A Long, Winding Road

Of Robert Greene’s five books, his fifth – Mastery – is exceptional. Mastery has the shortest title. Mastery is the second smallest book in terms of its size (The 50th Law is, so far, the smallest). And Mastery breaks the mould in another way: it is the most complex of all of the books so far released.

The previous four books focused on aspects of human life and society which some would consider negative, in some contexts. Power. Seduction. War. Fear. In all four previous volumes, Robert Greene chose dark topics for his “self-help” books, partly as self-catharsis, and partly as an antidote to the self-help Little Books which offered insipid non-advice to help people cope with the stresses of living.

In The 48 Laws of Power, students learned of the various aspects of creating and maintaining personal power within a society. The 33 Strategies of War expanded upon The 48 Laws with tools with which one could fight a war effectively, as part of acquiring power. The Art of Seduction allowed students to learn how to influence others, and The 50th Law learned of the virtues of living fearlessly; of feeling fear, but learning to control how one would respond to that fear.

Mastery, on the other hand, focuses on oneself. The reader, and our capacity for mastery of a chosen field.

Mastery Through Practice

Mastery is about how one can progress in a given field, from newbie to Master, in three stages. All that is needed for each stage is time and practice.

The book describes how humans evolved to develop the levels of abstract thinking required to achieve mastery in a field of endeavour or skill set, through repeated practice and rapid learning. The process maps to three stages, each of which is covered in its own part, the book itself being divided into six chapters.

The Chapters Of Mastery

The Introduction to Mastery, the equivalent of a Preface in the other books, breaks the mould, in that it too is broken up into sections.

The Ultimate Power defines mastery, outlines the three phases, from newbie to Apprentice to Adept to Master.

The Evolution Of Mastery looks at how human brains evolved the ability to detach and focus which is vital to developing mastery, along with our development of social intelligence.

Keys To Mastery follows Charles Darwin, using his example to highlight the traits of all great Masters, our uniqueness and primal inclinations. With the political barriers to mastery crumbling, the potential to become a genius is within our grasp; but in the modern world, as with the concepts of power and seduction, the concept of mastery is denigrated. Mastery is something that should be desired, and this chapter warns of the danger of passivity.

Each of the following sections, Parts I through VI, outlines a part of the process of mastery. Each section has an opening essay featuring the story of a Master, such as Charles Darwin, Benjamin Franklin or Leonardo daVinci. This is followed by the Keys To Mastery section which is present in every chapter of this book. There then follows a list of Strategies – just like the strategies in The 33 Strategies of War – and a Reversal. In the Strategies and Reversal sections, there is an essay relating to the development of geniuses from the historical (Einstein, Mozart, daVinci, R Buckminster Fuller and even Edison) to contemporary Masters such as V.S. Ramachandran, Yoky Matsuoka and Temple Grandin.

Part I

Part I is titled Discover Your Calling: The Life’s Task.

“The first move toward mastery is always inward — learning who you really are and reconnecting with that innate force. Knowing it with clarity, you will find your way to the proper career path and everything else will fall into place. It is never too late to start this process.”

The Hidden Force features the story of Leonardo da Vinci as he neared his end.

Keys To Mastery gives examples of Masters guided by a sense of destiny to choose a vocation, find a niche, begin questing for accomplishment and find out who they really are, along with an outline allowing the reader to apply oneself to discovering one’s own Life’s Task and begin their own quest.

Strategies For Finding Your Life’s Task lists five strategies, along with those Masters whose example highlights each Strategy.
1. Return to your origins—The primal inclination strategy
2. Occupy the perfect niche—The Darwinian strategy
3. Avoid the false path—The rebellion strategy
4. Let go of the past—The adaptation strategy
5. Find your way back—The life-or-death strategy

The Reversal features Temple Grandin.

Part II

Part II is titled Submit To Reality: The Ideal Apprenticeship.
“After your formal education, you enter the most critical phase in your life—a second, practical education known as The Apprenticeship.”

This section outlines the learning process through which you will master the necessary skills, discipline your mind, and transform yourself into an independent thinker, prepared for the creative challenges on the way to mastery.

Charles Darwin’s story continues in The First Transformation.

Keys To Mastery defines the ideal Apprenticeship, whose goal is self-transformation. In the Apprenticeship phase there are three modes: a passive Mode of Deep Observation; a practice Mode of Skills Acquisition; and an active Mode of Experimentation.

Strategies For Completing The Ideal Apprenticeship outlines eight Strategies.
1. Value learning over money
2. Keep expanding your horizons
3. Revert to a feeling of inferiority
4. Trust the process
5. Move toward resistance and pain
6. Apprentice yourself in failure
7. Combine the “how” and the “what”
8. Advance through trial and error

The Reversal features the lives of Mozart and Einstein.

Part III

Part III, still in the Apprenticeship phase, is titled Absorb The Master’s Power: The Mentor Dynamic.
“Life is short, and your time for learning and creativity is limited. Without any guidance, you can waste valuable years trying to gain knowledge and practice from various sources.
Instead, you must follow the example set by Masters throughout the ages and find the proper mentor … Your goal is always to surpass your mentors in mastery and brilliance.”

Michael Faraday is the Master featured in the essay The Alchemy Of Knowledge.

Keys To Mastery reveals the importance of humility, the value of mentors, the mentor-protégé dynamic, the value of personal interaction, finding and attracting a mentor, and when to cut the Master. Among the example Masters covered in this part are Alexander the Great, and this section compares learning to a process which can only be described as Alchemy.

Strategies For Deepening The Mentor Relationship reveals the four Strategies for understanding this part.
1. Choose the mentor according to your needs and inclinations
2. Gaze deep into the mentor’s mirror
3. Transfigure their ideas
4. Create a back-and-forth dynamic

Thomas Edison is the subject of the Reversal. Well, he would be.

