Book Review: The 48 Laws of Power by Robert Greene

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My rating: 1 of 5 stars

This book by Robert Greene is, without a doubt, one of the very worst books I’ve ever read. It is ghastly on multiple levels.

I do try to read an eclectic range of books and push myself to read recommended books I wouldn’t normally bother with. I can’t recall is ‘The 48 Laws of Power’ was recommended to me, or if it just kept coming up on social media, or if I just came across it and thought “why not?” I can imagine it might just have been the latter as, with my psychologist’s hat on, it is just about in my line of interest and I certainly read it hoping I would get some insights into how people tick which might be useful. I was disappointed.

Instead, I got to see the very worst of human nature – something I can get more than my fill of just by going on Twitter and reading the myriad right-wing comments I see every time. Worse than that (for with my historian’s hat on, you see the worst and most stupid of humanity on a regular basis and so it is no big deal) Greene writes absolute rubbish and passes it off as fact. That’s unforgivable.

These 48 ‘laws’ are nothing of the sort. They are a mix up of opinions and weird interpretations of stories and alleged moments of history which bear little resemblance to real life. Indeed, Greene’s tortured view of historical events is so bad that my History students would easily see the faults. His versions of Tudor history, for instance, are, at best, simplistic and, at worst, absolute fiction. Similarly, from ancient history to modern, Russian, Chinese, British, American or European, he shows again and again that he’s read a history book once and twisted every moment he can to fit his ideas. It’s like reading tales of history taken straight out of the British Empire era.

What is blatantly missing is any psychological evidence or indeed the use of any science at all, and that is telling. Greene twists history and resorts to myths and children’s tales to exemplify his points. There’s zero definitive truth in this book.

But perhaps worst of all is the moral vacuity of the book. You can forgive books such as Dale Carnegie’s classic “How to Win Friends and Influence People” – which also don’t use scientific evidence – for their simple moral value. Carnegie writes to help you get on better with your fellow humans and live and peace and mutual prosperity. He uses stories from real life from which you can see understandable and realistic principles, easily be applied to your own life to see if they work or not (and on the whole, they do). Conversely, Greene’s ‘laws’ sound grand but are actually vague and impractical. And, ultimately, every single one is self-seeking and to the detriment of those around you and with whom you interact.

Written at the end of the 90s, I think – if not, truly hope – that this book is a product of its time. I seem to recall there was a lot of such books on the market back then offering the gullible reader ways to get ahead of the pack, to beat the rat race, get the promotion, improve your inner skills and so on. My feeling is that these kinds of books have died out over the last ten to fifteen years. Perhaps this is because of the internet and all that can be accessed with the web? Life is simpler in many ways now with young people entering into minimalist lifestyles so much more easily than my generation did. With a smart TV, phone, perhaps game station or laptop, there’s very little more needed for a comfortable capitalist lifestyle. Income, after paying bills, can be spent on those optional luxuries – clothes, holidays, cosmetics, drink or fine food. Of course, many are ditching even this kind of luxurious living going for even simpler lifestyles.

And the fact is, this is all acceptable now. No one judges their neighbours’ way of living because we live in societies (in the West, at least) where individuality is encouraged. Vive la difference! But what we all feel we have now as a result, is power. This power is the power to live how we wish to, rather than power to dominate. To have enough money to spend on the simple pleasures that everything else that may be bad in the world seems nought. Such living can lead to apathy, of course, and I would say the UK political climate at the moment is directly a result of such high-living apathy, but the craving for power at the expense of another is much less than in previous decades.

And this is a good thing, I think. Let the dinosaurs of Greene and his like be confined to the fossil collection of history. Those who view humanity as a battle to be won, with victors and losers, and all around potential enemies to be controlled and used for gain. Be gone, such foul creatures! You are not welcome any longer. And if you must, must be there at all – at least get your facts right and present proper evidence!

Social Entrepreneur, educationalist, bestselling author and journalist, D K Powell is the author of the bestselling collection of literary short stories “The Old Man on the Beach“. His first book, ‘Sonali’ is a photo-memoir journal of life in Bangladesh and has been highly praised by the Bangladeshi diaspora worldwide. Students learning the Bengali language have also valued the English/Bengali translations on every page. Listen to his life story in interview with the BBC here.

His latest book is ‘Try not to Laugh’ and is a guide to memorising, revising and passing exams for students.

Both ‘The Old Man on the Beach’ and ‘Sonali’ are available on Amazon for kindle and paperback. Published by Shopno Sriti Media. The novel,’The Pukur’, will be published by Histria Books in 2022.

D K Powell is available to speak at events (see his TEDx talk here) and can be contacted at dkpowell.contact@gmail.com. Alternatively, he is available for one-to-one mentoring and runs a course on the psychology of writing.

Ken writes for a number of publications around the world. Past reviewer for Paste magazine, The Doughnut, E2D and United Airways,  and currently reviews for Lancashire Life magazine and Northern Arts Review.

Both ‘The Old Man on the Beach’ and ‘Sonali’ are available on Amazon for kindle and paperback. Published by Shopno Sriti Media. The novel,’The Pukur’, will be published by Histria Books in 2022.

D K Powell is available to speak at events (see his TEDx talk here) and can be contacted at dkpowell.contact@gmail.com. Alternatively, he is available for one-to-one mentoring and runs a course on the psychology of writing.

Ken writes for a number of publications around the world. Past reviewer for Paste magazine, The Doughnut, E2D and United Airways,  and currently reviews for Lancashire Life magazine and Northern Arts Review.

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