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Corruptible: Who Gets Power and How It Changes Us

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A look at what power is, who gets it, and what happens when they do, based on over 500 interviews with those who (temporarily, at least) have had the upper hand—from the creator of the Power Corrupts podcast and Washington Post columnist Brian Klaas. Does power corrupt, or are corrupt people drawn to power? Are tyrants made or born? Are entrepreneurs who embezzle and cops w A look at what power is, who gets it, and what happens when they do, based on over 500 interviews with those who (temporarily, at least) have had the upper hand—from the creator of the Power Corrupts podcast and Washington Post columnist Brian Klaas. Does power corrupt, or are corrupt people drawn to power? Are tyrants made or born? Are entrepreneurs who embezzle and cops who kill the result of poorly designed systems or are they just bad people? If you were suddenly thrust into a position of power, would you be able to resist the temptation to line your pockets or seek revenge against your enemies? To answer these questions, Corruptible draws on over 500 interviews with some of the world’s top leaders—from the noblest to the dirtiest—including presidents and philanthropists as well as rebels, cultists, and dictators. Some of the fascinating insights include: how facial appearance determines who we pick as leaders, why narcissists make more money, why some people don’t want power at all and others are drawn to it out of a psychopathic impulse, and why being the “beta” (second in command) may actually be the optimal place for health and well-being. Corruptible also features a wealth of counterintuitive examples from history and social science: you’ll meet the worst bioterrorist in American history, hit the slopes with a ski instructor who once ruled Iraq, and learn why the inability of chimpanzees to play baseball is central to the development of human hierarchies.


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A look at what power is, who gets it, and what happens when they do, based on over 500 interviews with those who (temporarily, at least) have had the upper hand—from the creator of the Power Corrupts podcast and Washington Post columnist Brian Klaas. Does power corrupt, or are corrupt people drawn to power? Are tyrants made or born? Are entrepreneurs who embezzle and cops w A look at what power is, who gets it, and what happens when they do, based on over 500 interviews with those who (temporarily, at least) have had the upper hand—from the creator of the Power Corrupts podcast and Washington Post columnist Brian Klaas. Does power corrupt, or are corrupt people drawn to power? Are tyrants made or born? Are entrepreneurs who embezzle and cops who kill the result of poorly designed systems or are they just bad people? If you were suddenly thrust into a position of power, would you be able to resist the temptation to line your pockets or seek revenge against your enemies? To answer these questions, Corruptible draws on over 500 interviews with some of the world’s top leaders—from the noblest to the dirtiest—including presidents and philanthropists as well as rebels, cultists, and dictators. Some of the fascinating insights include: how facial appearance determines who we pick as leaders, why narcissists make more money, why some people don’t want power at all and others are drawn to it out of a psychopathic impulse, and why being the “beta” (second in command) may actually be the optimal place for health and well-being. Corruptible also features a wealth of counterintuitive examples from history and social science: you’ll meet the worst bioterrorist in American history, hit the slopes with a ski instructor who once ruled Iraq, and learn why the inability of chimpanzees to play baseball is central to the development of human hierarchies.

