Robert Greene – The 48 Laws of Power

This book was recommended by a friend. He said it reminded him of a shared favorite of ours, How To Win Friends and Influence People by Dale Carnegie.

It reminds me of The Game by Neil Strauss.  This book could be used for great evil, or for good. And like The Game, it will certainly be used against you whether or not the wielder even knows what they are doing. For that reason alone, everyone should be familiar with this subject.

In the preface, the author also references Niccolo Machiavelli’s The Prince. Another book in the same vein which I intend to read soon. The 48 Laws of Power is a great read which I will certainly revisit many times and recommend to anyone I meet who aspires to power.

The feeling of having no power over people and events is generally unbearable to us — when we feel helpless we feel miserable. No one wants less power; everyone wants more. In the world today, however, it is dangerous to seem too power hungry, to be overt with your power moves. We have to seem fair and decent so we need to be subtle — congenial yet cunning, democratic yet devious.

Here is a summary of the list of laws which I will revisit on a regular basis to refresh my memory, like I do with Carnegie’s list.

 

 

Law 1: Never Outshine the Master

Always make those above you feel comfortably superior. In your desire to please or impress them, do not go too far in displaying your talents or you might accomplish the opposite – inspire fear and insecurity. Make your masters appear more brilliant than they are and you will attain the heights of power.

Law 2: Never put too Much Trust in Friends, Learn how to use Enemies

Be wary of friends-they will betray you more quickly, for they are easily aroused to envy. They also become spoiled and tyrannical. But hire a former enemy and he will be more loyal than a friend, because he has more to prove. In fact, you have more to fear from friends than from enemies. If you have no enemies, find a way to make them.

Law 3: Conceal your Intentions

Keep people off-balance and in the dark by never revealing the purpose behind your actions. If they have no clue what you are up to, they cannot prepare a defense. Guide them far enough down the wrong path, envelope them in enough smoke, and by the time they realize your intentions, it will be too late.

Law 4: Always Say Less than Necessary

When you are trying to impress people with words, the more you say, the more common you appear, and the less in control. Even if you are saying something banal, it will seem original if you make it vague, open-ended, and sphinxlike. Powerful people impress and intimidate by saying less. The more you say, the more likely you are to say something foolish.

Law 5: So Much Depends on Reputation – Guard it with your Life

Reputation is the cornerstone of power. Through reputation alone you can intimidate and win; once you slip, however, you are vulnerable, and will be attacked on all sides. Make your reputation unassailable. Always be alert to potential attacks and thwart them before they happen. Meanwhile, learn to destroy your enemies by opening holes in their own reputations. Then stand aside and let public opinion hang them.

Law 6: Court Attention at all Cost

Everything is judged by its appearance; what is unseen counts for nothing. Never let yourself get lost in the crowd, then, or buried in oblivion. Stand out. Be conspicuous, at all cost. Make yourself a magnet of attention by appearing larger, more colorful, more mysterious, than the bland and timid masses.

Law 7: Get others to do the Work for you, but Always Take the Credit

Use the wisdom, knowledge, and legwork of other people to further your own cause. Not only will such assistance save you valuable time and energy, it will give you a godlike aura of efficiency and speed. In the end your helpers will be forgotten and you will be remembered. Never do yourself what others can do for you.

Law 8: Make other People come to you – use Bait if Necessary

When you force the other person to act, you are the one in control. It is always better to make your opponent come to you, abandoning his own plans in the process. Lure him with fabulous gains – then attack. You hold the cards.

Law 9: Win through your Actions, Never through Argument

Any momentary triumph you think gained through argument is really a Pyrrhic victory: The resentment and ill will you stir up is stronger and lasts longer than any momentary change of opinion. It is much more powerful to get others to agree with you through your actions, without saying a word. Demonstrate, do not explicate.

Law 10: Infection: Avoid the Unhappy and Unlucky

You can die from someone else’s misery – emotional states are as infectious as disease. You may feel you are helping the drowning man but you are only precipitating your own disaster. The unfortunate sometimes draw misfortune on themselves; they will also draw it on you. Associate with the happy and fortunate instead.

