Summary of The 48 Laws of Power, by Robert Greene

Short summary reading time: 2 min

Long summary reading time: 32 min

Book reading time: 15h38

Score: 9/10

Book published in: 1998

Main Idea

Mastering your emotions is the most important skill you will learn in your quest for power.

About

The 48 Laws of Power is the first book of US writer 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 by its brilliance.

The book is a bit long, and some examples employed are farfetched. Others, such as law 6 and law 38, or law 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.

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.

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.

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 over 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.


16. Use Absence to Increase Respect and Honor

It’s great to shine brighter than others, but you eventually reach a point when people have too much of you.

This is especially the truth for seduction. Absence stimulates the imagination. When your presence is taken for granted, you are seen as less desirable. This is why whoever you are with should constantly fear that you will leave.

This is also why everyone loves people that die. Because they will never be back, some sort of aura floats around them.

Extend the law of scarcity to your own skills. Do what is rare, and be demanded.

Reversal: you can withdraw only after you have established a presence.


17. Keep Others In Suspended Terror: Cultivate an Air Of Unpredictability

Humans are creatures of habit with an insatiable need to see familiarity in other people’s actions. Your predictability gives them a sense of control. So, be deliberately unpredictable.

Behavior that seems to have no consistency or purpose will keep them off-balance, and they won’t be able to explain your moves. Taken to the extreme, this strategy can intimidate and terrorize.

Humans like routine, and live with a routine. When you break it, they fear you.

One way to do so is by being nice to people, then mean, then nice again, then mean etc.

Reversal: predictability works when you put people asleep.


18. Do Not Build Fortresses To Protect Yourself – Isolation Is Dangerous

The world is dangerous and enemies are everywhere – everyone has to protect themselves.

A fortress seems the safest, but isolation exposes you to more dangers than it protects you from:

  • It cuts you off from valuable information
  • It makes you conspicuous and an easy target.

Better to circulate among people, find allies, mingle, than being alone.

Isolation of a fortress creates more problems than it solves. Isolation creates awkwardness in your gestures, and leads to further isolation, as people start avoiding you.

The more you are in contact with others, the more graceful and at ease you become.

Reversal: isolation can be advised in only one case: thought. Social pressures make it hard to think for yourself. Isolation can help you gain perspective.

The only problem is that the more in isolation you are, the harder it is to break out of it.


19. Know Who You’re Dealing With – Do Not Offend The Wrong Person

There are many different kinds of people in the world, and you can never assume that everyone will react to your strategies in the same way.

Some people may spend the rest of their lives seeking revenge.

There are five types of people you want to avoid offending.

1. The Arrogant and Proud Man: if you ever feel too much sensitivity and overactive pride in someone, don’t linger. Whatever you hope for isn’t worth it.

2. The Hopelessly Insecure Man: like above albeit less violent.

3. Mr. Suspicion: he imagines everyone is after him. The least dangerous of all five.

4. The Serpent With a Long Memory: Recognize this man by his calculation and cunning in the different areas of his life. He is usually cold and unaffectionate.

5. The Plain, Unassuming, and Often Unintelligent Man: this man will waste your time if you’re trying to deceive him.

Knowing who you are dealing with is the most important skill to conserve power.

This law knows no reversal.


20. Do Not Commit To Anyone

Do not commit to any side or cause but yourself.

By maintaining your independence, you become the master of others— playing people against one another, making them pursue you for your support.

Part I: Do Not Commit To Anyone, But Be Courted By All

If you allow people to feel they possess you to any degree, you lose all power over them. By not committing your affections, they will only try harder to win you over.

Stay aloof and you gain the power that comes from their attention and frustrated desire. Play the Virgin Queen: give them hope but never satisfaction.

Not committing to anyone incurs a kind of respect. Aloofness is powerful, never be seen as part of a “camp”.

Part II: Do Not Commit To Anyone – Stay Above The Fray

Do not let people drag you into their drama. Seem interested and supportive, but find a way to remain neutral; let others do the fighting while you stand back, watch and wait.

