167 of 179 people found the following review helpful
"Mastery" continues in the tradition of Greene's other work, especially The 48 Laws of Power,The Art of Seduction, and The 33 Strategies of War (Joost Elffers Books). Consider this book, if you will, as a synthesis and application of the principles in those three books: in the "48 Laws," Greene introduced a set of concepts loosely based on Gracian's "The Art of Worldly Wisdom" that assisted readers in determining how to gain and maintain control. In "Seduction," Greene taught readers the principles of gaining and maintaining status as a desire of others; and in the "33 Strategies," Greene shifted the ground beneath our feet from the boardroom and living room to the battlefield, describing how militaristic techniques and approaches could be used to achieve our goals and outcomes.
"Mastery" synthesizes much of this previous work into a larger framework, a longer-term project--a "bigger picture," so to speak. Greene defines "mastery" as the ultimate power: "[A] form of power and intelligence that represents the high point of human potential. It is the source of the greatest achievements and discoveries in history. It is an intelligence that is not taught in our schools nor analyzed by professors, but almost all of us,a t some point, have had glimpses of it in our own experience."
As with his previous works, Greene relies heavily on historical anecdotes to explain his six-step plan to the achievement of mastery:
1. Discover your calling: the life's task
2. Submit to reality: the ideal apprenticeship
3. Absorb the master's power: the mentor dynamic
4. See people as they are: social intelligence
5. Awaken the dimensional mind: the creative-active
6. Fuse the intuitive with the rational: mastery
For each of these steps, Greene includes a detailed explanation of what the step's goal is, relevant historical examples of the step in action, and the strategies for achieving the goal and moving to the next step. For example, in the first step (the life's task), Greene somewhat metaphysically argues that "You possess an inner force that seeks to guide you toward your Life's Task--what you are meant to accomplish in the time that you have to live." Determining what this task is is the goal of the first step. Greene then offers up Leonardo Da Vinci as an example of this search, and provides five strategies for "finding your life's task": returning to your origins, occupying the perfect niche, avoiding the false path, letting go of the past, and finding your way back. Each of these strategies is further accompanied by more historical anecdotes.
Whereas the "48 Laws," "33 Strategies," and "Seduction" had focused on somewhat tighter, more confined situations--and were presented in a rather fragmented, isolated manner that did not necessarily relate each rule or precept to the others--"Mastery" is a conscious attempt to bring together all this information and these principles into a single, directed course of action. This book, more than all the others, is Robert Greene's answer to the question of how to "win friends and influence people" (with emphasis on the latter).
A worthy addition to any library--especially those with well-thumbed copies of Greene's earlier books.
204 of 222 people found the following review helpful
I read Gladwell's "Outliers" and when I saw Mastery, I thought, didn't Gladwell already DO this book?
Kind of, but not really.
This book is totally different.
Gladwell's book is filled with examples.
Greene's book is an instructional inspiration, so to speak. Outliers didn't present a roadmap, which is what really differentiates the books.
It starts with examining your past and how to discover what you are meant to do -then steers you on a path towards following those who are where you want to be, how to work with them and make the most of the relationship - and one of my favorite parts is seeing people as they are (social intelligence).
It then delves into creativity and how to blend it with reality - how to become a master of your chosen destiny.
If you love quotes, this book is packed with them. It's also packed with examples of true stories.
Outliers leaves readers with the answer of how successful people got to the top -
Mastery leaves readers with a road map of how to become one of those successful people (accompanied by stories of achievement).
Compelling and commanding - this is a book that should come with a highlighter and will have a permanent place on your inspirational bookshelf.
89 of 94 people found the following review helpful
on February 17, 2013
This is an extremely powerful work on how to achieve mastery in one's life. Mastery can be thought of as the unique way each of us can fully actualize our potential for greatness and enjoy a fulfilling life.