Law 11: Learn to Keep People Dependent on You

To maintain your independence you must always be needed and wanted. The more you are relied on, the more freedom you have. Make people depend on you for their happiness and prosperity and you have nothing to fear. Never teach them enough so that they can do without you.

Law 12: Use Selective Honesty and Generosity to Disarm your Victim

One sincere and honest move will cover over dozens of dishonest ones. Open-hearted gestures of honesty and generosity bring down the guard of even the most suspicious people. Once your selective honesty opens a hole in their armor, you can deceive and manipulate them at will. A timely gift – a Trojan horse – will serve the same purpose.

Law 13: When Asking for Help, Appeal to People’s Self-Interest, Never to their Mercy or Gratitude 

If you need to turn to an ally for help, do not bother to remind him of your past assistance and good deeds. He will find a way to ignore you. Instead, uncover something in your request, or in your alliance with him, that will benefit him, and emphasize it out of all proportion. He will respond enthusiastically when he sees something to be gained for himself.

Law 14: Pose as a Friend, Work as a Spy

Knowing about your rival is critical. Use spies to gather valuable information that will keep you a step ahead. Better still: Play the spy yourself. In polite social encounters, learn to probe. Ask indirect questions to get people to reveal their weaknesses and intentions. There is no occasion that is not an opportunity for artful spying.

Law 15: Crush your Enemy Totally

All great leaders since Moses have known that a feared enemy must be crushed completely. (Sometimes they have learned this the hard way.) If one ember is left alight, no matter how dimly it smolders, a fire will eventually break out. More is lost through stopping halfway than through total annihilation: The enemy will recover, and will seek revenge. Crush him, not only in body but in spirit.

Law 16: Use Absence to Increase Respect and Honor

Too much circulation makes the price go down: The more you are seen and heard from, the more common you appear. If you are already established in a group, temporary withdrawal from it will make you more talked about, even more admired. You must learn when to leave. Create value through scarcity.

Law 17: Keep Others in Suspended Terror: Cultivate an Air of Unpredictability

Humans are creatures of habit with an insatiable need to see familiarity in other people’s actions. Your predictability gives them a sense of control. Turn the tables: Be deliberately unpredictable. Behavior that seems to have no consistency or purpose will keep them off balance, and they will wear themselves out trying to explain your moves. Taken to an extreme, this strategy can intimidate and terrorize.

Law 18: Do Not Build Fortresses to Protect Yourself – Isolation is Dangerous

The world is dangerous and enemies are everywhere – everyone has to protect themselves. A fortress seems the safest. But isolation exposes you to more dangers than it protects you from – it cuts you off from valuable information, it makes you conspicuous and an easy target. Better to circulate among people find allies, mingle. You are shielded from your enemies by the crowd.

Law 19: Know Who You’re Dealing with – Do Not Offend the Wrong Person

There are many different kinds of people in the world, and you can never assume that everyone will react to your strategies in the same way. Deceive or outmaneuver some people and they will spend the rest of their lives seeking revenge. They are wolves in lambs’ clothing. Choose your victims and opponents carefully, then – never offend or deceive the wrong person.

Law 20: Do Not Commit to Anyone

It is the fool who always rushes to take sides. Do not commit to any side or cause but yourself. By maintaining your independence, you become the master of others – playing people against one another, making them pursue you.

Law 21: Play a Sucker to Catch a Sucker – Seem Dumber than your Mark

No one likes feeling stupider than the next persons. The trick, is to make your victims feel smart – and not just smart, but smarter than you are. Once convinced of this, they will never suspect that you may have ulterior motives.

Law 22: Use the Surrender Tactic: Transform Weakness into Power

When you are weaker, never fight for honor’s sake; choose surrender instead. Surrender gives you time to recover, time to torment and irritate your conqueror, time to wait for his power to wane. Do not give him the satisfaction of fighting and defeating you – surrender first. By turning the other check you infuriate and unsettle him. Make surrender a tool of power.

