Are you looking for the best books on power?
You have come to the right place.
This website is dedicated to power dynamics, and this is a complete reading list of the very best books and resources to understand power in all its aspects.
- 17. The Prince
- 16. Don’t Think of An Elephant
- 15. Why Does He Do That?
- 14. In Sheep’s Clothing
- 13. Influence
- 12. Career University
- 11. How to Lie With Statistics
- 10. No Logo
- 9. Secrets of Power Negotiating
- 8. 48 Laws of Power
- 7. The Psychology of Leadership
- 6. The Art of Seduction
- 5. Dating Power Dynamics
- 4. The Wisdom of Psychopaths
- 3. The Selfish Gene
- 2. Underboss
- 1. Power University
17. The Prince
By N. Machiavelli
Summary | Amazon
The Godfather of all power books.
It’s last in the order as it’s aged a bit, but also commands the top position of this power-list.
Machiavelli was the first to write about realpolitik, and centuries later, it’s still an eye-opener for generations of (previously) naive folks.
- The Dictator’s Handbook: the modern handbook for maintaining power as a despot, based on data and great wisdom
For many politicians and leaders, power is something to hold on to at any cost with a web of lies, manipulation and, if necessary, fear.
Quote: A good person is ruined among the great numbers who are not good
16. Don’t Think of An Elephant
Have you ever head this quote:
The biggest trick the devil pulled was to make people vote against their own self-interest.
I just made it up.
But how could you otherwise explain that Warren Buffet’s secretary pays more taxes than his own boss, one of the richest men in the world?
Well, we’re not going to attempt an answer here.
Because George Lakoff does it in one of the best books on framing, reframing and political persuasion (or manipulation, if you prefer).
Not only for the political discourse to which it’s tailored, but for the general influencing of the masses as well.
Caveat: this one is extremely partisan (liberal).
Facts do matter, but only if morally framed.
But you better latch onto an existing one, or have the means to create a new one, because the latter takes plenty of repetition.
Quote: People do not necessarily vote in their self-interest. They vote their identity. They vote their values. They vote for who they identify with.
15. Why Does He Do That?
Controlling people are all about power.
This book will help you understand the psychology of controllers and abusers, but also of men in relationships in general.
Evolutionary psychology indeed is clear: mate guarding can pay off. So here is the best-kept secret in the world: most men have controlling tendencies.
But, of course, they greatly differ in intensity, as well as to which strategies they use for control (value-adding, or value-taking?).
See this video for an example of the latter:
So if women want to defend themselves, they better learn the psychology of abusive men.
And if men want to become high-quality leaders of their relationship, they must approach their controlling nature from a value-giving perspective.
- Power dynamics in intimate relationships: an overview of how power shifts within relationships
Controllers seek total power over their partners because they see them as an extension of themselves.
Any sign of independence is an affront to their power and a threat to themselves and the relationship.
14. In Sheep’s Clothing
Another crucial book both for power and for this website.
Simons differentiates between “fighting”, which is normal and we all do, and “fighting unfair”, which is what manipulative and aggressive individuals do.
Covert aggression and micro-aggressions are probably the most widespread use of aggression and the most common mean with which people seek power.
I have to say that Simons is also one of the most astute observers of human nature and the only one who realized this important rule of manipulators and power-hungry individuals:
Manipulators and power-hungry individuals don’t internalize social rules because obeying social rules is the equivalent of submission.
And they cannot stand submission.
Also on the manipulators:
- Who’s Pulling Your Strings: possibly the best book on manipulation
- Evil: highly academic, but the best overview on “evil”
Individuals who are out to win and dominate have very clear priorities: winning and dominating.
They sometimes have impaired conscience as well, so don’t be the sucker who expects allegiance and support.
Their bonds are temporary and they will throw you as soon as you’re not useful anymore (see Michael Cohen, first-order sucker to Trump).
Quote: Power by itself doesn’t have the ability to corrupt a person’s character.
It’s the character flaws already present in people’s character that lead people to pursue power and abuse it once they have it.
The ability to influence and persuade is power.
I picked Cialdini not because it’s a classic, but because it’s very good.
I can recommend Pre-Suasion from the same author, Methods of Persuasion, and all these best persuasion books here.
And since you’re here, learn some sales techniques (from Brian Tracy and Tony Robbins for example).
Salesmen and persuaders of any kind all use similar triggers.
Learn what they are so that you can stop being buffeted left and right, possibly against your best interest (and maybe you can start doing some influencing yourself, instead).
Quote: Where all think alike, nobody thinks very much
12. Career University
It summarizes the best research, books, and personal wisdom when it comes to workplace politics and workplace power dynamics.
Companies don’t care about employees.
