’t able to handle this solitude too well. He went into deep bouts of depression. He experienced this later on too but managed them and learned how to handle them when he was alone and behind closed doors. He jumped sides early on from a tory to a liberal. One said this was ambition because he could move ahead faster but he retaliated by saying that some men change parties to match their principles whereas others change their principles to match their parties 
  22. Winston as awkward with women. He really only liked talking about himself and abhorred small talk. He eventually became very dependent on his wife but early on he didn’t seem to respect women too much
  23. Traditional religions were losing their grip on the English and they were looking for substitutes. This meant that dogmatic, hardheaded, and simple answers to complex questions attract people because this allows them to have something to hold onto that feels concrete 
  24. By the early 1900s, the British had conquered pretty much everything there was to conquer. This just stifled people’s energy and innovation, making them turn inwards and expecting higher levels of innovation and fulfillment to come from England herself
  25. Men rarely understand the sources of their strength 
  26. His same qualities attracted and repelled – his compulsive and witty conversation offended and attracted
  27. His capacity for work is difficult to even understand but he still had time for polo, leisure, travel, and more. 
  28.  He was in egoist in the true sense of the word – whatever he was focused on was then, by definition, the most important 
  29. England for centuries adopted the grand strategy of allying with the second most powerful country in Europe and that is how they defeated Napoleon, but the strategy was not written down until Churchill came along.  The English Navy also had a mandate that they must be more powerful than the second and third most powerful navies.  
  30. The best admirals do not risk the vessels that they’re given, they win by superior strategy. During World War I, Churchill was the First Admiral and although his thinking and strategies on the war were spot on, he didn’t have authority to fully carry them out. He wanted to open up a second front in the Dardanelles so that they could exploit the Axis Powers unstable ally, Turkey, and gain the upper hand. It didn’t work however because the top brass wasn’t committed and people ended up blaming him for the fiasco and wanted to exclude him from the cabinet after the war. After the war it was determined that if his strategy was followed through correctly and effectively the war could’ve ended several years earlier. He saw that trench warfare was savage and there was no decisive advantage. That’s why he fought so hard for gaining control of the Dardanelles but it didn’t pan out because he didn’t have authority to do things as he saw fit and those in charge we’re stuck in the past and couldn’t change their strategies as the technology changed. Generals tend to fight their last war 
  31. Change is the master key. Particular parts of the mind can be tired by overuse but it can be rested by using other parts of the mind. This is why Churchill loved to draw – it was his escape, a way to recharge
  32. At it’s apex, politics, strategy, economics are all one. 
  33. This understanding of strategy and military maneuvering was second to none.  However, after World War I, he was blamed for many fiascoes and things that he really wasn’t in charge of. During and after the war, Churchill experienced much isolation and criticism. Clementine told him his flaws, how his confrontational nature, need for the limelight, and sharp words earned him many enemies, distancing first rate men and attracting those who were fickle and could turn on him at any time. 
  34. It is amazing what people can justify to themselves by changing their reasoning 
  35. After WWI, the Russian and Bolshevik threat was not wasted on Churchill. He wanted to suppress them militarily but PM Lloyd George was vehemently against it and Winston had learned his lesson that he should not bulldoze his way through life when those who make the ultimate decision are so against it 
  36. One of Churchill’s biggest battles was with Communism. However, he often mistook pink for red and had major battles with the socialist labor unions. He was the Chancellor at this point and doing an excellent job. He was gaining great popularity and people were guessing when he would end up at 10 Downing St. as prime minister but there was hesitation too because he was still independent and not beholden to any one political party 
  37. Churchill was against Gandhi’s freedom of India mostly because it was out of an old school of thought that Britain had to hold onto their colonies or else they would become irrelevant. But, he also argued that the tens of millions of untouchables were in a position worse than slaves and if left alone, the country was and these people would be in a worse position because of all the religious infighting. However, it was also a difficult time to get the British population to really care for it was in the middle of the Great Depression. He was a political pariah through much of this period 
  38. Churchill became one of the world’s highest paid and most prolific writers. He sold books magazines articles and earned a healthy living off these skills 
  39. Churchill was one of the first to see the writing on the wall and understand how dangerous Hitler was and how damaging the treaty of Versailles was.  He recognized some of himself in Hitler even though he understood, before anyone else, the evil vision that Hitler had. Hitler too recognized his greatest foil in Churchill even though Churchill was not in power 

