A sensible, practical guide to understanding and using personal power.



A professor at the Stanford Graduate School of Business considers power in the workplace and beyond.

Gruenfeld, a social psychologist, teaches a course that shares a title with her first book. Its premise is that trying out roles of either high or low status—e.g., in plays like David Mamet's Glengarry Glen Ross or Caryl Churchill's Top Girls—can help us understand our own complicated feelings about power. While the book doesn’t offer the exercises explored by the author's students, it does provide an in-depth examination of the ways we all, consciously or unconsciously, “play high or low” (terms that are more common in a theatrical setting) in our everyday life. Gruenfeld then provides useful ways to break out of our ruts. For the author, power is as much about connection as control, and it's morally neutral, capable of either good or evil effects depending on the players involved and their goals. Using examples drawn from politics, business, and personal life, Gruenfeld suggests ways in which power can be used for the greater good as well as techniques for avoiding becoming a victim of misused power. Perhaps her most original contribution is a chapter on the strategic value, at least on occasion, of “the art and science of playing power down.” As she writes, “like playing power up, playing it down is an act, designed to make us appear less intimidating, less capable of winning a fight, and less ruthless than we might actually be. But this doesn’t mean it isn’t truthful.” The author also offers ways to behave as a “supporting actor” and to avoid becoming a simple “bystander” when the balance of power needs to be shifted. Though the points Gruenfeld has to make don't easily stretch to book length, leading to a certain amount of repetition, she does articulate a reasonable analysis of power and how our understanding of it might be broadened.

A sensible, practical guide to understanding and using personal power.

Pub Date: April 7, 2020

ISBN: 978-1-101-90395-7

Page Count: 336

Publisher: Currency

Review Posted Online: Jan. 26, 2020

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Feb. 15, 2020

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If the authors are serious, this is a silly, distasteful book. If they are not, it’s a brilliant satire.


The authors have created a sort of anti-Book of Virtues in this encyclopedic compendium of the ways and means of power.

Everyone wants power and everyone is in a constant duplicitous game to gain more power at the expense of others, according to Greene, a screenwriter and former editor at Esquire (Elffers, a book packager, designed the volume, with its attractive marginalia). We live today as courtiers once did in royal courts: we must appear civil while attempting to crush all those around us. This power game can be played well or poorly, and in these 48 laws culled from the history and wisdom of the world’s greatest power players are the rules that must be followed to win. These laws boil down to being as ruthless, selfish, manipulative, and deceitful as possible. Each law, however, gets its own chapter: “Conceal Your Intentions,” “Always Say Less Than Necessary,” “Pose as a Friend, Work as a Spy,” and so on. Each chapter is conveniently broken down into sections on what happened to those who transgressed or observed the particular law, the key elements in this law, and ways to defensively reverse this law when it’s used against you. Quotations in the margins amplify the lesson being taught. While compelling in the way an auto accident might be, the book is simply nonsense. Rules often contradict each other. We are told, for instance, to “be conspicuous at all cost,” then told to “behave like others.” More seriously, Greene never really defines “power,” and he merely asserts, rather than offers evidence for, the Hobbesian world of all against all in which he insists we live. The world may be like this at times, but often it isn’t. To ask why this is so would be a far more useful project.

If the authors are serious, this is a silly, distasteful book. If they are not, it’s a brilliant satire.

Pub Date: Sept. 1, 1998

ISBN: 0-670-88146-5

Page Count: 430

Publisher: Viking

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: July 15, 1998

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Striking research showing the immense complexity of ordinary thought and revealing the identities of the gatekeepers in our...


A psychologist and Nobel Prize winner summarizes and synthesizes the recent decades of research on intuition and systematic thinking.

The author of several scholarly texts, Kahneman (Emeritus Psychology and Public Affairs/Princeton Univ.) now offers general readers not just the findings of psychological research but also a better understanding of how research questions arise and how scholars systematically frame and answer them. He begins with the distinction between System 1 and System 2 mental operations, the former referring to quick, automatic thought, the latter to more effortful, overt thinking. We rely heavily, writes, on System 1, resorting to the higher-energy System 2 only when we need or want to. Kahneman continually refers to System 2 as “lazy”: We don’t want to think rigorously about something. The author then explores the nuances of our two-system minds, showing how they perform in various situations. Psychological experiments have repeatedly revealed that our intuitions are generally wrong, that our assessments are based on biases and that our System 1 hates doubt and despises ambiguity. Kahneman largely avoids jargon; when he does use some (“heuristics,” for example), he argues that such terms really ought to join our everyday vocabulary. He reviews many fundamental concepts in psychology and statistics (regression to the mean, the narrative fallacy, the optimistic bias), showing how they relate to his overall concerns about how we think and why we make the decisions that we do. Some of the later chapters (dealing with risk-taking and statistics and probabilities) are denser than others (some readers may resent such demands on System 2!), but the passages that deal with the economic and political implications of the research are gripping.

Striking research showing the immense complexity of ordinary thought and revealing the identities of the gatekeepers in our minds.

Pub Date: Nov. 1, 2011

ISBN: 978-0-374-27563-1

Page Count: 512

Publisher: Farrar, Straus and Giroux

Review Posted Online: Sept. 4, 2011

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Sept. 15, 2011

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