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Why are these two books banned at the Utah State prison?

First Published      Last Updated Jan 09 2017 11:52 am

Censored » Harry Potter is on the library shelf, but titles deemed manipulative, like “Mein Kampf,” are not.

For the inmates locked up at the Utah State Prison, copies of John Grisham's "A Time to Kill," the classic "Crime and Punishment" and each installment in the "Game of Thrones" series are permitted — even encouraged — reading.

But two provocative guidebooks are not.

As the only titles on the prison's banned books list, "The 48 Laws of Power" and "The Art of Seduction," both by Robert Greene, are not allowed inside the institution's towering wire fences. The reason? They're all about manipulation.

A matter of security • Christie Jensen, the prison's librarian for more than a decade, sits at the checkout desk. There aren't any inmates browsing through the books, so she stares out at the small, unadorned room filled with 5-foot-tall shelves.

She can't remember exactly when the two books were banned by the prison — probably four or five years ago — and it's unclear to her who made the call. The decision, she said, was passed down by some official of "the institution," not the library. (Lists obtained by The Salt Lake Tribune also do not show an enforcement date or acting employee's name.)

Prison spokeswoman Maria Peterson said those details were lost in the shuffle when a new executive director started shortly after the ban was instituted; other leaders also retired and were replaced about the same time.

"All of the people who were here, are no longer," she said.

The ban was categorized as a security measure, accompanied by a brief explanation. Prison officials feared the books, Jensen said, could show inmates "how to control people, how to get people to do exactly what you want them to do."

Knowledge is power • Law 15: Crush your enemy totally. Law 17: Keep others in suspended terror. Law 33: Discover each man's thumbscrew.

These are a few of the guidelines that make up Greene's first book, "The 48 Laws of Power," published in 1998. It's been described as the "bible for atheists," "chicken soup for the soulless" and, by The New Yorker, a manual on "how to be a creep."

Nevertheless, the title is categorized as a self-help and psychological guidebook, selling more than 1.2 million copies nationwide.

"I went to an extreme for literary purposes because I felt all the self-help books out there were so gooey and Pollyanna-ish and nauseating," Greene said in a 2012 interview with The Guardian.

Attempts by The Tribune to interview Greene were unsuccessful.

In the introduction to "The 48 Laws of Power," after noting the book's instructions can "make people bend to your will without their realizing what you have done," Greene offers a warning. "It might be better to turn back," he writes. "Power is endlessly seductive and deceptive in its own way."

Techniques for control • Greene's second book, "The Art of Seduction," is not necessarily any more benign. The 2001 best-seller focuses on "weapons of persuasion and charm" used to woo often unwilling subjects.

"[These strategies] will instruct you on how to create a spell, break down people's resistance, give movement and force to your seduction, and induce surrender in your target," Greene writes. Instructions include "choose the right victim" and "use the demonic power of words to sow confusion."

Based on historical references to Sigmund Freud, Sun Tzu and Niccolo Machiavelli, the laws are intended as examples of techniques for control that have worked for generations. Though Greene says he doesn't try to follow all of his own advice.

"Anybody who did would be a horrible ugly person to be around," he told The Telegraph in 2012.

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