When the fighting parties are good and tired they will be ripe for the picking. You can make it a practice, in fact, to stir up quarrels between other people, and then offer mediation, gaining power as the go-between.

To gain power, you need to be in control of your emotions. The problem is that others rarely are. Your self-control and autonomy may end up annoying them.

Listen, be supportive, but don’t intervene.

Reversal: there is no reversal. However, both being too distant and too close will turn against you. It’s a difficult game of equilibrium, but one worth playing.


21. Play A Sucker To Catch A Sucker – Seem Dumber Than Your Mark

No one likes feeling stupider than the next person.

The trick, then, is to make your victims feel smarter than you are. Once convinced of this, they will never suspect that you may have ulterior motives.

This law knows no reversal.


22. Use The Surrender Tactic: Transform Weakness Into Power

When you are weaker, never fight for honor’s sake; choose surrender instead.

Surrender gives you:

  • time to recover
  • time to torment and irritate your conqueror
  • time to wait for his power to wane.

Turn the other cheek, so you infuriate and unsettle your opponent. Make surrender a tool of power.

Overreaction to enemies often causes problems that would have been avoided had we stood still. Standing still takes away your opponents’ reason to be angry at you.

It is often better to surrender than to fight, especially the battles you will lose.

As for running away, it won’t buy you enough rest time.

This law knows no reversal.


23. Concentrate Your Forces

Conserve your forces and energies by keeping them concentrated at their strongest point. You gain more by finding a rich mine and mining it deeper, than by flitting from one shallow mine to another – intensity defeats extensity every time.

When looking for sources of power to elevate you, find the one thing that will give it to you.

Napoleon concentrated on one goal in life, and he concentrated on the weakest spot in his enemies’ army.

Casanova said the same of his success.

He said that when a man gets one goal into his head, he will succeed no matter what.

And most artists found out that it was better to gain one patron that paid for all of the art, than several who paid a bit.

Reversal: having the weakest army, Mao did not concentrate his forces but spread on several fronts using several tactics, such as sabotage. Tying yourself to one person is also dangerous as if they disappear, or change their mind, you lose your only liferaft.

Furthermore, being too single-minded can be boring, especially in art.

Da Vinci was interested in everything, which enabled him to create such nice pieces of art.


24. Play the Perfect Courtier

The laws of court politics:

1. Avoid ostentation: the more you talk about your deeds, the more suspicion you cause.

2. Practice nonchalance: Never seem to be working too hard. People should think you’re a genius, not a workaholic.

3. Be frugal with flattery: learn to flatter indirectly instead, such as by downplaying your contribution.

4. Be noticed: It’s a paradox. You should be noticed, but not too much.

5. Adapt your style and language to the person you are dealing with.

6. Never be the bearer of bad news: the king usually kills the messenger of bad news.

7. Never affect friendliness with your master: he wants a subordinate, not a friend.

8. Never criticize those above you directly: be subtle and indirect.

9. Don’t ask too many favors to those above you: and never ask a favor on someone’s behalf.

10. Never joke about appearances or taste: these are sensitive topics, and they will backfire.

11. Do not be the court cynic: admire the good work of others, don’t constantly criticize.

12. Be self-observant: try to see yourself how others see you.

13. Master your emotions: cry and laugh on demand.

14. Fit the spirit of the times: neither too progressive, neither too conservative.

15. Be a source of pleasure


25. Re-Create Yourself

Do not accept the roles that society foists on you.

Re-create yourself by forging a new identity, one that commands attention and never bores the audience. Choose your own image, don’t let others define it.

Incorporate dramatic devices into your public gestures and actions.

You are not only the character you were born with, but also the character of your environment. Stop letting others shape who you are. Work on yourself as an artist on the stone.

The first step in this process is self-consciousness.

The second step is to create a character that attracts attention.

This law knows no reversal.