30 review for Corruptible: Who Gets Power and How It Changes Us

  1. 5 out of 5

    David Wineberg

    Why is it politicians are so corrupt? Why do they, and judges, and civil servants look on public service as the path to power and riches rather than service? Brian Klaas has written Corruptible, an exhaustive analysis of how we end up with these people in charge and what can be done to prevent it. It’s an entertaining adventure that spans the globe and history. It’s not pretty. It seems those who seek power are in fact psychopaths. Give them just a little power and they manipulate everyone and ev Why is it politicians are so corrupt? Why do they, and judges, and civil servants look on public service as the path to power and riches rather than service? Brian Klaas has written Corruptible, an exhaustive analysis of how we end up with these people in charge and what can be done to prevent it. It’s an entertaining adventure that spans the globe and history. It’s not pretty. It seems those who seek power are in fact psychopaths. Give them just a little power and they manipulate everyone and everything to accumulate more. They might be open about it, like dictators, or secretive, posing as honest, helpful and humble achievers. And everything in between. With numerous remarkable examples and bizarre and shocking stories, Klaas shows that good intentioned people can become monsters when they are promoted to be in charge. Of anything, from whole empires to the maintenance departments of a high school. Everything then revolves around them; it becomes all about their prestige, their power, their glory, their wealth. Nothing else in the world comes close. They suck out the wealth, suck out the goodwill and suck out anything that smacks of equality. We see it everywhere. Klaas examines several cases where lives went gradually, or even suddenly, criminally wrong. He says what we really need are the people who don’t want to run for office, who don’t want the responsibility. They’ll likely be more honest and less power mad in office. Using examples such as a condo board, he shows that those kind of rational people steer clear. Instead, the board gets eager candidates who can’t wait to rule over everyone else in the development, instituting strict (if not irrational) rules, fining transgressors and seeking revenge over every complainer or opponent, or someone who just wants to be left alone. This model scales to the national level, where self-selecting candidates are precisely the people we should not be voting for. It’s why voters stay away from polls. It’s why they think the field of candidates seems to be of lower quality every election. It’s how dictators come to power and how countries get into trouble. It’s the paradox of power: “Those who shouldn’t be in power are more likely to seek it,” he says. Klaas describes unending psychology studies that demonstrate the defects in character that lead to power grabs. He also toured the world, meeting with former dictators, murderers and thieves, who today, out of power, seem like perfectly lovely people. While In power, they had no hesitancy say, sending in the troops to crack skulls, or to literally poison opponents themselves. They stole public funds by the billions. They wore their newfound wealth and power arrogantly. With all the studies constantly being done, all kinds of profiles and generalizations are available. Corruptible people interrupt more, they stereotype other people more, they use less moral reasoning, and are more judgmental of behaviors in others than themselves. They even drive through pedestrian zones faster. Seriously. A study showed that people driving expensive power cars would not stop for pedestrians in crosswalks as much as drivers in just average cars. There’s a study for everything. In the USA, the police are a major outlet for corrupting power. Encouraged by government, military veterans sign up by the thousands, ready, willing and able to shoot or smash anyone they don’t particularly like, in the guise of a police officer. It happens over a thousand times a year. Worse, the federal government got the brilliant idea of donating surplus military equipment to local police forces, pretty much forcing them to create SWAT teams and commando units to make use of it. It has the same result: those who want to be cops are precisely the people who should never be hired into the force. Those who wouldn’t go near it are the ones who should be in it. “If you’re a bully, a bigot, or a sexual predator, policing is a really attractive career choice,” according to Helen King of the Metropolitan Police, London. Police are renown for domestic violence in their own families, abuse of steroids, and lying in court, all far in excess of national averages. It takes a different mindset to correct. This is the experience of New Zealand. Their police recruitment advertising emphasizes community relations and co-operation, not armed bodybuilders storming a home. The result is all but zero police murders, a better reputation, and all kinds of community minded men and women choosing police work. In selecting recruits, working cops take them out on patrol and report back on their attitudes. They say things like Wait… they’re coming in for the wrong reason. And they’re turned down. The result is a complete rebalancing of the force. Applications are up 24% as a broader spectrum of candidates feels it a worthwhile career. A quarter are now women, compared to ten percent in the USA, where police forces tend to be 30% whiter than their communities. Police in New Zealand account for 0.8 deaths of civilians per year; in the USA, it is well over 1100. In New Zealand, police are the community, not enforcers. Compare this to Stebbins, a small town in Alaska, Klaas says, where almost all the cops are convicted felons, because they’re the only ones who apply. The more there are of them, the fewer other people want to work there. This creates vacancies where the only ones to apply…. So there are things to be tried. Klaas is not short of ideas, though many are easy to shoot down. And he misses some obvious ones, like term limits. If, as in ancient Greece, political offices were limited to a single term, lobbying would shrivel, and the comfort and security of a lifelong career would never be a factor. Cronyism would not work. He does however, recommend an end to long partnerships among the police, where buddies stick up for each other, look the other way, and co-operate in illegal activities that cops think they can get away with, what with all their insider information and connections in the force. He cites Kevin Dutton, who listed the top ten careers for psychopaths: CEOs, lawyers, TV/radio personalities, salespeople, surgeons, journalists, police, clergy, chefs and civil servants. Politicians don’t make list only because their numbers are so limited. But in general, it’s everywhere. I did have one issue with Corruptible. Klaas is a definitive writer. He is very clear and very certain in his claims. So when he’s wrong, he can be embarrassingly firm. He cites the decades unthinking consensus among anthropologists and psychologists that dominance comes from large numbers of people living together. “Put enough people together, and hierarchy and dominance always emerge (His emphasis). It’s an ironclad rule of history…Our choice is either to live in tiny co-operative groups or embrace hierarchy. “ As if Klaas is the expert. But this has been thoroughly debunked by David Graeber and David Wengrow in The Dawn of Everything. Major cities existed side by side with villages and small bands; they were not the result of a progression from small to large. Major cities existed without top-down administration, all over the world. People used to be co-operative, helpful and supportive in huge communities. Homelessness did not exist. Cities built communal housing for all. Inequality came later, with institutions, like royalty and religion. The opportunities for corruption were minimal, unlike today when they are ubiquitous. They say there is simply no basis for claims like Klaas’. For Klaas to cite civilization itself as a cause of corruption is unsupportable. Just skip chapter two; it’s wrong. So power does corrupt. Situations corrupt people. Positions corrupt people. Some personalities are prone to corruption. Corruptible people self select when all it takes is an election or a promotion. And once inside the bubble, few can see what monsters they have become. They’re too busy demanding absolute loyalty. Finally, Klaas says that few studies suggest that power makes people more virtuous. Power is a drug, it seems. If you get a taste, it can overwhelm you – and take down the whole country if they let you keep at it. David Wineberg If you liked this review, I invite you to read my book The Straight Dope. It’s an essay collection based on my first thousand reviews and what I learned. Right now it’s FREE for Prime members, otherwise — cheap! Reputed to be fascinating and a superfast read. https://www.amazon.com/Straight-Dope-...

