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How to Read Robert Greene ?

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I first read the 48 Laws of Power, and since then, I have read the other five books that he wrote and have summarized them.

Understanding Greene

The reason why I enjoy his work is because they are written in a simple way, and while there is some degree of pretension, his outlook on human nature is anything but naive. Even more, you learn about historical events in an engaging way.

Because the stories are contextualized – they relate to a certain law or strategy that he describes – you will find yourself thinking more about them as you read.

Robert Greene is a best-selling writer who did not succeed because he is a literary genius or a trained psychologist, but because he had an intuitive feel for what people deeply desire, whether money, sex, or power, and has carved out useful lessons from history that will help you get all three.

He understood that many people will only read if you can give them a convincing answer to the grand quandary of the modern mind, “what’s in it for me?”

In his books, Greene makes a promise to his readers, that if you read his book, you will become a better negotiator, employee, artist, businessman, politician, or marketer. Relying on laws of human psychology and the patterns of history, he argues that his advice will help you get what you want, not because it is based on his own opinion, but based on ancient laws and the great authors of the past.

Of course, that is where some criticism is due. Human beings are pattern-seeking machines, and see narrative patterns where they don’t exist. It is not too difficult to cherry pick a few convenient stories from the past, and use them to corroborate a psychological “law” (these don’t exist, we are not even close to understanding the human mind).

But what is refreshing about Greene, is that he is not really trying to convince you one way or another.

He has completely removed his ego from his writing.

If he does have any philosophy at all, it is that Ideas are not right or wrong, they are meant to be played with, to be used for some situations but not others – they are never to be taken too seriously.

This is a key point to understanding how to read Greene. He does not give you a step-by-step process to attain your goal, but gives you different ideas that you could benefit from, depending on who you are and which situation you are in.

Unfortunately, many people will read his books and do exactly what he cautioned against, which is to take his words on faith, rather than be critical.

When he was younger, Greene was exploited by people who stole his work and took credit for it. He is not a Machiavellian. In fact, he is the opposite. Machiavelli himself was not a true Machiavellian. A truly deceptive person does not make his methods explicit. A sociopath or a psychopath would simply prey on others, without unveiling any of the psychological tricks that they are using.

Much of what Greene has written is a response to how some people conduct themselves – often the most sociopathic, antipathic, manipulative people in the world. And by writing out these strategies, Greene arms his readers with defenses against deception.

If you do not want to think for yourself, then reading any book would be terribly misleading. But with Greene, if you do not want to think for yourself, reading his work could be dangerous. You may get the impression that most people behave this way, which is false. That is not to say that most people are benign and harmless, each person is capable of malice, but true malevolence is rare.

Knowing this, I will help you explore the six books he has written so far, and help you understand which to read first.

The Laws of Human Nature (2018)

The Laws of Human Nature (summary) is about the different theories that inform human behavior. You will not learn new truths about human nature if you are well-versed in psychology, but will help cement certain ideas in your mind, by giving them historical context.

You will learn:

  • about your own psychology by understanding other people.
  • about the shadow.
  • about the importance of timing.
  • how others try to control you for their own purposes.
  • how little control other people have over their behavior.
  • what people are truly motivated by.

The 50th Law (2009)

The 50th Law (summary) is about overcoming the biggest impediment to human potential: fear. The ten chapters of the book each focus on a common fear between people – this may be a fear of change, or death, or leading from the front, or being patient.

You will learn:

  • about the common fears that people have in life.
  • about Curtis Jackson’s (50 Cent) life story.
  • why it is so important to overcome your fears.

The 48 Laws of Power (1998)

The 48 Laws of Power (summary) is the first book I read by Greene. It is a combination of historical anecdotes, Machiavellian quotes, and clever fables to defend the merits of each law of power. The laws are based on a fundamental assumption about human nature, that people are greedy, selfish, and unreliable. While it is a mistake to assume that all people are fundamentally rotten, it is a naïve mistake to assume that all people are virtuous.

You will learn:

  • the different ways other people manipulate you.
  • why people behave amorally.
  • about the victims and the victors of history, and how their attitudes shaped their destinies.
  • how to avoid social isolation, while maintaining independent thinking.

The 33 Strategies of War (2006)

In The 33 Strategies of War (summary), Greene cites anecdotes from history – military warfare, politics, psychoanalysis, and sports – to describe timeless strategies of war that have been used by people in the past.

You will learn:

  • that war is a constant, whether you like it or not.
  • how to defend yourself from attacks.
  • about strategies you can use in business and in the real world.
  • about how you inadvertently exploit others.

The Art of Seduction (2001)

The Art of Seduction (summary) teaches you about timeless methods that have been used to attract the attention and admiration of others. Great marketers and politicians are connoisseurs at appearing seductive to people. Greene argues that some people want to be manipulated and seduced, that there is something deeply satisfying when it comes to surrendering. Perhaps this partly explains the human tendency to join cults, or other forms of social commitment – even when it is dangerous.

You will learn:

  • the different ways in which people seduce.
  • how to avoid falling for the traps of seductive messages and styles
  • how to avoid being anti-seductive (repelling others instead of attracting them).
  • about the general psychology of seduction.

Mastery (2012)

Mastery (summary) by Robert Greene is a book that outlines the path to greatness. Greene tells the stories of many different geniuses of the past (Goethe, Da Vinci, Einstein) and distills the most important lessons we ought to remember.

You will learn:

  • why mastery is so important, both psychologically and socially.
  • how the masters of the past became masters themselves.
  • how to overcome the most common obstacles in the path to mastery.
  • the best strategies to become a master of your craft.
  • the nature of creativity and how you can channel your own creative side.
  • the powerful relationship between patience and innovation.

Summaries


If you are interested in reading books about unmasking human nature, consider reading The Dichotomy of the Self, a book that explores the great psychoanalytic and philosophical ideas of our time, and what they can reveal to us about the nature of the self.

"A gilded No is more satisfactory than a dry yes" - Gracian

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