“48 laws of Power” by John Greene is undoubtedly one of the most controversial books to come out of the press in the last 30 years. The non-fiction book, published in 1998, quickly became a best seller and a hot topic of discussion amongst the booklovers, but for completely contradicting reasons. Very few books can claim to generate such polarizing feedback. Some readers loved it, while the rest despised it. What makes this particular book such an equivocal read? Let’s find out.
The book is divided into 48 chapters; each sheds light on different methods to obtain Power. Some of the laws discussed in the book are obvious- “So Much Depends on Reputation- Guard it with your life”, “Win through your Actions”, “Never through an Argument”, “Concentrate Your Forces”, “Master the Art of Timing”- these chapters contain ways which are common knowledge to anyone with real-world experiences. But there are some chapters that talk about certain keys to Power, which contradicts the popular notions and can be interpreted as downright evil. Chapters such as “Keep Others in Suspended Terror: Cultivate an Air of Unpredictability”, “Pose as a Friend, Work as a Spy”, “Get Others to Do the Work For You, But Always Take the Credit” offer wisdom that might come across as morally unethical. But if we dive deep into the words populating those chapters and analyze them thoroughly, we might go beyond the seemingly pretentious vibe of catchy hooks and comprehend what the author really wanted to say.
Power is an essential part of anyone who wants to climb the ladder, be it socially, financially, or other modes of categorizing success. Being powerful in all sense is a game that relies much on reception- you can not be powerful if the people across do not acknowledge your Power. The portrayal of one’s image reflects the radiance and the impact of the Power that person holds. But seeking Power and exercising it are two different things, and John Greene wanted to unveil the curtain of the required mechanisms. To his own words, Power is like Gravity. We do not question Gravity; we accept the system and learn the ways to maneuver around it. Power exerts a somewhat similar aura; we must acknowledge its existence and try to adapt our lives to gain its benefits.
But just having the right mindset is not enough to absorb the lessons of a book that has been called “A Psychopath’s Bible”. We can accept that all kinds of publicity are good but being touted as Bastard’s handbook and getting banned from prison libraries does not help any read. Many seasoned bibliophiles argue the teachings of the book to be Machiavellian, producing half-baked truth under dubious historical anecdotes. Greene’s theories are often backed by examples ripped off the pages of history that he uses craftily to establish his points. But those examples can be construed as outliers and by no means replicable in all situations. The author also does not claim his laws are universal. The book proudly acknowledges the contradictions it presents, conforming to the unpredictability of human nature.
It goes beyond saying that going through the book can make the reader uncomfortable. We have looked down upon manipulation and trickery for ages and maintained those vices should be ostracized in their inception. But simply villainizing the traits won’t help anyone’s cause, as they live in us and can manifest themselves in a time of crisis. Instead, we should use the book to recognize those moments and prepare ourselves accordingly. By visualizing the underlying sentiment, we can obtain a quick insight into what the situation might turn into and then try to control it. The reader’s aim should not be following the laws to the letter but internalizing the concept and empowering oneself not to be caught off guard in adverse conditions.