  2. 4 out of 5

    Ryan Boissonneault

    It’s a familiar story: A corrupt leader rises to power, is often willingly allowed to do so, and proceeds to leave a trail of destruction in his wake (it’s usually, but not always, a male). We see this time and time again throughout history and across the globe. But we never seem to learn. How can we account for this? The conventional answer is to blame power itself, as in the proverbial saying “power corrupts; absolute power corrupts absolutely.” But as political scientist Brian Klaas explains It’s a familiar story: A corrupt leader rises to power, is often willingly allowed to do so, and proceeds to leave a trail of destruction in his wake (it’s usually, but not always, a male). We see this time and time again throughout history and across the globe. But we never seem to learn. How can we account for this? The conventional answer is to blame power itself, as in the proverbial saying “power corrupts; absolute power corrupts absolutely.” But as political scientist Brian Klaas explains in his latest book, Corruptible: Who Gets Power and How It Changes Us, things are not so simple. While power can indeed corrupt, more often bad people are drawn to positions of power in the first place, and pursue these positions within systems that actually encourage bad behavior. To ensure that the right people are placed in power, we have to do more than focus only on individuals; we need to fix the underlying systems that allow them to thrive. As Klass wrote: “What if power doesn’t make us better or worse? What if power just attracts certain kinds of people—and those are precisely the ones who shouldn’t be in charge? Maybe those who most want power are the least suited to hold it. Perhaps those who crave power are corruptible.” The conventional (but probably oversimplified) idea that power corrupts is best exemplified in the infamous Stanford Prison Experiment conducted in 1971. In this experiment, volunteers were placed inside of a simulated prison environment. One group of volunteers was assigned to become prisoners while the other group was assigned as guards. What the researchers discovered was that those assigned as guards, once given power, began to mistreat the prisoners, so much so that the experiment was stopped before its planned two-week duration. This seems to show that power does in fact corrupt, and that this could happen to anyone. But as Klaas points out, the interpretation of this experiment is not as straightforward as you might think. First, not all the guards became abusive, so if power does corrupt, it clearly affects people differently. Second, the volunteers may have been attempting to act out their roles in a certain way, thinking that’s what the researchers were looking for. In fact, the latest research into this experiment calls into question whether or not the volunteers were actually coached to act aggressively. And finally, and most crucially, new research has revealed that the way you advertise the study impacts the type of people who volunteer. If you advertise for volunteers for “a psychological study,” you get a far different response than if you advertise for “a psychological study of prison life.” Just by adding the phrase “of prison life” to the advertisement, researchers found that more aggressive, authoritarian, and narcissistic personality types applied for the study (after conducting personality tests). As Klaas notes, ordinary people are not turned sadistic when given power; rather, sadistic individuals actively seek out positions of power. If this is true, this is a crucial discovery. It means that bad people will always seek out positions of power, and that the only way to stop them from attaining it is to fix the systems that allow them to thrive—and to get people to stop voting for them. Unfortunately, that last point is easier said than done. It seems that we are evolutionarily predisposed to vote for bad leaders. As Klaas explains, in our hunter-gatherer past, it made sense to select leaders based almost exclusively on physical traits. After all, you would never select the weakest member of your tribe to lead the next hunting expedition or war. In our hunter-gatherer past, then, perception mostly matched reality: the most physically gifted and aggressive individual was the one most likely to achieve the tribe's survival goals. But, as is mainly the case, in the modern world, basing decisions strictly on our evolutionary psychology is mostly idiotic. Hunter-gatherers may have been justified in eating as many calories of sugar as they could find, for example, but if we follow this instinct in the modern world, we will almost assuredly die (from obesity-related illnesses like heart disease and diabetes). This is an example of what is called an evolutionary mismatch. Likewise, there is absolutely no correlation between the ability to lead a modern, knowledge-based economy and how much one can bench press, but the way we vote in modern elections, we might as well replace the debates with weight lifting competitions. We consistently vote for tall white men with masculine faces and physically fit bodies and overconfident, aggressive personalities. We especially seem to like overconfidence and aggression, but the problem with this is that, overwhelmingly, these are the precise personality traits one will find in psychopaths or narcissists. The disturbing conclusion is that, barring further considerations regarding the individual's actual qualifications, intelligence, and moral character, our instincts tell us to vote or promote psychopaths—who are themselves more likely to pursue power in the first place. Research bears this out. In addition to political positions, psychopaths disproportionately fill corporate boardrooms and executive offices. As Klaas wrote: “When psychopathy is sampled in society as a whole, about one in every five hundred people scores above the psychopath threshold of thirty [on a psychological test measuring psychopathy]. In the study of aspiring corporate managers, it was one in every twenty-five. Those results could be an outlier, but that study suggests that there are about twenty times more psychopaths in corporate leadership than in the general population.” Power is not corrupting the majority of individuals; bad leaders are seeking these positions of power out as the most efficient means of controlling other people and satisfying their selfish desires. Let’s recap the depressing situation so far: Psychopaths naturally seek out power and often get it because they have the traits that make us subconsciously want to vote for or promote them. Once they get in power, they cause massive levels of harm because the qualities that get them elected or promoted (overconfidence, aggression, ambition, greed) are the same qualities we often find in those with low levels of competence, intelligence, and moral character. On the flip side, if you’re a good, decent person with intelligence and humility, in all likelihood, you avoid positions of power altogether (with rare exceptions; think Marcus Aurelius or George Washington). So then why do we think power corrupts, if the evidence points to the opposite conclusion? According to Klaas, four cognitive biases explain why most people think power corrupts when it doesn’t. First, leaders placed in bad situations often have to choose between equally bad options. It’s not that leaders are always inherently corrupt, but that they have to make tough choices most of us will never have to face (like allowing a small number to die to save far more people in a war or triage situation). Second, leaders that are already bad seem to become worse, but that’s only because they are learning better strategies and tactics. The final two reasons are that bad leaders may not necessarily be worse than the average person, it’s just that they have more opportunities to commit wrongful acts and are under more scrutiny and therefore are more likely to get caught. So while power may corrupt in some instances (Klaas covers this extensively, evening examining the physiological changes to the body from power and stress), this phenomenon is overstated; by far the greater problem is that already corrupt people seek power and we willingly give it to them. And if that’s the case, the next question is, What can be done? Klaas has some suggestions. Klaas starts by explaining that there is no simple fix; we can’t prevent every corrupt leader from getting elected or being promoted. But by instituting a series of reforms in how we recruit, vote, and monitor leaders, we can lessen the chance that bad people achieve positions of power while limiting the harm they can do while in office—all while encouraging the best among us to pursue these positions instead. Klaas outlines several options including better recruiting and vetting practices, randomly selecting individuals to perform oversight (sortition), rotating people through departments to prevent fraud, personalizing decisions by having leaders meet face-to-face with the people their decisions will impact, and more thorough, randomized monitoring, not of lower-level employees, but of those in positions of power. But perhaps the greatest deterrent to bad leadership is knowledge. If we can recognize our own tendencies to vote for or promote the wrong people based on superficial assessments made with our Stone Age brains, we can consciously try to do better. We can pay more attention to someone’s actual qualifications than to their superficial charm; we can recognize that overconfidence and aggression are often red flags; and we can fix our systems so that good behavior is rewarded, and that the morally upright among us seek out positions of power instead.

  3. 5 out of 5

    Jiny S

    This is perhaps the best book I've come across on power. It is well-researched, scientific, and engaging. It covers topics on who gets power, how power affects those who wield it, and how can we select better leaders as a society. The quick answer to the last question is scrutiny and transparency. The long answer, you'll have to read for yourself. I rarely re-read a book, but this one has so much information packed in there I feel like I need to take notes. The author eloquently combines scientif This is perhaps the best book I've come across on power. It is well-researched, scientific, and engaging. It covers topics on who gets power, how power affects those who wield it, and how can we select better leaders as a society. The quick answer to the last question is scrutiny and transparency. The long answer, you'll have to read for yourself. I rarely re-read a book, but this one has so much information packed in there I feel like I need to take notes. The author eloquently combines scientific findings with interviews and weaves a story for the reader. Once I started, I could not put it down. It's very rare for non-fiction. Definitely a must-read for those of us who care about building a just society, and that should be everyone.

