The 48 Laws of Power by Robert Greene is a modern day classic. It’s for people who aspire to achieve power or maintain their current power status.
First published in 1998, its available in 24 different languages and has gone on to sell over 1.2 million copies in the U.S. alone and many more around the world.
Although Greene has published another five bestselling books since The 48 Laws of Power, including his latest, The Laws of Human Nature, it remains his opus magnum.
Political leaders, celebrities and hip-hop stars are fans of the book and it’s easy to understand why. Drawing on 3,000 years of history, it provides the reader with a variety of strategies to achieve power status.
If you’re looking for a book that provides guidance on how to achieve power in an ethical manner without compromising morals this is not it. It details with no shame how to achieve and hold on to power with overt ruthlessness or underhanded cunning.
The first paragraph of the preface describes the book perfectly;
“The feeling of having no power over people and events is generally unbearable to us – when we feel helpless we feel miserable. No one wants less power; everyone wants more. In the world today, however, it is dangerous to seem too power hungry, to be overt with your power moves. We have to seem fair and decent. So we need to be subtle – congenial yet cunning, democratic yet devious.”
About the author Robert Greene
Green’s background intertwines with the writing of the book.
For years he travelled the world working in a variety of jobs. A writer in Hollywood, English teacher in Spain and tourist guide for Greek ruins in Crete to name a few. In an interview he said he and a girlfriend calculated he had over 80 jobs during this time.
It was a time in Greene’s life where he was restless and lacked direction. Though a period of discontent, his love for learning history remained consistent.
It was this love of history and working in the belly of the Hollywood beast which served as the basis for writing the book.
He may not have known it at the time but The 48 Laws of Power was years in the making.
The layout of the book’s chapters
Each law is a chapter so there are 48 of them. The book is quite big but each chapter is around five or six pages in length so they’re easily digestible.
The chapter structure is unique to any book I’ve read before. And each chapter follows the same formula.
- The law
- Transgression of the law and interpretation
- Observance of the law and interpretation
- Keys to power
- Reversal of the law – when it’s appropriate to do the opposite of what the law states
Included in each chapter are stories and anecdotes written in red ink which reinforce that particular chapter’s law. Something I’ve never seen in a book before.
The 48 Laws of Power list
The book references significant events over the last 3,000 years and uses them as the basis for each law. Despite Greene’s years of reading history, this must have taken many more to research, collate and categorise them.
King Louis XIV, Michael III of the Byzantine Empire, Galileo, P.T Barnum, Napoleon Bonaparte, Michaelangelo, Al Capone and Empress Wu of China are some of the notable figures in history who have shown how to (or how not to) gain power.
The 48 Laws of Power is a book that will stand the test of time. The historical references are vast and the attention to detail is thorough. Add to this that human nature does not change and you have a reference book for years to come.
Each law will resonate more depending on the reader and their current life circumstances.
Law 1. Never outshine the master; will be relevant if you believe your boss isn’t as smart as you but he holds more power within in the company.
Law 2. Never put too much trust in friends, learn to use enemies; a friend letting you down has more implications than an enemy doing the same.
Law 3. Conceal your intentions; is for the Machiavellians who want to rise to the top.
Law 4. Always say less than necessary; will allow you to add an air of mystery while not giving all your hand away.
Law 5. So much depends on reputation. Guard it with your life; what other people say and think about you is important to control.
Law 6. Court attention at all costs; notoriety of any kind will bring awareness.
Law 7. Get others to do the work for you, but always take the credit; take Machiavellianism to the next level to get ahead.
Law 8. Make other people come to you, use bait if necessary; be the type of person that attracts people to you.
Law 9. Win through actions, never through argument; arguing with people is pointless and instead lead by example.
Law 10. Infection: Avoid the unhappy and unlucky; will apply if the people you associate it with are negative deadbeats.
Law 11. Learn to keep people dependent on you; if they’re dependent then you have control over them.
Law 12. Use selective honesty and generosity to disarm your victim; flattery will get you to a lot of places.
Law 13. When asking for help appeal to people’s self-interest, never their mercy or gratitude; do this and they are more likely to help you because it helps them.
Law 14. Pose as a friend, work as a spy; go undercover to find intelligence.
Law 15. Crush your enemy totally; don’t give them the opportunity to recuperate to come back and fight you once more.
Law 16. Use absence to increase respect and honour; if you appear too present then people take you for granted.
Law 17. Keep others in suspended terror. Cultivate an air of unpredictability; if people think you’re crazy and irrational then they’ll fear you.
