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Prisoners of Their Premises: How Unexamined Assumptions Lead to War and Other Policy Debacles
by George C. Edwards III
University of Chicago Press, 2022
Cloth: 978-0-226-82280-8 | Paper: 978-0-226-82282-2 | eISBN: 978-0-226-82281-5
Library of Congress Classification JF1525.D4E39 2022
Dewey Decimal Classification 352.33

A timely look at the real costs of leaders not examining their assumptions.
Why do accomplished and stable leaders frequently make calamitous decisions with devastating consequences for their countries—and other nations? We debate debacles such as the American involvement in Vietnam, seeking to understand why leaders pursued disastrous policies. In Prisoners of Their Premises, George C. Edwards III argues that the failure of leaders to examine their premises—the assumptions they make about the world and situation they are dealing with—cause them to ignore real problems or pursue policies that, in costly ways, deal with problems that are different than they think or simply don’t exist. Edwards looks at the role of premises in identifying (or ignoring) a problem in a series of case studies that range from strategic decisions in World War I and the Korean War to the wars in Vietnam and Iraq. Too often, unexamined premises color initial decisions to pursue a policy and shape the strategies leaders employ to achieve their goals, with grave consequences for their countries, organizations, and potentially the world. Timely and important, Prisoners of Their Premises demonstrates the real costs leaders incur by failing to question their assumptions.

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