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Hardcover | $7.75 Short | £5.95 | ISBN: 9780262134057 | 269 pp. | 6 x 9 in | March 2002

Master Passions

Emotion, Narrative, and the Development of Culture


At the heart of the human experience lies anxiety caused by the realization that the world is unknown, forever eluding our control. And out of this anxiety arises the master passions of ambition and envy, which we repress to mask their power over our lives. Discussion of the role of the emotions in our lives is not new, but Mihnea Moldoveanu and Nitin Nohria go much further, showing how these passions shape not only our individual lives but our social and organizational culture as well.

The master passions are not pretty, and so we cover them with the more socially acceptable faces of reason and morality. Moldoveanu and Nohria guide the reader in revealing the real impetus behind such actions as firing a friend, leaving a lover, or even pillaging your own people. Below the rational explanation, they show, often lies a willingness to hurt or even destroy others to fuel our own ambitions or quench the fires of envy. The authors offer intriguing thought experiments and examples from their own lives as they expose the power of the master passions. Deftly weaving ideas from psychology (Sigmund Freud), sociology (Max Weber), literature (William Shakespeare, Albert Camus), and philosophy (David Hume, Adam Smith, Karl Marx, Friedrich Nietzsche) with the personal, they build a strong argument that society would be much healthier if we faced the deception and self-deception that pervade our lives.

About the Authors

Mihnea Moldoveanu is Assistant Professor of Strategy at the Rotman School of Management, University of Toronto.

Nitin Nohria is Richard P. Chapman Professor of Business Administration and Chair of the Organizational Behavior unit at Harvard Business School.


“In contrast to currently fashionable views of the inner world of passion and desire as an introjection of discursive externalities, the authors have sought to understand social phenomena from within, restoring introspection as a legitimate means of understanding and knowledge. They have succeeded brilliantly.”
Yiannis Gabriel, Professor of Organizational Theory, Imperial College, University of London
“An acute, sometimes disturbing incursion into the emotional landscape of modernity. Moldoveanu and Nohria have effected an original synthesis between the phenomenology of consciousness, the psychology of deception and self-deception, and the culture of desire, deceit, and domination. It is scholarly throughout and often profound.”
Ellen J. Langer, Department of Psychology, Harvard University
Master Passions is an insightful, brilliant, readable, and compelling book. Moldoveanu and Nohria are to be congratulated (and envied) for resuscitating the powerful world of the passions — long but uneasily obscured by many trumpeted mythical beliefs in rationality.”
Neil J. Smelser, University Professor of Sociology, Emeritus, University of California, Berkeley
“All of us, especially managers, must learn how our ambitions and actions contribute to our personal and organizational conditions. Master Passions provides a remarkable roadmap to help us be introspective in useful ways.”
James Champy, Chairman of Consulting, Perot Systems Corporation
“Rage, envy, jealousy, and ambition: awkward aberrations in our lives, or central to our sense-making and social structures? Master Passions persuasively reveals them at the core of our identities and relationships. These passions create narratives that we come to both trust and despise. The authors' creative use of introspective accounts, literature, and cross-disciplinary sources offers rewarding reading to scholars of emotion. By focusing on passions, this book is a worthy addition to the growing inquiries into emotion in and beyond organizations.”
Stephen Fineman, Professor of Organizational Behavior, School of Management, University of Bath, UK