Law 23: Concentrate Your Forces

Conserve your forces and energies by keeping them concentrated at their strongest point. You gain more by finding a rich mine and mining it deeper, than by flitting from one shallow mine to another – intensity defeats extensity every time. When looking for sources of power to elevate you, find the one key patron, the fat cow who will give you milk for a long time to come.

Law 24: Play the Perfect Courtier

The perfect courtier thrives in a world where everything revolves around power and political dexterity. He has mastered the art of indirection; he flatters, yields to superiors, and asserts power over others in the mot oblique and graceful manner. Learn and apply the laws of courtiership and there will be no limit to how far you can rise in the court.

Law 25: Re-Create Yourself

Do not accept the roles that society foists on you. Re-create yourself by forging a new identity, one that commands attention and never bores the audience. Be the master of your own image rather than letting others define if for you. Incorporate dramatic devices into your public gestures and actions – your power will be enhanced and your character will seem larger than life.

Law 26: Keep Your Hands Clean

You must seem a paragon of civility and efficiency: Your hands are never soiled by mistakes and nasty deeds. Maintain such a spotless appearance by using others as scapegoats and cat’s-paws to disguise your involvement.

Law 27: Play on People’s Need to Believe to Create a Cultlike Following

People have an overwhelming desire to believe in something. Become the focal point of such desire by offering them a cause, a new faith to follow. Keep your words vague but full of promise; emphasize enthusiasm over rationality and clear thinking. Give your new disciples rituals to perform, ask them to make sacrifices on your behalf. In the absence of organized religion and grand causes, your new belief system will bring you untold power.

Law 28: Enter Action with Boldness

If you are unsure of a course of action, do not attempt it. Your doubts and hesitations will infect your execution. Timidity is dangerous: Better to enter with boldness. Any mistakes you commit through audacity are easily corrected with more audacity. Everyone admires the bold; no one honors the timid.

Law 29: Plan All the Way to the End

The ending is everything. Plan all the way to it, taking into account all the possible consequences, obstacles, and twists of fortune that might reverse your hard work and give the glory to others. By planning to the end you will not be overwhelmed by circumstances and you will know when to stop. Gently guide fortune and help determine the future by thinking far ahead.

Law 30: Make your Accomplishments Seem Effortless

Your actions must seem natural and executed with ease. All the toil and practice that go into them, and also all the clever tricks, must be concealed. When you act, act effortlessly, as if you could do much more. Avoid the temptation of revealing how hard you work – it only raises questions. Teach no one your tricks or they will be used against you.

Law 31: Control the Options: Get Others to Play with the Cards you Deal

The best deceptions are the ones that seem to give the other person a choice: Your victims feel they are in control, but are actually your puppets. Give people options that come out in your favor whichever one they choose. Force them to make choices between the lesser of two evils, both of which serve your purpose. Put them on the horns of a dilemma: They are gored wherever they turn.

Law 32: Play to People’s Fantasies

The truth is often avoided because it is ugly and unpleasant. Never appeal to truth and reality unless you are prepared for the anger that comes for disenchantment. Life is so harsh and distressing that people who can manufacture romance or conjure up fantasy are like oases in the desert: Everyone flocks to them. There is great power in tapping into the fantasies of the masses.

Law 33: Discover Each Man’s Thumbscrew

Everyone has a weakness, a gap in the castle wall. That weakness is usual y an insecurity, an uncontrollable emotion or need; it can also be a small secret pleasure. Either way, once found, it is a thumbscrew you can turn to your advantage.

Law 34: Be Royal in your Own Fashion: Act like a King to be treated like one

The way you carry yourself will often determine how you are treated; In the long run, appearing vulgar or common will make people disrespect you. For a king respects himself and inspires the same sentiment in others. By acting regally and confident of your powers, you make yourself seem destined to wear a crown.