26. Keep Your Hands Clean

You cannot be seen doing nasty deeds. Maintain such a spotless appearance by using others as scapegoats and cat’s paws to disguise your involvement.

Part I: Conceal your mistakes: Have a scapegoat around to take the blame

Our good name and reputation depend more on what we conceal than on what we reveal. Everyone makes mistakes, but those who are truly clever hide them and make sure someone else is blamed. Always have a scapegoat.

A scapegoat serves to shift guilt and sin onto someone else (like an animal) which is then banished and destroyed.

This happened because people rarely look at themselves as the origin of a crappy situation.

Part II: Make Use Of The Cat’s paw

Don’t do the dirty work yourself, use a cat’s paw. The cat’s paw grabs what you need, hurts whom you need hurt, and keeps people from noticing that you are the one responsible.

Leaders that work harder than anyone else don’t appear as powerful, but weak. The same way that the powerful don’t do the dirty work themselves. Everything looks good around them.

Reversal: be careful when using cat’s paws and scapegoats. If you are discovered as the puppet master, the whole dynamic will turn against you.


27. Play On People’s Need To Believe To Create A Cultlike Following

People have the desire to believe in something.

Become the focal point of such desire by offering them a cause, a new faith to follow.

Keep your words vague but full of promise; emphasize enthusiasm over rationality and clear thinking.

Give your new disciples rituals to perform, ask them to make sacrifices on your behalf.

In the absence of organized religion and grand causes, your new belief system will bring you untold power.

How to create a cult in five easy steps

  1. Keep it vague and simple: first, attract attention with your words, not your action. Promise something great and transformative, and totally vague.
  2. Emphasize the visual and the sensual over the intellectual: once you have audience, two dangers lurk: boredom and skepticism. Make sure you entertain and chase out the cynics.
  3. Borrow the forms of organized religion to structure the group: create rituals, a hierarchy, ranks, and give titles. Talk and act like a prophet.
  4. Disguise your source of income: never reveal your wealth comes from your followers, don’t surround yourself with too much luxury.
  5. Set up an us-versus-them dynamic: to avoid boredom, make sure your followers believe they are part of a unique group. To strengthen the feeling, make it seem as if the “other people” are trying to tear the group apart. If you have no enemies, invent one.

Reversal: it’s easier to deceive a group than it is to deceive an individual. However, if the group comes after you, it becomes much more dangerous than an individual. Be careful.


28. Enter Action with Boldness

If you are unsure of a course of action, do not attempt it.

Your doubts and hesitations will spoil the execution. Timidity is dangerous. Better to enter with boldness. Any mistakes you commit through audacity are easily corrected with more audacity.

Everyone admires the bold; no one honors the timid.

Boldness VS Hesitation

  • Hesitation puts obstacles on your path. Boldness takes them away.
  • The bolder the lie, the better: entering action with boldness hides deficiencies.
  • Lions circle the hesitant preys: once you are perceived as someone that easily backs away, you will be abused of and pushed around.
  • Boldness strikes fear, which creates authority: by intimidating with a bold move, you set up a precedent. People will now be scared of you.
  • Going halfway with half a heart digs the deeper grave
  • Hesitation creates gaps, boldness obliterates them: Timidity creates awkwardness and embarrassement. Boldness destroys such things.
  • Audacity separates you from the herd

In seduction, hesitation is fatal.

Most people are shy. They’re afraid to look stupid and be judged by others.

But it creates awkwardness. Boldness is more commonly accepted.

No one is born bold, it is something you develop over time.

In fact, neither boldness nor timidity are natural.

We fear the consequences of boldness because we were taught not to harm others. In practice, the opposite often happens. Boldness doesn’t hurt, but timidity does.

Reversal: boldness must be used at the right time, in the right situation.


29. Plan All the Way to the End

The ending is everything. Plan all the way to it, taking into account all the possible obstacles.

By planning to the end, you will not be overwhelmed by circumstances and you will know when to stop. You will no longer be tempted by emotion or by the desire to improvise.