Vol. II: 1932 – 1940 Alone

  1. Churchill loved his baths and was very particular about them. They had to be filled the right amount and at the right temperature before he would jump in. He started every day with breakfast in bed and spent several hours reading editorials and newspapers.
  2. Although he is known for always drinking, he was never drunk and said that he got more out of alcohol than alcohol I’ve gotten out of him 
  3.  Churchill had a faculty for organizing large works, had an uncanny ability to focus on what he was working on in that moment, and did a surprising amount of the first hand reading, writing, and synthesizing of his works 
  4. He would spend between 6-8 preparing for a 40 minute speech and he made it a priority to remove all bureaucratic jargon and include as many visuals and emotional ties as he could.  He was extremely precise with his words and demanded the same of others 
  5. He could recite entire epic poem from memory but had trouble remembering the names of his servants. He treated them quite poorly and would often times act childish and impulsive if they didn’t understand him or do as he wished.  In one quarrel with one of the servants, the servant lashed out and said that Winston was rude first and Churchill replied, “yes I was, but I am a great man!” There was no arguing this as everyone in the house knew he was right.  He was not a man to apologize but he would sit show he was sorry I being appreciative for what you have done for him 
  6. The only way to make a man trustworthy is to trust him and the easiest way to make him untrustworthy is to distrust him and show that distrust 
  7. I would rather be right than consistent 
  8. Other than Churchill, few others saw the writing on the wall and how hungry Germany was to recover their honor at the first possibility. They had hate in their hearts, were embarrassed by the Versailles Treaty and wanted revenge. One of the more shortsighted and devastating decisions was to try to recoup some of the losses from the Great Depression by having the losers of the war pay for it. This germinated hatred and the desire for revenge which culminated in World War II 
  9. No trap is as deadly as the trap you set for yourself. Many other political and astute figures were duped by Hitler. They were drawn in by his magnetism and believed him when he said that all he was looking for was peace 
  10. Political genius lies in seeing over the horizon anticipating a future invisible to others
  11. He was a poor politician by the traditional sense of the word, although he was the most gifted orator of his time. He didn’t have the patience to proceed by traditional parliamentary processes and he didn’t have the skill to manipulate the House 
  12. Although he was a brilliant strategist, he missed how important and decisive submarine and air dominance would come to be. He was far ahead in calling for a rearmament and strengthening of England to offset the not so secret rearmament of Germany 
  13. Stanley Baldwin was the most popular and powerful PM in a long time and he knew that he would lose that if he were to call for a rearmament of England. This might have been the right call even though it was a tough and unpopular decision 
  14. Great wars usually come only when both sides have high confidence in victory 
  15. The blind spot of the time was that everyone preferred peace to war because of the atrocities seen in World War I. However, Hitler managed to  unite and set fire to a huge group of people who felt betrayed, broken, and who wanted revenge. They were willing to fight to regain their honor when nobody else was 
  16. When Hitler invaded the Rhineland, all the officers were terrified because they knew that if France acted they would be crushed. It was later learned that this was when Hitler was most nervous but he saw the risk is worth taking.  According to existing treaties, if France was attacked and they mobilized, Britain would send troops to support but they decided not to. The British decided to call this an assertion of equality rather than an act of war 
  17. Men of genius are able to focus on one thing exclusively more intensely than average man and never tire. Churchill’s focus was now on Hitler at the exclusion of everything else. He did whatever he thought was needed to stop him even before others even recognized the danger he posed
  18. Hitler understood his orderly people and knew he couldn’t usurp the government. So, he went about acquiring power through normal means and moved his way up. He used the secret police and other intimidation methods to get votes but it was done with the intention of looking legitimate in the eyes of the people so that they would accept him 
  19. Churchill understood that short simple words that were commonly understood or more powerful and effective than fancy words. He also believed that the key to a rousing speech was sincerity the speaker had to truly believe and be enthusiastic about what he was talking about and then it would be infectious 
  20. 1937 was a difficult year for Churchill. King Edward abdicated the throne in order to marry Mrs. Simpson and the way that Winston handled the situation and his ties to the king and his constant call for rearmament in order to equal Germany strength left him with no political power and he even contemplated leaving politics altogether
  21. As a political outcast he didn’t have the same constraints and expectations as those who held responsibility and this allowed him to maneuver and track down information on Germany’s position and actions that otherwise may have been difficult or riskier to attain
  22. Really interesting to learn more about the mindset and priorities of people at the time. Appeasement was the route they took because everyone was so shell-shocked and devastated by World War I that everyone was trying to avoid war at all costs and keep the economy strong and growing. Many saw how powerful Hitler and Germany were becoming but we’re reluctant to act on it for fear of war and economic devastation 
  23. Hitler’s invasion of the Sudetenland was one of those rare historical moments which took on a momentum of its own and exerted its own field of pressure 
  24. Prime minister Chamberlain was ineffective in dealing with Hitler. He didn’t understand how ambitious he was or how vengeful the country was. Churchill, on the other hand did. He and Hitler were very much the same and may be why they understood each other – they were both both artistic, believed in the supremacy of their countries, that they were men destined for greatness, and both used their intuition rather than reason to lead 
  25. In hindsight, the appeasement efforts were pitiful and ineffective but at the time, the public was so distraught by the first world war that they cheered the concessions made to Germany regarding Czechoslovakia.  This Munich Agreement had torn the government in the country apart as people were either applauding Chamberlain and the peace he had manufactured or understood that this was only a temporary solution that Hitler would be back and stronger than ever 
  26. Wise men avoid extravagant predictions
  27. Churchill was a terrific writer and thinker as he was able to assemble droves of information in his head, form it into a prism. and reflect it with blinding leaps of intuition.  His writing and research helped him dive into the past and find patterns that would help him navigate through World War II 
  28. Churchill was willing to change his mind in order to protect his country. Even though he hated the Bolsheviks, he knew that an alliance with Russia was a great idea so that Hitler would have a two front war if it got to that point 
  29. The present is not tidy or understandable and, once it has become the past, if one tries to make it neat, it only becomes implausible  
  30. A fundamental misconception about dictators in this time was that they could be reasoned and negotiated with. They hate compromise and negotiation 
  31. The British ruling class we’re also known as the leisure class and they hated to be in a hurry. They disappeared on the weekends and could not be reached. Hitler, knowing this, took advantage of that by making big moves and key decisions on the weekend when the people with the power and authority to make decisions weren’t around. He used velocity to his advantage 