Law 35: Master the Art of Timing

Never seem to be in a hurry – hurrying betrays a lack of control over yourself, and over time. Always seem patient, as if you know that everything will come to you eventually. Become a detective of the right moment; sniff out the spirit of the times, the trends that will carry you to power. Learn to stand back when the time is not yet ripe, and to strike fiercely when it has reached fruition.

Law 36: Disdain Things you cannot have: Ignoring them is the best Revenge

By acknowledging a petty problem you give it existence and credibility. The more attention you pay an enemy, the stronger you make him; and a small mistake is often made worse and more visible when you try to fix it. It is sometimes best to leave things alone. If there is something you want but cannot have, show contempt for it. The less interest you reveal, the more superior you seem.

Law 37: Create Compelling Spectacles

Striking imagery and grand symbolic gestures create the aura of power – everyone responds to them. Stage spectacles for those around you, then full of arresting visuals and radiant symbols that heighten your presence. Dazzled by appearances, no one will notice what you are really doing.

Law 38: Think as you like but Behave like others

If you make a show of going against the times, flaunting your unconventional ideas and unorthodox ways, people will think that you only want attention and that you look down upon them. They will find a way to punish you for making them feel inferior. It is far safer to blend in and nurture the common touch. Share your originality only with tolerant friends and those who are sure to appreciate your uniqueness.

Law 39: Stir up Waters to Catch Fish

Anger and emotion are strategically counterproductive. You must always stay calm and objective. But if you can make your enemies angry while staying calm yourself, you gain a decided advantage. Put your enemies off-balance: Find the chink in their vanity through which you can rattle them and you hold the strings.

Law 40: Despise the Free Lunch

What is offered for free is dangerous – it usually involves either a trick or a hidden obligation. What has worth is worth paying for. By paying your own way you stay clear of gratitude, guilt, and deceit. It is also often wise to pay the full price – there is no cutting corners with excellence. Be lavish with your money and keep it circulating, for generosity is a sign and a magnet for power.

Law 41: Avoid Stepping into a Great Man’s Shoes

What happens first always appears better and more original than what comes after. If you succeed a great man or have a famous parent, you will have to accomplish double their achievements to outshine them. Do not get lost in their shadow, or stuck in a past not of your own making: Establish your own name and identity by changing course. Slay the overbearing father, disparage his legacy, and gain power by shining in your own way.

Law 42: Strike the Shepherd and the Sheep will Scatter

Trouble can often be traced to a single strong individual – the stirrer, the arrogant underling, the poisoned of goodwill. If you allow such people room to operate, others will succumb to their influence. Do not wait for the troubles they cause to multiply, do not try to negotiate with them – they are irredeemable. Neutralize their influence by isolating or banishing them. Strike at the source of the trouble and the sheep will scatter.

Law 43: Work on the Hearts and Minds of Others

Coercion creates a reaction that will eventually work against you. You must seduce others into wanting to move in your direction. A person you have seduced becomes your loyal pawn. And the way to seduce others is to operate on their individual psychologies and weaknesses. Soften up the resistant by working on their emotions, playing on what they hold dear and what they fear. Ignore the hearts and minds of others and they will grow to hate you.

Law 44: Disarm and Infuriate with the Mirror Effect

The mirror reflects reality, but it is also the perfect tool for deception: When you mirror your enemies, doing exactly as they do, they cannot figure out your strategy. The Mirror Effect mocks and humiliates them, making them overreact. By holding up a mirror to their psyches, you seduce them with the illusion that you share their values; by holding up a mirror to their actions, you teach them a lesson. Few can resist the power of Mirror Effect.

Law 45: Preach the Need for Change, but Never Reform too much at Once

Everyone understands the need for change in the abstract, but on the day-to-day level people are creatures of habit. Too much innovation is traumatic, and will lead to revolt. If you are new to a position of power, or an outsider trying to build a power base, make a show of respecting the old way of doing things. If change is necessary, make it feel like a gentle improvement on the past.

Law 46: Never appear too Perfect

Appearing better than others is always dangerous, but most dangerous of all is to appear to have no faults or weaknesses. Envy creates silent enemies. It is smart to occasionally display defects, and admit to harmless vices, in order to deflect envy and appear more human and approachable. Only gods and the dead can seem perfect with impunity.

