Reviewed in the United States on September 8, 2019
This is going to be a long review, so don’t bother reading unless you want a real verdict.
The first thing you might have noticed when fixing your gaze on my post is the attached image. I’d like to point out that this book did in fact come in good physical condition. As a matter of fact, the reason I post my book, with the gold-colored lettering faded and the pages tattered, is to demonstrate just how interesting it is, whether you agree with the message, or tone, or not. I just finished this book this morning, and I do tend to juggle two or three books at a time, but what I noticed I did with this book was something unique to my usual reading habits; I took this book nearly everywhere. Anywhere I went in which I expected a period of time to sit idly, I bought this book. Almost always bought to work with me (even if it sat in my car and I didn’t read it on break every time, I wanted to know it was there in case I wanted to read it), to the mechanic if I was sitting around for a lengthy fix, when I was still in college, I would read it on breaks between classes. I will say this to start - this book is engaging. The subject matter is fascinating and Greene does do it a service by going in depth, which as I’ll reveal at the end of this review, is also the book’s greatest weakness.
Now, as for the subject matter and tone, let me address this in as blunt a manner as I possibly can. I am certainly not a postmodernist progressive, this is the framework I imagine this kind of cynical Machiavellian utilitarianism comes from, the “ends justify the means” school of thought is the dominant idealogocial lens here. Some may be uncomfortable with it, and I don’t blame them. We live in a [mostly] civilized world, and if we were all certain everyone was a scheming sociopath, our world would be in even greater bedlam than it already is. I’m a rather conservative man, I believe in some degree of honesty, and morality. I’m also a hedonist when it comes to consensual erotic pursuits. I enjoy dabbling in degeneracy, if it adds any veneer of legitimacy to my words when discussing such a potentially subversive topic, and especially in the way Greene does. That said, as some other reviews have mentioned, I believe this book has SOME universal truth to it, but as a whole seduction is not the only truth of our capacity to love and interact with others. Notice how a large portion (I can’t be bothered to tally them all up and give you an exact percentage but I’m confident it would be greater than 50%) of the accounts given as examples are from 18th and 19th century France, be they historical or literary, and of a specific social class. The nobility was the embodiment of the kind of spoiled celebrity culture we have today in the form of something like TMZ, with the sons and daughters of kings, queens, dukes, nobles, and even just independently wealthy families all being spectacles for the peasantry and lower working classes who generally outnumbered them. The kinds of boredom that lead to these flights of fancy come from people who are easily identified by a healthy enough mind as inherently flawed, broken, inherently unfulfilled. I like to point this out to others who I talk to about this book because it’s a great example of how people who never had to struggle behave when left to their own devices. Granted, there are examples from more modern times, like Errol Flynn, Duke Ellington, and JFK, but they all play on that inherent status that these men achieved, and there is an undeniable separation between us, the “commoners” of our time and these men, ascended to levels of admiration that brings them attention and status that would make seducing anyone even a little easier. This is one of my two major complaints about this book - I don’t know when Greene began writing this but with online dating and such a strangely changed world, this book, originally published in 2003 as best I can tell, is missing a large chunk of insight about how these principles might apply to a modern disposable dating world. We do not fancy this kind of drawn out courting anymore. It is not the norm to have sophisticated flirting in exotic locations, because most people are not wealthy celebrities or royalty. Now again, these examples play with some inherent truths and can be applied on a smaller level to the average man or woman, but I’d be lying if I didn’t at times feel excluded by the stature of those being given as examples.
Getting back to the morality and methodry of the book, yes, it is shamelessly utilitarian. It does read like a Harvard educated Dennis Reynold’s guide to seduction. As for it being offensive to the point of being a bad read or a bad product for existing - that’s just ridiculous Nancy Reagan level virtue signaling nonsense. Even I laughed at some of the quotes Greene included, there was, towards the end of the book, a quote something to the effect of “a mutual romantic encounter is never a seduction”. I understand how the more morally centered could read that as problematic and rapey, but can you deny that when it comes to non-serious relationships, for those of you critical to the subject matter, that some of the ideas discussed here were not in play? Certainly, the author has what can be described as an apathetic outlook on humanity, that much I disagree with. In spite of the edgy style of writing, can you honestly say that what is being told is untrue, if not exaggerated?
My second issue with this book, and with Greene’s style in general (I have another of his on audiobook and I experience the same problem despite the easier to absorb format) is his writing style. Now, as you can tell, I’m verbose myself. I can’t help but pour as many details into a point as my mind can craft while typing or speaking them. Even I, however, can recognize the value of brevity when it comes to dispensing advice on matters of social conduct and arguably, philosophy. I mentioned earlier in my review that I enjoyed reading this book, and I did, because of its subject matter. It is well written, and it is backed up by historical accounts, which is what Greene is educated in. But, between the library of quotes and excerpts in the side margins of nearly every page, and the excessive examples for some chapters, this book does become a slog to read through. Again, I enjoyed reading it, but only when I was in a specific mood to do so, hence my bringing it everywhere with me, should the mood strike. This book is like hard liquor. You might enjoy the odd glass or two, or a cocktail, but unless you’re an alcoholic, you’re going to stick to a lighter drink on most nights if you must drink at all. I appreciate the length Greene contributes so that his historical knowledge works in tandem with his wanton philosophizing, it reinforces his arguments without having to point to some vague social statistics that probably don’t exist or aren’t reliable enough to back up his claims in a “sanitary” enough scientific way - but damn if this book doesn’t grind on you if you don’t read it in bursts, which I imagine most people will want to do. And those bursts come sporadically (for me at least, and keep in mind it took me over a year to finally finish this book especially while I finished my last two semesters of classes). After the first couple of chapters I stopped reading the quotes entirely. I appreciate his inclusion of them, but perhaps he would have been better off placing them at the end of each chapter as an optional package, instead of formatting the book in a cluttered way that almost induces an anxiety to finish the page before you’re overwhelmed by text.
In sum, I’m morally dubious myself when it comes to the number of pursuits I’ve had and will have. I get it. I also agree there is room for what Greene decries as “awful” habitual love, for building a life together with someone, children and all, is NOT a matter of a lighthearted “game” as is his description of seduction. If the educated but naive read this book they may find themselves goaded into a life of casual sociopathy, and that’s not what I hope Greene intended to do here. He makes no mention of this, which is why I’m hesitant to assume his intentions, but I’ll add for my sake and for others who have read or are curious about purchasing this book - these principles are not rock solid laws. You have to apply a dose of reality to them. You can’t just whisk away a girl you matched with on Tinder to Paris, let alone to another state, with no planning or investment. They’ll think you’re coming on too strong, and you probably can’t afford to take a two week trip to Paris for a random tryst. I believe Greene would benefit from coming out with a sequel book (hopefully a much shorter one so as to not retread too much of what’s already here) on the modern era of dating and seduction.
Overall I give this book 4 stars, though on the wrong day I may have given it 3.5. It is certainly a good book, it is well written and informative. That’s not the problem here. The problem is the length in relationship to the structure, and the tone which can be offputting if you aren’t someone prone to frequent casual sex. I get it, but Greene either doesn’t, or doesn’t care. For the last section of the book (Appendix B) being about selling things to the masses, I wonder if Greene thought his book would be controversial or not. Still worth a read, but consider this wall of text before or as you do before purchasing it or rendering a verdict.