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Tue, 09 Dec 2008 11:38
Robert Greene is the author of The 48 Laws of Power and The Art of Seduction. He has a degree in Classical Studies and lives in Los Angeles. See his blog at powerseductionandwar.com. His next book will be The 50th Law, co-written with the rapper 50 Cent, to be published by Profile Books in 2008.
Mark Thwaite: What gave you the idea for The 33 Strategies of War?
Robert Greene: I am an enthusiastic student of Sun–tzu and other writers on war strategy such as von Clausewitz. I consider strategy a science or art that has far ranging relevance—to life, business, politics, etc. The classics on the subject such as Sun–tzu are very inspiring and thought–provoking, but they are a bit abstract. How could I apply their ideas to my life? The idea came to try to fill in this gap in the literature—to combine a rigorous study of strategy throughout the ages and from all cultures, and highlight these ideas with exciting examples from history. I wanted to show the reader, for example, what they could learn from the strategic genius of Napoleon and how to apply his ideas.
MT: Your book is not just a business book but a lifestyle manual. Effectively you are suggesting that we accept the metaphor that life is war and then use the strategies of war to have a more successful life. Is that right?
RG: Yes, you are right. I believe life consists of endless conflicts and battles, not just with others, but with ourselves. It may not be politically correct anymore, but I think there is something positive to be had from learning how to deal with conflict in a sane and rational manner. The child psychologist Jean Piaget made a similar point in analyzing children who always run away instead of learning how to handle the inevitable disagreements in life.
MT: Don't you think that the idea that self-interest is our main motivating force is rather passe? We are co-operative creatures as much as we are competitive ones; hairless bonobos as much as we are hairless chimps!
RG: No, I think it is this bonobo business that is horribly cliched and passe. I never state anywhere that self–interest is our primary motivating force. I don’t believe it and I didn’t write it. In the War book, I devote three chapters to how you must work together as a team in the most strategic and effective manner possible. My books are about power, and you will have no power in this world if you do not know how to lead a team and be a team-player.
Second, I have one chapter in the Power book about the power of self–interest, but it is more about appealing to other people’s self–interest, than to constantly thinking of your own. I think this is a very valuable concept in the world today, where so many people seem incapable of getting outside themselves and thinking in terms of what other people want or need. Something as foolish as the Iraq invasion would not have taken place with a careful calibration of our own self–interest and that of the Iraqis. Instead, we Americans simply imposed our own values and needs on them, and tragedy ensued.
So many things would work better in this world if people stopped reacting and acting emotionally and thought in terms of self–interest. If this is passé, I worry about our future.
Anyway, I say no to the bonobo and chimp analogies.
MT: How long did it take you to write your book?
RG: Three years.
MT: How much background research did you have to do? Or did you just read Machiavelli!?
RG: What a laugh, just read Machiavelli! I consumed over 300 books on war, politics, and anything that had to do with strategy. I think if you read the book this is apparent. For instance, I did not want to do the usual superficial treatment of Sun–tzu, and so I consulted dozens of books on just The Art of War, many written by Chinese scholars. I had special texts translated for me. I am happy to report that several Sun-tzu scholars have complimented me on how I analyzed The Art of War.
MT: How do you write Robert? Longhand or directly onto a computer, straight off or with lots and lots of editing?
RG: I have been writing on a computer since 1987. The computer has actually saved my life. I could never write fast enough to keep up with the speed of my thoughts. The computer allows me to think and write at the same speed, then go back and endlessly edit what I have written. And I put almost everything through at least four or five drafts.
MT: What do you do when you are not writing?
RG: Worry about why I am not writing.
MT: Did you have an idea in your mind of your "ideal" reader? Did you write specifically for them?
RG: My ideal reader is Everyman and woman. I consciously try to make the books have as wide an appeal as possible. Much thought goes into this, and I cannot say I have succeeded, but I tried. For instance, the Power book has been translated into over 20 languages so it has international appeal. In America, it has been a huge success in the African–American community, as well as with those on Wall Street, and even artists and anarchists are fans of the books.
MT: What are you working on now?
RG: I am collaborating with the rapper 50 cent on a book about hustling, life, power.
MT: Who is your favourite writer? What is/are your favourite book(s)?
RG: My favorite writer is Dostoyevsky, and his novel The Possessed has had a huge influence on me. I would say in philosophy Nietzsche, and obviously Machiavelli. I am learning Russian now so I can read my favorite Russian writers in the original. There are too many books to mention here, because I read at least a book a week. I recently read several books of Roberto Calasso and I found them quite inspiring. I like farces and comedy—Gogol and Feydeau.
MT: Do you have any tips for the aspiring writer!?
RG: Persistence and confidence will go a long way. I suffered and toiled for some 15 years until I got my first break. It is important to never give up, if you believe in yourself. Going back to the self–interest concept, it is also important to think of your audience, not just yourself and what you want to say. Focus on the reader, thinking of how they will perceive your book. With such focus and persistence, you cannot fail.
MT: Anything else you would like to say?
RG: This is not a pro–war book. I am aghast at the mess in Iraq. It is a failure of strategy on the highest level. I make the point early on in the book that the ancient Greeks had two gods of war—Ares and Athena. Ares represented the aggressive, stupid and blood–thirsty side of war. Athena the rational and strategic side. I dedicated my book to the goddess Athena. It is really about elevating the rational in all aspects of life.
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