Sunday, January 6, 2013

Mastery: A Book Review

Before I can write any review about any Robert Greene book, I have to reveal some bias. I’ve considered myself an indirect apprentice to Mr. Greene and his work since 2004. After my divorce, the Art of Seduction changed not only my life but the way I look at society and human interaction. I’ve read it several times since that first exposure and it might be one of the most influential books I’ve read in the past decade.

Greene has written five books to date and the concept behind his voice is always the same. He describes a method of achievement based on a central idea and represents that concept with certain historical figures. Art of Seduction focused on people like Casanova and Cleopatra, The 48 Laws of Power used Machiavelli and Talleyrand, The 33 Strategies of War dissected luminaries like Sun Tzu and Napoleon. Mastery continues in this same vein; highlighting figures like Mozart, Einstein and Darwin. The difference between this work and his others is the target of his analysis. While all his other books described methods for dealing with others, Mastery creates a model for improving your own personal abilities.

The Premise

The idea behind Mastery is simple at first glance. Greene argues that the achievement of all the great artists, inventors and business leaders is always the product of a specific process that the rest of us can duplicate. He claims that genetics, luck or divine intervention play no role in the success of anyone from Benjamin Franklin to Freddie Roach. He then goes on to describe the process and provide historical examples to support his theory.

The Process

There are five steps in Greene’s road to Mastery:
  • Finding your life’s work through exploring your natural inclinations,
  • Practice through apprenticeship,
  • Gaining knowledge through mentoring,
  • Self-expression through creativity
  • Mastery

While the process only has five steps, it is not short by any means. A person can spend their entire childhood before they find what they really want to do with their lives. An apprenticeship typically takes 7-10 years or 10,000 hours. Mentoring can reduce the apprenticeship time, but it will probably only shave off a year or two. Self-expression and mastery may not come until after years and years of patient practice, if it comes at all. Mastery is not an easy road and the path Greene describes is littered with pitfalls.

First Impressions

I’m listing my opinion of the book as first impressions because I think Greene’s books have to be read several times to fully appreciate the message. My thoughts on it may change over time, but this is what I think so far.

On the positive side, Mastery is an overarching book on development that transcends money or fame and like all of Greene’s work it is tied to extensive historical examples. This book can be helpful to anyone in business, art or the sciences. It also has applications for parents looking to help their children develop and it is especially relevant to writers looking for the motivation to develop their craft.

The downside of the book comes down to the editing. Some the extensive examples are repetitious and tediously long. There are elements of the process (most notably the relationship between the apprenticeship and the mentoring) that feel vague and contradictory. Finally, the ending of the book is weak and uninspiring compared to his best work because it doesn’t tie the concepts together well and the end and it doesn’t deliver the same air of authority that the other books did.

To sum up, Mastery is a worthy addition to the power, seduction and war library, but it is not the best of the collection. Hopefully an abridged version will be released soon so I can dig into it again.

(Note: This review is for the unabridged audio version of the book.)

Have fun.

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