One .pdf to rule them all?
March 26, 2012 4:48 AM   Subscribe

If I wanted to be the most powerful man in the world, what books would I read to gain the necessary knowledge?
posted by Saddo to Education (34 answers total) 48 users marked this as a favorite
The Prince by Machiavelli
The Leviathon by Hobbs
posted by Flood at 4:54 AM on March 26, 2012

The Prince by Niccolò Machiavelli

How to Win Friends and Influence People by Dale Carnegie
posted by Ziggy500 at 4:54 AM on March 26, 2012 [1 favorite]

Read some Ayn Rand to add that special something to your megalomania.
posted by tempythethird at 5:04 AM on March 26, 2012 [10 favorites]

Definitely The prince, machiavelli
posted by Under the Sea at 5:06 AM on March 26, 2012

Most of the authors above were skilled readers and manipulators of power structures from the past, but that gives their writing limited applicability in the contemporary world. If you want power now, you must study it in its contemporary manifestations. I would go to Foucault for this. Start with Discipline and Punish.
posted by farishta at 5:15 AM on March 26, 2012 [3 favorites]

Do you want to be POTUS? Or Dr. Julius No? If you want to take the path of evil, I think bioterrorism is where the future lies.

The fastest way would be to get hold of this strain of influenza, propagate it, deliberately release it on an isolated community (an outpost in Antarctica, perhaps?) to show you mean business, then hold the globe ransom.

For this, you'll need to read books on basic laboratory procedures as well as specific protocols for viral replication (Current Protocols in Molecular Biology is a good starting point), and papers that detail the basics of viral epidemiology. You might also like to learn computer programming and hacking/cracking (how can you expect to make a successful ransom if they can track you?) and perhaps Hunting the Jackal, so that you know what sort of efforts you can expect from intelligence organisations when you're trying to stay on the run for extended periods of time. You'll need lots of start up capital, of course, so probably best to read Rich Dad, Poor Dad.
posted by kisch mokusch at 5:22 AM on March 26, 2012 [2 favorites]

The Secret. Then do the opposite.
posted by blue_beetle at 5:23 AM on March 26, 2012 [5 favorites]

Arthashastra by Chanakya
The Bhagavad Gita, to clear any reluctance in murdering your loved ones to win a war
posted by Senza Volto at 5:35 AM on March 26, 2012 [1 favorite]

Ultimate Power by Tony Robbins
posted by parmanparman at 5:37 AM on March 26, 2012

Sorry, Unlimited Power by Tony Robbins.
posted by parmanparman at 5:37 AM on March 26, 2012

Oh and who are we kidding, the Bible and the Koran.
posted by Senza Volto at 5:38 AM on March 26, 2012 [1 favorite]

The Harvard Classics.
posted by COD at 5:40 AM on March 26, 2012 [1 favorite]

On the literary end of things, Mapple's sermon in Moby-Dick might be worth a perusal, just so you can drop cold lines like "Woe to him who seeks to please rather than to appal!" when the occasion presents itself.

Oh, and a hypothetical aspirant to "most powerful" status might do well to keep Capt. Ahab's shortcomings in mind, too.
posted by mr. digits at 5:47 AM on March 26, 2012

posted by JJ86 at 5:47 AM on March 26, 2012 [4 favorites]

Seconding the "Art of War"

F. Nietzsche "Thus spoke Zarathustra"

Schopenhauer "The world as will and representation"

Max Stirner "The Ego and Its Own"

You may like General Tsao Tsaos quote: "I'd rather betray the world than let the world betray me."
posted by yoyo_nyc at 6:03 AM on March 26, 2012

Seconding The Secret, but steal it, don't pay for it. And don't follow its advice; analyze the book. Once you've figured out exactly what it is that makes that piece of trash appeal to so many suckers, you're halfway there.
posted by flabdablet at 6:18 AM on March 26, 2012 [6 favorites]

Obvious: The Prince; The Art of War; How To Win Friends And Influence People

Less Obvs: Whatever little notebook Vlad Putin keeps all his secrets and blackmailing details in
posted by elizardbits at 6:18 AM on March 26, 2012 [2 favorites]

This is the sort of question that, if taken seriously, is more likely to evoke additional questions rather than easy answers. Two such questions might be as follows: 1) What do you take power to mean? 2) What do you expect to achieve, by way of power, through reading?

