The 48 Laws of Power delves deep into games people play and the darker side of human behavior.
- Beware of “friends”, as they are the ones who can more easily grow resentful
- Make people want, rather than coerce
- Ignoring is the best revenge
The 48 Laws of Power has a lot of stories and examples from classical literature and history. I will skip most of the stories and examples here.
Law 1. Never outshine the master
Make the people above you feel comfortable superior as if you outshine them you will inspire fear and insecurity. Make your masters appear more brilliant and they will
Always make those above you feel comfortably superior. In your desire to please or impress them, do not go too far in displaying your talents or you might accomplish the opposite – inspire fear and insecurity. Make your masters appear more brilliant than they are and you will attain the heights of power.
Barne’s mistake there is to out-power the formal authority, which is a form of outshining the master. Not a good idea to embarrass your boss, usually –but make sure your boss doesn’t embarrass you either-.
Law 2. Don’t put too much trust in friends
Robert Greene says that it’s easy for friends to grow resentful.
Especially if you hire someone or help them just for being a friend they will resent you because people want to feel like they deserve what they get. And they want to feel like they are the master of their own life.
If you help them because they’re your friend, they will feel like they got a hand out from you and they even need to thank you for making them feel bad.
And, ironically, the more gifts and favors you supply to revive that friendship, the less gratitude you receive.
Work requires some distance, Robert Greene says, and it’s key for power being free to judge whoever furthers your interests and you can’t do that with friends.
Hire former enemies instead, they’ll have more to prove and will be loyal.
Law 3. Conceal your intentions
Never let people know your true intentions.
If they don’t know what you are up to, they can’t defend from it.
Do the opposite instead: let them believe something purposefully wrong, and by the time they’ll realize they’re down the wrong path, it will be too late.
Law 4. Say less than necessary
Powerful people impress and intimidate by talking little.
You don’t learn anything new by talking, and the more you speak, the higher the chances you’ll say something foolish. Let people fill your voids instead and they’ll reveal more about themselves.
Law 5. Guard your reputation
Reputation is the cornerstone of power.
Your reputation precedes you and can hand you victory without even going into battle. So make it unassailable and guard it with your life. Thwart any attack against your reputation swiftly before they can gather any speed or power and destroy your enemies by undermining their reputation.
Law 6. Court attention at all cost
What’s unseen doesn’t count and all that matters is what is seen and appears to be true. Don’t let yourself disappear in the grey crowd then but stand out at all costs.
Law 7. Let others do the work, but always take credit
Use the skills of others to do the work for you: never do yourself what others can do for you.
Send your troops ahead and walk over their dead bodies to enjoy the spoils of war.
Robert Greene uses the example of Edison exploiting Tesla’s genius and invention to get rich and famous thanks to Teslas’ invention.
This was very interesting for me since a few days prior I had read “Think and Grow Rich” where Napoleon Hill presented Edison as a man to emulate (lol).
Law 8. Make other people come to you – use bait if necessary
When you make the others act, you’re in control. Let them come to you, let them abandon their own plans, and then attack.
Law 9. Win through actions, never through argument
Any time you “win” an argument you rarely really convince anyone but you sure as hell will breed resentment.
Much better to have others agreeing to your actions instead.
Demonstrate, don’t explicate.
Law 10. Infection: avoid the unhappy and unlucky
Robert Greene repeats here a long known tenet of social psychology: emotional states are contagious, be them positive or negatives. So while you may think you’re helping a poor soul get back on his feet you’re actually bringing yourself down in the process.
Avoid the unhappy and unlucky then and associate yourself with the happy and lucky.
Note: while this might be true for some “unhelp-able” people who’ll always be in trouble no matter what, it is not true for people who are honestly looking to better themselves. In this case, helping someone back up is an incredible way to form a super solid friendship, a deep bond and even boost your own self-esteem in the process.
Law 11. Learn to keep people dependent on you
Never teach people enough so they can live happily without you, but keep them dependent on you instead. The more people depend on you, the more freedom you have.
Law 12. Use selective honesty and generosity
Be generous and honest once -to open them up and cover your track- and manipulate them once their guard is down. One good act of honesty can cover a dozen dishonest ones.
Law 13. Appeal to self-interest, never to mercy or gratitude
Don’t even think to get people to do things for you by reminding them of what you’ve done for them in the past. Instead, point to what’s in it for them in your current request and emphasize it.
Then he will do things for you.
Note: this is not amoral nor unethical as most other rules of the book are. This is pure good judgment and underlying and leading with the “what’s in it for them” something you should always do automatically.
However, Robert Greene is not fully right that “reminding them” of what you did is wrong. It’s all about how and when you remind them about.
Cialdini offers a great example. He suggests that right after you do something for someone you don’t say “you’re welcome”, but instead tell them “I know you would have done the same for me”.