Vol. 3: 1940-1945 Defender of the Realm

  1. Britain finally declared war on Germany and soon after Churchill joined the Admiralty. Someone who worked closely with him recounts how big of a difference his presence made to all levels, both civilian and military
  2. Churchill likes risks and always sought ways to bring the war to the enemy
  3. The English navy taught their cadeets that the greatest sin was to lose their ships and therefore, when war came, they were very conservative and risk averse
  4. Churchill was known for his incredible work ethic and crazy hours but he still needed to sleep about 8 hours within a 24 hour period, they were just more erratic than most
  5. Hitler famously used velocity to his advantage with the blitzkrieg. However, he also importantly avoided going strength to strength and always sought weaknesses that could be exploited. Hitler had hardly traveled abroad but he had an intuitive sense for finding people’s and country’s weaknesses and exploiting them.
  6. A couple days after Germany attacked the lowlands and France, Neville Chamberlain resigned so that Churchill could form a national government. Churchill felt like his whole life was leading up to this point, that he was walking with destiny
  7. Churchill never delegated any PM decisions because he wanted to be number one but also because he wanted to know everything, allowing him to form the hologram in his head. He saw bigger picture than anyone but also got into the weeds. He issued ear plugs for soldiers because it was so loud on the frontlines, he used WWI memorabilia if it was still functional, asked what would happen to the animals at the zoo if it was bombed, etc.
  8. Getting America involved in the war was one of Churchill’s most important objectives. He worked FDR and Harry Hopkins, charming both of them and eventually getting America to agree to the lend lease program. Churchill knew he had convinced them when Hopkins rose during a dinner with Churchill and quoted from the Book of Ruth: “Whither thou goest I will go, and whither thou lodgest I will lodge. Thy people shall be my people, and thy God my God,” he declared, dramatically adding, “even to the end.” Churchill wept openly.
  9. The furnace of war had smelted out all the base metals from him. – Chamberlain on Churchill
  10. While he could be rough, he had a deeply empathetic streak. He also saw things simply, which is why the masses loved him
  11. He kept a box with organized folders out of which he ran the country and the war
  12. He required each command he gave to be answered in writing because this ensured that nothing was confused or misunderstood
  13. He was a man of action who didn’t care much for fancy social theories. He cared about what worked. However, he was very well read as he believed this was a very effective form of action
  14. Every report had to be summarized in less than one page before he would look at and sign off on it
  15. He was hard on others but he was even harder on himself
  16. Churchill didn’t go to church often and when asked about this, he said he wasn’t a pillar of the church, but a buttress – supporting from the outside rather than the inside
  17. He was of the belief that in peace times, be good to all, but during times of war, only show absolute fury
  18. He digested history to the point that he could recount every detail. He made them his personal memories and it informed his life and decisions
  19. Napoleon urged his men to never form a static picture of what he thought the enemy might do. Maginot clearly didn’t heed this sage advice. He and Petain concluded that the Germans would never come through the Ardennes because it was too thick of a forest. This was clearly a huge blind spot
  20. On a particular day when the Royal Air Force had amazing results, Winston’s famous line was, “never have so many owed so much to so few.”
  21. Winston was very thoughtful and deliberate about he he communicated with the masses, making sure that steps were taken so that they knew how hard the army, navy, and military were fighting on their behalf, stoking their patriotism, bravery, and courage
  22. Something Germany didn’t understand was the tenacity of the British. Parliament voted 341-4 to fight on and avoid a peace treaty. In a divided government, this is an incredible show of unity
  23. Eventually a ministry of information was created to help combat Germany’s propaganda. Churchill called this department a “stand alone and off-the-shelf unit”
  24. Churchill abides by the law of flexibility and opportunism – allowing himself to react and make decisions as situations unfold – rather than sticking to rigid grand plans
  25. Churchill was a great painter and understood that war, like painting, is a situation where the whole is greater than the sum of the parts 
  26. Niels Bohr had a rule that things were either explained clearly or accurately, but they could not be both
  27. If there is only one option on the table, it is not an option
  28. Churchill had an encyclopedic knowledge of warfare and came to many of the same conclusions that von Clausewitz did – confuse and deceive the enemy, add idiosyncratic elements to your charges, capture armies and not real estate, and more

What I got out of it

  1. Like great biographers do, Manchester gives an intense look into the context, time, environment, in which Churchill live. Loved hearing about his quirks, his “gyroscope” which kept him on the right track regardless of the public’s mood, his oratorical skills, and so much more