  4. 4 out of 5

    Wick Welker

    The system is the problem. With highly accessible language yet presented in a scholarly way, Klaas does an impeccable job laying out why leaders are corrupt and what to do about it. He's a political scientist who has clearly studied the topic and has interviewed scores of dictators across the globe and aims to answer the question: does power corrupt or are the corrupt attracted to power? The short answer is yes to both. With many anecdotes and research, Klaas shows us that yes there are those with The system is the problem. With highly accessible language yet presented in a scholarly way, Klaas does an impeccable job laying out why leaders are corrupt and what to do about it. He's a political scientist who has clearly studied the topic and has interviewed scores of dictators across the globe and aims to answer the question: does power corrupt or are the corrupt attracted to power? The short answer is yes to both. With many anecdotes and research, Klaas shows us that yes there are those with psychopathic, Machiavellian and narcissist tendencies and yes these people are attracted to positions of power and actively seek those positions. Once in place, the corrupt leverage their power into doing all the corrupt things we know these people do: consolidate the conformers, oust the dissenters, nepotism, exploitation and embezzlement. The whole thing started when people made projectile weapons, Klaas argues. Before projectile weapons, power systems were diffusely distributed. Ranged weapons leveled the playing field placing intellect over brute force. Power hierarchy is a relatively recent human phenomenon as most prior power structures were flat. There is a trade off because flat societies have a bit of a ceiling where advancements and innovation become stagnant because every individual is doing individual things. Once ranged weapons and surplus came along with agriculture, bam, we've got power hierarchies happening and a corruption of those power systems. After the power hierarchy is set up, we have an evolutionary mismatch where our lizard brains may still believe that those with most bravado, those that are men (usually white), are still the most equipped to be leaders. This lends us to being manipulated and highly vulnerable to corrupt systems of governance. So yes, those that are corrupt are attracted to power but Klaas reminds us that systems matter. A corrupt system will unleash the corrupt and have a further corrupting influence on those that are in power. With many examples Klaas shows us that if you make small changes within a system, you can quickly weed out corruption. Andrather than setting up systems of surveillance for those that are controlled, we should surveil those that are actually in power. We should make leaders second guess their decisions and have them never know if they are being watched. Recruitment is the key solution. We need to attract people to powerful positions that don't actually want to be in power. These are highly likely to be incorruptible. Rather than looking at wins and losses, we should scrutinize the decision that was used before a good or bad outcome. We should focus on how good results came about just as much as bad results or we may be punitive to good leaders and reward those that are actually corrupts. This was an excellent read and I found it eye opening and worthwhile. Highly recommend.

  5. 5 out of 5

    Lukas Dufka

    A perfect mix of research and narrative in my opinion. Didn't have so much fun reading a political science book since The Dictator's Handbook by Alastair Smith and Bruce Bueno de Mesquita. Not only is it a fun read, it also, and more importantly, delivers a much needed antidote to anyone who might feel tempted to believe in yet another anti-corruption crusader who comes from outside of politics (usually with bags of money) and promises to save us from the corrupt, self-serving politicians. "Look A perfect mix of research and narrative in my opinion. Didn't have so much fun reading a political science book since The Dictator's Handbook by Alastair Smith and Bruce Bueno de Mesquita. Not only is it a fun read, it also, and more importantly, delivers a much needed antidote to anyone who might feel tempted to believe in yet another anti-corruption crusader who comes from outside of politics (usually with bags of money) and promises to save us from the corrupt, self-serving politicians. "Look at me, I'm so rich and successful, I don't need to steal (anymore). You can trust me." Somehow, this always ends in tears and yet people keep falling for the same old trick again and again. Brian Klass explains why this happens and what we need to do in order to escape this vicious cycle. If I was in government in any country, never mind how corrupt, I'd be calling Brian's agent right now to check if he does consulting...

  6. 4 out of 5

    Thomas Edmund

    The basic of Klaas' work is to explore the adage of absolute power corrupting. Of all the non-fiction I've been reading regardless of topic this has to be one of the best balanced in terms of historic anecdotes, interviews, data and evidence and explanation I've read. It's one of those books that I just got absorbed in and then suddenly was like 'wait, its almost done?' With an interesting non-judgemental but not so open minded their head falls out approach, the book explores many angles of power The basic of Klaas' work is to explore the adage of absolute power corrupting. Of all the non-fiction I've been reading regardless of topic this has to be one of the best balanced in terms of historic anecdotes, interviews, data and evidence and explanation I've read. It's one of those books that I just got absorbed in and then suddenly was like 'wait, its almost done?' With an interesting non-judgemental but not so open minded their head falls out approach, the book explores many angles of power, ranging from local (e.g. police forces) to presidential and corporate. The main themes of the book are what sorts of people are attracted to power, what sorts of systems encourage or discourage corruption and finally how to encourage more legitimately competent people to power. There is no particular stand out parts (because its all good) but I guess what stood out to me is some of the bizarre and horrific things people have done in positions of power whether tyrannical Home Owner Association presidents or Tyrannical genocidal presidents the book basically speaks for itself in terms of relevant. Probably the final note is that this book felt quite positive, the strategies for reducing corruption didn't feel as out of reach as some worldly solutions feel right now, which was nice!