Your clarity will rid you of the anxiety and vagueness that are the primary reasons why so many fail to conclude their actions successfully. You see the ending and you tolerate no deviation.

Most people’s plan for the future is based on their desire instead of on reality. This is why you should have a plan.

Reversal: your plan can’t be too rigid as not everything can be controlled in life. Adapt.


30. Make your Accomplishments Seem effortless

Your actions must seem natural and executed with ease. Make people believe you act effortlessly and don’t reveal how hard you work – it only raises questions. Teach no one your tricks or they will be used against you.

Artists did not allow anyone to watch them work, as they knew that the magic disappeared when one was seen making too much effort for something.

What is understandable is not awe-inspiring.

Furthermore, when you tell people how you do something, they can use that info against you.

Reversal: don’t work too hard to hide, as you will look like you are taking it too seriously.


31. Control the Options: Get Others to Play With the Cards You Deal

Give people options that come out in your favor whichever one they choose.

While we don’t want to be deprived of choice, too much yields anxiety. As a result, we’re often most happy with a few options.

Here are a few techniques that give the illusion of the choice.

  1. Color the option: give out three or four options, but present your favorite one in a much better way.
  2. Force the resister: if you tell a kid not to walk on the road, he will. If you force him to walk on the road, he will be happy to come back on the pathway.
  3. Alter the playing field: when Rockefeller built his oil monopoly, he didn’t buy the oil companies, but the railway that was serving them. When he controlled the railway, he forced the oil companies to sell – or he would bankrupt them.
  4. The shrinking options: decrease the attractiveness of the option as time goes by (plane tickets increase in prices).
  5. The Weak Man on the Precipice: like color the option, but much more aggressive.
  6. Brothers in Crime: get someone to do something illegal with you and they will leave you alone.
  7. The Hornes of a Dilemma: you’re left with two options, and neither of them are positive.

Reversal: never seem to be exercising power outright, always give the illusion of choice. Sometimes, when you don’t restrict choices at all, you allow your opponent to be free and can observe his strategy.


32. Play to People’s Strategy

The truth is often avoided because it is ugly and unpleasant.

Life is so harsh and distressing that people who can manufacture romance or conjure up fantasy are like oases in the desert: everyone flocks to them.

Fantasy takes hold in a decadent context: they work only when reality is gloomy. There is great power in tapping into the fantasies of the masses.

Don’t look at what people are. Look at the stories you can tell them about themselves.

Find some examples below.

The reality: Change is slow, gradual, demands hard work, luck, and patience.
The fantasy: A sudden transformation will bring a total change without the need for time, luck, or effort.

The reality: The social life has codes and rules we need to respect and live with.
The fantasy: There is out there a totally different world with new rules and adventure.

The reality: Society is fragmented and full of conflict.
The fantasy: People can come together in a mystical union of souls.

The Reality: Death. The dead cannot be brought back, the past cannot be changed.
The Fantasy: A sudden reversal of this intolerable fact.

Reversal: Keep the fantasy light. The public doesn’t like to find it’s being played.


33. Discover Each Man’s Thumbscrew

Everyone has a weakness. That weakness is usually an insecurity, an uncontrollable emotion or a need. It can also be a small secret pleasure. Either way, once found, it is a thumbscrew you can turn to your advantage.

How to find the thumbscrew:

  1. Pay attention to gestures and unconscious signals.
  2. Find the helpless child: when children grow up lacking something from their parents, they will behave as a child again if you supply it to them.
  3. Look for contrasts: people who thump their chests are often big cowards; the uptight is dying for adventure; the shy is craving for attention.
  4. Find the weak link: there often is someone behind the scene with all of the power. Find that person.
  5. Fill the void: the two emotional voids to fill are insecurity and unhappiness. The insecure seeks social validation, while the unhappy has roots in his unhappiness. Fill their emotional void.
  6. Feed on uncontrollable emotions: these are paranoia, hatred, lust and greed. If you make them feel these, you will be able to control them.