They care about employees’ output.
Employment is a contract based on pure transactional values, ethics and morality are excluded.
Quote: You can’t get inside someone else’s head until you get out of your own
11. How to Lie With Statistics
by D. Huff
Knowledge is power.
Especially if you can make your statements sound unassailable.
And what a better way to do it than with data and science?
Our society reveres science!
And that’s why we should all learn how easily science can lend itself to manipulation.
Not juts manipulation by the way, but also:
- Mistakes (see “Replication Crisis“)
- Bastardization (see “Self-Help Myths” and “Pop-Psychology Myths“)
- Made up theories (evolutionary psychology is a darling for it lends itself really well to all kinds of speculations)
And, of course:
- Political movements of any sorts (see nazism and all kinds of utopian societies backed by “science” and which, conveniently, benefit the ones in power)
- Dark psychology: an overview of how psychology is used for manipulating, winning, and acquiring power
- Best books on manipulation: a list of the best resources to learn about manipulation
- Trust Me I’m Lying: the confessions of a media manipulator. Says the author: “if you want PR, sell the media the trash news that helps them sell”.
As an antidote, read:
Numbers, as much as science, can be manipulated to support almost any argument you want to make.
And it carries a big manipulative punch for being “data-driven” and “scientific” (you know as they say… Numbers don’t lie).
Quote: A well-wrapped statistic is better than Hitler’s “big lie” it misleads, yet it cannot be pinned on you.
10. No Logo
I still can’t fathom how underappreciated this pearl is.
Or, sometimes, how over-hyped it’s been.
Actually, I know why: “No Logo” presented itself as the theoretical and intellectual foundation of the anti-globalization movement.
And of course, it’s been later usurped by the left and radical left as their own manifesto (I know that well as a protesting, “no global”, clueless teenager with a dyed faux-hawk whom, of course, hadn’t even read the book).
However, let’s look at the ideas independently of politics.
And “No Logo” is the best book I have ever read to describe and explain the immense power and influence that brands and marketing exert on the psyches of easily impressionable minds.
Brands are the new myths.
And they become a conduit for self-actualization and to advertise one’s own personality to the world.
And who cares if they cost more?
People are very willing to shell out 10x the value of a product to express and defend “who they are” (see Family Guy brilliantly spoofing this phenomenon).
Later on Simon Sinek will further develop this theory with his “Start With WHY“, another highly recommended read.
The capitalistic ethos of “freedom of choice” masks the true and almost boundless manipulative power of the best marketing and brands.
No Logo not only helps you understand the power of marketing and brands, but also to free yourself from their yoke.
9. Secrets of Power Negotiating
The power dynamics at the negotiation table can make you rich.
And that’s why you better learn the power moves of the best negotiators.
Lest you are going to pay them to teach you in real time: with the money you leave on the table during the negotiation.
This is by far the best book on power negotiation techniques.
Don’t negotiate anything worthwhile before learning the tricks of the trade (and the power dynamics of negotiations).
Quote: “If we can do that for you, what can you do for us”
8. 48 Laws of Power
Here’s a book that doesn’t need any intro.
The net effect of “The 48 Laws of Power” has probably been to make those who crave power to have even less of it.
Because to get the book it’s crucial that readers are able to contextualize the laws within a deeper understanding of social dynamics and power dynamics.
Without basics of social skills and emotional intelligence “The 48 Laws of Power” doesn’t add much value.
And without context the laws by themselves are meaningless.
Funny stories and power anecdotes at best and, at worst, confusing and counterproductive.
Here is an example of a question that I got asked more than once:
And here is an example of someone without basic social skills who’s probably behaving like an awkward weirdo (mis)applying the “laws” out of context:
That being said, for those who have a sufficiently developed social and emotional intelligence, “The 48 Laws of Power” is the modern day “The Prince”.
Also equally good from Greene is “33 Strategies of War“. I liked this one even more actually, but it applies more to war, and less to
Self-interest is the currency that makes the world go around
Appeal to self-interest is one of the most significant -and easily forgotten- laws (see freeloaders-approaches).
You can switch to intrinsic motivation once you have the leverage (see “Drive“), but on first approach best to focus on self-interest (see “WIIFM“and “laws of social exchanges“).
Quote: Powerful people impress and intimidate by saying less.
7. The Psychology of Leadership
Leadership is power.
And true power requires leadership and influence over others.
And “The Psychology of Leadership” is the best book on leadership, bar none.
All other leadership books look like children’s books in comparison.
However, similar to “I’m OK – You’re OK“, this is a very heavy rad.