Achieving Mastery in life is a lot of work but it is the way to a flourishing life (a life of self-fulfillment). Spinoza's quote "All things excellent are as difficult as they are rare" came to mind several times as I read the book. The author provides ideas and strategies that can improve the process for those willing to expend the effort. I plan to re-read and work with the ideas and strategies covered in this book and apply them to my personal context. I also plan to purchase copies of the book for my wife and 2 teenage sons so they can benefit from this material as well.
The work begins by discussing how to discover one's purpose in life. This is unique to each individual and needs to be well thought through. The author gives 5 strategies for finding your life's task and illustrates these strategies with historical and contemporary figures. Two of the strategies he discusses that really gave me a lot to think about are:
1. ) Occupy the perfect niche - the Darwinian strategy. In this strategy you need to find the career niche that best fits your interests and talents and then evolve that niche over time. I found the eaxample of V.S. Ramachandran very interesting
2.) Let go of the past - the adaptation strategy. The following quote from this section that really resonated with me:
"You must adapt your Life's Task to these circumstances. You do not hold on to past ways of doing things, because it will ensure you will fall behind and suffer for it. You are flexible and looking to adapt."
The author then covers the Apprentice Phase which he breaks into 3 steps:
1.) Deep Observation - the Passive Mode
2.) Skills Acquisition - the Practice Mode
3.) Experimentation - The Active Mode
There are detailed strategies for completing the ideal appenticeship. These are illustrated by examples. 2 of my favorites in this section were "move toward resistance and pain" as illustrated by the example of Bill Bradley and "apprentice yourself in failure" as illustrated by Henry Ford. All 8 strategies are worth thinking about in detail.
The next section covers learning through a Mentor and is one of the best parts of the book. The example of Michael Faraday is used as a great illustration. There are strategies discussed for finding the appropriate mentor(s), knowing when to break away from the mentor and what to do if you cannot find a mentor (the example here is Thomas Edison and there is an interesting tie-back to Faraday). Having a mentor is the most effective way to gain deep knowledge of a field in the least amount of time - it greatly accelerates that path to Mastery.
The next section deals with social intelligence and seeing people as they are. Benjamin Franklin is used as an example. There are 7 deadly realities covered in this section (envy, conformism, rigidity, self-obsessiveness, laziness, flightiness and passive aggression) as well as strategies for acquiring social intelligence.
The fifth section is on awakening the dimensional mind. This is where you see more and more aspects of reality and develop ways to become more creative (and not get stuck in the past). There are several strategies on creativity discussed in detail. I found the discussion on ways to alter one's perspective especially illuminating. These include avoiding:
* Looking at the "what" instead of the "how"
* Rushing to generalities and ignoring details
* Confirming paradigms and ignoring anomalies - (key quote: "...anomalies themselves contain the richest information. They often reveal to us the flaws in our paradigms and open up new ways of looking at the world")
* fixating on what is present, ignoring what is absent (Sherlock Holmes example)
The section continues with strategies and examples for this "creative-active" phase. My favorite was a section on Mechanical Intelligence with the Wright Brothers as an example.
The Final Section is on Mastery as the fusing of the Intuitive with the Rational. The strategies in this section are very powerful and I will be returning to them again and again. Here are the 7 strategies:
1.) Connect to your environment
2.) Play to your strengths (this is very important - see further thoughts on this below)
3.) Transform yourself through practice
4.) Internalize the details - the life force (Leonardo Da Vinci example)
5.) Widen your vision
6.) Submit to the other - the Inside Out perspective
7.) Synthesize all forms of knowledge
This is a very powerful book filled with a lot of good ideas and strategies. There are ideas I plan to continue to "chew" on and think more deeply about while I work to integrate these ideas and strategies into my personal context.
A lot of the book stresses the importance of self-discipline, persevering through difficult challenges, the importance of an adaptive and active mind, independent thinking and integrating all of one's knowledge. Here are a few recommendations I would make to augment the material covered in this book:
1.) For Self-Displine and Willpower (and perseverance):
Willpower by Tierney and Baumeister
The Power of Habit by Duhigg
Grit (see TED Talk by Angela Duckworth and the GRIT assessment as well - Grit Assessment can be found at: available at [...])
