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Customer Review

40 of 46 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Understand: This is annoying, 3 Jan. 2010
This review is from: The 50th Law (Hardcover)
Robert Greene's latest offering is a strange creature. Equal parts self-help guide, historical narrative, and fawning 50-cent biography, it's a new jack of all trades, master of none.

Ostensibly co-written by Curtis Jackson, who raps under the name 50 Cent, the foreword quickly reveals that the text is all Greene's - based on discussions and 'access' to the star. The reverential tone with which Greene refers to the rapper is struck early on and he continues in the same obsequious fashion throughout.

The 50th "law" referred to in the book's title is a derivative of the Alfred Korzybski's mantra "the map is not the territory":

"The one thing that we can control is the mind-set with which we respond to people around us"

The principle concept of the book centres on the negative effects that fear can have, in particular anxiety and paralysis of the will, and how reframing of our perception can allow us to react in more productive ways. This a recurring theme in self-help literature, and is the central concept in such pseudoscience as NLP, but that doesn't mean that there isn't a kernel of common-sense to it.

Each of the chapters focuses on a different concept of how to get ahead, and mixing historical anecdotes with fanciful tales from the 'hood, illustrates how adopting the principles of each chapter will lead to a life of riches and power. A critical eye, self-reliance, opportunism, momentum, aggression, authority, social connections, experience, self-belief and human mortality are all dealt with as part of the hip-hop masterplan for success.

Greene illuminates each chapter with anecdote after anecdote, as per his previous books.

While the anecdotes are occasionally interesting, they lack the same depth of treatment as in Greene's other works, and the reader is left with the impression that some have been shoehorned to fit the theme of each chapter. The "50 Cent" anecdotes are especially problematic, since hip-hop is not known for the veracity of its boasts and the author states early on that Jackson has a habit of inventing fictitious scenarios when it suits his interest. Not a great start to a pseudo-biography.

I can't help think that there's a thought-provoking book in here somewhere, which is blown off-course by the (presumably) commercially-driven and rather pointless involvement of the puffed-up and unsympathetic character of "50 Cent".

Stylistically, Greene's trademark use of the imperative "Understand:" - as a way to emphasise part of the text - made me cringe with every repetition (more so than previous books) and causes an unnecessary distraction from the flow of the text.

Greene's self-consciously tongue-in-cheek writing style was amusing in The Laws of Power and his other works, but the humour which offset the amoral guidance in those books is glaringly omitted here - and that leaves the reader without the plausible deniability which made the nefarious schemes in those books read more easily.

What we are left with is a bleak worldview which celebrates a 'me first' mentality to which few will relate.

An antidote to all of this is Robert Wright's splendid The Moral Animal - which shows why the selfish and bleak attitude espoused here is misguided.
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Location: Edinburgh, Scotland

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