Mastery by Robert Greene – a Book Recommendation

I like to read, both online and offline. Every once in a while I come across something truly remarkable. Recently I discovered one such book, and I can’t help but write a few words about it in a form of strong personal recommendation.

I want to send a shout out to Hannu Ikola for recommending this book to me, thank you! Go check out his label Etherwerks, he has some great music going.


Mastery by Robert Greene – Introduction

Mastery by Robert GreeneSo the book is called Mastery by Robert Greene. It’s a combination of history, anecdotes, stories and science of human evolution and psychology.

In the book Greene dives into the lives and minds of great old masters like Leonardo Da Vinci, Mozart, Darwin, Goethe, Einstein – but also many contemporary ones like boxing coach Freddie Roach and USAAF fighter pilot ace Cesar Rodriguez.

He connects arts to science and sports and shows us there is a lot of of common ground there.

Greene’s goal is to discover what common attributes stand behind great masters’ success and achieving mastery. And the picture he paints makes so much sense to me.


Lessons and Highlights

The book is full of highlights and it served me many moments of realization and clarity.

The conclusions Robert Greene makes on cultivating and developing our intuition – a deeper level of thinking – made an especially big impact on me.

Curiously enough intuition turns out to be something that all of the great masters have learned to invigorate.

Greene also comes to debunk and explain false mindsets that stand in our culture.

One such myth would be labeling some people “talented” or “genius” and thinking they were born that way. Greene argues that we do it simply because it is more comfortable for us to think so, instead of understanding that in the western world most of us are fortunate enough to hold the keys to our own success. It only comes down to being dedicated, following the right patterns and putting in the work.

Greene’s major statement is that due to millions of years of evolution, the keys to mastery are hardwired inside our brain and genes for every single one of us. We are not as different from each other as our era of individualism easily leads us to believe.

Mastery then, is merely a result of cultivation, dedication and setting the right conditions. It is our purpose and responsibility to reach for new heights. I could not agree more.


Get it for free via Audible

Excuse me for sidetracking a little, but in case you’re not much of a reader, I wanted to mention I didn’t in fact actually read the book. I listened to it in audiobook form.

You can actually get one book for free if you sign up for the free trial at Audible, so you might wanna take up that offer and check this book out.

I’ve recently discovered that for me listening is a great way of consuming books. I am a slow reader and I think it helps that as a musician I am already trained in listening, so audiobooks are a perfect fit for me. It’s also a great way to pass time during commutes for example.

I recently subscribed to Audible and have since been consuming their titles with enormous appetite. In the last month alone I went through 8 books. The downside is it can get expensive but hey, it’s an investment in education.

The Audible mobile listening app is really well done and has some very nice features (for example you can speed up the audio to listen faster).

It truly is a joy to listen to a professionally produced audiobook, especially after being used to listening to lots of podcasts with sub-par production standards.


Mastery – Links

For me mastery is one of the most impactful and inspiring books I’ve ever read (and I’ve read lots of stuff in this vein).

It is truly timeless information about who we are and how we function, and I know I will be coming back to this book many times in the future.

I want to recommend it to anyone who is seriously interested in becoming really good in something they’re passionate about.

Here are the links to the book if you’re interested.

Mastery by Robert Greene (book)

Mastery by Robert Greene (audiobook)

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  • David Goodman

    great stuff thanks will take a read, i noticed on the amazon page a link to another fantastic book “The war of Art” by Steven Pressfield, take a look if you wish.
    best wishes and happy holidays

    • Hey David,
      Yes I actually have that book too – it was a great read for sure! Thanks for bringing that up here, definitely good reading for someone interested in these topics.

  • Jake Beckett

    Thanks man, I got it for free with the Audible free trial 🙂

    • Great tip, I’ll add that to the actual post – thanks.

  • sebastian

    Very interesting, will check out the audiobook. Isn’t it fair to say that some people, for whatever reason, have more of a natural knack for some things, say art, which allows them to cultivate their craft faster than others? Aren’t our personalities evident from a very young and and wouldn’t this affect even the way we learn regardless of how much we nurture the process?

    I am definitely a believer of hard work, practice and repetition and it shows for myself, having no prior music/engineering knowledge. Seems like some people in the industry just do it a lot more effortlessly.