Boyd: The Figher Pilot Who Changed the Art of War by Robert Coram

  1. “Boyd has had a bigger impact on fighter tactics, aircraft design, and theory of air force combat than any man in history but he was also court marshaled and investigated dozens of times for leaks to the public, stealing computer time to work on his theories, and more. He was cantankerous, loud, and offensive and made a lot of enemies but it was all in the pursuit of his theories which positively impacted how the US military trained and fought.”
Key Takeaways
  1. Boyd was a rare combination of skills and talents and became known as 40 second Boyd because of his ability to beat anyone in air to air combat simulation.
  2. He was the first to codify air to air combat. He was only a junior in the army when he changed how the Army and Navy at large trained fighter pilots. Much of Boyd’s work is classified so his contributions were almost unknown to the outside world during his lifetime. Even then, except for the Marine Corps, most divisions of the military didn’t give Boyd proper credit for his contributions because of how much of a ruckus he caused
  3. He was in search of truth and a pure man but he was also larger than life, rude, cared little for his appearance
  4. Boyd was born in Erie, Pennsylvania in 1927 and his father died when he was only three years old. His mother worked very hard to keep the family afloat and she taught her kids the principles of frugality and hard work that would stay with Boyd forever. The mother severed ties with religion, friends, and family if she thought it would hurt her children. Also, Boyd’s sister contracted polio and the family became a sort of pariah because at the time people didn’t know what caused polio. Although John was somewhat socially awkward, his mom instilled in him that if you work hard and had integrity, you would win in the end
  5. As a child, Boyd had incredible focus and was a championship swimmer in Pennsylvania
  6. Boyd questioned the limit of everything and often found that it was always greater than what people told him
  7. Boyd had little tolerance or patience for those who didn’t understand what he was working towards but for those who did, he would go into great detail to make sure they understood
  8. After Boyd graduated from flight school, he was asked to stay on as an instructor which is one of the most prestigious job requests that a pilot can get
  9. After several years at Flight Weapons School, Boyd wanted to get his undergraduate engineering degree and got it from Georgia Tech. It was here that he was able to intertwine thermodynamics with his aerial studies. It was the trade off between potential and kinetic energy that tied them together and the beauty and simplicity of the idea made his hair stand on end when it clicked for him. Like entropy, a plane could have energy that was unavailable for work because of his position, speed, or strength of opponent. This was his excess power theory, which eventually became known as the Energy Maneuverability Theory. At its most basic, this determines the specific energy rate of an aircraft – how fast can you speed up or slow down compared to your opponent. Using specific energy makes this ratio universal across planes because, simply put, it is energy divided by weight of aircraft
  10. Boyd’s EM did 4 things for aviation
    1. It allowed for a quantitative basis for teaching aerial tactics
    2. It forever changed the way aircraft are flown in combat
    3. It provided a scientific basis for how the maneuverability of an aircraft could be evaluated. It allowed for a comparison of aircrafts and how to negate or minimize the advantages when flying against a superior jet
    4. It became a fundamental tool when designing fighter aircraft
  11. Boyd was able to see a page of numbers and visualize how they would affect his airplane, flight, tactics, and more. He had the hologram in the head
  12. Boyd hated optimization. Instead, he iterated on his thoughts and processes, letting them grow in a very Darwinian, organic way rather than trying to have a set plan or perfect solution to work towards
  13. By getting his engineering degree and deeply understanding thermodynamics, Boyd was able to see and understand the pros and cons of fighter jets’ designs, often better than the designers themselves
  14. To say he was a perfectionist is an understatement of epic proportion
  15. When Boyd determined that somebody had an “obstruction” (didn’t agree with him or didn’t give him the respect he felt he deserved), he took it upon himself to show them why he was thought of as one of the best fighter pilots, instructors, and most knowledgeable person on jets
  16. Boyd’s temperament and harsh way of dealing with people came back to bite him as he was continually passed over for promotions
  17. Trade-offs are the heart and soul of jet fighter design. Discipline and understanding the mission at hand are key too
  18. Boyd’s incredible intensity and passion for his work of course hurt his family situation and many of his kids ended up distanced from him. He neglected and ignored his family to the point that sometimes they didn’t talk for years
  19. Ambiguity, although difficult for people to deal with, tends to reflect reality better than black and white thinking and allows for new thoughts and spontaneity to arise and help evolve an idea or situation
  20. Another of Boyd’s great contributions was Patterns of Conflict. This piece studies the emotional, moral, and behavioral aspects of people during war and is helpful to compare different strategies, technologies, and techniques to one another
  21. The OODA loop (Observe, Orient, Decide, Act) was another big contribution but what most people don’t understand or what they oversimplify is the fact that you always have to have one foot in reality in order to update your ideas and understanding of the situation. Otherwise, you’re orienting and acting with outdated and wrong information
  22. General Mattis developed a reputation as a genius simply by not saying much
  23. The Pentagon is not set up to protect America, it is set up to buy weapons
  24. Boyd cared far more for his ideas being spread, adopted, and practiced than for getting any credit or payment for them
  25. Boyd’s theories were all over the Gulf War and had a meaningful impact on how quickly and dramatically America overcame the local opposition
  26. Boyd experienced some severe health scares and later developed an all consuming depression. He wasn’t sure what he was afraid of but it was real and it deeply frightened him. Boyd later developed aggressive cancer which was the cause of his death
  27. if you’re fighting for the right thing there’s always a way to win
What I got out of it
  1. A great biography on a man I didn’t know anything about. He had a deep desire to learn and search for truth but his rude, in your face manner earned him many enemies and opposition to his ideas. Energy Maneuverability, Patterns of Conflict, OODA Loop were his main contributions

Team of Teams: New Rules of Engagement for a Complex World by General Stanley McChrystal

  1. General Stanley McChrystal was in command of the Joint Special Operations and director of operations in the Iraq War. He took on the very difficult challenge of changing long-held military beliefs about organization, communication, efficiency and more in order to be able to defeat Al Qaeda in Iraq who were using new technology to create a different combat environment. This change in tactics forced McChrystal to adapt and change form a culture of efficiency to a culture of adaptability.
Key Takeaways
  1. Aimed to scale the adaptability and cohesiveness typical of small teams up to the enterprise level. This involves creating a “team of teams” to foster cross-silo collaboration. This way the insights and actions of many teams and individuals can be harnessed across an organization. Innovation and problem solving become the products of teamwork, not a single architect. Doing this requires increasing transparency to ensure common understanding and awareness, changing the physical space and personal behaviors to establish trust and foster collaboration, decentralize and empower individuals to act as decisions are pushed downward which allows members to act quickly. This concept also changes the traditional concept of a leader – the leader now becomes in charge of creating the broader environment to facilitate the above mentioned instead of being a command and control, micromanaging leader
  2. Shared consciousness – extreme transparency and effective communication which helps each team be up to date and connected with what the rest of the teams are doing
  3. Empowered execution – pushing decisions downward so that those on the front lines, often those with the best info can act quickly and decisively
  4. Team of teams – a large unit which captures at scale the traits of agility and adaptability normally limited to smaller teams
  5. Eyes on, hands off – leaders must take on a new role where they supervise their employees, create a conducive environment and more but don’t micromanage and try to make decisions for their employees
  6. Trust and common purpose absolutely necessary for any team to be effective and sustainable
  7. Complexity – Things that are complex (living organisms, ecosystems, economies) have a diverse array of connected elements that interact frequently. Because of the density of linkages, complex systems fluctuate extremely and exhibit unpredictability (chaos theory!) and a small disturbance in one place can trigger a series of responses that build into unexpected and severe outcomes in another
  8. Nonlinearity – Humans feel at home with linear functions. Nonlinear functions, on the other hand, make us very uncomfortable as they defy our intuitive understanding  of growth and scale. Initial differences in the base or slight increases or decreases in the exponent have massive consequences
  9. The models of organizational success that dominated the 20th century have their roots in the industrial revolution and, simply put, the world has changed. The pursuit of “efficiency” – getting the most with the least investment of energy, time or money – was once a laudable goal, but being effective in today’s world is less a question of optimizing for a known (and relatively stable) set of variables than responsiveness to a constantly shifting environment. Adaptability, not efficiency, must become one’s central competency.
  10. Due to technology and communication advancements, everyone can be a more effective collaborator and this makes the ability to react quickly and adapt more important than ever before
  11. Changing through hundreds of iterations much more powerful, effective and efficient than trying to get it perfect the first time
  12. Organizations and teams must be constantly pushed or it will fall behind
  13. One of the toughest things to do is to unlearn how you thought the world works
  14. Must deeply understand and adapt to your environment
  15. Through Taylor’s breakthroughs in steel processing (standardizing every step so any layman could learn it) lead to the Industrial revolution and America’s obsession with efficiency
  16. Appreciating the magnitude of what one doesn’t know is vital
  17. Gaining understanding is not the same as predicting
What I got out of it
  1. A good book on leadership and the importance of being adaptable and being able to react quickly in today’s world rather than the Industrial Revolution’s heritage of efficiency above all else.

