The 48 Laws of Power by Robert Greene: review

The 48 Laws of Power by Robert Greene is the classic book on acquiring and keeping power.

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 four bestselling books since The 48 Laws of Power, 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.

48 laws of power review

The 48 Laws of Power

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.

48 laws of power
Image via Imgur.

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 10. Infection: Avoid the unhappy and unlucky; will apply if the people you associate it with are negative deadbeats.

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.

48 laws of power


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