2.) For an adaptive/active mindset (and recovering from failure)
Mindset by Carol Dweck
Apapt by Tim Harford
3.) For a great fictional example of many of the ideas covered in the book, I would recommend Ayn Rand's The Fountainhead (Roark as a positive example; Keating as a negative example of what the author calls "the false self")
4.) Other Real world examples
Richard Feynman (see his books "Surely You're Joking, Mr. Feynman" and "The Pleasure of Finding Things Out"
5.) Finding your strengths
Strengthsfinder 2.0 by Tom Rath
VIA Survey of Character Strengths (available at [...])
233 of 257 people found the following review helpful
"Mastery - the feeling that we have a greater command of reality, other people, and ourselves."
"Mastery is not a function of genius or talent. It is a function of time and intense focus applied to a particular field of knowledge."
Mastery is a book that will stand the test of time. Robert Greene writes to instruct others how to achieve mastery in any field, told through a series of mini-biographies, life lessons, timeless quotes, and a modern understanding of psychology and human nature. Mastery combines these different varieties of anecdotes and instructions simply and beautifully. It is a great read, and one that would have been relevant 500 years ago and will still be relevant 500 years from now. Few non-fiction books that are published today can claim such an accomplishment.
Greene identifies three levels of learning a subject. First there is apprenticeship, marked by intense learning. Secondly, the creative-active level, set apart by practice. The third and final phase is mastery. The first four chapters of the book focus on apprenticeship, followed by one chapter each for the final two phases.
The entire books is an excellent read, but here are some of the bright spots that stood out to me:
* The biographies are really, really good. The four that stood out to me tell the life story of Benjamin Franklin, Freddie Roach, Marcel Proust, and Temple Grandin. Good mix of contemporary and ancient biographies. Its worth reading Mastery just for the mini-biographies.
* Chapter four on social intelligence is excellent. Social intelligence is often overlooked as a step to mastering anything, but Greene highlights here and provides some great tips on dealing navigating the social landscape.
* The first chapter deals with finding your life's task. The last part focuses on strategies to identify your life's task, and there are some very helpful tips here.
* The layout of the book is great. You can open to any chapter and find useful information right away. It is a great read the first time through, and will remain a useful reference once you are finished.
A few things I didn't love:
* It reads like a timeless book. The principles it contains and the methods that Greene prescribes will always be useful. That said, at times it feels too dense - almost like you are reading an ancient Zen manuscript.
* Many of the biographies are continued and built on in subsequent chapters. The first few paragraphs of each are usually very similar, and I found myself skipping through them quickly. Will actually make it more useful when using as a reference in the future, but you will want to skip a few paragraphs if you are reading it straight through.
Mastery is an excellent book, and one that I can highly recommend to anyone. The focus on the apprenticeship model and how you can apply it in the modern world is unique and will only become more relevant in the future. Though Greene never denounces formal higher education, many of the examples he gives highlight alternative routes you can take. I will recommend this book to many, but will buy a few copies to give to high school juniors and seniors considering which education/career path to take.
71 of 82 people found the following review helpful
on December 21, 2012
Let me start off by saying that I'm a Greene fan, and I own all of his other books and have read them multiple times. This makes me bias towards giving him a good review, but it also sets the bar very high.
This has much of the familiar writing style Greene fans have come to love. It goes over historical examples of masters, and distills the lessons to be taken away from them. I particularly like how he takes people and events and puts an interesting take on them--such as painting Franklin as a rational patriot who would do anything to help his country, and not simply a pleasure-seeker gone wild in France; in other books he said Lincoln always wanted to free the slaves but could not say it, it's not what we learned in history class but it makes more sense. He also uses what has become my favorite phrase of his: "Better to...." When I hear these words I get nostalgic and brace for a brilliant observation I can't help but agree with and wonder why I didn't think of it myself.