Gates of Fire by Steven Pressfield

  1. The Battle of Thermopylae told from the point of view one of the Spartan soldiers. This battle and story was popularized by the movie 300
Key Takeaways
  1. At the time of death, many fear separation from loved ones more than death itself
  2. Tells in vivid detail the brutal conquering of his town by Argos
  3. He is later caught steeling and is put up on a cross to be killed. His friends save him but his hands are ruined and he’s devastated as now he cannot become a soldier. A god appears and tells him he shall become an archer instead which his hands can handle
  4. He comes under the tutelage of a Spartan and recounts the brutal training and way of life of these warrior people
  5. The Spartans made fear a science and were so machine like in war that just their formations, singing and smiles pre war unnerved their enemies
  6. He described the war against the Persians so vividly you feel like you’re there. From the smells, emotions, weapons and after effects. It must have been one of the most intense and surreal experiences man can endure
What I got out of it
  1. Incredibly well written novel about the Battle of Thermopylae. Really good insight into Spartan life, culture and how brutal and life altering warfare at the time was

Don’t miss out on Pressfield’s Do the Work and The War of ArtBoth are fantastic

The 33 Strategies of War by Robert Greene


  1. This book “is a distillation of timeless wisdom contained in the lessons and principles of warfare. The book is designed to arm you with practical knowledge that will give you endless options and advantages in dealing with the elusive warriors that attack you in daily battle.” Divided into five parts, this book will teach you different strategies related to self-directed war, organizational war, defensive war, offensive war and unconventional (dirty) war
Key Takeaways
  1. Preface
    1. Look at things as they are, not as your emotions color them
    2. Judge people by their actions
    3. Depend on your own arms
    4. Worship Athena, not Ares (avoid direct confrontation – blend philosophy and war, wisdom and battle)
    5. Elevate yourself above the battlefield (plan, respond and think long-term rather than being reactive)
    6. Spiritualize your warfare
  2. Self-Directed Warfare
    1. Declare war on your enemies: the polarity strategy – Life is endless battle and conflict, and you cannot fight effectively unless you can identify your enemies. Learn to smoke out your enemies, to spot them them by the signs and patterns that reveal hostility. Then, once you have them in your sights, inwardly declare war. Your enemies can fill you with purpose and direction
    2. Do not fight the last war: the guerrilla war of the mind strategy – what most often weighs you down and brings you misery is the past. You must consciously wage war against the past and force yourself to react to the present moment. Be ruthless on yourself; do not repeat the same tired methods. Wage guerrilla war on your mind, allowing no static lines of defense – make everything fluid and mobile
    3. Amidst the turmoil of events, do not lose your presence of mind: the counterbalance strategy – In the heat of battle, the mind tends to lose its balance. It is vital to keep you presence of mind, maintaining your mental powers, whatever the circumstances. Make the mind tougher by exposing it to adversity. Learn to detach yourself form the chaos of the battlefield
    4. Create a sense of urgency and desperation: the death-ground strategy – you are your own worst enemy. You waste precious time dreaming of the future instead of engaging in the present. Cut your ties to the past; enter unknown territory. Place yourself on “death ground,” where your back is against the wall and you have to fight like hell to get out alive
  3. Organizational (Team) Warfare
    1. Avoid the snares of groupthink: the command and control strategy – The problem in leading any group is that people inevitably have their own agendas. You have to create a chain of command in which they do not feel constrained by your influence yet follow your lead. Create a sense of participation, but do not fall into groupthink – the irrationality of collective decision making
    2. Segment your forces: the controlled-chaos strategy – the critical elements in war are speed and adaptability – the ability to move and make decisions faster than the enemy. Break your forces into independent groups that can operate on their own. Make your forces elusive and unstoppable by infusing them with the spirit of the campaign, giving them a mission to accomplish, and then letting them run
    3. Transform your war into a crusade: moral strategies – the secret to motivating people and maintaining their moral is to get them to think less about themselves and more about the group. Involve them in a cause, a crusade against a hated enemy. Make them see their survival as tied to the success of the army as a whole
      1. To build morale – unite your troops around a cause, make them fight for an idea; keep their bellies full; lead from the front; concentrate their ch’i (energy), play to their emotions; mix harshness and kindness; build the group myth; be ruthless with grumblers
  4. Defensive Warfare
    1. Pick your battles carefully: the perfect-economy strategy – We all have limitations – our energies and skills will take us only so far. You must know your limits and pick your battles carefully. Consider the hidden costs of war: time lost, political goodwill squandered, an embittered enemy bent on revenge. Sometimes it is better to wait, to undermine your enemies covertly rather than hitting them straight on
    2. Turn the tables: the counterattack strategy – Moving first – initiating the attack – will often put you at a disadvantage: you are exposing your strategy and limiting your options. Instead, discover the power of holding back and letting the other side move first, giving you the flexibility to counterattack from any angle. If your opponents are aggressive, bait them into a rash attack that will leave them in a weak position.
    3. Create a threatening presence: deterrence strategies – the best way to fight off aggressors is to keep them from attacking you in the first place. Build a reputation: you’re a little crazy. Fighting you is not worth it. Uncertainty is sometimes better than overt threat: if your opponents are never sure what messing with you will cost, they will not want to find out
      1. Methods of deterrence – surprise with a bold maneuver; reverse the threat; seem unpredictable and irrational; play on people’s natural paranoia; establish a frightening reputation
    4. Trade space for time: the nonengagement strategy – retreat in the face of a strong enemy is not a sign of weakness but of strength. By resisting the temptation to respond to an aggressor, you buy yourself valuable time – time to recover, to think, to gain perspective. Sometimes you can accomplish most by doing nothing.
      1. Sometimes you accomplish most by doing nothing
  5. Offensive Warfare
    1. Lose battles but win the war: grand strategy – Grand strategy is the art of looking beyond the battle and calculating ahead. It requires that you focus on your ultimate goal and plot to reach it. Let others get caught up in the twists and turns of the battle, relishing their little victories. Grand strategy will bring you the ultimate reward: the last laugh
      1. Grand strategy has 4 main pillars – Focus on your greater goal, your destiny; widen your perspective (see things for what they are, not for how you wish them to be); sever the roots (what motivates the enemy, what is the source of their power); take the indirect route to your goal
    2. Know your enemy: the intelligence strategy – the target of your strategies should be less the army you face than the mind of the man or woman who runs it. If you understand how that mind works, you have the key to deceiving and controlling it. Train yourself to read people, picking up the signals they unconsciously send about their innermost thoughts and intentions
    3. Overwhelm resistance with speed and suddenness: the blitzkrieg strategy – In a world in which many people are indecisive and overly cautious, the use of speed will bring you untold power. Striking first, before your opponents have time to think or prepare, will make them emotional, unbalanced and prone to error
    4. Control the dynamic: forcing strategies – People are constantly struggling to control you. The only way to get the upper hand is to make your play for control more intelligent and insidious. Instead of trying to dominate the other side’s move, work to define the nature of the relationship itself. Maneuver to control your opponent’s minds, pushing their emotional buttons and compelling them to make mistakes.
