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Customer Review

1,561 of 1,735 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Not bad, but not all that good either, September 4, 2001
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This review is from: The 48 Laws of Power (Paperback)
This book is well-written and very nicely designed. Beyond that, it's hard to see what the fuss is about.

First of all, and on the one hand, the book isn't the torrent of Machiavellian amorality you may have been led to believe. The author does go out of his way to make it _sound_ as though he's presenting you with sophisticated, in-the-know, just-between-us-hardheaded-realists amoral guidance. But as a matter of fact almost every bit of this advice _could_ have been presented without offense to the most traditional of morality.

(For example, the law about letting other people do the work while you take the credit is made to sound worse than it really is. Sure, it admits of a "low" interpretation. But it's also, read slightly differently, a pretty apt description of what any good manager does.)

Second, and on the other hand, the advice isn't _that_ good; it's merely well-presented. How it works will depend on who follows it; as the old Chinese proverb has it, when the wrong person does the right thing, it's the wrong thing.

And that's why I have to deduct some stars from the book. For it seems to be designed to appeal precisely to the "wrong people."

Despite some sound advice, this book is aimed not at those who (like Socrates) share the power of reason with the gods, but at those who (like Ulysses) share it with the foxes. It seeks not to make you reasonable but to make you canny and cunning. And as a result, even when it advises you to do things that really do work out best for all concerned, it promotes an unhealthy sense that your best interests are at odds with nearly everyone else's. (And that the only reason for being helpful to other people is that it will advance your own cloak-and-dagger "career.")

No matter how helpful some of the advice may be, it's hard to get around the book's rather pompous conceit that the reader is learning the perennial secrets of crafty courtiers everywhere. Even if only by its tone, this volume will tend to turn the reader into a lean and hungry Cassius rather than a confident and competent Caesar.

In general the book does have some useful things to say about power and how to acquire and wield it. Unfortunately its approach will probably render the advice useless to the people who need it most. Readers who come to it for guidance will come away from it pretentiously self-absorbed if not downright narcissistic; the readers who can see through its Machiavellian posturing and recognize it for what it is will be the very readers who didn't need it in the first place.

Recommended only to readers who _aren't_ unhealthily fascinated by Sun-Tzu, Balthasar Gracian, and Michael Korda.
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Showing 1-10 of 56 posts in this discussion
Initial post: Oct 16, 2006 9:41:51 PM PDT
D. Anderson says:
In the preface of the book the tone is set; It says, "..the better you are at dealing with power, the better friend, lover, husband, wife, and person you become... you learn to make others feel better about themselves, becoming a source of pleasure to them." Here the author makes the context of the book very clear to anyone who doesn't skip the preface. And that context is one in which you understand and use power in a reasonable manner for the good of all those around you. So, what exactly is your complaint? That dumb people("the wrong person") won't be able to use this book properly? Ok.. I'd agree with that. Those who lack common sense probably won't be able to make use of any useful info.. But that's neither here nor there. You also said this book was designed to appeal to the "wrong people"? But that seems curious since it's been a best-seller for so long.. It seems to have a very wide appeal to all kinds of people and for good reason, in my opinion.

In reply to an earlier post on Oct 26, 2006 12:37:15 AM PDT
StarGazer says:
I don't think you understood this poster's review. This book, by the very nature of those who draw to it for guidance or instruction, will find the wrong audience.

Those who don't need to read it are those most naturally inclined to leadership roles, and will most likely find the rules too self-serving to be practically implemented. Some, if not most, of those who rise to the top of a hierarchy merit authentic trust from other highly intelligent people who may also be seeking power. Those who follow these rules will find that many who hold the keys to power already understand these rules and have contempt for those who behave in such a self-obsessed manner.

Right now, I'm in Nepal where the Maoists are following many of these exact rules. There is no foreign investment here because the country is so unsafe due to the unbridled pursuit of self interest.

Posted on Nov 8, 2006 7:04:22 PM PST
Caesar was stabbed 23 times, while Cassius outlived him to rise to power.

Posted on Jan 17, 2007 10:47:27 AM PST
Is providing true insight into how those with power may function such an awful concept ?

I find your review pretentious and misleading in several regards. First, my experience in adopting its content has been enormously valuable in the real world. Second, you suggest via grandiloquent commentary, that usage of its outlined wisdom may for lack of better term - corrupt the reader - and that many of its elements are obvious derivatives from other material. Of course it collects a wide breath of material from numerous sources. If one does not have the time to read through (or remember) the bulk of that material for analysis, then this becomes a brilliantly reduced resource.

More importantly, as you and a couple of your reviewers (comments) misjudge, this book is not only written for direct application by the reader, but such that the reader can recognize its implementation in everyday life, and react appropriately. In the real business world, one does not have time to lug that cart full of books and knowledge you seem to be dragging along...

In reply to an earlier post on Feb 9, 2007 10:42:07 AM PST
E. Sickles says:
Ha ha! That's a good riposte, although I basically agree with Mr. Ryan's review.

A good riposte to your riposte may be, "True, but stabbed or not, they are both equally dead now, and which one is revered and which one is despised?"

Posted on Feb 20, 2007 7:15:09 AM PST
Erol Esen says:
This is one of the best reviews I have ever read for any book.

Posted on Mar 24, 2007 10:12:17 PM PDT
clivebaker says:
Very good review.

In reply to an earlier post on Apr 10, 2007 2:01:16 PM PDT
Matt Tagg says:
Chuckle @ Mr Sickle. Good point

Posted on Apr 18, 2007 9:28:16 PM PDT
Luiza Kleina says:
Good review, good book. I think the authors ambitions was to have a 'raving' book and he accomplished it. A rational 'acadimic' approach could not have led to such success. Power is about influince and leverage, it is ultimately learned by experiance and then reasoned to past and famous others. Otherwise I believe it hard that these examples can be learned but rather there dynamics are realized. The author speaks about protecting ones image. But I think he missed a very important power dynamic in not discuessing the power of true dignity, morality, and character.

Posted on Sep 21, 2007 5:26:04 PM PDT
BasinBictory says:
Having read just the actual list of the 48 laws of power (and not the whole book) I thought the Laws, while practical in some contexts, seemed quite ridiculous, bordering on the amusing. It seems like the kind of list that a mean-teen queen bee would use to subject other girls in the high school to her whims and power - or the kind of list an incarcerated drug lord would use to maintain his status at the top of his criminal empire. No wonder this volume is so popular with the hip-hop set.
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