But where this book really shines is, of course, his example-stories. This is his classic style, he tells--or rather shows--you how the lessons he is giving work in the real world, and he does it with clarity and precision. However, where this book fails is in the analysis that precedes and follows these stories. In his past works, these conclusions were concise and accented the examples, here they dominate and bury them.
This book seems to be larger than the others, why does he spend so many pages theory-crafting about the examples he just gave? The stories are a much more powerful means to get his point across, without needing lecturing. His other works feel like a pleasant conversation where I patiently listen to his stories and brief analysis. This, on the other hand, sometimes reads like a textbook which makes me want to put it down, which is not something his books have ever done before. I don't mind the cross-references or the bit of neurology here and there, but what I can't stand is any more than two pages of analysis to conclude an already lengthy example. Worse, much of these conclusions are redundant! Sometimes he will say something, then a few paragraphs later he will say it again in different words and possibly in the negative.
The stories are like the cake, they [should] make up the bulk of the text, and get the obvious points across. The analysis and explanation should be the frosting on the cake, to connect the dots and narrate the examples. But, like too much frosting on a cake, these meandering and repetitive analyses have broken the delicate balance his other books have perfected.
In sum, the book is a good read, but it is not as easy or fluid as his others. The author exposes himself too much by over-explaining his examples, especially since there are no more colorful side-anecdotes to break up the text, which I miss dearly. Perhaps I shall update this later after I have time to re-read and reflect...
16 of 17 people found the following review helpful
on February 7, 2013
Greene is a devoted researcher and a master of the historical anecdote. In this book, he tells some very interesting stories about some very interesting people (Einstein, Mozart etc.) If you like the author and his style, you may enjoy this book.
However, I wouldn't recommend this as a serious advice book. It's extremely long and Greene's list of things you 'must do' numbers in the hundreds. This is not a practical guide to mastery; it is just a very long book with some interesting ideas and inspiring stories.
If you want a more practical, clearer guide to mastery, I highly recommend George Leonard's Mastery: The Keys to Success and Long-Term Fulfillment.
10 of 10 people found the following review helpful
on June 2, 2013
Prior to reading this book, I was not familiar with Robert Greene. Many other reviewers have compared Mastery to Greene's previous works. I'm not in a position to do so. In general, Mastery explores a fascinating topic and provides some valuable insights. However, it is also tainted by a good bit of wishful thinking, some revisionist history, and the fact that it is much longer than necessary.
I will start with the good. Greene correctly observes that we live in an entitled culture where hard work is not pursued. On the most basic level, this is the premise of the book. In order to master a discipline, one must work hard. Yes, there is much more to it than that, but if the reader leaves the book with no other insight, they will still not be far from the truth. I found Greene's discussion of the apprenticeship phase particularly compelling. The ability to submit one's self to the tutelage of another for an extended period of time is a discipline which is desperately absent from the workplace today. Young men beginning their careers should listen well. So, there is a good bit of wisdom in this book.
However, there is also a good bit of fantasy and wishful thinking. Greene's premise includes the idea that every human being has the capacity to become a master if they only apply themselves to the process. Relatively early on (p. 28), he makes the claim that a master will eventually leave the confines of their disciplinary community and strike out on their own. He also frequently treats mentors and guides and persons to be used for a time, and then discarded when they are no longer useful. This is nonsense. Certainly, as we develop in skill and efficacy, we may move from situation to situation. We will experience changing relationships along the way, but humans are not disposable means to our personal ends. The "master" who behaves in this way might be surprised to find themselves alone and friendless down the road. As for the idea that we can all someday throw off the community in which we have learned our discipline and strike out on our own, I counter with Melville's query "Who ain't a slave?" Very few of us will have the chance in life to throw off the authority structures over us and operate on our own. Personally, the individuals I've met who have done so seem to be the least emotionally mature. In other words, they've left their professional communities not because they've achieved mastery, but because they aren't able to work with others. Finally, I think it is apparent that this form of mastery just isn't practical. A society where everyone attempts to strike out on their own is a society which fails.