      1. Dynamic strategies – keep your enemies on their heels; shift the battlefield; compel mistakes; assume passive control
    5. Hit them where it hurts: the center of gravity strategy – Everyone has a source of power on which he or she depends. When you look at your rivals, search below the surface for that source, the center of gravity that holds the entire structure together. Hitting them there will inflict disproportionate pain. Found what the other side most cherishes and protects – that is where you must strike
    6. Defeat them in detail: the divide and conquer strategy – never be intimidated by your enemy’s appearance. Instead, look at the parts that make up the whole. By separating the parts, sowing division, you can bring down even the most formidable fore. When you are facing troubles or enemies, turn a large problem into small, eminently defeatable parts.
    7. Expose and attack your opponent’s soft flank: the turning strategy – When you attack people directly, you stiffen their resistance and make your task that much harder. There is a better way: distract your opponents’ attention to the front, then attack them from the side, where they least expect it. Bait people into going out on a limb, exposing their weakness, then rake them with fire from the side
    8. Envelop the enemy: the annihilation strategy – people will use any kind of gap in your defense to attack you. So offer no gaps. The secret is to envelop your opponents – create relentless pressure on them from all sides and close off their access to the outside world. As you sense their weakening resolve, crush their willpower by tightening the noose
    9. Maneuver them into weakness: the ripening for the sickle strategy – No matter how strong you are, fighting endless battles with people is exhausting, costly, and unimaginative. Wise strategists prefer the art of maneuver: before the battle even begins, they find ways to put their opponents in positions of such weakness that victory is easy and quick. Create dilemmas: devise maneuvers that give them a choice of ways to respond – all of them bad
      1. Four main principles of maneuver warfare – craft a plan with branches; give yourself room to maneuver; give your enemy dilemmas, not problems; create maximum disorder
    10. Negotiate while advancing: the diplomatic war strategy – Before and during negotiations, you must keep advancing, creating relentless pressure and compelling the other side to settle on your terms. The more you take, the more you can give back in meaningless concessions. Create a reputation for being tough and uncompromising, so that people are back on their heels before they even meet you
    11. Know how to end things: the exit strategy – You are judged in this world by how well you bring things to an end. A messy or incomplete conclusion can reverberate for years to come. The art of ending things well is knowing when to stop. The height of strategic wisdom is to avoid all conflicts and entanglements from which there are no realistic exists
      1. Leave people always wanting more
      2. Victory and defeat are what you make of them; it is how you deal with them that matters. Since defeat is inevitable in life, you must master the art of losing well and strategically
      3. See defeat as a temporary setback, something to wake you up and teach you a lesson
      4. See any defeat as a way to demonstrate something positive about yourself and your character to other people
      5. If you see that defeat is inevitable, it is often best to go down swinging
  6. Unconventional (Dirty) Warfare
    1. Weave a seamless blend of fact and fiction: misperception strategies – Since no creature can survive without the ability to see or sense what is going on around it, make it hard for your enemies to know what is going on around them, including what you are doing. Feed their expectations, manufacture a reality to match their desires, and they will fool themselves. Control people’s perceptions of reality and you control them
    2. Take the line of least expectation: the ordinary-extraordinary strategy – people expect your behavior to confirm to known patterns and conventions. Your task as a strategist is to upset their expectations. First do something ordinary and conventional to fix their image of you, then hit them with the extraordinary. The terror is greater for being so sudden. Sometimes the ordinary is extraordinary because it is unexpected
      1. Four main principles of unconventional warfare – work outside the enemy’s experience; unfold the extraordinary out of the ordinary; act crazy like a fox; keep the wheels in constant motion
    3. Occupy the moral high ground: the righteous strategy – In a political world, the cause you are fighting for must seem more just than the enemy’s. By questioning your opponent’s motives and making them appear evil, you can narrow their base of support and room to maneuver. When you yourself come under moral attack from a clever enemy, do not whine or get angry; fight fire with fire
    4. Deny them targets: the strategy of the void – the feeling of emptiness or void – silence, isolation, nonengagement with others – is for most people intolerable. Give your enemies no target to attack, be dangerous but elusive, then watch as they chase you into the void. Instead of frontal battles, deliver irritating but damaging die attacks and pinprick bites
    5. Seem to work for the interests of others while furthering your own: the alliance strategy – The best way to advance your cause with the minimum of effort and bloodshed is to create a constantly shifting network of alliances, getting others to compensate for your deficiencies, do your dirty work, fight your wars. At the same time, you must work to sow dissension in the alliances of others, weakening your enemies by isolating them.
    6. Give your rivals enough rope to hang themselves: the one-upmanship strategy – life’s greatest dangers often come not from external enemies but from our supposed colleagues and friends who pretend to work for the common cause while scheming to sabotage us. Work to instill doubts and insecurities in such rivals, getting them to think too much and act defensively. Make them hang themselves through their own self-destructive tendencies, leaving you blameless and clean
    7. Take small bites: the fait accompli strategy – over power grabs and sharp rises to the top are dangerous, creating envy, distrust, and suspicion. Often the best solution is to take small bites, swallow little territories, playing upon people’s relatively short attention spans. Before people realize it, you have accumulated an empire
    8. Penetrate their minds: communication strategies – communication is a kind of war, its field of battle the resistant and defensive minds of the people you want to influence. The goal is to penetrate their defenses and occupy their minds. Learn to infiltrate your ideas behind enemy lines, sending messages through little details, luring people into coming to the conclusions you desire and into thinking they’ve gotten there by themselves.
    9. Destroy from within: the inner-front strategy – by infiltrating your opponents’ ranks, working from within to bring them down, you give them nothing to see or react against – the ultimate advantage. To take something you want, do not fight those who have it, but rather join them – then either slowly make it your own or wait for the moment to stage a coup d’etat
    10. Dominate while seeming to submit: the passive-aggression strategy – In a world where political considerations are paramount, the most effective form of aggression is the best hidden one: aggression behind a compliant, even loving exterior. To follow the passive-aggression strategy you must seem to go along with people, offering no resistance. But actually you dominate the situation. Just make sure you have disguised your aggression enough that you can deny it exists.
    11. Sow uncertainty and panic through acts of terror: the chain reaction strategy – Terror is the ultimate way to paralyze a people’s will to resist and destroy their ability to plan a strategic response. The goal in a terror campaign is not battlefield victory but causing maximum chaos and provoking the other side into desperate overreaction. To plot the most effective counter-strategy, victims of terror must stay balanced. One’s rationality is the last line of defense.
What I got out of it
  1. Very interesting and compelling read on different strategies related to war. Some of them are not directly or at least easily implementable into daily life but many of them are. Even if you don’t put them into use often, knowing they exist can make you aware of when they are being used against you.