  7. 4 out of 5

    Kressel Housman

    The MSW Book Club named this book as its next choice, and when I heard the author’s interview on the podcast, I immediately wanted to join in. The main question the book explores is “does absolute power corrupt absolutely?” The answer is that while power is definitely corrupting, some people are more corruptible than others. Worse still, political systems over the millennia are rigged to attract the wrong people to power. So what can we do to make sure power goes to the least corruptible? The an The MSW Book Club named this book as its next choice, and when I heard the author’s interview on the podcast, I immediately wanted to join in. The main question the book explores is “does absolute power corrupt absolutely?” The answer is that while power is definitely corrupting, some people are more corruptible than others. Worse still, political systems over the millennia are rigged to attract the wrong people to power. So what can we do to make sure power goes to the least corruptible? The answers are given in illustrative and easily accessible anecdotes. They’re all about us flawed human beings. I highly recommend this book, and I’m looking forward to the discussions in the podcast book club.

  8. 5 out of 5

    Jon Munro

    A typical start to a Corruptable paragraph sounds something like this... "Are CEOs drawn to power due to their narcissism, Machiavellism, and psychopathy, or does the corporate ladder favour employees who display these traits?" To answer this question, we'll look at the chemical composition of a prawn cocktail crisp, learn about rural France in 1368, and hear the story of a pony named Steve who learned to play the bassoon." 4.5*. V interesting read. A typical start to a Corruptable paragraph sounds something like this... "Are CEOs drawn to power due to their narcissism, Machiavellism, and psychopathy, or does the corporate ladder favour employees who display these traits?" To answer this question, we'll look at the chemical composition of a prawn cocktail crisp, learn about rural France in 1368, and hear the story of a pony named Steve who learned to play the bassoon." 4.5*. V interesting read.

  9. 5 out of 5

    Jelan

    Brian is an excellent writer -- erudite and entertaining at the same time. I'm amazed at the fascinating examples he finds both in history and in the present to illustrate his points. Brian is an excellent writer -- erudite and entertaining at the same time. I'm amazed at the fascinating examples he finds both in history and in the present to illustrate his points.

  10. 4 out of 5

    Min

    I wish I had this book when I was writing my university paper on corruption. This was a captivating and informative look into the cogs and wheels that drive corruption as a social phenomenon and systemic problem. I thoroughly enjoyed the journey the author takes us on. Many interconnected issues were explored and yet I didn't feel as if the author was "over-reaching". The transition from topics such as the "nature" versus "nurture" debate to evolutionary theories that may why society is drawn to I wish I had this book when I was writing my university paper on corruption. This was a captivating and informative look into the cogs and wheels that drive corruption as a social phenomenon and systemic problem. I thoroughly enjoyed the journey the author takes us on. Many interconnected issues were explored and yet I didn't feel as if the author was "over-reaching". The transition from topics such as the "nature" versus "nurture" debate to evolutionary theories that may why society is drawn to certain types of people over others all made sense. I was extremely fascinated by the author's concise analysis into the age-old adage "absolute power corrupts absolutely". The author also offers a rather innovative set of solutions that are aimed to go towards ameliorating corruption. By employing in what I perceive to be a "tiered" approach, the author explains corruption to be the result of self-selecting individuals (those who seek power) who reach positions of power and stay in power. The suggestions the author makes thus corresponds to various components of corruption in a systematic fashion. Overall, a holistic and concise read. I'd be keen to read critiques on the author's analysis and solutions.

  11. 4 out of 5

    Victoria Reedman

    Was nice to read a pop psychology book that pulled it’s weight academically. It referenced the replication crisis, acknowledged limitations of most psychology experiments being performed on WEIRD university undergrads, and debunked many over referenced/under criticized experiments (Milgrim, Stanford Prison, etc). The theorizing about power was genuinely thought provoking. Does power corrupt or are corruptible people drawn to power? And if both, how do you limit the corruption of leaders in any c Was nice to read a pop psychology book that pulled it’s weight academically. It referenced the replication crisis, acknowledged limitations of most psychology experiments being performed on WEIRD university undergrads, and debunked many over referenced/under criticized experiments (Milgrim, Stanford Prison, etc). The theorizing about power was genuinely thought provoking. Does power corrupt or are corruptible people drawn to power? And if both, how do you limit the corruption of leaders in any context? Klaas drew on examples from despot dictators to psychopathic janitors to tyrannical homeowners associations which helped to keep it juicy and upbeat. For the most part it was also surprisingly non-partisan. Klaas has some cool ideas about what change could look like - sortition (governance or oversight by random chance selection), surveillance of the powerful instead of the masses, active recruitment of incorruptible people (especially of the not white men variety), and ensuring that the powerful cannot reduce human suffering to abstraction. The author did love using a cheesy outro on every chapter to lead in to the next one. I still don’t know if I hated it or thought it was cute. Probably both. Good vibes though.

  12. 4 out of 5

    Luke

    I normally do not write reviews but this time I felt compelled to give my reasoning for a one star review. Although the writer sounds educated and intelligent, his findings were not only skewed to a certain political bend but his method to bring the reader along were classic examples of logical fallacies. I was excited to read this treatise on leadership and corruption but I quickly found it nauseatingly shallow and opinionated. His base idea is humans who are in authority are the problem that c I normally do not write reviews but this time I felt compelled to give my reasoning for a one star review. Although the writer sounds educated and intelligent, his findings were not only skewed to a certain political bend but his method to bring the reader along were classic examples of logical fallacies. I was excited to read this treatise on leadership and corruption but I quickly found it nauseatingly shallow and opinionated. His base idea is humans who are in authority are the problem that can only be fixed by other humans who agree with him. It is one of the most biased books I have read in quite a while. That may be why so many are giving it a 5 ⭐️ review or I may just have missed all of the great parts. Either way, I barely finished this one and am glad it is done.

  13. 4 out of 5

    Brandi Pearl Reynolds

    Well documented, organized and written. I agree with 95% of Brian Klaas's views regarding those who hold power and wish to attain it. Current events support these views.... Overall, an excellent read, especially for those interested in psychology, sociology, current affairs, political science, etc. I would recommend it to anyone interested in any of the social sciences or college students looking for research material. My copy of this book was obtained from a Goodreads giveaway. I appreciate the Well documented, organized and written. I agree with 95% of Brian Klaas's views regarding those who hold power and wish to attain it. Current events support these views.... Overall, an excellent read, especially for those interested in psychology, sociology, current affairs, political science, etc. I would recommend it to anyone interested in any of the social sciences or college students looking for research material. My copy of this book was obtained from a Goodreads giveaway. I appreciate the opportunity to read and review it.