Law 47: Do not go Past the Mark you Aimed for

In Victory, Learn when to Stop the moment of victory is often the moment of greatest peril. In the heat of victory, arrogance and overconfidence can push you past the goal you had aimed for, and by going too far, you make more enemies than you defeat. Do not allow success to go to your head. There is no substitute for strategy and careful planning. Set a goal, and when you reach it, stop.

Law 48: Assume Formlessness

By taking a shape, by having a visible plan, you open yourself to attack. Instead of taking a form for your enemy to grasp, keep yourself adaptable and on the move. Accept the fact that nothing is certain and no law is fixed. The best way to protect yourself is to be as fluid and formless as water; never bet on stability or lasting order. Everything changes.

❤️ Tim Ferriss – The Four Hour Work Week

Tim Ferris - The Four Hour Work Week

A few years ago, I made an unusual friend. He was a traveling houseless graphic designer who worked very little and made far more money than I did. Everything he owned fit into a small backpack, and he was essentially in permanent vacation mode, while working online whenever he wanted to. He introduced many interesting themes in my life, but one of the best was Tim Ferriss.

Originally, I started listening to Tim Ferriss’ podcast. In it, he dissects world class performers to see how and why they do what they do. Many of his episodes have made my list of things to revisit again and again.

I keep rereading this book, and rewriting these first two paragraphs because of how challenging it is to describe my friend, Tim Ferriss, or what this book is about.

I had heard about this book in the podcast, but I finally decided to read it about a year ago. I was at burning man talking to a friend from the bay area about frustrations with my incompetent business partners and a project that seemed to be treading water and making no progress because of these disengaged absentee partners. My friend’s reply changed the way I think about business, “If you can build and sell products, why do you need these people?” I resolved in that moment to never accept a lack of progress; to do whatever it takes to accomplish my goals with or without people who need me to carry them along the way.

Simply put, this book is about radical individualism and entrepreneurship. These are two major themes in my life and career, so naturally I was eager to learn more.

If you are interested in how to build a lifestyle business that will finance endless adventure, free time, and early retirement, this book is for you. I give it an easy 10/10.

❤️ Dossie Easton and Janet Hardy – The Ethical Slut

At burning man last year, I attended a wedding. There is some sweet 360 footage in a recent post about burning man.

The bride and groom gave unusual vows, promising to respect and never try to change one-another rather than the traditional vow of forsaking all others. And there were other differences from the traditional model.

I have long been consciously aware that monogamy is an unnatural cultural construct, and an artifact of the influence of bronze-age Abrahamic religion on modern culture. But as someone who has only ever practiced monogamy as a default, I was fascinated and talked at some length with each of the newlyweds over the course of the week. They and many others recommended I read this book to get a better understanding of what non-monogamy is and how it works, and the deeper fulfillment and satisfaction it can offer as a more natural and healthy alternative to monogamy.

I prefer audiobooks, and this one was very easy to find online, and read by the authors themselves.

It is a very intense read, and packed with information and concepts that need some reflecting and unpacking. It took me over a year to finish reading. I set it down to reflect and experiment at least a dozen times, and each time I started over at the beginning. This is my own unusual method and the only way I feel like I can really absorb all the content from something as intense and broad-reaching as this.

It doesn’t necessarily advocate for polyamory. It is more an exploration of what it means to be monogamous or to be polyamorous, and how to make rational choices about the kind of person you want to be, and then how to be that person well.

I decided to change almost every part of myself after reading this book.

I recommend also checking out this interview which I found closely related to this topic and helped me to parse much of the content.

 

The Ethical Slut

💩 Chris Guillebeau – The $100 Startup

This book is a great primer on bootstrapping what it calls a “micro-business,” or a one-person business. There are lots of great tips about how to build the first relationships and focus on creating value for your product or service. There is also some focus on how to identify the business that will fit well with your passions and talents.

