How does a geeky white guy parlay his degree in classical studies into a role as corporate consigliere and hip-hop insider? Robert Greene's The 48 Laws of Power became a cult hit in the rap and business worlds, lending wisdom (or its trappings) to strategists from the street to the Street. The Art of Seduction and The 33 Strategies of War, also based on the works of great minds (think Ovid, Sun Tzu), sealed his rep as the millennial Machiavelli. Next on the agenda: an excursion into the hustler mentality, co-authored with 50 Cent.
Are these how-to-be-a-jerk manuals?
A lot of people come to my books because they don't know how to be tough, and I've really helped them.
What's the craziest success story?
This guy in Riker's Island e-mailed me to say he basically used the book to take over cell block B.
You've had 80 jobs. Has that helped?
I was a tour guide in Wisconsin, a construction worker in Greece, a screenwriter in Hollywood. I saw how universal things were. And I've had a lot of bad jobs, which helped me empathize with the underdog and made 48 Laws more than just a book for the CEO who wants to screw people.
What do you do for executives?
I'm like the imported Machiavelli who can say, "This person may be sabotaging you." A friend got a job at a corrupt company that he wanted to reform. I told him, "Slow it down, make alliances. I think you're being set up." He didn't listen and after a year they fired him.
Do you want to consult more?
A huge part of my readership is younger, and they will be getting into positions of power. They're gonna come to me at some point. I'm intrigued by consulting because it's real life. I'm helping 50 Cent deal with beef he's having with another rapper. It's exciting. But then I've got to have my literary side.
You've said you'd like to be the Democratic Karl Rove.
People on the left are just too moral and righteous. Learn how to win an election and learn how to play the game of power! It's like a Greek tragedy. If only I could have gotten John Kerry on the phone.
Did you use your seduction techniques on your girlfriend?
I did, and she's comfortable with that. I like people who can be playful about the shadow side of human nature.
Would you ever write a book about genuine trust?
The sweet, nice side of human nature is real, and I love it, but it doesn't interest me as a subject matter. I'm sorry.
Does your reputation confine you?
Sometimes women immediately think I'm trying to seduce them. Or I'm 10 minutes late and people think it was a power move. I can't help that. That's my own fault.