Law 14. Pose as a friend, work as a spy
Learn to probe, ask indirect questions to understand what are people’s weaknesses and intentions. Every occasion is a good chance for artful spying.
Law 15. Crash your enemy totally
Stopping halfway will only make your enemy plot in revenge. Destroy your enemy completely then, in body and spirit.
Law 16. Use absence to increase respect and honor
Too much of anything will decrease your value.
Once you already well established within a group then, learn to disappear for a while to let people talk, gossip and miss you. Learn to create value through scarcity.
Law 17. Keep others in suspended terror: cultivate an air of unpredictability
Your unpredictability will keep others off balance. Taken to an extreme, this strategy can intimidate and terrorize.
This is the dominant style which I call “cold blooded”, one example being Putin.
Read more here:
Law 18. Do not build fortresses – isolation is dangerous
A fortress might seem the safest option, but the opposite is true. It removes you from valuable information and makes you a sitting duck and an easy target. Move around instead, mingle and make allies: the crowd and your web of allies will make you safer.
Law 19. Know who you’re dealing with – do not offend the wrong person.
Deceiving or outmaneuvering some people will get you ahead and no negative reactions, but do it with some others and they will plot and seek revenge for their whole life. Choose your victims and opponents carefully then and never offend or deceive the wrong one.
Law 20. Do not commit to anyone
Robert Greene says that fools always jump to take sides. Do not commit to any side instead but your own side. As you keep your independence you’ll be able to better play the ones around you, pitching them against one another and becoming the prize as they pursue your commitment.
Law 21. Play a sucker to catch a sucker
Make your victims feel like your smarter than you are. They will feel better around you, they’ll never suspect you and never think of you as a threat.
Law 22. Surrender tactic: transform weakness into power
Never fight just for honor’s sake when you know you’ll be beaten: don’t give your enemy the satisfaction of winning outright. Surrender instead.
Take time to recover, to wait for his power to decrease and attack when you’re at your strongest.
Law 23: Concentrate your forces
You have more to gain by mining a single rich mine than by going from one shallow mine to another. Intensity defeats extensive every time.
Law 24. Play the perfect courtier
Practice nonchalance: never seem to be working too hard, your talent must appear to flow naturally
- Be frugal with flattery: learn to do it indirectly, by downplaying your own contributions
- Arrange to be noticed: you cannot display yourself too brazenly, yet you must also get noticed. Often initially it is simply a matter of being seen. Pay attention to your physical appearance and find a way to create a distinctive -subtly distinctive- style and image.
- Alter your style and language to your partner: the pseudo belief in equality -that you ought to speak the same way to those above and beneath you- is BS. The ones below will take it as a form of condescension, which it is, and those above might be offended without admitting it.
- Never be the bearer of bad news
- Don’t act friendly with your boss: that’s his choice. If he’s not friendly, keep a healthy distance
- Be frugal in asking those above your for favors: it’s irritating having to reject someone’s requests. And do not ask for favors on another person’s behalf, least of all a friend.
- Don’t be the court cynic: don’t go around criticizing peers and subordinates as it will rub off on you. Express modest admiration and when it’s called for it, express wonder and amazement.
- Be self-observant: learn to be your own mirror training your mind to see yourself as others see you
- Master your emotions: as an actor, learn to laugh and cry on command when appropriate. Disguise anger and frustration and fake contentment and agreement. Become the master of your own face. Call it lying if you like, and if you prefer not to play the game don’t complain when people call you arrogant and obnoxious
- Be a source of pleasure: as simple as that. We flock to people who can give us good emotions.
Law 25. Re-create yourself
Do not accept the identity the people around you choose for you. Choose your own identity instead and change it as it fits you.
Law 26. Keep your hands clean
Maintain a spotless appearance, never allow yourself to be mired by mistakes scandals. Use others as scapegoats when needed.
Law 27. Play on people’s need to create a cult-like following
People want to believe in something. Be that person who gives them something to believe in, offer them a cause, a new faith.
Be poor on details but rich in promises and hope. Enthusiasm trumps rationality.
Gives them rituals to abide by and ask them to perform sacrifices for you.
Law 28. Enter action with boldness
When you are unsure of what do to, don’t do anything. Doubts and insecurity will mar your execution. Better to burst into the scene with boldness instead. Bold mistakes are easily corrected with more boldness. Everyone admires the bold, nobody likes the timid.
Law 29. Plan all the way to the end
The end is all that matters. Be sure to plan all the way until you reach your desired outcome.
Law 30. Make your accomplishments seem effortless
Hide all the hard work that went into your accomplishment as much as you will hide all the clever tricks you played. Act effortlessly, as if you could do much more, and people will be in awe of your “natural talent”.
Law 31. Control the options: get others to play with the cards you deal
Give them the options you choose and that will lead to the result you want. The best deception is in making people feel like it was their choice.
