Keeping abreast of the issues

The Princessa: Machiavelli for women by Harriet Rubin, Bloomsbury, pounds 12.99

The Princessa is about "becoming powerful without becoming a man". Women should settle for nothing less than greatness, insists its American author, Harriet Rubin. Despite the ludicrous title she nearly got me going. "There is no shame in fighting," she cries, and the fighter within me stirred. But barely paragaphs later she cites Jackie Onassis as a great warrior - and my shoulders slumped. Of course she's critical of Hillary Clinton. Hillary's sureness about her own judgement is a profound weakness in a woman. It's that kind of confusing, mixed message, what-the-hell- is-she-talking-about book.

Rubin has spent 20 years in publishing in New York. It must be tough pouring your energy into authors who get rich and famous while all you get is a couple of lines in the acknowledgements. So it was only a matter of time before Rubin did her very own book. Someone suggested she wrote about power and with evangelical zeal, Rubin threw together a few powerful key words, names, stories and quotes.

It's a truth that, with self-help books, you don't need wisdom or originality to sell copies. The material in John Gray's hugely successful recent book, Men are from Venus, Women are from Mars, was a new spin on old ideas, but it was timely, with a title that caught the imagination.

Rubin's unlikely but attention-getting spin on women and power is that women who feel they want and deserve more out of life should behave like princesses - steely sovereigns, canny fighters. "A princessa requires happiness, satisfaction, true love, money and freedom". The Princessa is intended as a combat manual in three parts: "The Book of Strategy", "The Book of Tactics" and the "Book of Subtle Weapons".

You see, women live in "a troubled and embattled domain". It's no good fighting for power at work and in relationships in the same way men do, because we'll go on losing. We've got to fight another way. We need to learn about the vast wealth of our femininity: to be brilliantly disruptive, to use our bodies, our intellect and our looks.

We have to be spies, create tension, accept presents, and understand there is only one strategy for a true princessa: a combination of love and war. We have to learn not to fade into the background and, when in doubt, wear a long black dress, sunglasses and a wide-brimmed hat to meetings - everyone will remember you.

There are stories about or quotes from Diane Arbus, Walt Whitman, Montaigne, Mark Twain, Hannah Arendt, Rainer Maria Rilke, Golda Meir, E M Forster, Mrs Thatcher, Melanie Klein, George Eliot, Eleanor Roosevelt, Benazir Bhutto, Scheherezade, Lady Macbeth and many more to substantiate Rubin's theories and convince you you're not reading a book written by any old schlep. Hell - she even invokes Nelson Mandela's inaugural speech.

It'll be fascinating to see how Rubin conducts herself when she's over here on her book tour. Journalists and presenters should be prepared to interview a woman with a plunging neckline who's dabbing the tears from her eyes while flashing an emerald knuckleduster. You see, truly powerful women know that "Tears are a freedom of speech issue". "Jewels talk." and "A woman's breasts are a source of hidden power". Groundbreaking, or what?

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