  14. 4 out of 5

    Albert Jaeger

    This book asks a perennial but multi-faceted question (does power corrupt or do the corrupt seek power or does causality run both ways?) that has vexed political thinkers forever. The book is an entertaining read (I also listened to the Audible version read by Brian Klaas himself). Based on a wide-ranging survey of what different disciplines say about corruption, Klaas argues that there are practical and effective reforms that may help reduce corruption in the body politic. A Bulwark Podcast epi This book asks a perennial but multi-faceted question (does power corrupt or do the corrupt seek power or does causality run both ways?) that has vexed political thinkers forever. The book is an entertaining read (I also listened to the Audible version read by Brian Klaas himself). Based on a wide-ranging survey of what different disciplines say about corruption, Klaas argues that there are practical and effective reforms that may help reduce corruption in the body politic. A Bulwark Podcast episode with Brian Klaas on 11/16/2021 triggered my interest in the book.

  15. 5 out of 5

    Goodbob

    Better than Scary Movie!

  16. 5 out of 5

    DANIEL CLARKE

    If I was going to be boring and scientifically rigorous, I would say the quantity of examples used to make a point is fairly low for each point made about power and corruption. But the effect of power on individuals is somehow a relatively underexplored topic, so finding a number of examples/studies is difficult. But that's a boring thing to say. non-fiction social science books should be as interesting as this. This book is amazing. The stories are collected from all corners of the world and Kla If I was going to be boring and scientifically rigorous, I would say the quantity of examples used to make a point is fairly low for each point made about power and corruption. But the effect of power on individuals is somehow a relatively underexplored topic, so finding a number of examples/studies is difficult. But that's a boring thing to say. non-fiction social science books should be as interesting as this. This book is amazing. The stories are collected from all corners of the world and Klaas has spoken to all genres of leaders about power. If non-fiction books were this entertaining, more people would read them.

  17. 5 out of 5

    Chloe

    Truly excellent. So interesting. And the author can be so funny. I was extremely invested. Will recommend to everyone

  18. 5 out of 5

    Megan Anderson

    After hearing this author on Armchair Expert I knew I HAD to buy this book. I loved it. It taught me lessons. It held my attention. I probably said “wow!” 7 or 8 times out loud while listening to it. Great content and storytelling.

  19. 5 out of 5

    Aukje Kuipers

    This book is fascinating! It changes your view on power, leaders, human behavior and systems. And it's written in such a way that you really understand what's being told. By the use of many intriguing research studies, experiments and interviews. This book is fascinating! It changes your view on power, leaders, human behavior and systems. And it's written in such a way that you really understand what's being told. By the use of many intriguing research studies, experiments and interviews.

  20. 5 out of 5

    Adina

    Once in a while, a single person at the helm of a country brings destruction, war or other crimes against humanity. And the rest of the people feel useless, wondering how did that happen, and how it can be stopped. Even more often, we all have to deal with power-seeking aggressive colleagues or bosses. And we wonder why so many people in positions of authority are awful. Power is everywhere, but only a handful use it to do selfless good. I’ve thoroughly enjoyed the book! It’s so relevant these d Once in a while, a single person at the helm of a country brings destruction, war or other crimes against humanity. And the rest of the people feel useless, wondering how did that happen, and how it can be stopped. Even more often, we all have to deal with power-seeking aggressive colleagues or bosses. And we wonder why so many people in positions of authority are awful. Power is everywhere, but only a handful use it to do selfless good. I’ve thoroughly enjoyed the book! It’s so relevant these days; should be read by anyone having a voting right or with the tiniest bit of power and responsibility. Takeaways: 1. Much of our instinct to seek power and hierarchy comes from the animal instinct common to other primates. Rational would be to cooperate instead. Can we do that? 2. We tend to define leadership in a certain way based on previous leaders and we end up with bad leaders. We should be using survivorship bias instead - what is missing from current and previous leadership? Hint: they all look the same. 3. Psychopaths seek power more often than not, and are better at getting it. They’re generally over-represented in positions of authority. 4. The power delusion (appearance, status or other false indicators) makes normal people give power to the wrong people and keep them in power. 5. A corrupt system attracts corrupt people and an honest system attracts more honest people. A corrupt system does corrupt people even if they started with good intentions. 6. Power corrupts and absolute power corrupts absolutely. That is because people in power get better at playing the power game over time. 7. Finally, those who are given power but don’t necessarily seek it can be better leaders. True leadership and integrity also means giving up power, as exemplified by Cincinnatus or Frodo and Sam in Lord of the Rings. The book also provides some potential solutions to combat power abuses and corruption. They include: active recruitment of diverse applicants for power positions (proven over and over again to be more efficient leaders), rotate responsibilities among employees, evaluate decision making not results, create reminders of responsibility, remind people in power to see people as people not tools, use randomized integrity tests for everyone including those in power, and finally don’t wait for saviors to change the system - it starts with us.

  21. 5 out of 5

    Tom Walsh

    Interesting analysis of a very important Topic. This is an important book since we are living in an age where power at so many different levels drives our lives. In Families, Corporate Offices, Homeowners Associations and Politics, Tyrants large and small can make our lives better or drive us to drink. Klass’s examples are well drawn and usually based on footnoted research, but also familiar to anyone living in this Century. We’ve all worked with the petty vindictive Corporate Climber or lived i Interesting analysis of a very important Topic. This is an important book since we are living in an age where power at so many different levels drives our lives. In Families, Corporate Offices, Homeowners Associations and Politics, Tyrants large and small can make our lives better or drive us to drink. Klass’s examples are well drawn and usually based on footnoted research, but also familiar to anyone living in this Century. We’ve all worked with the petty vindictive Corporate Climber or lived in the Shadow of the Corrupt Political Leader. And we’ve all taken for granted the clichés of Power’s corruptibility. He points out the types of corruptible personalities and warns us of their warning flags. He also points out the situations that make the fair exercise of Power so difficult. My only disappointment arose from his suggested solutions. I found them to be well meaning but obvious. Knowing the symptoms of the Corruption in all levels of Society is helpful, but telling us to use that knowledge to apply Common Sense is of less use. Four Stars. ****

  22. 4 out of 5

    Seth

    Less a list of easy answers to a difficult question and more of a treatise on leadership, power, and how best to find good leaders, give them a system where they can lead from a place of service, and ultimately keep them accountable. I read this one in a bunch of bedtime chunks but it’s kind of laid out that way. Tons of good research and memorable anecdotes about leaders good, bad, and ugly.