Law 32. Play to people’s fantasies
People want to often avoid the truth because it makes them feel bad. Don’t make them feel bad: make up a fantasy for them instead and they’ll be running to you like moths to the flame.
The field of people promising the moon -get rich without working, lose weight eating, get the woman easy etc.- is very packed (check Tai Lopez). Also, you can be very successful telling things how they are -or at least that’s what this website is built on-.
My Note 2
It’s True, but don’t be swayed. The power of honesty can be a great tool to snap people of their excuse-making state. And Ray Dalio built an empire out of pure, unadulterated truth.
So be selective: don’t go around shoving harsh truths down people’s throats, but DO be honest with the people close to you and with people who can handle the truth. They will become more dependent on you.
Law 33. Discover each man’s thumbscrew
Everyone has a button and a hidden weakness which you can use to your advantage.
I particularly agreed when Robert Greene said it can be something that was missing for them in their childhood, or it might be the need for emotional validation and recognition -to feel important-.
I have indeed met quite a few people who could be easily maneuvered by pandering to their emotional needs.
Law 34. Be royal in your own fashion: act like a king to be treated like one
Act like you want to be treated and eventually, people will come to treat the way you want -and act-.
Robert Greene goes into a fascinating story on how Christopher Columbus should have had no business in leading 3 ships to America. But he acted and demanded it and eventually achieved it.
Law 35. Master the art of timing
Never seem in a hurry as it communicates you’re at the mercy of events and forces outside of yourself. Look patient instead, as if you knew everything will pan out for your own victory eventually.
And learn to understand the spirit of time, the trends you can ride all the way to power. Stand back when the time is not yet ready and strike boldly at the right time.
Law 36. Disdain things you cannot have: Ignoring is the best revenge
By acknowledging a problem or an enemy you make it stronger by giving them attention and credibility, and you often make it worse by giving them more visibility and power by raising them to your attention.
Whenever you can, leave things alone instead.
And when you want something you can’t have, show contempt for it.
Robert Greene seems to mix up contempt and ignoring as similar, but they are far from being similar.
Disdaining anything is also a way of giving attention. And a very insidious one at that: people can see through it quite easily. So better not to even show disdain most of the times.
Law 37. Create compelling spectacles
Dashy imagery and symbolic gestures create an aura of power. Those around you will be drawn and distracted by your flashy spectacles and not notice what you’re really up to.
Law 38: Think as you like but behave like others
If you flaunt your ways of going against the crowd people will feel you look down on them and you’re an attention seeker. They will punish you for trying to make them feel like sheep.
Share your uniqueness only with the tolerant ones who can appreciate it instead and fit in with the sheep when you’re with the sheep.
Law 39. Stir up waters to catch fish
Make your enemy angry and worked up as you always maintain your cool: it’s easier to induce people into mistakes when they’re angry and emotional.
Law 40. Despise the free lunch
What has worth is worth paying for: behind a free lunch, there’s usually a trick or hidden obligation. Always pay and stay away from the burdens of guilt and gratitude.
Always pay in full too: let your money move around as generosity is both sign and magnet for power.
Robert Greene has an amazing example here of a woman who was so stingy about her money because she associated giving money away as giving away power. So she harassed her architect to no end, until she was made to pay in full, a few times over, for her stinginess.
Law 41. Avoid stepping into a great man’s shoes
What happened in the past always seems better than what’s in the present. Do not follow in the footsteps of great leaders and follow their path: build your name and identity by changing instead.
Law 42. Strike the shepherd and the sheep will scatter
The source of your problems can often be traced back to a single strong person.
If you allow these people the freedom to move, they will keep stirring troubles and possibly rally the crowd against you. Do not let those people time to pester, but strike them hard at once: the sheep will scatter after them.
Law 43. Work on the hearts and minds of others
Coercing makes people push back against you.
You must instead seduce others into wanting to do what you want them to do.
Once you seduced someone, they are your loyal pawn for you to move them as you please. Work on their emotions, play on what they hold dear and what they fear.
Law 44. Disarm and Infuriate with the Mirror Effect
Mirror your enemies, do what they do, and they won’t be able to figure out your strategy.
You can make them angry and make them overreact with the mirror effect or you can dupe into believing you share their values.
Law 45. Preach the need for change, but never reform at once
Everybody understands the need for change, but we all cling to our habits. Humans are creatures of habit and we don’t really like change. Too much innovation, too quick will lead o revolt.
When you’re new to power then, make a show of respecting the old way of doing things, and if a change is needed do it slowly, make it feel like a gentle improvement on the past.
Law 46. Never appear too perfect
Only Gods and the dead can appear perfect with impunity.
Appearing better than others is dangerous, and most dangerous is appearing perfect. It creates envy, and envy creates silent enemies. It’s much better to occasionally display defects instead, and admit to some small vices.
