Monday, March 10, 2008

Robert Greene's The 48 Laws of Power

I saw one of my students carrying around a copy of Robert Greene's The 48 Laws of Power. The book, a national bestseller, is essentially an updated version of Machiavelli's The Prince. Greene, who has a degree in classical studies, makes short chapters out of each "law." Here are some sample laws:

3 Conceal your intentions
9 Win through your actions, never through argument
17 Keep others in suspended terror: Cultivate an air of unpredictability (this one was quoted on Studio 60 to make fun of it)
38 Think as you like, but behave like others

Each chapter is really a series of anecdotes from various other books, including the Prince and the Art of War, illustrating the law and also its "reversal" (since, in certain situations, the law would be counter-indicated). On the margins of the book are red quotations from famous people in literature and history -- so it has a kind of scholarly backing that could be avoided by the incurious, but is there to attract people who like to see the background, or think ancient things are more true than modern ones.

I can of course see that the book is cynical little cash cow, simplifying complex stuff to make money, but I do admire to a certain extent someone using history and literature to make a practical point, rather than a theoretical one.

I was considering incorporating this book into a composition course, or even building a composition course around this book, as it sneaks in ideas from history in a form my students might be interested in -- they are, after all, very much the target audience -- and it is VERY debatable.

I wanted to get some reactions to the book from people around here -- any thoughts on this? Have you read it, or do you know about it?


Anagramsci said...

well, the book would certainly spark debate, although I think I would have them read it in tandem with its monstrous companion, The Art of Seduction in order to fully bring out the gender implications of Greene's philosophy... I worked at a bookstore for years, and every time someone bought one of these, the words "date rapist" inevitably flashed through my mind...

Coligo said...

I quite enjoyed Matt Albie's attempts to make a joke out of the book for Studio 60 on the Sunset Strip. The whole thing is pretty ridiculous, like trying to use the Art of War as a real business tool.

John Paul Turnage said...

Mr. Klock,
I have read all three of Mr. Greene's books twice, listened on audio CDs and read about 20% of his biliographies. The ideas he discusses have benefitted me enormously.
I don't know what makes good course subject matter in your school. If your students are very young [18-20], they might not be ready for Greene's fighting wisdom. In any event, I'm interested in your own opinions on 48 Laws. From your bio, it looks like you've been around the block a few times.

Jim said...

As a mid-level civil servant I used "The Art of War" for lessons in strategy. "Never attack walled cities" it says and I learned to never go against my opponent's strengths. And so on (siege engines and lances were not used much in the office). "The 48 Laws of Power" can be used likewise in a very practical way, if not to exert power over others, then to recognize when others are pulling these tricks on you (and they do all the time).

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