Summary of The 48 Laws of Power by Robert Greene

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  • Post last modified:August 18, 2022
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Short summary: 2 min

Long summary: 32 min

Book reading time: 15h38

Score: 9/10

Book published in: 1998

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Takeaway

  • Power is the potential to influence a situation or an outcome.
  • Mastering your emotions is the hardest thing to do when you reach for power.
  • How you treat people and how they perceive you is the most important thing.

What The 48 Laws of Power Talks About

The 48 Laws of Power was written by Robert Greene. The book is a list of principles illustrated by real-life stories that one should respect if one hopes to rise in society and become powerful. It taught me that mastering your emotions is the most important skill you will learn in your quest for power.

The book was the first book by Robert Greene. It came out in 1998 and sold 1.2 million copies.

It has been mentioned by a variety of artists and business executives as one of the most influential books in their careers.

It’s also one of the most requested books in American prisons, and has, as a result, been banned.

I read the book for the first time at 19 years old. Due to the little social experience that I had, I did not understand a single word.

Then I read it again at 23, and did not understand much more. It’s only now, at 27 years old, that the 48 Laws of Power shines in its brilliance.

The book is a bit long, and some examples employed are farfetched. Others, such as law 6 and law 38, or laws 24 and 30, against law 46, contradict each other. While Greene calls his principles laws, they really should be called…principles.

The 48 Principles of Power however, does not sound as good as The 48 Laws of Power.

Nonetheless, the book remains a brilliant observation of the human condition in society.

A must-read for anyone who deals with people on a daily basis.

9/10.

Get the book here.

Robert Greene B&W.jpg
Robert Greene. Source: Wikipedia.

Short Summary of The 48 Laws of Power

Power is the capacity to influence future events. You exercise power when you influence other people. Power should not be mistaken for control.

According to Greene, powerful people:

  • are paid attention to
  • constantly reinvent themselves
  • are unpredictable
  • are masters of social relationships
  • know a lot of people
  • rarely tell what they think
  • adapt themselves to their audience and to the situation

Find the 48 Laws here.

  1. Never Outshine the Master
  2. Never Put Too Much Trust in Friends, Learn How to Use Enemies
  3. Conceal Your Intentions
  4. Always Say Less Than Necessary
  5. So Much Depends on Reputation – Guard It With Your Life
  6. Court Attention at All Costs
  7. Get Others to Do the Work for You, but Always Take the Credit
  8. Make Other People Come to You – Use Bait if Necessary
  9. Win Through Your Actions, Never Through Argument
  10. Infection: Avoid the Unhappy and the Unlucky
  11. Learn to Keep People Dependent on You
  12. Use Selective Honesty and Generosity to Disarm Your Victim
  13. When Asking for Help, Appeal to the Self-interests of Others, Never to Their Mercy or Gratitude
  14. Pose as a Friend, Work as a Spy
  15. Crush Your Enemy Totally
  16. Use Absence to Increase Respect and Honor
  17. Keep Others in Suspended Terror: Cultivate an Air of Unpredictability
  18. Do Not Build Fortresses to Protect Yourself – Isolation is Dangerous
  19. Know Who You’re Dealing With – Don’t Offend the Wrong Person
  20. Don’t Commit to Anyone
  21. Play a Sucker to Catch a Sucker – Appear Dumber Than Your Mark
  22. Use the Surrender Tactic: Transform Weakness Into Power
  23. Concentrate Your Forces
  24. Play the Perfect Courtier
  25. Recreate Yourself
  26. Keep Your Hands Clean
  27. Create a Cult-like Following by Playing on People’s Need to Believe
  28. Enter Action With Boldness
  29. Plan All the Way to the End
  30. Make Your Accomplishments Seem Effortless
  31. Control the Options: Get Others to Play With the Cards You Deal
  32. Play Into People’s Fantasies
  33. Discover Each Man’s Thumbscrew
  34. Be Royal in Your Own Fashion: Act Like a King to Be Treated Like One
  35. Master the Art of Timing
  36. Disdain Things You Cannot Have: Ignoring Them is the Best Revenge
  37. Create Compelling Spectacles
  38. Think as You Like, but Behave Like Others
  39. Stir Up Waters to Catch Fish
  40. Despise the Free Lunch
  41. Avoid Stepping Into a Great Man’s Shoes
  42. Strike the Shepherd, and the Sheep Will Scatter
  43. Work on the Hearts and Minds of Others
  44. Disarm and Infuriate With the Mirror Effect
  45. Preach the Need for Change, but Never Reform Too Much at Once
  46. Never Appear Too Perfect
  47. Don’t Go Past the Mark You Aimed For: In Victory, Learn When to Stop
  48. Assume Formlessness

Summary of The 48 Laws of Power written by Robert Greene

Introduction

Everyone wants more power in life because having no power over people or events is unbearable.

Those who claim they don’t want power, or that it’s immoral, are often themselves playing power games. The most innocent players are often the most pernicious.

The truth about power is that its game is inescapable. You must learn to use it, protect yourself from it, and have as much as you can. The more power you have, the better friend, father, husband you will be.