Greene spends an excessive amount of time illustrating his point. He's identified a number of historical "masters" who he uses to support his premise. As interesting as some of these characters are, half as many would have been sufficient. The result is a book that is twice as long as it effectively could have been. Greene also tends to revise his historical masters' biographies to fit his premise. A good example is his treatment of Darwin, who Greene repeatedly claims invented evolution. According to Greene, Darwin threw off all of the constraints of the prevailing views of his time, resisted an overbearing and dogmatically religious sea captained, and pioneered an entirely new way of viewing the world. This sounds wonderful, but a passing familiarity with Darwin's autobiography reveals it as untrue. In the first few paragraphs of his life story, Darwin explains that evolution as a theory has existed for thousands of years, dating to Aristotle and beyond. Darwin himself learned it from his grandfather. What Darwin developed was natural selection, the explanation of biological processes which makes evolution much more plausible. As for his struggles with an overly religious captain, Darwin relates that he was himself mocked by shipmates for his overly authoritative use of scripture. So, the picture which emerges from Darwin's autobiography is not of a man who shed himself of all the preconceptions of his age in a relentless pursuit of truth, but of a man who was very much influenced by the ideas of his age and explored scientific observation within that framework. Some may see the difference as subtle, but Darwin does not fit the idyllic mastery Greene presents. Greene does something similar with Coltrane, who's drug use gets one passing reference in Greene's biographical treatment. I must admit that I am not as familiar with the biographies of all of Greene's historical examples, but the issues with the characters with whom I am familiar leave me skeptical.
In the end, I give Greene 3 stars. There is some excellent material in this book, but it is sprinkled amid excessive wordiness, some wishful thinking, and a good bit of plain old fairy dust.
26 of 31 people found the following review helpful
on November 14, 2012
In full disclosure as an author researching the topic of high level success and failures I received a copy of the book a few weeks early. The following is my review:
The acquisition of high levels of skill in science, business, music, the arts and sports has long been a topic of intense debate in psychology and a few bestselling books have recently been published on the topic but each leaves the reader feeling kind of hopeless. In Outliners, Malcolm Gladwell stated that many elements critical to success, including "demographic luck" (the effect of one's birth date) and education, are out of an individuals control. David Brooks, the New York Times columnist, reiterated many of the same points in his 2011 book "The Social Animal," while Geoff Colvin, in his 2010 book "Talent Is Overrated," focuses on the importance of 10,000 hours of deliberate practice as the most critical element.
But this isn't quite the story that science and history tells. Research has shown that mavens, from Renaissance painters to silicone valley entrepreneurs, are not simply a product of their legacy, environment or parental support, rather, all have followed a similar, self-directed, path to Mastery. In this book Robert Green turns his attention from the laws of power, seduction and war to the secret path taken by all masters .
Like Greene's other books Mastery takes a intricate subject and, with apparent ease and gusto, distills the lessons of success into simple steps. Most intriguing is the book's assertion that, despite upbringing, genetic makeup or simple luck, anyone can become a master. While parents compete to put toddlers in outstanding preschools Mastery identifies many historic figures, like Benjamin Franklin, with non-exceptional childhoods and, in doing so, Greene takes a firm stance on the side of self-realization over the importance of parents, educators and environment.
"I researched hundreds of masters, alive and dead." said Greene in a recent email to me. "On the nurture issue I cite people who were actively encouraged as children and I cite many, like Steve Jobs, who had very neutral upbringings. But I cite many more like Charles Darwin who had a negative environment, in which their desires were actively discouraged. Perhaps in the end, in my sampling, there might be a very slight skew towards nurture, but not enough to convince me. "
According to the book motivation is the greatest force of achievement and it's a force that must come from the individual. What makes a master is the unique stamp they put on their profession and their willingness to go in unusual directions. This must come from within. In his chapter discussing the importance of mentors Greene admits that parents and teachers can help focus ambition but only if the student is a willing participant burning with internal desire. Mastery shows how a student's abilities can be stoked from the outside but, like a fireplace, the moment that stoking stops, or significant challenges are met, the average person wilts but masters continue to strive.