So to apply this information, see:
- How to be a leader: distilling the best lessons for practical use cases
- Judge power dynamics: same as above, with the book “I’m OK – You’re OK”. Power nugget: When you’re dependent on someone’s approval, they have power over you. Even overreacting and getting violent often underlies an emotional dependency and, thus, a subordinate child role in the relationship.
Persuasive leaders are not different or special like most people think.
To be accepted, influential and persuasive, leaders must first of all be prototypically similar to the people they lead.
Quote: Just as politics is too important to leave only to politicians, so too leadership is far too important a matter to be left only to leaders.
6. The Art of Seduction
Greene again, for the third time.
How not surprising, eh? 🙂
To me, “The Art of Seduction” is his best work, and it’s also the only book on seduction of this list.
In spite of not being the best when it comes to seduction efficiency in the modern world, it’s a great book to understand how sexuality can help accruing power.
“The Art of Seduction” is the deepest treaty on seduction psychology -including dark psychology– I have ever read.
But it’s not just sleeping around.
This one goes further deep into “social seduction”, being helpful to social charmers as well.
“Being yourself”, vulnerabilities and all, is for contract-style partnerships.
True seduction is about fantasy and idealization.
Quote: Your greatest power in seduction is your ability to turn away, to make others come after you, delaying their satisfaction
5. Dating Power Dynamics
If you want to learn the power dynamics between sexes when it comes to dating and mating, this is your book.
- Each gender has been evolutionary programmed to swindle the opposite sex based on what the opposite sex wants the most.
That’s why women spend more time wearing makeup: because men value beauty. And that’s why men spend more money on cars and watches and are more likely to lie about their jobs: because women want successful men.
2. each gender has been evolutionary programmed to force or cajole the opposite sex to provide what they need the most
That’s why women are so good at controlling relationships: to secure his resources.
And that’s why it’s mostly men who hide their mates: from a genetic point of view, faithfulness is more important to men.
Quote: By learning the darker side of human nature, we can all create more light.
For ourselves, for our partners, and for the world.
4. The Wisdom of Psychopaths
Consider this #3 position as the “psychopaths’ pack”.
But first, let’s address the obvious controversy.
How can you say we should learn from psychopaths?
So just follow me for a second:
- Question: Who should you learn power from?
- Answer: Doesn’t it make sense to learn power, dominance, and manipulation from those who live for power and see everyone as pawns to manipulated for pleasure and selfish ends?
It does make sense, right?
And as Dutton explains, psychopaths aren’t all serial killers like some (ignorant) folks imagine.
Some psychopaths are functioning members of society, and some of them are very good at reaching the top of society (and if you hadn’t noticed, Trump has many traits of a sociopath).
Enter, the literature on sociopathy and psychopathy.
There is a lot to learn here.
Especially when it comes to power, Machiaveliannism, and games people play.
But we don’t want you to become an antisocial deviant who takes value away from others, so also from Dutton check out:
And also good on psychopath mindsets:
- The Psychopath’s Whisperer: goes into some interest prison power dynamics and games
- Emotional Vampires: how different personality disorders take value while seeking power and attention
- Psychopath Free: unscientific, but a great first-hand account of how some psychopaths (emotionally) victimize their relationship partner
- Confessions of a Sociopath: an actual sociopath shares the mindsets, attitudes and games of those who seek power without conscience to stop them
Mild levels of psychopathy can be helpful in life. And you can learn how to use and leverage certain psychopathic traits to more easily achieve success in life
Quote: There are two things that rises at the top: the cream, and the scum.
3. The Selfish Gene
Unexpected entry, right?
If you are surprised, you haven’t yet developed a holistic mindset around power.
Power permeates all facets of life, both on the outside and within us.
And of course, it runs much deeper than our conscious mind, too.
“The Selfish Gene” operates at that deeper level of power that most people miss out on.
“The Selfish Gene”, here as a representative of the evolutionary psychology, explains how our genes can have us on a rail system.
We can barely budge that they get us back on course.
But here is the potential issue with it: it’s their course.
Your genes have shaped our drives and urges not for us, but for themselves.
And until we learn what that programming is, the selfish genes have total power over us.
But if you learn about the selfish gene’s programming, you can understand where that railing system takes and, if you don’t like it, change it or transcend it.
And that’s the first step to gaining power over ourselves and our world.
The Selfish Gene is about power of choice.
Understanding our evolutionary psychology is also the foundation of any self-development effort.
Any improvement must start with self-awareness, and that begins with our innate programming.
Your selfish genes have a program in store for you.
And you may or may not agree with that program. But sure as hell, it wasn’t designed to make you happy or fulfilled. As a matter of fact, it wasn’t even designed with your best interest in mind.
The only way to upset that program and gaining a foothold of power over yourself (and the world around) is to understand what that program is all about.