Reversal: playing on people’s weaknesses may backfire as you can lose control of them at some point. Push the shy into adventure and they may go too far. Know the limits of the game and remember that as euphoric as it is, you are after power. Not control.


34. Be Royal In Your Own Fashion: Act Like A King To Be Treated Like One

The way you carry yourself will often determine how you are treated: in the long run, appearing vulgar or common will make people disrespect you.

Kings that don’t respect themselves are quickly replaced. By acting confident in yourself, you seem destined to wear a crown.

As children, we have great ambitions and demand the best. As we fail in life, we learn to decrease our expectations and apologize for the smallest requests we make.

The idea is to do the exact opposite.

Go bigger. Never stop.

If you believe you are destined for great things, this belief will radiate outward.

When you believe so much in your own greatness, it becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy.

Act differently, keeping distance from others to outline your difference.

Here are a few strategies:

  1. The Columbus Strategy: Always make a bold demand (he asked to receive the title of Commander of the Seas).
  2. The David and Goliath Strategy: go after the highest person in the building.
  3. Give a gift to those above you

It’s up to you to set your own price. Ask for less, and you will get less.

Ask for more, and you signal what you think your worth is.

Even if people turn you down, they will respect you more then.

Reversal: if you set yourself apart too much, you will fail. Never try to elevate yourself by bringing others down. And don’t rise too high either. Do not mistake confidence for arrogance.


35. Master The Art Of Timing

Never seem to be in a hurry. It betrays a lack of control over yourself and over time. Always give the impression that you know that everything will come to you eventually.

  • Become a detective of the right moment
  • Sniff out the spirit the times, the trends that will carry you to power.
  • Learn to stand back when the time is not yet ripe
  • Strike fiercely when the moment has arrived.

Time depends on perception. For a child, it’s slow. For an adult, it’s fast.

When we are in the turmoil of our emotions, time is fast. When we control our emotions, time is slow.

There are three types of time.

  1. Long-time: counted in years, it has to be managed with patience. Handle defensively: don’t react impulsively, and wait for the opportunity.
  2. Forced time: short-term time we can manipulate to upset our opponent.
  3. End-time: the moment we need to take action.

This law knows no reversal.


36. Disdain Things You Cannot Have: Ignoring Them Is The Best Revenge

By acknowledging a petty problem, you give it existence and credibility. The more attention you pay an enemy, the stronger you make him; and a small mistake is often made worse and more visible when you try to fix it.

The more you want something, the more you chase after it, the more it eludes you.

The more interest you show, the more you repel the object of your desire because it makes people feel awkward.

It is sometimes best to leave things alone. If there is something you want but cannot have, forget about it.

It will create a reaction to the object of your desire. Ignoring enhances your power.

Trying to fix your mistakes often makes them worse.

Here’s how you can execute this law.

  1. If there is something you want and cannot have, the worst you can do is complain about it.
  2. When someone under you attacks you, look away and make it understand that the attack just flew by and does not matter one bit.
  3. When a superior calls you out, don’t say anything and fix your mistake quickly.

Reversal: some problems will worsen if left unattended.


37. Create Compelling Spectacles

Using words is dangerous, as they can be wrongly interpreted, or phrased. When you do, instead of talk, you short-circuit logic.

Words put you on the defensive. If you have to explain yourself, you already lost.

Use symbols, colors, and associate yourself with them to inspire.

This is easy to do. People love what is grand, spectacular, and larger than life. Appeal to their emotions and they will flock to your spectacle in hordes. The visual is the easiest route to their hearts

This law knows no reversal.

Queen Elizabeth I.

38. Think As You Like But Behave Like Others

If you are constantly doing the opposite of others, people will think you just want attention.

From an early age, we learn to never say exactly what we think but tell what others want to hear.

There is nonetheless a small minority that sees this as a restriction on their freedom. In the end, they offend many more people than they become friends with.