One way to think about these questions is to suggest first of all that power might not be primarily about force -- the power to compel -- but rather a capacity to understand others, and work together with them towards mutually beneficial ends. Reading, then, would develop your empathetic capabilities. It would expand your imaginative capacity to address the lives, desires, and needs of others, so that the connections that constitute power become possible.

If we value this way of thinking about power, and about reading, then your first step is Martha Nussbaum's Poetic Justice. In it, Nussbaum conceptualizes the important of fiction in developing a 'literary imagination,' these empathetic capacity that provide a hallmark of democratic power. That's step one.

Step two is to read fiction voraciously. Nussbaum starts with Dickens and Forster. You might too. But you needn't stop there. Read authors that tap into that human thing. Read the short stories of Alice Munro & Ray Carver. Read the digressive meditations of Teju Cole's Open City & W.G. Sebald's Rings of Saturn. Cast a wide net. The trick isn't what you read first. The trick, the real secret to developing these capacities, is: don't stop reading.

Listen, it's a different kind of conceptualization of power, and a different conceptualization of the purpose of reading that would send you to Marilynne Robinson's Gilead rather than Machiavelli's Prince or Marcus Aurelius' Meditations. I know that. But I think it's a conceptualization and an approach worth keeping in mind. And Nussbaum's book -- though not without its flaws -- makes the most convincing case I know of as to why this strategy of reading would be worth the effort.
posted by .kobayashi. at 6:30 AM on March 26, 2012 [5 favorites]

The Urantia Book.
posted by rmmcclay at 6:48 AM on March 26, 2012

Dictators don't sleep easy. The more powerful they get, the less secure they become, because others covet their power. And besides, sometimes the power of the dictator comes from the office, not the man. Even if you rule by fear, at most you can become only a tyrant with a limited sphere of influence.

If you want to be more powerful than a dictator, be a guru. You might not be able to rule the whole world by yourself (gurus rarely do), but a charismatic spiritual leader can influence multiple heads of state at once. Your impact on the world might be more than that of an absolute dictator, if the dictator operates according to a philosophical or spiritual system which has YOU as its arbiter.

Basic instructions for being a guru (at least in the West):
1. Advertise the notion that you are an enlightened being. This is actually safer than saying that you're a prophet (i.e., that you're receiving special information from God).
2. Advertise the notion that others can learn from you how to be enlightened, by doing everything you tell them to and giving you all their money.
3. Explain that any doubt or skepticism they have is just their lower/egotistical/animalistic mind confounding them.
4. Play favorites; alternately praise and humiliate followers; maintain an inner circle.

If you can follow these instructions and not fall into delusional belief in your own mythology, there is no limit to how many people you can control. Heads of state and their advisors, celebrities and the super-rich will wait in line to receive the most expensive nuggets of secret knowledge from you. You can have one army of people effectively working as your slaves, and another army of people who give you every dime they earn. If you are careful in how you treat people, no one will ever assassinate you because they love you too much and they don't want to kill the golden goose.

There is plenty of reading material about cults and gurus at, and I'd also recommend the books Inside Scientology & Enlightenment Blues.

The Bible actually doesn't provide a very good framework for how to be a guru.
posted by overeducated_alligator at 7:06 AM on March 26, 2012 [1 favorite]

The Job: Interviews with William S. Burroughs
Many of Burroughs’s arguments reflect his interests in resisting dominant power structures.
posted by morganw at 7:51 AM on March 26, 2012 [1 favorite]

If books were the key to becoming powerful, the world would look a lot different (and books would be a lot harder to come by).
posted by AwkwardPause at 7:58 AM on March 26, 2012 [5 favorites]

Easy, The Art of Computer Programming by Donald Knuth
posted by satori_movement at 8:07 AM on March 26, 2012 [3 favorites]

The 48 Laws Of Power by Robert Greene

Power! How to Get It, How to Use It by Michael Korda

Success! by Michael Korda

To Be or Not to Be Intimidated?: That is the Question by Robert Ringer
posted by caclwmr4 at 8:24 AM on March 26, 2012 [1 favorite]

On a slightly unrelated side-note, I wonder if those who recommend Machaivelli's The Prince, actually know much about the man. Try An Unlikely Prince by Niccolo Capponi. While not telling the whole story, Machiavelli wrote The Prince because we was trying to get a job with the de Medici family. He wasnt elucidating anything that the lords of Florence didnt already know. Still it's a worthwhile read.
posted by elendil71 at 8:41 AM on March 26, 2012

As others have said, it's worth stepping back and asking what it means to be powerful.