Quote: Let us understand what our own selfish genes are up to, because we may then at least have the chance to upset their designs, something that no other species has ever aspired to do.
By Peter Maas
Another unexpected book on this list.
Why here, why so high?
Because it’s one thing it’s to read about theories and strategies, and it’s a very different thing to read how power strategies are applied in real-life, and what their results are.
And this book is all about power and strategies.
As Sammy Gravano said on his interview with Diane Syawer:
We played chess. And he lost.Salvatore Gravano
That “chess game” was a game for money, fame, power… And one’s own life.
About the main protagonist, well… Some people say Gravano is a stone-cold killer, and a psychopath.
I can’t make a diagnosis, and he’s not a guy to role-model.
But he’s definitely a guy to learn from.
He’s obviously power-driven, ruthless, and also smart and Machiavellian.
Now put a guy like that in an organization, the mafia, that is all about power and Machiavellianism, and you get a gem of a book to learn about power dynamics and strategies -as well fatal mistakes you better avoid-.
This is all rather extreme, of course.
Most people reading here aren’t going to be joining the mafia. But what works and doesn’t work in extreme environments is often the same of what works and doesn’t work in more everyday situations, just more obvious, and with graver consequences.
Thus, extreme environments can provide great learning opportunities.
To learn from “Underboss” you sometimes need to read between the lines to understand the dynamics, strategies, and mistakes. So it’s more for advanced folks. But the review on this website can help you in that direction.
Quote: “I’ll talk to Zuvito”, said my father. “Zuvito?” I think. “Old man Zuvito? What good’s he? He’s a frail little old guy. I’m a kid, I’m with a gang, my thing is to fight with fits. I don’t know Cosa Nostra. But that really opened my appetite to know more about Zuvito, what made him so feared. Boy, I thought, wasn’t it something to be that physically unimposing and still have that kind of power?
1. Power University
by L. Buffalmano
Power University is this website’s flagship course.
And albeit I’m not a big fan of plugging, this was a case of “either I put here, and at N.1, or I’d lie”.
At least, I’d lie to myself because I believe that not it belongs here.
Power University contains all the best information from all the books in here, and many more (plus researches, video analyses, examples, and author’s own insights).
The more academically-oriented might not enjoy: Power University is real-life power and more practically-oriented.
Those who seek a short format, or a pleasant read before bedtime might also be disappointed.
The lessons average 2.500 words and have a mix of videos, text, dialogues and quizzes.
This is to train you for life, not to pass time.
On the other hand, those who make it through the month will understand how to accrue and keep power better than 99% of people ever will.
It also includes a meta-summary of all the best self-development books to curate the mindsets and mental aspects of power (Ultimate Power), while Dating Power Dynamics is a spin-off of the dating module in ebook format.
Quote: The difference between power and abuse is in your moral compass.
Note on Financial Power
Money is power.
There are no doubts about that.
My favorite book on the power of money though equates money with freedom, and it’s “The 4 Hour Workweek“.
Ferris also provides readers with something equally valuable: a perspective with which to break free of the 9-to-5, as well as the hedonic treadmill.
Money indeed is a double-edged sword: it can free you. But it can also enslave you. As a friend of mine used to say “what you own, can end up owning you”.
Except for that book, I don’t find any title in the personal finance literature to be good enough to make it into this list.
They’re all too basics, mostly centered around the idea of “spend less than you earn and invest the difference (true) and the stock market will always go up anyway (not true).
And you don’t need a heavily padded book for that.
Note on Absentees
You might notice that some popular classics are missing.
Simple: as for all my other lists and products, this “best books on power list” prioritizes utility, not “fame”.
- “How to Win Friends” is basic social skills, and some of the suggestions don’t always apply to powerful people.
- “Propaganda” was groundbreaking for his time, but today it’s misleading. And let’s be honest, do you think that after a century of social research you can’t find more factual and scientific information?
- Games People Play concerns the tactical level games.
Like “The 48 Laws of Power” it makes for a fun reading, it sells well, and it has plenty of wisdom.
But the tactical level is only really useful if you are able to contextualize it within the larger context of social dynamics, power dynamics, and people’s innate drives and psychology.
And finally, with “Meditations“, “Mindset“, and similar books we would have gone too much into the self-development arena, which is yes important, but it’s also too off-topic for a book list on power.
Also, all the best self-development information is summarized in “Ultimate Power”, which is part of the bonus material of “Power University”. So it’s also included in the #1. entry on this list.
What Do You Think?
I have long thought about this list.
As I mulled it over I added some titles and then removed some more.
I wanted it to be comprehensive, but also not crazy long otherwise you’d lose the point of a “best of” list.
What do you think?
Do let me know in the comments or in the forum.
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