If I had read this book during highschool, I think it would have been a huge help to me, but at this point in my entrepreneurship career, I was able to easily identify examples where I have already done basically everything in here.

I really didn’t enjoy the writing style, and I don’t feel like I learned anything from this book. I won’t be reading it again, but I think it would be helpful for people who are just getting started and have no idea what direction to go while getting started.

I will certainly recommend it to the many wantrepreneurs I encounter.

Ayn Rand – Atlas Shrugged

I first read this book in 2010. It was a gift from the senior development engineer at Build.com during a series of interviews I had there. It is the kind of book that gives you a lot more questions than answers.

There is a knife’s edge today which I feel myself balancing on. On one side, there are people like Peter Thiel who have amazing ideas about business growth and the future, alongside a casual disregard for altruism and social responsibility. On the other side are people who spend all their time and energy on helping others, with a casual disregard for the business growth that could elevate their ideas to having a real impact on the future.

In the same way, politically, there are socialists like Bernie who want to feed the hungry and educate the masses, but casually disregard fiscal responsibility. Opposite him, Ron Paul and the libertarian austerity crowd want to let the hungry starve and close the schools in order to balance budgets. Both relegate themselves from accomplishing their goals by ignoring the valid points on the other side.

In the middle, there are a few impact entrepreneurs who accomplish change and improve the world by building businesses that create change as a product or service. Tesla and Solar City are easy examples, but there are many others. These people balance their budgets while building products that have a huge impact on real problems facing the world today.

I think it takes honestly understanding both sides and thinking both ways to see the narrow  path between them.

Far From The Middle

Atlas Shrugged is a long way from that path of effectiveness through the center of the issues, and it informs a great many people today. This book is an important part of understanding the way the world is today and how one side thinks.

Rand does a great job of creating a vision of what John McCaskey calls, “an exciting moral enterprise.” She shows a world with two sides, the bums and mooches on one side and the heroic “Prime Movers” who lead industry, build products, and make things happen in the world. She calls her philosophy Objectivism, assuming the denotation of an unbiased and unarguable validity. It is worth pointing out that this philosophy is contradicted by a huge number of examples from her life, and its foundational arguments are based within a drastically simplified world.

In an early metaphor in the book, she describes a large oak tree which had been seen as a symbol of power and strength by one character. It is split by lightning and shatters. The character looks inside and sees that the tree’s heart had long since rotted away, and all that was left was its shell, “The living power had gone, and the shape it left had not been able to stand without it”

Her characters set out to convince all the Prime Movers to abandon the world and retreat to a remote and secret mountain valley where they can wait for the world to collapse, only to re-emerge and rebuild it in their image once the mooches have realized the error of their ways.

It is a very convincing story, and it really makes you want to become someone she would consider a Prime Mover, and to avoid doing anything she might think of as “Moochy.”

The problem is that the vast majority of the world is full of people who don’t fit into her molds, and people who don’t want to lead or make things. And there is nothing wrong with that.

I found myself constantly thinking back to Buckminster Fuller‘s famous quote, “We must do away with the absolutely specious notion that everybody has to earn a living. It is a fact today that one in ten thousand of us can make a technological breakthrough capable of supporting all the rest. The youth of today are absolutely right in recognizing this nonsense of earning a living. We keep inventing jobs because of this false idea that everybody has to be employed at some kind of drudgery because, according to Malthusian-Darwinian theory, he must justify his right to exist. So we have inspectors of inspectors and people making instruments for inspectors to inspect inspectors. The true business of people should be to go back to school and think about whatever it was they were thinking about before somebody came along and told them they had to earn a living.”

Probably for that one in ten-thousand person Fuller is talking about, this book is great. As a very driven and ambitious person, it is easy to get distracted and discouraged by the lack of drive, direction and ambition most people have, and this book really taps into that. In this world, those mooches and bums are cattle to be dehumanised with pejorative titles. This makes it easy to ignore them and focus on creating and fulfilling her grand vision of being what she calls a Heroic Being, a Prime Mover.

