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“Masters of Command” by Strauss Barry

Strauss’ book ‘Masters of Command’ revolves around three war leaders Alexander the Great, Hannibal and Caesar. They stand out as leaders of their time as they ruled effectively and won their battles.

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Strauss strives to bring out lessons concerning good leadership, which is mostly characterized by good strategy formulation and implementation, all of which are portrayed by the three great leaders illustrated in the book1.

Generally, the book identifies the more pronounced attributes of these three warriors and how their action determined by these attributes either led to success or failure. Although the book brings out several themes, it is easy to read and greatly insightful.

The author can interweave the timeless classical battlefield scenario with the modern day leadership and political battles and bring out the ten qualities of successful commanders.

He, therefore, brings ancient history alive and enables us to relate our experiences in the political and military arena with those in ancient battlefields.

Although the book is well written, there is very little about leadership. There is also no detailed outline of how these leaders interact with their followers so that modern leaders can learn how to treat their subordinates.

The book is more of a historical record than a leadership guide and so not so useful to a modern-day leader especially in the fields of marketing, entrepreneurship, teaching or marketing2. Corporate managers too cannot benefit from this book fully as it has no relevance to their field of operation.

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From a critical angle, Strauss oversimplifies the topic of leadership by only focusing on the three war generals as leadership and warfare techniques used worldwide are diverse and varied.

It is also an oversimplification to directly relate ancient battle strategies with modern ways of dealing with issues. This is because due to civilization and advancement in both technology and education people are more informed on how to deal with misunderstandings that arise.

Hannibal, Caesar, and Alexander were all masters of warfare and areas such viewed as successful army generals of their time. Some of their warfare tactics worked whereas others did not work, but they all had consequences.

Successful tactics enabled them to lead their armies, acquire empires, and deal with any arising opposition. Modern day leaders can learn a lot from this so that they know how to deal with arising political problems.

Although the war tactics utilized in ancient battles are covered in the book, the author does not expansively concentrate on leadership but concentrates more on Alexander, Hannibal and Caesar’s escapades and war stories3.

99% of the book focuses on these leaders, and only 1% focuses on the concept of leadership in general.

Being a writer in the modern world, where learning in all aspects of life is the most important thing, Strauss could have concentrated more on the battles taking place currently, for instance, economic competition, political warfare amongst countries and how they can be resolved.

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A complete analysis of the stages of the war is conducted where Strauss highlights the five stages of the war.

First is the ‘attack of the opponent.’ This involves making contact and warfare deals with the use of all effective weapons; one can get. Currently, this involves the use of vital information against your enemy or opponents to have the upper hand and advantage over them.

Secondly, there is resistance where the victims attacked retaliate and fight back. Considering current politicians and leaders, they will probably hold press conferences to convince the public that they are innocent of the claims that they are corrupt or unfit to hold the offices they currently hold.

The third stage in warfare according to Strauss is clash where the two opponents meet face to face and iron out issues publicly. In ancient warfare, this involved people getting hurt and likewise in the modern scenario people engaging in warfare are likely to get hurt.

Strauss describes Hannibal and Alexander as masters of the clash stage. This is in their feats at Gaugamela and Cannae.

Closing the net is the next step clearly outlined by Caesar who utilized this strategy around the supporters of Pompey after the Battle of Pharsalus.

Lastly, knowing when to stop the warfare is the last step and, sadly, none one of the three generals knew when to stop the warfare. They were so blinded by the love of the sound of the war trumpet and the thrill of winning on the battlefield that they did not know when enough was enough.

Similarly, most modern leaders in various fields like politics, business or agriculture cannot know when to give up in warfare; a trait, which results in great, loses to the parties concerned.

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What stands out is the fact that Alexander, Caesar, and Hannibal all had armies composed of professional fighters who had complete trust in their commanders and were highly devoted to them.

This was to their advantage as most of their opponents were inexperienced recruits who stood no chance against them.

All three were however led by their egos, and they enjoyed life on the battlefield. Due to their vanity, they did not know when to stop, and so they overreached at times, and this led to great losses on their part.

Strauss gives some instances in his book of what occurred on the battlefield. For instance, there is mentioned of Alexander dismissing his entire fleet of the army, which was not an advisable move. Luckily he was saved by the sudden death of the Persian general and Darius.4

Strauss criticizes Darius for battling Alexander yet he was only acting on the best interests of his subjects. Hannibal too faced immense opposition when Fabius introduced the scorched earth policy that put off Hannibal’s attacks for some time.

Caesar faced opposition from Pompey who thought wearing his army out with lack of food and water would wear out his army and defeat him5. When the Senate thought otherwise, Pompey met Caesar for a final battle at Pharsalus6.

Several qualities of a successful leader are outlined in the book, and they apply to leaders in the modern world. These include qualities like being ambitious, having good judgment, good leadership, audacity, formulation of sound strategies agility, inflicting terror and divine providence.

Although these elements are outlined in the book, the author does not show they can be directly applied to modern leadership to attain desired results.

They are only vaguely explained about military history. It would take a scholar to derive the outlined qualities and devise a way to implement them in a modern organization.

Importantly, the author effortlessly tells the stories of these three generals and candidly describes their experiences on the battlefield with such simplicity that the ordinary person can easily understand and get the message outlined.

However, Strauss cautions that as much as modern leaders try to emulate Alexander, Hannibal, and Caesar, they should not emulate all of their actions and strategies. For instance, they should know when to stop when engaging in warfare with other leaders or politicians.

All in all, the book ‘Masters of Command’ can be deemed as a great historical book outlining military history. However, its relevance in modern society is minimal as it does not clarify in details how the military techniques like agility, implemented by Alexander.

Hannibal and Caesar can be applied currently. It therefore only serves the purpose of giving a historical account and outline. The fact that it also does not expansively cover the topic of leadership further makes it less relevant.

The writer though gifted with the ability to capture the readers’ interest could have made it more wholesome by considering life in the modern world and deriving solutions to poor leadership styles, mismanagement, corruption and other problems in the world from lessons in the ancient world.

Anyone interested in the field of History would find this book interesting and captivating; maybe then, this book could pave the way for more insights, reviews, and critics on Strauss’ literature.

All the same, it is no doubt that the book is a rich read with a great historical perspective that is worth being exposed to the world at large.


Strauss, Barry. Masters of Command: Alexander, Hannibal, Caesar, and the Genius of Leadership. New York: Simon & Schuster. 2012.


1 Barry Strauss. Masters of Command: Alexander, Hannibal, Caesar, and the Genius of Leadership. (New York: Simon & Schuster, 2012)

2 Ibid.45

3 Ibid. 67

4 Ibid. 66

5 Ibid. 68

6 Ibid. 68

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