Rarely has the same man served as a great general in the field and also established a new political order that survives well past his death. Napoleon might qualify, since his reforms still shape France, but he lost in one war the throne that he had gained in others. Alexander the Great and Caesar might also qualify, but they were both cut short in the effort.

Great generals rarely make great statesmen, but these men did: King Wu (the Martial King), founder of China’s Zhou dynasty (c. 1050–256 B.C.), the state that Confucius considered to be the fount of Chinese culture; Cyrus the Great (d. 530 B.C.), founder of the Achaemenid Persian Empire, which lasted for two centuries; Philip II of Macedon (382–36 B.C.), who made Macedon the dominant state in Greece for about 150 years; Ashoka (c. 304–232 B.C.), who conquered an empire that ruled most of the Indian subcontinent for nearly forty years and...


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