April 24, 2012 9:02 AM   Subscribe

Help me become more powerful than you can possibly imagine.

The subject is power, and I am looking for recommendations for a reading list. I am looking to understand better how people amass social and political power, how they maintain it, and the ethical questions about using it. And I am looking for books that describe this in a utilitarian way. Examples, I suppose, might be The Prince and Rules for Radicals, which I already have on my list, but what other recommendations might you have?

Thank you, and god help us all.
posted by Bunny Ultramod to Society & Culture (29 answers total) 108 users marked this as a favorite

Best answer: The 48 Laws of Power
How to Win Friends and Influence People
The Meritocracy Myth
Biographies of various powerful people whom you admire
posted by Sticherbeast at 9:08 AM on April 24, 2012

How to Be a Successful Tyrant (The Megalomaniac Manifesto)
posted by adamvasco at 9:26 AM on April 24, 2012

A lot of Machiavelli's The Prince (especially with regard to the practical question of whether it is better for a leader to be feared or loved) was predated by Ibn Khaldun's Muqaddimah.
posted by General Malaise at 9:27 AM on April 24, 2012 [2 favorites]

The Prince by Niccolò Machiavelli is a good start, not only is it an interesting read but is exactly what you are looking for.

Propaganda by Edward Bernays lays the ethical and practical framework for how influence and power is manufactured in a modern society.
posted by Blasdelb at 9:29 AM on April 24, 2012

This may seem a bit off topic, but you may be interested in reading some histories of terrorism or revolutions. Long ago, I had a freelance gig which required me to undertake a broad but shallow course of study in this topic, and if I have any understanding of this topic it is that which gave it to me --- for the essential story of any terrorist group is that of a small, radicalised proportion of Group B trying to attract enough support from the rest of B to overthrow Group A, generally by poking A like a hornets' nest and thereby convincing B that A must be destroyed or they'll never be free from stinging.... It's very rare that this actually works, the IRA in the Anglo Irish war is probably the example that comes most readily to mind. In other cases --- where the links between A and B are stronger, when in many respects Bs see themselves as a part of A even if in conflict with it, this doesn't work --- any of the student groups of the 1960s are an example, Baader-Meinhof, the Japanese Red Army, the Brigatte Rosse, though that was a little later. The Cuban revolution is another interesting example --- if fact, if you were to start one place I'd start with Jon Lee Anderson's biography of Che, who tasted failure and success in many guises.

And if you don't mind fiction you might like Hilary Mantel's Wolf Hall, novelisation of Cromwell's life. He rose from butcher's son to right hand man of the mercurial Henry VIII, and in the 16th century that was no mean feat. The book hews pretty closely to his life story, and is therefore almost wholly a portrayal of how power is gained and welded and what the wielding costs....
posted by Diablevert at 9:37 AM on April 24, 2012 [2 favorites]

Chanakya's Arthashasthra
SunTzu and Clausewitz
posted by infini at 9:37 AM on April 24, 2012 [1 favorite]

Power! by Michael Korda

Success! by Michael Korda

They're 1980s but they still apply.
posted by caclwmr4 at 9:38 AM on April 24, 2012 [1 favorite]

people amass social and political power, how they maintain it, and the ethical questions about using it

The Princessa - Machiavelli for women, by Harriet Rubin
posted by infini at 9:39 AM on April 24, 2012

Crowds and Power by Elias Canetti. A deeply insightful and deeply odd book.
posted by shothotbot at 9:54 AM on April 24, 2012 [1 favorite]

The Power Broker, by Robert Caro
posted by Mavri at 9:54 AM on April 24, 2012 [2 favorites]

The Ruling Class (Elementi di Scienza Politica) by Gaetano Mosca.
posted by nangar at 10:20 AM on April 24, 2012

Power Money Fame Sex: A User's Guide by Gretchen Rubin
posted by flex at 10:28 AM on April 24, 2012

Though of course a "forgery," as a thought piece my mind was blown by the evil perfection of the Protocols of the Elders of Zion (PDF link). Also, Nietzsche's analysis of power is also super interesting and perspective-altering.
posted by rumbles at 10:47 AM on April 24, 2012