There are really great and valuable things in this book, and it is always a very inspiring read, but I worry about those who consider it a kind of religious text. There is so much wrong with it and the kind of world it would like to create.

❤️ [Documentary] Adam Curtis – HyperNormalisation

Adam Curtis is an amazing documentarian and this is his best work yet.

HyperNormalisation focuses on the culture in the USSR at the end. Curtis describes the meaning behind the title, “…everyone knew that the system in place wasn’t working and that the politicians didn’t believe it any longer. Yet at the same time, because they didn’t have any alternative, everyone just accepted it as normal even though they knew it was abnormal.”

There are so many parallels to America today, and he explores them in depth. This came out before Trump became president, but interestingly it largely follows his bizarre life and career as a hypernormalisationist.

Trump is a special example, “over the past 40 years, politicians, financiers and technological utopians, rather than face up to the real complexities of the world, retreated. Instead, they constructed a simpler version of the world in order to hang on to power. And as this fake world grew, all of us went along with it, because the simplicity was reassuring. Even those who thought they were attacking the system – the radicals, the artists, the musicians, and our whole counterculture – actually became part of the trickery, because they, too, had retreated into the make-believe world, which is why their opposition has no effect and nothing ever changes.”

Through this lens, the theatrical insanity of Trump makes a lot more sense. He is a constant geyser spewing out the kind of world he wants. Nobody knows how to react to him because it breaks the metaphor of our hypernormalised world.

[Documentary] Adam Curtis – All Watched Over By Machines of Loving Grace

Years ago, I came across this documentary series and was struck by its intense and unusual style. Adam Curtis has become one of my favorite documentarians. Luckily for me, he is prolific. His new documentary Hypernormalisation is one of his best.

All of his work is about the interplay between power and economics and politics. All Watched Over By Machines of Loving Grace focuses largely on the idealism of Ayn Rand and her followers and how they built the “New Economy” on top of new information technologies.

Curtis is very critical of Rand and her ideas and the way that most of it did not work out how they wanted. As a tech entrepreneur who aspires to climb echelons and maximize my impact, this topic was close to my heart. I found myself feeling very conflicted about both sides of this argument.

After watching this series, I was compelled to read Atlas Shrugged twice. Both have given me many questions and few answers, but I feel like they are the right questions.

Neil Strauss – The Game

This is a book about a group of terrible people.

A few months ago, I was sitting in a cafe drinking some coffee, when I noticed an odd-looking man reading this book. I Googled the title, and found that it was a New York Times nonfiction best seller about an investigative journalist infiltrating the pickup artist community, and relating the strategies he learned which allowed him to make-out with a woman just minutes after meeting her.  He even became roommates with Courtney Love in the process and succeeded in seducing Britney Spears to some degree.

I had not previously heard of such a community, and found it fascinating. Almost everything I read about the book paints it in a very negative and puerile light. This is probably a well-earned reputation. The people in the story work together to refine manipulation tactics in order to seduce women into having sex with them. Many of these tactics are trivially easy to employ and left me feeling worried for the unwitting targets of this community who likely do not stand a chance of resisting.

I’m not sure I can disagree with their actions morally, they never do anything without consent. But they certainly objectify women and suffer some consequences of their purely shallow lives. Their many one-night stands and transactional interpersonal relationships leave them feeling incomplete and lacking for basic human connections; one of the main characters suffers several mental and emotional breakdowns.

The characters often relate their “scores” or the number of women they have slept with. These are one of their main success metrics. As a gay man who frequents bathhouses and sex clubs, I found their high scores of 10-20 to be hilarious and adorable. There are definitely cultural differences between gay and straight culture around sex and promiscuity, and apparently several orders of magnitude of difference in volume.

There are a few topics I think everyone should read books on: real estate law, investment strategy, business. Maybe this topic should fall in that list. Everyone is sure to encounter these tactics being used against them at some point, either by a practiced expert, or a casual neophyte. When these tactics are used on me now, I will see through them and be less likely to succumb to them if I am not so inclined.