Part IV

Part IV, titled See People As They Are: Social Intelligence, is rumoured to be the topic of what could be Robert Greene’s future Sixth Book, in which he expands this entire chapter into a single volume.
“Often the greatest obstacle to our pursuit of mastery comes from the emotional drain we experience in dealing with the resistance and manipulations of the people around us. We misread their intentions and react in ways that cause confusion or conflict. Social intelligence is the ability to see people in the most realistic light possible. Navigating smoothly through the social environment, we have more time and energy to focus on learning and acquiring skills. Success attained without this intelligence is not true mastery, and will not last.”

This is the Benjamin Franklin chapter, beginning with the essay Thinking Inside.

Keys To Mastery reminds us that humans are social animals, and that we learn as much from being able to read others as we can learn from more abstract sources such as books. Nonverbal communication, paying attention to cues, looking for common emotional experiences, reading people intuitively, looking for patterns and the danger of first impressions comes in here.

General Knowledge—The Seven Deadly Realities cautions against the bad habits which cloud our ability to use our social intelligence effectively. These are Envy, Conformism, Rigidity, Self-obsessiveness, Laziness, Flightiness, and Passive Aggression.

An essay follows, linking Social intelligence and creativity.

Strategies For Acquiring Social Intelligence reveals that the four Strategies are:-
1. Speak through your work
2. Craft the appropriate persona
3. See yourself as others see you
4. Suffer fools gladly

The Reversal features Paul Graham.
Part V, Awaken The Dimensional Mind: The Creative-Active, shows what happens when one moves on past Apprenticeship to Adept.
“As you accumulate more skills and internalize the rules that govern your field, your mind will want to become more active, seeking to use this knowledge in ways that are more suited to your inclinations. Instead of feeling complacent about what you know, you must expand your knowledge to related fields, giving your mind fuel to make new associations between different ideas. In the end, you will turn against the very rules you have internalized, shaping and reforming them to suit your spirit. Such originality will bring you to the heights of power.”

Keys To Mastery brings back Mozart, and outlines three essential steps:-
Step One: The Creative Task
Step Two: Creative Strategies
Step Three: The Creative Breakthrough—Tension and Insight
This part lists the emotional pitfalls of Complacency, Conservatism, Dependency, Impatience, Grandiosity, and Inflexibility.

The nine Strategies For The Creative-Active Phase are:-

1. The Authentic Voice
2. The Fact of Great Yield
3. Mechanical Intelligence
4. Natural Powers
5. The Open Field
6. The High End
7. The Evolutionary Hijack
8. Dimensional Thinking
9. Alchemical Creativity and the Unconscious

John Coltrane and August Strindberg are the topics of the Reversal.

Part VI

With Part VI, Fuse The Intuitive With The Rational: Mastery, we finally reach the peak; the goal of all those hours of work and practice.
“All of us have access to a higher form of intelligence, one that can allow us to see more of the world, to anticipate trends, to respond with speed and accuracy to any circumstance.
This intelligence is cultivated by deeply immersing ourselves in a field of study and staying true to our inclinations, no matter how unconventional our approach might seem to
others. This power is what our brains were designed to attain, and we will be naturally led to this type of intelligence if we follow our inclinations to their ultimate ends.”

Marcel Proust is the topic of the essay, The Third Transformation.

Keys To Mastery describes “the fingertip feel,” high-level intuition and fusion with the rational and the intuitive, The Roots of Masterly Intuition, mnemonic networks in the brain, engaging with complexity, and a subtitle called The Return to Reality.

There are seven Strategies For Attaining Mastery:-
1. Connect to your environment—Primal Powers
2. Play to your strengths—Supreme Focus
3. Transform yourself through practice—The Fingertip Feel
4. Internalize the details—The Life Force
5. Widen your vision—The Global Perspective
6. Submit to the other—The Inside-out Perspective
7. Synthesize all forms of knowledge—The Universal Man/Woman

The Reversal looks at the denial of Mastery in itself, a false self which has no place in the reader’s mind; a self which falsely asserts that mastery is for others, not for oneself; or that it is somehow vulgar or immoral even to want to be a Master. The true self, the one which does not use cliches or parrot what others have said, is your proper guide; and by showing its reverse, this section shows you, the reader, what the voice of your own guide to Mastery is actually saying you – using words which only you, the reader, can ever know, because your inner Master speaks only words meant for you.


As has been stated, Mastery may be physically smaller than The 48 Laws of Power, but it is a far, far more complex, layered book than any of the previous volumes. Each of the other three books can either be read linearly, as in the case of The 48 Laws of Power, or mined at random for inspiration, such as the Seducer Archetypes in The Art of Seduction.

In contrast, Mastery demands reading from the beginning; and, like the process of Mastery itself, this book demands your time and effort to understand it. The whole book, from the opening lines to the Strategies to the biographies of contemporary Masters at the back, is not only a guide to understanding what Mastery is; it is also a guide to allow you, the reader, the opportunity to open yourself up to the possibility of discovering your latest Life’s Task (in a long life, you have the potential to master many skills) and using the techniques and Strategies of each stage of self-development to accelerate your own rise to mastery of whatever you are best at.

The Sixth Book?

So far, Robert has developed five books. Mastery, his fifth, came out in 2012. We are overdue a sixth book from Robert Greene. But then again, we are also overdue another Yellowstone supervolcano eruption. The Sixth Book, which is one of the most eagerly-anticipated works since the seventh Harry Potter book among Greene aficionados, is reported to be a full expansion of Part IV of this book, developing the section on Social Intelligence into a full-scale look at Human Nature. And once it is on the bookshelves, there will be an article here providing an initial review of its contents.