    • Everyone has different qualities for sure, some of it is genetic and a lot of it isn’t. But I think Mastery makes a convincing point in that by nature (through millions of years of evolution) we are also much more similar than we would like to think. Everyones brain works in similar way and we all have great potential and resources within us – sadly many people go through their lives without ever even really beginning to tap into them. It often doesn’t come easy in the modern world because our “new” way of life is very different from what our brains are actually built for originally.

      When looking at masterful people at their craft, their work often seems effortless but you have to take into account the immense amount of practice that went into it. If you look at someone like Leo Messi or Zlatan Ibrahimovic… They started just the same as everyone else. But since little kids everywhere they went they carried the ball with them. And over years all that experience and practice has accumulated into this intuitive, effortless style of playing football. I think the key word is developing your intuition and what Mastery explains about it is probably the biggest lesson for me in years!

      If we put this into perspective within drum&bass music for example.. Without naming any names, I can quickly think of at least 3 guys who have made it great in drum & bass, whose music was really nothing very special when I first started hearing their demos. But they put in the work for years and got better and better, and now they’re making a living making music and touring the world. I’ve definitely seen that happen many times.

      It’s not just about putting in mindless work though, but deliberate practice. Playing through your strengths (because everyone has some) and focusing on the right things!

      • I just found this collection of quotes from the book.. It’s only an unstructured glimpse of separate quotes, but still a good way to peep into what this book is about.

      • sebastian

        That resonates with me. Interesting you’re talking about the relation between the evolution of man through western culture and our brains. I’ve been doing research into addiction and wound up at similar topics. Our hunter-gatherer brains have barely evolved since those times and what were experiencing with media and the current ‘noise’ of society are radical changes for us. I can see how in both cases our primitive wirings are getting lost or just confused by our current requirement to adapt.

        I agree that music is a very primal thing in essence and that we all have a profound understanding and connection to it that’s waiting to be tapped into. We’re just no longer congregated around fires celebrating the change in weather, seasons or celestial changes like we used to.

        It could be fair to say it’s less of a direct genetic inheritance and more an untapped innate behaviour that’s more awakened in certain people?

        Trying to draw comparisons here, just riffing 😉

        It can be real testing trying to hone your art/craft, heavy moments of doubt at times. I’m grateful those times are less and less and have never got in the way of the enjoyment of producing. The book looks reassuring and inspiring! Must check it out.

        • That’s perfect Sebastian – couldn’t have said it any better!

          It really is interesting like you said – our roots, how we actually function biologically and psychologically, and how little all that has changed in the past thousands of years even though our environment and lifestyle has transformed completely.

          I find myself bumping into that subject in just about any topic I study these days, no matter if it’s music, health, food, productivity… It applies to everything really and there are some important lessons to be learned for anyone who wants to get an edge or, above all, just simply feel better.

          To draw a line back to the topic – Mastery is very much grounded in that sort of thinking and that is probably why it’s lessons also make so much sense to me. Let me know what you think if you ever get to checking it out.

          • sebastian

            Nice one mate! That sounds highly plausible to me. Robotics and automated tasks are springing up everywhere in day to day life. There’s a huge positive potential but I fear the dangers, especially with automated weapons, drones etc. Skynet anyone? Ha. It just seems less and less far fetched as time goes on, we’ve been creating what we’ve dreamt about through Sci-Fiction for a long time. Anyway, I drift!..

            Considering I’m a pretty poor reader and (shamefully) have never finished a book, or at least remembered what I read, audio books are something I need to get into. Just need to figure out where to create the space.

            Thanks again for the recommendations.

          • Definitely try audiobooks. I enjoy reading normal books and there’s so much I want to read, but I’m a slow reader too. So this audiobook thing has been perfect for me. With Audible you can also speed them up. I can listen most books at 1.5x or 2x speed which makes it even better.

  • Marc Adamo

    Great book, i listened to it recently as well, Robert Greene also wrote a book for 50 cent which details a lot of the same ideas in practical stories based on the life of 50 cent, so in many ways, quite applicable to those travelling in the music circles.

    • That’s interesting. I’ll check it out at some point. Definitely a fan of his work. I recently listened to his book “48 Laws of Power” too which was also very good. A bit different and hard to describe, but very good.