Ernest Hemingway – The Sun Also Rises

In July of last year, I listened to Brett McKay’s Art of Manliness podcast Episode #219: The Real Life Story of Hemingway and The Sun Also Rises.

McKay likes interviewing biographers who are writing about figures who are the actual subject of his interviews. In this episode, he talks with author Lesley Blume about her new book which goes into the back-story and inspiration of Hemingway’s The Sun Also Rises.

The podcast is a great listen, and a great preface to the book. In it, the author tells what may be a true story of how he went on a trip with some fellow expatriates from Paris to see bullfighting in Spain. It is a great story with an interesting style.

I found that Hemingway left me wanting to talk like him.

He likes to say the minimum possible, and leave you to fill in the blanks.

 

That said, the story breaks the traditional plot form, and does not end with a resolution. It is told in the first person from the perspective of the author. He is even a writer in the story.

He goes on an adventure with some friends which really doesn’t end well for anyone, and leads to far more questions than it answers.

Brett Mckay talked about how Hemingway was trying to reinvent masculinity. I can sort of see that in this story, but I think all of his gender roles are very unusual, and I think I will have to reread it several times before I can tell how I feel about any of the characters, and whether I relate to any of them.

There is so much between the lines, it’s easy to imagine a million different and entirely plausible interpretations of this story.

I recommend trying several different whiskeys with soda water while reading this, as it is a favorite of several of the characters and forms the centerpiece of many scenes. :]

Stephen King – On Writing

This book is required reading for a class I am taking at Sierra College, but I also feel that it may improve my blogging and writing in general. It is a short biopic piece by Stephen King about his journey learning to write.

 

I think King’s advice would be to just start writing and then look it over and rewrite revise it. At the same time though, I can almost hear his voice from the audiobook version of On Writing enumerating his many axioms of “good writers,” like for example, he thinks I should try to avoid clumsily squeezing in adverbs for length. At that, I can hear his chuckle coming through to highlight something he did which he thinks was particularly clever. I suppose with time and practice, his rules will become second nature, and focusing on them won’t distract as much from the “just write” portion of the execution.

As I craft these self-representative examples of some of his rules, I visualize each of these devices laying in the toolbox in the basement from his metaphor. More than instruction, his stories were an expectation on his part of how I ought to write. Maybe that’s why it feels harder to write this less complex paper; because I do so with all his expectations in mind, telling me how to do it.

When I was much younger, I found writing to be very challenging. It wasn’t the structure or the research that was hard, it was the elaboration. In speech, I have always been very deliberate and very concise, and it has been a hard habit to break on paper. I find terse arguments to be the most effective. As Thomas Jefferson said, “never use two words when one will do.” Or Eric Schmidt in his book How Google Works said, “every word matters, and useless prose doesn’t… leave out the parts people will skip.” You may notice from my ironic use of ellipses that I am treating Eric to a taste of his own medicine. As a highly technical and analytical person, I strive constantly to be as precise, deliberate, and brief as possible. This makes writing verbose, expository prose a challenging departure from my chosen default-mode, but a healthy one which makes me more appreciative of the brevity of my more typical communication style.

After completing this class and particularly after reading this book, I feel like I can develop and compose appropriately clear and effective college-level writing. (What a great learning objective!) This will be important as I write essays for other classes I take, especially considering my STEM focus, and the necessary ability to analyze and evaluate research material on topics like chemistry and biology. This class helped to polish and dust off the tools I will need to succeed at these tasks in the years to come.

On the less refulgent side, I found the peer-review portions of the class very frustrating and unhelpful. Perhaps some of my peers completed the work on time and were able to give fluent and thoughtful feedback on the quality of the work of others, but I was not able to find these peers. The feedback that I got during peer review was very “yea that’s great” and did not help me to develop or improve my writing.

Overall, this class was a great experience which I think will help me in the years to come. I will certainly recommend it and my professor. In my peers, I did not find King’s “Tabitha,” or “Ideal Reader” to bounce my writing off of, so I will need to keep a look out for such a person to provide more effective “door-open” peer-review–style feedback in the future.