Robert Greene says it’s naive to believe that as you gain power you won’t be envied. Expect envy instead and that it will work against you insidiously. One of the ways to avoid it can be to painting power as a burden, and the role you’re playing and power you wield as a sacrifice you took upon.
And if you are the one who feels envy, don’t let it poison you but use it outwardly to match and surpass those you’re envious of.
Law 47. Do not go past the mark you aimed for; learn when to stop
When we’re riding the high wave of victory arrogance and overconfidence can easily push you past the goal you had settle for. And when you go too far, you make more enemies than you can defeat.
Don’t allow success to go to your head but set a goal and stop once you reach it.
Law 48. Assume formlessness
Never bet on stability and lasting order, everything changes. And with a given a shape and a visible plan you’re easy to attack. Keep yourself adaptable and on the move instead.
The 48 Laws of Power Quotes
On resentment, jealousy, and frenemies:
When you show yourself to the world and display your talents, you naturally stir all kinds of resentment, envy, and other manifestations of insecurity… you cannot spend your life worrying about the petty feelings of others
On leading with confidence:
If you are unsure of a course of action, do not attempt it. Your doubts and hesitations will infect your execution. Timidity is dangerous: Better to enter with boldness.
On work and friendship:
Keep your friends for friendship, but work with the skilled and competent
Do not leave your reputation to chance or gossip; it is your life’s artwork, and you must craft it, hone it, and display it with the care of an artist.
On the dangers of victory:
There is nothing more intoxicating than victory, and nothing more dangerous
On wasting time on other people’s business:
Never waste valuable time, or mental peace of mind, on the affairs of others—that is too high a price to pay.
Lord, protect me from my friends; I can take care of my enemies.
On taking out the leader:
Strike the shepherd and the sheep will scatter
The 48 Laws of Power Video
Real Life Applications
If I had to mention a couple of rules I found the most useful:
- Win through your actions, not through your words
A fantastic reminder that you should rarely really battle ideologies and point of views with people and rather simply just act.
- Appeal to self-interest
This is the golden rule of always leading with what’s in it for them rather than just pleading for mercy or gratitude
- Don’t put too much trust in friends
This is also a golden one many people would rather not talk about. You should always take a hard honest look at your friends and realize not everyone is worthy of being one. And relationships might easily sour when you hire some to help them out.
Albeit The 48 Laws of Power is a wonderful book and everyone loves it, there are a few cons as well in my opinion:
- Anecdotal Stories Don’t Make for Truth (or Science)
Robert Greene’s background is classical literature, not psychology.
He still has a great understanding of human nature, but sometimes I wished for more scientific and psychological depth which, in my opinion, were lacking here.
That means that this is more a book to pique curiosity than an actual resource on social skills or “life hacks”.
- Impractically theoretical at times
Some of the rules are very theoretical and highly impractical, and the historical examples don’t help to make them more relatable to daily life situations. “Re-create yourself” or “assume formlessness” are such examples. So you read it, enjoy it, but it will not help you much and you’ll probably forget then soon after.
Some rules might just sound obvious and the connected historical story just a nice to read novel with little added value. “plan all the way to the end” was such an example for me.
- Mumble jumble of “laws”
The laws come from such disparate fields that it gives the book no coherent common thread. You have suggestions on moving slow, on never appearing to be perfect and on planning till the end. If the correlation is only “play people around for you to win” then it seems a bit tenuous to me.
In a way, The 48 Laws of Power is similar to The Power Moves in that he wants to show all the games and tricks people play as they jostle for power positions.
Commenting on the quality, some laws are a bit obvious and some others can well be counterproductive when blindly applied.
Given the huge following that The 48 Laws of Power garnered, it led me to put it in my list of most overrated books of all times, which is very heavy on pop-psychology books.
And still, overall, The 48 Laws of Power is an amazing read and a great resource to understand the darker side of social human behavior.
What makes The 48 Laws of Power so popular?
Given the huge success, The 48 Laws of Power has enjoyed it’s more than a perfunctory question. I believe part of is the willingness of people to acquire more power and if given the chance, to do so at someone else expense. But there’s something else:
- Robert Greene’s writing mastery
Robert Greene makes each law compelling and memorable.
He crafts artfully assembled sentences that make you smile as you ponder the depth of the brutally cold reality they describe.
Want an example?
“Slay the overbearing father, disparage his legacy, and gain power by shining in your own way”.
How could anyone not be enthralled by reading about that?
- Thirst for power -with little resources-
There are very few resources on power and power games.
Even a book like Games People Play, which most people I’m sure won’t even understand, has sold millions of copies.
Finally, The 48 Laws of Power had a big marketing machine behind that help propel it forward.
However, it’s not only marketing.
The book was also a good product in itself.