Xenophon’s Cyrus the Great by Larry Hedrick

  1. Larry Hedrick recounts Xenophon’s telling of the amazing accomplishments and leadership of Cyrus the Great, King of Persia. He created the largest empire in the history of the world up to that time and the leadership principles covered are applicable in any field, even today.
Key Takeaways
  1. Through real-life examples, Cyrus shows how to conduct meetings, become an expert negotiator, deal efficiently with allies, communicate by appealing to th self-interest of others, encourage the highest standards of performance, ensure that your organization has the benefit of specialists and prove that your words will be backed by your deeds.
  2. Other’s loyalty comes mainly from self-interest
  3. Obedience should not be the result of compulsion
  4. Address different audiences with different emphases
  5. Give followers options, even if already know the outcome
  6. Grow and protect your reputation at every opportunity
  7. Banish emotion from your decision making
  8. Mild rebuke works better than loud indignation
  9. Be as honest with yourself as you are with others
  10. When blameworthy, humble yourself in front of critics
  11. Strengthen your composure at the moment of crisis
  12. Success should never breed complacency
  13. Honor everyone who acts honorably
  14. Riches are for sharing, not for harvesting and hiding
  15. The truly contented man is not the possessor of vast riches. The crown of happiness goes to the person who has the skill to gain money fairly, use it honorably, and not mistake gold for a god of power and light
  16. Humility in the midst of success
What I got out of it
  1. When Peter Drucker says it’s the best book on leadership, you better pay attention. An extremely easy to read book that is just as relevant today as it was centuries ago and is applicable to any field that requires leadership. Must read.

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The Art of War by Sun Tzu


  1. Sun Tzu’s 2,000 year old principles are as relevant today as they were back then. Whether in business, sports, war, or any other field, taking care of the small decisions as well as deception, disguise and diversion are all required for success.