John Maynard Keynes wrote:

The ideas of economists and political philosophers, both when they are right and when they are wrong, are more powerful than is commonly understood. Indeed the world is ruled by little else. Practical men, who believe themselves to be quite exempt from any intellectual influence, are usually the slaves of some defunct economist. Madmen in authority, who hear voices in the air, are distilling their frenzy from some academic scribbler of a few years back. I am sure that the power of vested interests is vastly exaggerated compared with the gradual encroachment of ideas.

Maybe, given the historical context he was writing in, he puts too much emphasis on economists and political philosophers specifically. But the basic thought is a good one: Ideas create the zeitgeist, shape how people see the world, what they think will and won't work, where they focus their attention, and what they actually say and do. The "gradual encroachment of ideas" is the most powerful thing, in the long run.
posted by philipy at 8:57 AM on March 26, 2012 [3 favorites]

If books were the key to becoming powerful, the world would look a lot different (and books would be a lot harder to come by).


Books are the key to becoming powerful, AND until very recently, in the first world, they were very difficult to come by. In many parts of the world, books are expensive or censored. Even in Arizona, ethnic studies books are banned because of the potential power they hold.

Its not that books no longer have the ability to bestow power, it's that we as a society don't give everyone the skills, time and space necessary to READ those books. And frankly, the flow of knowledge has changed how our world functions.

So the answer, READ as much as you possibly can. But read Marx's Das Capital first.
posted by JimmyJames at 9:33 AM on March 26, 2012

I came to suggest the same thing as JimmyJames. Capital, particularly volume I. If you want to be powerful in a capitalist society, you should probably know how capital works.
posted by TheWhiteSkull at 9:38 AM on March 26, 2012

Surprised so little from the world of business.

Felix Dennis How to Get Rich is a good start. There are mindsets and compromises you need to be aware of before setting out.
posted by IndigoJones at 5:43 PM on March 26, 2012

The Bhagavad Gita According to Gandhi
posted by odeon at 6:04 AM on March 27, 2012

The Bhagavad Gita According to Gandhi

This is quite a good way to think about this question.

Because... how would any of us know which books (assuming any such exist) would be important reading for becoming one of the most powerful people in the world, given that presumably none of us are in that category ourselves?

The only evidence-based way would be to look at some people that we consider to be in that category and examine what they did in fact read.

What's more you might want to home in on books that were read especially by people who fall in that category, as opposed to those who don't. (i.e. If Obama likes Star Trek, it doesn't mean necessarily that watching Star Trek is an important part of getting to be elected POTUS.)

If you consider Gandhi to be an example, we know that the two books he considered he most important were the Bhagavad Gita and the New Testament. In fact, later in his life when he gave up most material possessions, these were the only books he kept.

But a lot of people have read these particular books. We might say that very few have taken them to heart, so it's extremely plausible that how you read books and what you do with what you read are as important as the books themselves.

Also, reading books pe se might be a rather small part of a person's development. In Gandhi's case he not only read the Gita, he had a guru to mentor him, a community to discuss it with, and opportunities to experiment. All of those things can be critical for mastering anything, so likely for mastering "being powerful" as well.
posted by philipy at 9:14 AM on March 27, 2012

Extraordinary Popular Delusions and the Madness of Crowds by Charles Mackay.

The Protestant Ethic and the Spirit of Capitalism by Max Weber.

Capital v1, necessarily.

Find out what makes big groups of people tick. Then watch them dance on your puppet strings.

Late 20-c French theory (Foucault especially) might be helpful in understanding the structures of power - contemporary lefty adaptations of Foucauldian biopower are something of a cottage industry recently - but might not be worth the effort it takes to slog thru it.
posted by Pickman's Next Top Model at 11:54 AM on March 27, 2012

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