How Great Generals Win

Bevin Alexander, Author W. W. Norton & Company $25 (320p) ISBN 978-0-393-03531-5

Alexander ( Korea: The First War We Lost ) reveals how some of the great military men of history applied common-sense principles of warfare that ``nearly always will secure victory.'' Relying on deception, these generals usually won their campaigns with a surprise attack on the enemy's rear or flank. Leaving aside the killed-and-wounded advantage of such maneuvers, Alexander emphasizes the decisive psychological effect on enemy soldiers and their commanders. Generals whose deceptive, indirect, surprise tactics are considered here include Scipio Africanus (``The General Who Beat Hannibal''), Genghis Khan, Napoleon Bonaparte, Stonewall Jackson, William Tecumseh Sherman (``The General Who Won the Civil War''), Mao Zedong, Erwin Rommel and Douglas MacArthur. Alexander makes the interesting point that these principles are for the most part self-evident, yet most generals ignore them in favor of the direct frontal assault. He is surprisingly critical of the Confederacy's icon, Robert E. Lee, for his tendency to resort to direct (and costly) methods such as Pickett's charge at Gettysburg. He calls MacArthur ``a military Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde, capable of both brilliant strategic insight and desolating error.'' This study is essential reading for students of military strategy and tactics. (Aug.)