  23. 4 out of 5

    Jennifer

    A must read for anyone who is curious about how terrible leaders rise to the top. I appreciated the mix of academic and journalistic research. The solutions suggested were vague at times but several could be implemented in larger organizations without issues. I felt like I learned a lot from the copious examples, plus I never felt bored or disengaged.

  24. 5 out of 5

    Kevin Morgan

    Fascinating reading, relating to a topic that affects us all. I've experienced good and bad bosses. I've been a boss, and the fact that an ex-employee hired me 25 years after ours paths parted, suggests I didn't do too bad a job. My leadership weakness was an inability to fire junior bad apples. This book explains many of the challenges we face as bosses and "underlings." A bad boss can ruin a great job. A great boss can make a bad job OK. Excellent book full of insightful stories. Kevin Thomas M Fascinating reading, relating to a topic that affects us all. I've experienced good and bad bosses. I've been a boss, and the fact that an ex-employee hired me 25 years after ours paths parted, suggests I didn't do too bad a job. My leadership weakness was an inability to fire junior bad apples. This book explains many of the challenges we face as bosses and "underlings." A bad boss can ruin a great job. A great boss can make a bad job OK. Excellent book full of insightful stories. Kevin Thomas Morgan

  25. 4 out of 5

    Mike

    I listened to Brian Klaas' interview on NPR and was fascinated with the premise of his book. The book did not disappoint. His research and presentation of others' research is insightful and intriguing. Now I know what I suspected about those in power who are so corrupt. I listened to Brian Klaas' interview on NPR and was fascinated with the premise of his book. The book did not disappoint. His research and presentation of others' research is insightful and intriguing. Now I know what I suspected about those in power who are so corrupt.

  26. 4 out of 5

    Ciaran Monaghan

    Did I enjoy this book? Well, to answer that question we'll need to visit some Yaks on the Tibetan plateau and postal workers in rural Idaho. It's clearly a well-researched book, but so much energy seems to have gone into finding quirky or unusual examples that the whole thing ends up feeling pretty unserious. Klaas often caveats these examples so its clear that we're not expected to understand them as applicable in all situations, but it also means that none of it is very convincing, even though Did I enjoy this book? Well, to answer that question we'll need to visit some Yaks on the Tibetan plateau and postal workers in rural Idaho. It's clearly a well-researched book, but so much energy seems to have gone into finding quirky or unusual examples that the whole thing ends up feeling pretty unserious. Klaas often caveats these examples so its clear that we're not expected to understand them as applicable in all situations, but it also means that none of it is very convincing, even though I mostly agree with him. When he presents ideas for how to get more 'good' leaders, and keep them good, this is a particular problem. There is so little detail that it inspired no optimism.

  27. 4 out of 5

    Val

    This had a promising subject/premise… does power corrupt? Do corrupt people seek and achieve power more often and/or more successfully? What can we do to keep corrupt people out of power? How can we convince incorruptible good people to seek positions of power? Unfortunately, this book did not really answer these questions. It presented a modest number of case studies, examples of people who were corrupt already before power and people who seemed harmless until they were in power, but the author This had a promising subject/premise… does power corrupt? Do corrupt people seek and achieve power more often and/or more successfully? What can we do to keep corrupt people out of power? How can we convince incorruptible good people to seek positions of power? Unfortunately, this book did not really answer these questions. It presented a modest number of case studies, examples of people who were corrupt already before power and people who seemed harmless until they were in power, but the author’s answer to all of the above questions was either we don’t know or it depends or all of the above can happen, and any reader already knows that to be true. The author is very knowledgeable and has studied power/authority/corruption extensively, so it isn’t a lack of intellectual chops that harms this book’s value. What detracts from the book is how much of it is taken up by the author’s fixation on human evolution from the single cell in a primordial ooze, Stone Age brains (which he credits for most undesirable tyrannical human behaviors)and even more extensively on animal behavior, particularly chimpanzees and baboons, as holding all the clues to why we do what we do. The book delves into far too much detail about evolution and animal behavior, while only shallowly examining the few selected case studies of power and corruption the book description promises. That said, although most of the book was an unnecessary journey through evolution and animal group behaviors, the chapter on police and how law enforcement agencies can attract and recruit the right kind of people was excellent and spot-on in identifying both the problem with law enforcement and the only viable long-term solution for positions that exercise so much authority over others, to the point of making split-second decisions if they will live or die in an interaction with authority. The examples of a small Georgia city’s vs Wellington New Zealand’s recruiting practices, with the latter looking for people who want to HELP others rather than CONTROL or exert authority over others or equip themselves like an armored infantry unit was exactly the kind of discussion U.S. local and federal leaders should be having about the future of policing in this nation. Kudos to Klaas for that chapter!