The most important skill by far in the power game is the ability to master your emotions, anger being the most destructive one of all.

You must learn to distance yourself from your emotions. You need to objectively look at the future, and objectively look at the past.

Forget about the past events where people have hurt you. Holding grudges cloud your vision. The past should be a database you learn from, nothing else.

To gain power, you must learn to take many faces, you must learn to deceive. You have to be patient.

Half of your power comes from what you do not do. Be careful of what you get dragged into. To quote Nietzsche, the value of something is not what it brings you, but the price you paid for it.

Never waste valuable time, or mental peace of mind, on the affairs of others—that is too high a price to pay.


1. Never Outshine the Master

You may trigger fear and insecurity in them.

People have insecurities and will compare themselves to you. If you appear too brilliant, the master will shut you down.

Even if the master loves you, never assume that you can just do whatever you want.

Always indirectly flatter the master, make him seem smarter than you, make him feel needed by you.

Make them appear more brilliant than they are, and don’t be too brilliant yourself.

Reversal: if the master is a falling star, don’t bother respecting the law.


2. Never Put Too Much Trust In Friends, Learn How To Use Enemies

It’s normal to go to friends to ask for help or comfort, but the problem is that friends are rarely honest with each other. They keep things hidden not to anger you.

When you really get to know them, you are often surprised to find out about certain traits you ignored.

As a result, don’t hire friends. Keep friends for friendships, and hire competent people instead. Or your enemies.

When you hire an enemy, you give him a chance to prove himself. Henry Kissinger knew that, and when an attempt to kidnap him failed, he met with the kidnappers – and became friends with them.

Friends will betray you more quickly because they will feel envy quicker. Enemies can be controlled.

You have more to fear from friends than from enemies.

Reversal: if you have dirty work to do, send a friend. His affection for you will prevent betrayal.


3. Conceal Your Intentions

Most people are open books, hence easily predictable.

When people don’t know your intentions, they cannot prepare.

Part 1: use decoyed object of desire and red herring to confuse people.

Most people constantly reveal their intention because it’s easy and natural to do so, and because they think that being honest will help them in their relations with people.

But by being so open, it’s much harder to respect or fear you.

It’s also better to tell people what they want to hear.

By telling people you aim at a goal you are not aiming at, you will throw them off course. Constantly talk about the goal, and people will believe you. Never reveal all of your plans.

Part 2: Use smoke screens to disguise your actions. These small screens must be familiar, banal. Anything great will raise suspicion.

Reversal: when your reputation as a deceiver is known, be honest, and appear as the “repentant” rogue instead.

image
Napoleon Bonapart. Source: Wikipedia.

4. Always Say Less Than Necessary

When you are trying to impress people with words, the more you say, the more common and less in control you appear, and the more likely you are to say something stupid.

Once the words are out, you cannot take them back, so keep them under control. Be particularly careful with sarcasm: The momentary satisfaction you gain with your biting words will be outweighed by the price you pay later.

Powerful people impress and intimidate by saying less.

Reversal: don’t be silent with your superiors, as it will throw them off. Furthermore, many smart people talk endlessly to make others believe you’re a fool is another technique.


5. So Much Depends On Reputation—Guard It With Your Life

Reputation is the cornerstone of power: through reputation alone, you can intimidate and win. You can use it to double your strength. It increases your presence and exaggerates your strengths without your having to spend much energy. It can also create an aura around you that will instill respect, even fear.

Furthermore, your reputation can make your life a self-fulfilling prophecy. Because you did it, it’s good.

Protect your reputation. Once it slips, you are vulnerable, and will be attacked on all sides.

Always be alert to potential attacks and thwart them before they happen.

Meanwhile, learn to destroy your enemies by opening holes in their own reputation. Use subtler tactics, such as satire and ridicule, to weaken your opponent while making you out as a charming rogue.

Then stand aside and let the public make an opinion of their own.

There is no reversal to this law.


6. Court Attention at All Costs

Everything is judged by its appearance; if you can’t see it, it doesn’t exist.

Never let yourself be unseen. Make yourself a magnet of attention by appearing larger, more colorful, more mysterious than the bland and timid masses.

Part 1: Surround your name with the scandalous and sensational.

Society craves larger-than-life figures, people who stand above the general mediocrity.

Draw attention to yourself by creating an unforgettable, even controversial image. Do what you can to shine more brightly than those around you. The type of attention you get doesn’t matter. Better to be slandered and attacked than ignored.

Part II: Create an air of mystery.

What seems enigmatic instantly draws attention. Never make it too clear what you are doing or about to do.

Do not show all your cards. Mystery creates anticipation – everyone will be watching you to see what happens next. Use mystery to beguile, seduce, or frighten.

If your social position prevents you from completely wrapping your actions in mystery, you must at least learn to make yourself less obvious.

Reversal: adapt your tactics as you rise, and never use the same trick twice. Don’t appear too greedy for attention. Understand that there are times when you don’t want to attract attention, in the presence of a king or a queen, for example.

image 1
Niccolò Machiavelli. Source: Wikipedia.

