In-house lawyers have perhaps the most political jobs in modern business. Nestled at the heart of the company, they are often closest to the power centre. Because of this, much of their time is spent trying to reconcile the art of the impossible with the science of the improbable, while working for the generally incapable.
A good guide to the muddy waters of modern management is, therefore, greatly needed. The 48 Laws of Power is more a self-help book than a management guide, but a self-help book with a twist. Rather than provide strategies to help you be a more rounded member of your team or give you that extra lift to help you cope with the strains of the cyber age, this book is aimed at the modern-day Machiavel.
The 48 Laws of Power is a fairly innocuous title. It could be better named The Little Book of Back-Stabbing, Men are from Hades, Women are from Hell or Shark Soup for the Soul.
The book is a gift to those of you who cannot be bothered to read the Art of War, The Prince or wade through the biographies of Cromwell, Napoleon or Stalin. You get an almost delicious delight in reading chapters titled "Get others to do the work for you, but always take the credit", "Use absence to increase your respect and honour" and "Crush your enemy totally".
But by the 23rd law your pleasure starts to wane as your growing sense of unease tells you that you are relishing this a little too much.
By the 36th law, you start to feel unclean and worried about your own morality. By the 44th, you have accepted the fact that you are basically immoral and so is the world. By the time you reach number 48 you are saying: "Right, who is my first victim?"
The greatest value in the book is that it does advise prudence and caution in dealing with those in authority and like its more folksy self-help cousins it can be useful in times of stress. Some recommendations are useful queues for dealing with powerful people, obvious in their simplicity – "Never outshine the master" and "Always say less than necessary". But as guides to action, they are, thankfully, useless.
The underlying irony in this is that even the much-maligned Niccolo Machiavelli was not a Machiavel. He had a strong ethical belief that the pursuit of power should not be merely for the self-aggrandisement of The Prince, but in the interests of civic virtue – however, that would probably make a very boring book.