Study up on Marshall Ganz, who worked with Cesar Chavez and the United Farm Workers, later helped the Obama campaign, and is now at Harvard.
posted by alittleknowledge at 10:54 AM on April 24, 2012 [1 favorite]

The Seven Military Classics of Ancient China, which includes several practical disquisitions on the maintenance of state power in civil society.
posted by ob1quixote at 11:13 AM on April 24, 2012

Thucydides and Tacitus.
posted by BibiRose at 12:13 PM on April 24, 2012 [1 favorite]

De Vinculis in Genere by Giordano Bruno, an English translation of which can be found in this volume.
posted by misteraitch at 1:26 PM on April 24, 2012

I have found Cialdini's Influence, which is focussed more on selling and marketing, invaluable in thinking about practical politics.
posted by i_am_joe's_spleen at 2:32 PM on April 24, 2012 [1 favorite]

The Art of Worldy Wisdom by Baltasar Gracián is good. It's aphorisms, so you can read afew a day and reflect on them.
posted by eq21 at 5:12 PM on April 24, 2012

If you'd also like to think about power more in terms of being a relation between people, rather than something that is wielded or possessed, you might want to look at Foucault's Power/Knowledge.
posted by black_lizard at 5:50 PM on April 24, 2012

Body Politics: Power, Sex & Nonverbal Communication by Nancy M. Henley is an absolutely fascinating analysis from a feminist perspective. Of interest to both men and women I should think, especially in relation to your interest in personal and social power.

It was published in 1977 but still relevant today, I think.
posted by joseph conrad is fully awesome at 7:31 PM on April 24, 2012

On the Caro front, the Power Broker is obvious, but so is his (now four part) series about Lyndon Johnson. This recent article from NYT Magazine discusses how Caro's fascination with the mechanics of power is what led him to write about Robert Moses and then about LBJ.
posted by j1950 at 4:53 AM on April 26, 2012

For further explanation, "Influence: The Psychology of Persuasion" was written by a psychologist, Robert Cialdani.
He groups the book into 6 sections:
* Reciprocation: The Old Give and Take. . . and Take
(Single example: People feel obliged to reciprocate, and will usually over-reciprocate rather than risk under-reciprocating, so people soliciting for donations will often 'give' a largely unwanted trinket, and be repaid with a far larger 'donation').
* Commitment and Consistency: Hobgoblins of the Mind
(Best example, brainwashing in Chinese POW camps - the leaders of the camp would ensure that the _other prisoners_ in the camp would have reason to suspect you of being a communist sympathiser. And socially, it is better to be a consistent communist sympathiser, than a possibly inconsistent 'patriot'. People prefer enemies they can trust, to an inconsistent acquaintaince)
* Social Proof: Truths Are Us
* Liking: The Friendly Thief
* Authority: Directed Deference
* Scarcity: The Rule of the Few

The examples are taken from amway & car sales techniques, religious cults (including suicide cults!), military brainwashing, all the creepy psych studies such as the Milgram, Stanford Prison, etc experiments, hazing in the military and college dorms. Interesting, creepy, and very, very informative.

The best value from it is being able to spot social compliance tactics when they are being used on you!
They are presented mostly from the perspective of being able to identify them in order to resist them, because using many of the examples in the book would be... straight out evil, and far more usable and adaptable than Macchiavelli, the Art of War, and even Rules for Radicals.
Seriously, it's probably one of my most highly recommended books. Makes analysis of pop-culture and world news & politics far more interesting.
posted by Elysum at 4:08 PM on April 29, 2012 [1 favorite]

Surprised this hasn't been mentioned. Power: Why Some People Have It and Others Don't by Jeffrey Pfeffer. A guide to gaining power in hierarchical organizations- where to place yourself, how to manage your image (from confident posture/tone of voice to taking credit for things without actually working harder), how to intimidate potential enemies, maintaining your ground when scandals erupt, etc. As the top amazon review points out, the word "ethics" does not appear once in this book.
posted by maishuno at 11:22 AM on May 3, 2012

The Book Of Five Rings
posted by valkane at 11:52 AM on May 5, 2012

You might find it most effective to focus on making money: Marshall Brain and Paul Graham have explanations of how they've consistently created multi-million-dollar companies.
posted by sninctown at 3:33 PM on May 20, 2012

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