Worth A Read: Mastery, by Robert Greene



The BUZZ: NYT bestseller from the author of The 48 Laws of Power

The GIST: Greene has made the leap from self-help to philosophy in his fourth book.  His previous titles were a bit chilling in their blatant theme of power over others on the path of achievement and success.  He now addresses contributing to society instead of just working to serve one’s own agenda.  Power is still a theme here, alongside apprenticeship and leadership.  Greene examines the lives of historical masters, such as Darwin, DaVinci, Mozart and Henry Ford.  He also interviewed nine living masters in a range of fields to distill the common elements of their lives.  Six clear steps to mastery are examined with anecdotal illustrations.  Greene believes that all of us aspire to mastery and are capable of attaining it.  Dabbling in our affections won’t get us there.  He defines a master as someone who has acquired a heightened form of power and intelligence through extensive training, discipline and practice. Their work consistently exudes influence and innovativeness.  

The WRITING: Authoritative, bordering on authoritarian.  I found the structure of this book a bit weak, with setting shifts that broke up the flow. Greene’s style has softened here in a departure from his previous works.  Although he does not address any specific prescriptions for what ails society, his main point is an uplifting one: we can improve the world with our work.  I enjoyed his section on social intelligence, which addresses how to deal with low energy, negative people. The power he speaks of here is not over others, but the power we gain in mastering our own lives.  A niche is there for our unique talents and gifts.  When we focus all our energies there, learn from others, practice hard every day and persevere through hardship, our Life’s Task will end up benefiting others.  The added bonus is that mastery is an enjoyable state, one that Greene thinks we are all meant to experience.

BUY or BORROW? Although the writing is not wonderful, this is a great book.  Buy it for some young person you love.  I was wistful and a bit frustrated by the first step, which requires intense self-knowledge that I didn’t possess in my youth. I would have appreciated these principles at earlier crossroads. 

“Those qualities that separate us are often ridiculed by others or criticized by teachers. Because of these judgments, we might see our strengths as disabilities and try to work around them in order to fit in. But anything that is peculiar to our makeup is precisely what we must pay the deepest attention to and lean on in our rise to mastery.”


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