So if, as Greene contends, neither encouragement or discouragement matter and all of us are born with an essentially similar brain, with more or less the same configurations and potential for mastery, why is it then that in history only a limited number of people seem to truly excel and realize this potential power?
The book states that all people have a unique inclination, a natural curiosity first experienced during childhood but most people forget this interest or ignore it to follow career paths dictated by parents, teachers or an unnatural pursuit of success and money. Masters take another path. Charles Darwin, ignored his father's mandate that he become a doctor, joined the ship HMS Beagle and discovered the theory of evolution. Temple Grandin revolutionized an industry by ignoring her doctor's dim prognosis of low achievement and using her autism to see the world from the perspective of livestock. And, most famously, Steve Jobs ignored nearly everyone's advice in his desire to redefine computing.
Each master was able to retain or reconnect with their childhood passion, curiosity and a sense of wonderment which propelled their study. Greene agrees with points made by other offers, including the fact that hard work can often induce pain and the importance of 10,000 hours of dedicated practice, but he claims that, like most children, masters are able to find enjoyment and satisfaction in even the most arduous surroundings.
"Mastering your field and being creative is the ultimate power" says Greene. "If you have a curious mind that is enriched with knowledge and knows your field well then your brain can start to make interesting associations between different ideas and you begin to see things that other people can't. That is the philosopher's stone of power."
Encouraging is the fact that anyone, regardless of age or upbringing, can reconnect with their childhood and, in doing so, become a master and enjoy the highest level of fulfillment. Most encouraging is the fact this idea is backed up by the ardent research and keen eye expected of Robert Greene. In short, the book is a masterful assessment of outstanding achievement.
-John Konrad author of Fire on the Horizon: The Untold Story of the Gulf Oil Disaster [Hardcover]
15 of 17 people found the following review helpful
on November 21, 2012
I never write reviews for anything, ANYTHING, mainly because I just don't care to or have the time. But for this book I felt a duty to give it the highest accolades because it couldn't possibly have been more creatively and beautifully written. I own all of Robert Greene's books and this by far is the concentration of all his previous books churned together into 318 pages of incredible information. It's the top shelf for inspiration of a greater magnitude. It's not just the sheer and impressive amount of work that's put into it but the example it sets for other artists when it comes to devotion and finishing what I consider to be quite the magnum opus so far. It's my new personal bible and you'd be a fool not to own a copy.
13 of 15 people found the following review helpful
on December 1, 2012
This book is a masterpiece. It's about how to achieve mastery in your work and in your life. I would pay $10,000 to be able to give this book to a 16-year-old me. The lessons of this book could have saved me countless hours of wasted time spent on fruitless activities.
Greene has investigated the lives of dozens of masters, (including the likes of Albert Einstein, Leonardo da Vinci, and Mozart) systematically analyzing the habits, traits, and attitudes that lead to their greatness, and he distills all of them down into principles that anyone can emulate.
He also looked at the lives of unlikely masters, whose achievements seemed impossible given their disabilities and impairments. One such master is Temple Grandin, who went from being an autistic child that struggled to learn language, to being a professor of animal science who revolutionized the field. Greene shows how Grandin overcame the crippling social ineptitude, caused by her autism, that almost destroyed her career. The message is clear: you have more potential than you think you have. If Grandin can transform her life, you can too.
The central message of Greene's book is that masters are not born they are made--and that anyone can tap into the powers that these masters have. There are universal characteristics that all these masters share that can be mimicked by anyone.
This book will inspire you to work harder than you ever thought possible. It will give you faith that prodigious achievement can be had by anyone who is willing to thoroughly give themselves to their work. It also shows you how to find your "Life Purpose," which is the critical step in achieving mastery. This is the single most transformative book I've ever read.