Key Takeaways

  1. Lived from 544 to 496 BC and was a very successful general even in his own time
  2. He who relies solely on warlike measures shall be exterminated; he who relies solely on peaceful measures shall perish
  3. Art of War was written for King Ho Lu
  4. Sun Tzu was revered by all Chinese military leaders for centuries and used his teachings
  5. Many think of China as the largest peace-loving nation on earth but forget about her turbulent, violent times thousands of years ago (had built the great wall and had a huge standing army before Rome’s first legion existed!)
  6. The book is a culmination of a process, not a single event – many people
  7. Require a different context for different strategies
  8. Western philosophy is dualistic – creator/created – whereas Eastern is more unified. Western assumes an act of creation and a time goal, whereas Chinese think of change/continuity as equally real . All is interconnected, every thing is what it is at the pleasure of everything else
  9. Static vs. dynamic – the world of mathematics vs. the world of dynamics – always changing and flowing, shaping and being shaped
    1. Why need flexibility in dealing with situations – things always changing. One must find security by revisiting and redefining one’s own strength by immediate yet unannounced responsiveness to the enemy’s shifting position
  10. There is a holism, a symbiosis where service to oneself and one’s community are the same
  11. Shih – full concentrated release of latent energy inherent in one’s position, physical, or otherwise (strategic advantage)
  12. War, force is always a last resort. Given that warfare is always defeat, the commander in pursuing the best possible outcome seeks to disarm the enemy without every joining him on the battlefield.
  13. Victory must be a predetermined certainty. As a consequence, the able commander is not the one who is celebrated for daring and courage, for his victory requires neither
    1. Victory can be anticipated, but it cannot be forced
    2. Know the other, know yourself, And the victory will not be at risk; Know the ground, know the natural conditions, and the victory can be total
  14. One is weak because he makes preparations against others; he has strength because he makes others prepare against him
  15. The consummate commander is able to achieve and retain control of a military situation in a way analogous to an able ruler’s control of the civil situation and a farmer’s control of his crops: by a thorough understanding of the conditions determining the situation and the manipulation of these circumstances to his chosen end
  16. The best military strategy is to attack strategies; the next to attack alliances; the next to attack soldiers; the next to attack walled cities
  17. War is such that the supreme consideration is speed, speed in timing, in short duration of battle, in decision making
    1. Velocity
  18. Yin – yin requires sensitivity to register the full range of forces that define one’s situation, and, on the basis of this awareness, to anticipate the various possibilities that can ensue. Adaptability refers to the conscious fluidity of one’s own disposition. One can only turn prevailing circumstances to account if one maintains an attitude of readiness and flexibility. One must adapt oneself to the enemy’s changing posture as naturally and as effortlessly as flowing water winding down a hillside
  19. Harmony – It is the capacity to anticipate the patterned flow of circumstance, to encourage those dispositions most conducive to a productive harmony, and ultimately to participate in negotiating a  world order that makes best advantage of its creative possibilities. Harmony is attained through the art of contextualizing
  20. Leadership
    1. All situations consequence of a dynamic process of organically related, mutually determining conditions
    2. To be reliable, information must be firsthand and there is a key relationship between intelligence and timing. Once the specific time has past, information loses its strategic function and importance, and at best retains only historical value. Ideally, effective intelligence provides clear discernment of the enemy’s situation and a full concealment of one’s own
    3. The object of military management is to effect a unified standard of courage. The principle of exploiting terrain is to get value from the soft as well as the hard. Thus, the expert in using the military leads his legions as though he were leading one person by the hand. The person cannot but follow
    4. The business of waging war lies in carefully studying the designs of the enemy
    5. Go first for something that the enemy cannot afford to lose and do not let him know the timing of your attack. Revise your strategy according to the changing posture of the enemy to determine the course and outcome of the battle
  21. 5 terrain – tao, climate, terrain, command, regulation
  22. Factors in the art of warfare – calculations, quantities, logistics, balance of power, possibility of victory 

What I got out of it

  1. Amazing how certain principles will always be relevant and Sun Tzu’s Art of War is no exception. Although his examples are all based on warfare, these can be translated into any field. Great read

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Slaughterhouse Five by Kurt Vonnegut


  1. Slaughterhouse-Five is loosely based on Vonnegut’s own experience in WWII. It treats one of the most horrific massacres in European history, the World War II firebombing of Dresden in February 1945, with mock-serious humor and clear antiwar sentiment
Key Takeaways
  • The narrator and main character, Billy Pilgrim, a POW witnesses and survives the Allied forces’ firebombing of Dresden. His narrative jumps in time and this is done as a mechanism for dealing with the horrors he had been put through
  • Billy is kidnapped by two-foot-high aliens who resemble upside-down toilet plungers, who he calls Tralfamadorians. They take him in their flying saucer to the planet Tralfamadore, where they mate him with a movie actress named Montana Wildhack. She, like Billy, has been brought from Earth to live under a transparent geodesic dome in a zoo where Tralfamadorians can observe extraterrestrial curiosities 
  • The Tralfamadorians explain to Billy their perception of time, how its entire sweep exists for them simultaneously in the fourth dimension. When someone dies, that person is simply dead at a particular time.
  • Tralfamadorians prefer to look at life’s nicer moments. When he returns to Earth, Billy initially says nothing of his experiences but Billy knows that his message will eventually be accepted.
  • Due to the alien’s ability to see all time, they possess an attitude of acceptance about their fates, figuring that they are powerless to change them. Only on Earth, according to the Tralfamadorians, is there talk of free will, since humans, they claim, mistakenly think of time as a linear progression.
  • The phrase “So it goes” occurs throughout the book and it reflects a comfort with the idea that although a person may be dead in a particular moment, he or she is alive in all the other moments of his or her life. However, it is used after every single death and helps the reader keep count of all the deaths that happen throughout the book
What I got out of it
  1. Extremely different and interesting read due to the way the narration jumps around in time. Enjoyable read and would definitely recommend