  28. 5 out of 5

    Richard Park

    The corruption of politicians, judges, civil servants, all of them looking on public service to find power and wealth rather than service. Brian Klaas has done an extensive job of writing the political schemes and why such things happen all around the globe. Through this book, I learned that manipulation and the accumulation of that is power. I further discovered the different types of leaders that abuse power that are out there through the many examples and stories Klaas provided within the book The corruption of politicians, judges, civil servants, all of them looking on public service to find power and wealth rather than service. Brian Klaas has done an extensive job of writing the political schemes and why such things happen all around the globe. Through this book, I learned that manipulation and the accumulation of that is power. I further discovered the different types of leaders that abuse power that are out there through the many examples and stories Klaas provided within the book. He shows the corruption and power from the most relatable viewpoints such as high school. When people earn a little bit of power, they get addicted to it and its prestige and glory. Power solely becomes their priority, and some people will even take immoral and criminal actions. The solutions he provided were quite insightful and unexpected. He said that people who want less responsibility and don’t want to run for office will be more honest and less selfish of power, which will reduce corruption overall. Having people who are eager for power and office might be too controlling and eager to take things into their manner. This paradox of power of “Those who shouldn’t be in power are more likely to seek it” was quite an interesting thing to learn about. He also dives into the psychological studies that ironically make people support and like dictators who solely care about totalitarian control and often enforce oppression. Klaas mentions many other examples from all around the world and historical events to prove his point, and he successfully communicates everything that has to do with political corruption and power.

  29. 5 out of 5

    L

    Power attracts corrupt people On reading Klaas's Introduction, I was impressed. We start with an observation that we can all agree on: many powerful people are terrible at their jobs, in the sense of exercising power in a way that benefits themselves rather than those they have power over. Why is this? An early stage in the investigation of a problem like this is hypothesis generation. It is an underappreciated part of the scientist's métier. Most people are not good at it -- they leap to the firs Power attracts corrupt people On reading Klaas's Introduction, I was impressed. We start with an observation that we can all agree on: many powerful people are terrible at their jobs, in the sense of exercising power in a way that benefits themselves rather than those they have power over. Why is this? An early stage in the investigation of a problem like this is hypothesis generation. It is an underappreciated part of the scientist's métier. Most people are not good at it -- they leap to the first obvious explanation and fail to see alternatives. In this case that explanation is Lord Acton's famous quote "Power tends to corrupt and absolute power corrupts absolutely." Klaas, however, is very good at this. He is creative and imaginative. I can't list all the ideas he comes up with, but they mostly fall into three categories: "People who are inherently corrupt are preferentially given power", "Being in power inevitably makes one appear to be corrupt", and "Power corrupts", as Acton claimed. And he doesn't make the rookie mistake of assuming that any one of these explanations excludes the others. They could all be true (and are). He then proceeds to investigate these possibilities. And that is where I began to find the book a little disappointing. First, it is undeniable that we frequently do a bad job of choosing our leaders. This is partly because "we" includes the leaders -- leaders choose themselves, and those who are attracted to power are often not the ones who really ought to get it. But a bigger issue is that even those of us who don't want to be leaders do a terrible job of choosing. Klaas goes into considerable detail. What it comes down to, mostly, is cognitive bias. At this point Corruptible began to remind me of popular physics books. If you read a lot of popular physics, you quickly learn that every pop physics book begins with the same 4-6 chapters bringing the reader up to speed on relativity and quantum mechanics. This rapidly becomes tedious. If you read a lot of books about human decision-making, you're going to wade through a whole lot of chapters about cognitive bias. In my opinion, the best book on the subject is Thinking, Fast and Slow by Daniel Kahneman. Klaas could have saved a whole lot of time by saying: "Go read Thinking, Fast and Slow. I'll wait -- I'm a book, I'm good at waiting. Then come back and let me explain to you how cognitive bias comes into play when we choose leaders." In considering Klaas's many hypotheses, one inevitably runs into the problem that while there are good data to support or refute some of them, in other cases the evidence is thin. Here Klaas did what a good scientist does: he does the best he can with the thin evidence available. However, I felt that he failed to fully acknowledge the weakness of his arguments in these places. These chapters on choosing leaders are followed by a chapter on the health effects of leadership, which seemed largely irrelevant to the purpose of the book. And then he discusses why people in leadership may appear to be more corrupt than they are, and proceeds to the question of whether Lord Acton was right: Does power corrupt? The answer is a qualified "Yes." Power definitely corrupts, but usually not as much and as badly as people think. (I'm simplifying.) We then proceed to the question of how to fix the problems. And this was my second major disappointment. Most of the solutions he discusses seem utterly impractical, in the sense that to be put in place they require the consent of the leadership, consent that is not going to be given. Also, some of his solutions seem to me to completely miss the point. For instance, he discusses why evaluating outcomes can be a misleading way to evaluate leaders. Corrupt leaders will game the outcomes, making it look as if their own outcomes are good and their competitors' bad. As a solution he suggests that we evaluate the quality of decision-making. That ain't gonna help, Dr Klaas. Corrupt leaders will game that, too. In fact, the inherent subjectivity of the evaluations you want are going to make it even easier for leadership to game them. I think the most important and believable bottom line of the section on solutions is the suggestion to focus not so much on people as on systems. Klaas even has a few (very few, alas) real-world examples of such reforms working. I wish the solutions section of the book had focused more on things that have been shown to work. In the end, Corruptible is useful but flawed. Not fatally flawed, but flawed enough to dampen enthusiasm.

  30. 4 out of 5

    Omikun

    "Power corrupts and absolute power corrupts absolutely." This book explores how power can corrupt at a neuro physiological level, how naive recruitment can draw in corrupt applicants, and what historical solutions has past societies employed to weed out corruption. It explores the cons of a voting system where the corrupt are most driven to win a popularity contest vs using sortition to create a shadow government. Recruitment needs to be tailored to uncorruptable people, while putting tanks and gu "Power corrupts and absolute power corrupts absolutely." This book explores how power can corrupt at a neuro physiological level, how naive recruitment can draw in corrupt applicants, and what historical solutions has past societies employed to weed out corruption. It explores the cons of a voting system where the corrupt are most driven to win a popularity contest vs using sortition to create a shadow government. Recruitment needs to be tailored to uncorruptable people, while putting tanks and guns and explosions in a police ad draws in power hungry people who are more likely to be corrupt. The surveillance state is putting the general population under a microscope but those who are in power are more hidden than ever. We need more transparency, or at least the possibility of surveillance on those who are in power so they would be less likely to commit fraud or acts of harmful negligence because they don't see those they rule as thinking, feeling, complex human beings.

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