Don’t try to be too special. Blend in instead. Share your originality only with tolerant friends and those who are sure to appreciate your uniqueness.

Reversal: the only time you can be outrageously different is when you’re already in power.


39. Stir Up Waters to Catch Fish

Anger and emotions are strategically counterproductive. You must always stay calm and objective. But if you can make your enemies angry while staying calm yourself, you gain an advantage.

Angry people are ridiculizing themselves as their reaction looks out of proportion. The truth is that anger is a sign of weakness.

So, how can we stop reacting with anger?

Do we have to repress it? No.

We need to realize that in the realm of social relationships, nothing is ever personal. The way people react to you is not due to you, but due to their past (childhood, traumas, etc).

Reversal: some fish are better left at the bottom of the pond. They are people you never want to get angry with.


40. Despise the Free Lunch

What is offered for free is dangerous. It usually involves a trick or a hidden obligation.

What has worth is worth paying for. By paying your own way, you stay clear of gratitude, guilt, and deceit.

Everything must be measured by its cost and everything has a price in the realm of power. What’s free has no value.

Pay the full price, and be lavish with your money. Keep it circulating for generosity. It is a sign and a magnet of power.

All of the powerful were freely spreading their money. It made them powerful.

On the opposite, they are types of people that won’t do so.

  1. The Greedy Fish: they see life as a balance sheet.
  2. The Bargain Demon: the bargain demon will spend 2 hours negotiating a 10% discount. He does not understand that time also has value.
  3. The Sadist: the sadist will make it a purpose not to pay after hiring you. They also think that because they are paying you, they are owning you.
  4. The Indiscriminate Giver: this one does not give to achieve power, but to be loved and admired. They are so needy that they achieve the opposite intent.

Reversal: never accept what’s free, but don’t hesitate to offer it yourself.


41: Avoid Stepping Into A Great Man’s Shoes

What appears first always looks better and more original than what comes after.

If you have a famous parent, you will have to accomplish double their achievements to outshine them.

Do not get lost in their shadow, or stuck in a past that is not of your own making.

Establish your own name and identity by changing course. “Kill” your father and destroy his legacy.

Most heroes don’t know their father, which enables them to build a life of their own. As for those that did, they often had to kill him.

Power is about filling a void that has been cleared.

One of the best ways to get rid of the past is to differentiate strongly from it or to oppose it.

Yet, many have thought in history (and keep on thinking it) that because someone before you succeeded by doing xyz, you can succeed by doing the same.

It’s wrong. Get rid of the past and never let it come back into your life.

Eg: Picasso never did the same painting twice.

Reversal: sometimes, you can use your name to rise to power, emphasizing that you are predestined to a great life, like Napoleon III did. Once you reach power, get rid of the past right away.


42. Strike The Shepherd And The Sheep Will Scatter

Problems in groups often originate from one single person. The way to stop them is to isolate – always more welcome than completely crushing them.

Isolation is great. It also works well in seduction. Once your target is isolated, they are more vulnerable and your presence is magnified.

By the same token, isolation will weaken you. Beware, as king, not to isolate yourself too much.

Reversal: only isolate people if you are strong enough for them not to isolate you back.


43. Work on The Hearts and Minds of Others

Don’t coerce people into doing what you want them to do – seduce them.

A person you have seduced becomes your loyal pawn.

And the way to seduce others is to operate on their individual psychologies and weaknesses.

Soften up the resistant by working on their emotions, playing on what they hold dear and what they fear.

Remember: The key to persuasion is softening people up and breaking them down, gently. Seduce them with a two-pronged approach: Work on their emotions and play on their intellectual weaknesses.

The quickest way to secure people’s minds is by demonstrating, as simply as possible, how an action will benefit them.

Self-interest is the strongest motive of all. A great cause may capture minds, but once the excitement is over, interest will flag – unless there is something to be gained.

Writers, artists, and intellectuals are very good at that. Make sure to win as many people as you can, as people you annoy will quickly try to destabilize you.