Law 18. Do not build fortresses to protect yourself. Isolation is dangerous; particularly relevant to introverts. Seek people and socialisation.
Law 19. Know who you’re dealing with. Don’t offend the wrong person; speaks for itself.
Law 20. Do not commit to anyone; remain fluid and loose so you can grab opportunities as they come without being tied down.
Law 21. Play a sucker to catch a sucker. Seem dumber than your mark; the more you allow people to know how intelligent you are the less they’ll want to tell you.
Law 22. Use surrender tactics. Transform weakness into power; surrender to fight another day.
Law 23. Concentrate your forces; don’t try to do too many things at once or chances are you will do them all badly. Focus all your energy on one task and do it well.
Law 24. Play the perfect courtier; if you want to thrive in civilised society you have to be a model citizen.
Law 25. Recreate yourself; forge yourself a new identity that is better than what you are today.
Law 26. Keep your hands clean; Mob bosses new this. Let others do the work for you.
Law 27. Play on people’s need to believe to create a cult-like following; fight for a cause or to right and wrong and people will support you.
Law 28. Enter action with boldness; do what you want in life and do it with passion and gusto.
Law 29. Plan all the way to the end; fail to plan then plan to fail.
Law 30. Make your accomplishments seem effortless; people will think you’re superhuman. Never discuss how hard you work.
Law 31. Control the options. Get others to play the cards you deal;
Law 32. Play to people’s fantasies; many people have fantasies about how the world should be. Play to them and they’ll be putty in your hands.
Law 33. Discover each man’s thumbscrew; every man has a weakness or an untapped need. Fight it and attack it.
Law 34. Be royal in your fashion. Act like a king to be treated like one; if you dress like a slob people will treat you like one. Dress accordingly.
Law 35. Master the art of timing; Timing is everything.
Law 36. Disdain things you cannot have. Ignoring them is the best revenge; if you can’t have it then what is the point in longing for it.
Law 37. Create compelling spectacles; be seen, be heard, use stunts and tricks.
Law 38. Think as you like but behave like others; if you think differently to others it often pays to hide it and blend in.
Law 39. Stir up waters to catch fish; sometimes you have to cause a commotion to be noticed.
Law 40. Despise the free lunch; nothing in life is free especially not a free lunch.
Law 41. Avoid stepping into a great man’s shoes; big shoes are tough to fill.
Law 42. Strike the shepherd and the sheep will scatter; most people follow the herd.
Law 43. Work on the hearts and minds of others; learn the art of seduction to get people to do what you want.
Law 44. Disarm and infuriate with the mirror effect; use the same tactics as your enemies and it will confuse them.
Law 45. Preach the need for change, but never reform too much at once; small incremental steps is what is required. People are creatures of habit so too much change too soon will worry them.
Law 46. Never appear too perfect; nothing is perfect and no one is perfect either. Don’t try to be or people will see through you.
Law 47. Do not go past the mark you aimed for. In victory learn when to stop; know when to stop.
Law 48. Assume formlessness; stay flexible and fluid because everything changes and nothing stays the same. In the words of Bruce Lee, “be like water, my friend.”
The 48 Laws of Power is intended to be picked up whenever you need help navigating your way through a situation. Greene intentionally wrote it like this.
Think of it as a reference guide as you navigate your way through power plays and power struggles.
Final thoughts on The 48 Laws of Power by Robert Greene
If you’re looking to acquire power, this book is for you. If you’re looking to keep the power you have, this book is for you. If you want to understand when someone is using manipulation techniques against you to gain power, this book is for you.
Whether you like it or not, people want power. It’s built into our DNA and it’s why some people work harder than others, take risks and, yes, manipulate other people to get it.
Power comes in many forms and Greene has laid out in great detail how to get it. It’s the dirty secret that no one talks about, yet deep down we know it’s true.
Power means money, control, status and dominance. Is it surprising people are willing to do anything to get it?
You can either remain in denial about it or understand the ways in which they do it. I choose the latter.
The 48 Laws of Power is a must-read. In fact, it’s more than that, it’s a book you should buy to keep and refer to on a regular basis. I usually buy books via Kindle and read that way but I want both the digital and hardcopy versions of it.
Will I read it from end to end again? Probably not. Will I refer to it during certain situations in life when I may need it? Absolutely.
It’s a historic reference book that allows you to understand what some of the world’s most prominent and powerful people did to achieve power and success. Invaluable to anyone who is navigating through this increasingly complex and status-driven world.