7. Get Others To Do The Work For You, But, Always Take The Credit

Use the wisdom, knowledge, and legwork of other people to further your own cause. Not only will such assistance save you valuable time and energy, it will give you a godlike aura of efficiency and speed.

In the end your helpers will be forgotten and you will be remembered. Never do yourself what others can do for you.

As you are working hard, there are people waiting to take advantage of your work. Don’t complain about this. Do what they do instead.

Reversal: to take credits, you must be in a high-enough position of power.


8. Make Other People Come To You— Use Bait If Necessary

When you force the other person to act, you are the one in control. It is always better to make your opponent come to you than you going to him. Lure him with a shiny object—then attack. You hold the cards.

Don’t be the aggressive one going after people. Get people to react to your move, don’t react to theirs.

There is no point in chasing and going after others if you never feel in control.

Reversal: there are some situations when a fast attack enables you to use surprise to win.


9. Win Through Your Actions, Never Through Argument

You can’t win arguments. Even if you do, it will create resentment. So, don’t debate with people. It is much more powerful to get others to agree with you through your actions, without saying a word.

Demonstrate, do not explicate.

If someone tells you to do something that you think is useless, do it, and show that it is indeed, useless.

When aiming for power, or trying to conserve it, always look for the indirect route. And choose your battles carefully. If it does not matter in the long run whether the other person agrees with you, then don’t bother. Save your energy and walk away.

Reversal: use verbal arguments to distract or save yourself after being caught in a lie. The more emotional and certain you appear, the less likely it seems that you are lying.


10. Avoid the Unhappy and Unlucky

Despite beliefs, you can die from someone else’s misery – emotional states are as infectious as viruses.

You may feel you are helping someone but you are only precipitating your own disaster.

Humans are extremely susceptible to the moods, emotions, and even the ways of thinking of others.

People that are constantly unhappy have a lot of influence because their characters and emotions are so intense. They often present themselves as victims but their situation is in fact often self-inflicted.

They infect you before you realize it.

Understand this: In the game of power, the people you associate with are critical.

The only action you can take against bad influences is to avoid them at all costs.

Associate yourself with people that have traits of characters that you want to have yourself. Don’t associate with those who share your defects.

There is no reversal to this law.

image 2
Con-man Joseph Weil, also called “The Yellow Kid”.

11. Learn to Keep People Dependent on You

To maintain your independence you must always be needed and wanted. The more you are relied on, the more freedom you have.

Make people depend on you for their happiness and prosperity and you have nothing to fear. Never teach them enough so that they can do without you.

Don’t think that the ultimate form of power is independence. Power involves a relationship between people; you will always need others as allies, pawns, or even as weak masters who serve as your front.

If you are indispensable, you must become so.

Reversal: the problem with having people dependent on you is that you are often dependent on them. Another way to play with the rule is to drive out all competition so you’re left alone, like Rockefeller did with oil.


12. Use Selective Honesty And Generosity To Disarm Your Victim

One sincere and honest move will cover dozens of dishonest ones. Open-hearted gestures of honesty and generosity bring down the guard of even the most suspicious people.

Once your selective honesty opens a hole in people’s armor, you can deceive and manipulate them at will. A gift – a Trojan horse – will serve the same purpose.

The essence of deception is distraction. Distracting the people you want to deceive gives you the time and space to do something they won’t notice.

An act of kindness, generosity, or honesty is often the most powerful form of distraction because it disarms other people’s suspicions. It tums them into children.

Reversal: when your reputation is that of a deceiver, no amount of honest deeds will be enough to disarm your victim.


13. When Asking for Help, Appeal to People’s Self-Interest, Never to Their Mercy or Gratitude

When asking for help, don’t remind people of all the good that you have done for them, and don’t ask for pity. Offer them something in exchange.

Most people never succeed at this, because they are completely oblivious to the wants and desires of others. They assume that others are concerned with their problems – while nobody cares.

Use self-interest.

Once you show people how helping you will help them, they’ll be happy to do so. Train yourself to find out the needs and desires of others, get into their heads.

Reversal: Some people will see an appeal to their self-interest as ugly and ignoble. They actually prefer to be able to exercise charity, mercy, and justice, which are their ways of feeling superior to you: When you beg them for help, you emphasize their power and position. They are strong enough to need nothing from you except the chance to feel superior.


14. Pose as a Friend, Work as a Spy

Knowing about your rival is critical. Use spies to gather valuable information that will keep you a step ahead, be the spy yourself.

In polite social encounters, learn to probe. Ask indirect questions to get people to reveal their weaknesses and intentions.

If people don’t tell you everything, you can send a spy, a friendly face, that subsequently reports to you.

You can also invent lies to test people’s reactions.

Reversal: to protect yourself, spread disinformation.


15. Crush Your Enemy Totally

All great leaders since Moses have known that a feared enemy must be crushed completely. More is lost from stopping halfway than through total annihilation. The enemy will recover and will seek revenge. Crush him, not only in body but in spirit.

Reversal: if your enemies are about to destroy themselves, let them be.