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Author Robert Greene is a phenomenon.

More than twenty years ago Robert Greene was a failed writer whose curriculum vitae and list of jobs read like Jack London’s. He bounced from one job to another, which included work as a private detective, until he bumped into Joost Elffers, an author and book packager. The discussion they had led to Robert Greene’s, The 48 Laws of Power.

Seven books

In 1998, The 48 Laws of Power came out, and instantly became a bestseller. This led to a string of other titles: The Art of Seduction, The 33 Strategies of War, The 50th Law (by 50 Cent, with Robert Greene), Mastery, The Laws of Human Nature, and The Daily Laws.

Book Eight

An eighth book, The Law of The Sublime, is coming soon. Some parts of this book have been teased in The Daily Laws.

Greene’s life’s purpose

As Robert himself stated, in the introduction to The Daily Laws, his latest book (published by Penguin Randomhouse, 2021-10-21):-

One day while we were walking along the quais of Venice, Joost asked me if I had any ideas for a book.
Suddenly, seemingly out of nowhere, an idea just gushed out of me. I told Joost that I was constantly reading books on history and the stories that I read of Julius Caesar and the Borgias and Louis XIV, these were the exact same stories that I had personally witnessed with my own eyes in all my different jobs, only less bloody. People want power and they want to disguise this wanting of power. And so, they play games. They covertly manipulate and intrigue, all the while presenting a nice even saintly front. I would expose these games.

Writing The 48 Laws of Power became his life’s task – a subject which he covers in Mastery.

Lessons from history

Robert Greene looked closely at history, noting the various ways people gamed one another, and the system, over millennia. From this, he drew forth the inspiration which led to The 48 Laws of Power, a book which should be required reading at all levels of society, from gangsters and street thugs all the way up to CEOs and the world’s leading politicians.

Those who actually do read, that is. You can tell the difference between the ones who do read and the ones who don’t.

So, then, what exactly are Robert Greene’s books all about?

The 48 Laws of Power

From the Preface of The 48 Laws of Power:-

The feeling of having no power over people and events is generally unbearable to us—when we feel helpless we feel miserable. No one wants less power; everyone wants more. In the world today, however, it is dangerous to seem too power hungry, to be overt with your power moves. We have to seem fair and decent. So we need to be subtle—congenial yet cunning, democratic yet devious.

Robert then outlines the forty-eight fundamental Laws of Power which govern human societies with the irresistible force of gravity. In turns serious and hilarious, the book covers both transgressions of those laws and the times they were followed successfully.

Some of the Laws are:-

Law 1: Never Outshine the Master
Law 4: Always Say Less than Necessary
Law 5: Protect Your Reputation at All Costs
Law 12: Use Selective Honesty & Generosity to Disarm Your Victim
Law 17: Keep Others in Suspended Terror: Cultivate an Air of Unpredictability
Law 24: Play the Perfect Courtier
Law 27: Play on People’s Need to Believe to Create a Cultlike Following
Law 31: Control the Options
Law 32: Play to People’s Fantasies
Law 34: Be Royal in Your Own Fashion – Act Like a King to Be Treated Like One
Law 37: Create Compelling Spectacles
Law 43: Work on The Hearts and Minds of Others
Law 45: Preach the Need for Change, But Never Reform Too Much at Once

Here is a full list of the 48 Laws.

The Art of Seduction

This book covers seduction, in every sense, from the carnal through to the spiritual. Seduction, charm, and persuasion are tools of influence, essential tools in games of power.

From the introduction:-

Today we have reached the ultimate point in the evolution of seduction. Now more than ever, force or brutality of any kind is discouraged. All areas of social life require the ability to persuade people in a way that does not offend or impose itself … If we are to change people’s opinions – and affecting opinion is basic to seduction – we must act in subtle, subliminal ways. Today no political campaign can work without seduction. We are saturated in the seductive. But even if much has changed in degree and scope, the essence of seduction is constant: never be forceful or direct; instead, use pleasure as bait, playing on people’s emotions, stirring desire and confusion, inducing psychological surrender.

The book itself has two parts. The first lists the nine types of seducer, the Archetypes, which are The Siren, The Rake, The Ideal Lover, The Dandy, The Natural, The Coquette, The Charmer, The Charismatic, and The Star.

There are also Archetypes of Anti-Seducers; The Brute, The Suffocator, The Moralizer, The Tightwad, The Bumbler, The Windbag, The Reactor, and The Vulgarian. And I bet you can identify each of these Archetypes on the TV with no difficulty.

The worlds of the media and UK politics are just steeped in desire, and those people with seemingly no control over their baser urges. From their back-handed corruption to their blatant attempts to appeal to the masses with public broadcasts standing before acres of Union flags, desire and crude, in-your-face seduction is rampant.

Subtlety is nonexistent. They really don’t know what they are doing, only copying what once worked for somebody else. Usually, it’s Churchill they copy.

The Art of Seduction shows the reader how it is done properly.

The 33 Strategies of War

Hot on the heels of The Art of Seduction, with its analyses of the types of seducer and a look at the seductive process itself, came The 33 Strategies of War, which took as its cue the theme of leadership. Again, power is the underlying theme, and The 33 Strategies of War is all about how one can maintain command over a group of people.

As Robert states in the Preface:-

We live in a culture that promotes democratic values of being fair to one and all, the importance of fitting into a group, and knowing how to cooperate with other people. We are taught early on in life that those who are outwardly combative and aggressive pay a social price: unpopularity and isolation. … The problem for us is that we are trained and prepared for peace, and we are not at all prepared for what confronts us in the real world–war.