This law knows no reversal.


44. Disarm And Infuriate With The Mirror Effect

The mirror reflects reality, but it is also the perfect tool for deception. When you mirror your enemies, doing exactly as they do, they cannot figure out your strategy.

The Mirror Effect mocks and humiliates them, making them overreact.

By holding up a mirror to their psyches, you seduce them with the illusion that you share their values; by holding up a mirror to their actions, you teach them a lesson.

There are four types of Mirror Effect:

  1. The Neutralizing Effect: do what your enemies do, and they won’t understand your strategy.
  2. The Narcissus Effect: people are in love with themselves. When you reflect who they are psychologically, they will fall in love with you.
  3. The Moral Effect: do to others what they do to you.
  4. The Hallucinatory Effect: when people mistake what they see in the mirror for reality.

Reversal: Be careful because a situation, while seeming identical to a previous one, may not be. In the same way, you may think that a situation is different, but will end up identical.


45. Preach the Need for Change, but Never Reform Too Much at Once

People want change, but they don’t want to change. People enjoy their habits. Every time a revolution is finished, it leaves a void that makes people cling to the past.

As a result, when you make some changes, attach them to the past. It will be easier on people.

Eg: when the Roman kingdom became a republic, they kept the number of consul to 12.

Another way to disguise change is to enact it while claiming support for the value of the past.

“A new scientific truth does not triumph by convincing its opponents and making them see the light; but rather because its opponents eventually die, and a new generation grows up that is familiar with it.”

Reversal: don’t associate yourself with the past if the past was painful and violent. Furthermore, fashion and technology gain from getting rid of the past.


46. Never Appear Too Perfect

Appearing better than others is always dangerous, but most dangerous of all is to appear to have no faults or weaknesses.

Humans don’t like to deal with their own inferiority. When we meet great people, we become envious as they remind us of our own mediocrity.

It is smart to occasionally display defects and admit to vices, in order to deflect envy and appear more human and approachable.

Here’s how to deal with envy:

  1. Accept that you will meet people better than you, and let it push you to surpass them one day.
  2. Accept that as you gain power, those below you will envy you. Accept that people will work against you when they envy you.
  3. Seem unambitious when you gain political power.
  4. Give those who envy you something to fade on, give them “excuses” for your own success, or excuses for their failure. Or give them something that would show them that you’re not perfect.

Reversal: being careful with the envious can be more dangerous if they feel that you are downplaying yourself on purpose. As a result, sometimes you want to feel disdain for the envious and grovel in your perfection.


47. Do Not Go Past The Mark You Aimed For; In Victory, Learn When To Stop

The essence of strategy is to control what comes next. If you get drunk in victory, you lose control. It’s important to understand that life has a certain rhythm. Sometimes you win, so you should play. Sometimes you lose, so you should stop playing.

Furthermore, luck remains one of the reasons why you win. You may think it is thanks to you, but it’s usually thanks to luck. When luck leaves, you lose.

Finally, the moment when you stop and retire is important. Better to retire in victory, than in defeat.

Reversal: destroy a man, or leave him alone. When in battle, crush your opponents entirely. But do not go beyond that, so that you don’t create other enemies.


48. Assume Formlessness

By taking a shape, by having a visible plan, you open yourself to attack. Instead of taking a form for your enemy to grasp, keep yourself adaptable and on the move.

Accept the fact that nothing is certain and no law is fixed. The best way to protect yourself is to be as fluid and formless as water; never bet on stability or lasting order.

People express themselves through forms, and these forms are constantly changing.

People that bring novelty are often welcome, but they’ll be thrown off when they become conservative and rigid.

Since everything changes constantly, here are three ways to deal with it.

  1. Take nothing personally.
  2. Never be defensive.
  3. See things through your own eyes, don’t take advice too much into account.

Reversal: formlessness does not mean dispersion. You still need to concentrate your efforts and forces somewhere.

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  • Post category:Summaries
  • Post last modified:May 26, 2022