The most important lesson of this book is that a true leader cares for their people, and recognises that a victory is no victory if the people do not make it through the fight. There is no ‘margin of acceptable losses’. You leave nobody behind.

The book advises the reader to ‘worship Athena, not Ares‘. Athena was a goddess of wisdom, and her guidance was strategic, concerned with directing the fortunes of war in your favour, while denying victory to the enemy. Ares is about the rituals of warfare, the drumbeating, the flag waving; war is just a sport, rather than a conflict of warring bodies for power.

Among the strategies covered in this book are:-

01: Declare war on your enemies: Polarity
03: Amidst the turmoil of events, do not lose your presence of mind: Counterbalance
05: Avoid the snares of groupthink: Command-and-control
07: Transform your war into a crusade: Morale
08: Pick your battles carefully: Perfect-economy
13: Know your enemy: Intelligence
23: Weave a seamless blend of fact and fiction: Misperception
25: Occupy the moral high ground: Righteousness
28: Give your rivals enough rope to hang themselves: One-upmanship
30: Penetrate their minds: Communication

The list of strategies can be found here.

The 50th Law

It turns out that 50 Cent, the rapper, is a huge fan of Robert Greene, and devoured The 48 Laws of Power. As Robert discovered, The 48 Laws is eagerly consumed by modern gangsters, recognising that the Laws apply to the street as much as the boardroom or the Cabinet.

The 50th Law opens with stirring and powerful words from Malcolm X:-

So over you is the greatest enemy a man can have and that is fear. I know some of you are afraid to listen to the truth – you have been raised on fear and lies. But I am going to preach to you the truth until you are free of that fear…

The basic premise of Fiddy’s book can be summed up in two words: Fear Nothing. The 50th Law maintains that we are mastered by fears and anxieties, and that the way to turn that situation around is to recognise, acknowledge, and conquer those all too modern fears, the slow uneases and dreads, the spikes of terror, and tsunamis of horror, which face us every day.

A shorter book than The 48 Laws, if you are lucky enough to have a first edition, the hardback looks and feels like a Bible, down to the Gothic lettering on the back cover – Nihil timendum est.

Mastery

This book is devoted to mastery: the method by which a person develops their capabilities from lowly Apprenticeship to full Mastery, through hard work, learning, and ultimately experimentation and development of ‘fingerfeel’, the comfortable familiarity and ease which comes from experience.

From the introduction:-

We imagine that creativity and brilliance just appear out of nowhere, the fruit of natural talent, or perhaps of a good mood, or an alignment of the stars. It would be an immense help to clear up the mystery – to name this feeling of power, to examine its roots, to define the kind of intelligence that leads to it, and to understand how it can be manufactured and maintained.

Let us call this sensation mastery – the feeling that we have a greater command of reality, other people, and ourselves. Although it might be something we experience for only a short while, for others – Masters of their field – it becomes their way of life, their way of seeing the world.

This lengthy book is structured differently to the other books, in that rather than listing and numbering individual laws, Mastery proceeds from step to step, beginning with Apprenticeship and discovering one’s life’s task, through the process of becoming acquainted with tedium and even regarding it as a friend and teacher, all the way through to Mastery and the sense of being permanently in ‘the zone’, everything just flowing like water.

A section in the middle takes a detour to the world of social intelligence, prefacing Book Six …

The Laws of Human Nature

Robert Greene very nearly didn’t make it to seeing this book in print. Just before its publication in October 2018, he suffered a stroke. He survived it, and he has been clawing his way back to normality ever since, but his disability opened his eyes to mortality.

By this time, Robert Greene had developed a strong mentor relationship with modern Stoic author Ryan Holiday, whose writings and teachings will be covered in a later post. This embracing of Stoicism is what drove Robert to create this weighty tome, which outlines just eighteen basic human laws which govern all human interactions.

Some of these laws include:-

Master your emotional self: The law of irrationality
Transform self-love into empathy: The law of narcissism
Elevate your perspective: The law of shortsightedness
Soften people’s resistance by confirming their self-opinion: The law of defensiveness
Know your limits: The law of grandiosity
Reconnect to the masculine or feminine within you: The law of gender rigidity
Resist the downward pull of the group: The law of conformity
Make them want to follow you: The law of fickleness
Seize the historical moment: The law of generational myopia
Meditate on our common morality: The law of death denial.

The Daily Laws

The latest book, published in 2021, The Daily Laws is more of a Bildungsroman, a book of daily meditations in the style of Holiday’s The Daily Stoic. Each month covers a different topic, and each day’s chapter (there are 366 in total, covering leap years) focuses on one chapter or Law from most of the books listed above.

The Law of the Sublime

As of 2021-01-05, this book has yet to emerge, but it covers the human quest to perceive and understand the Cosmic Sublime, that which motivated the late Carl Sagan, and which transcends the grubby day-to-day of life.

Intended to reach a market currently swamped by vacuous, empty mindfulness books written by snake oil merchants who wouldn’t know what mindfulness was if it hit them on the back of the head with a rubber chicken, The Law of The Sublime should stir the waters as much as The 48 Laws did back in the days of the cheap, yet useless, self-help books crowding the bookshelves in the Nineties.

Last word

Seven (soon eight) books don’t seem like much on one’s bookshelf. And yet, from The 48 Laws of Power to the present day (The Daily Laws), the books of Robert Greene are pretty much indispensable if you are at all interested in power, self-development, strategy, influence, and in overcoming the fears which the media would foist on you to keep you quiet, and keep you from shouting out against corruption, or doing something to hold the corrupt to account.

This is the 21st Century. If we are to see it through, the best guide to survive can be found in the contents of the books of Robert Greene.


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