Book Review: The 48 Laws of Power by Robert Greene

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Table of Contents

About

  • Title: The 48 Laws of Power
  • Author: Robert Greene
  • About the author: Robert Greene is a renowned author who has produced multiple New York Times bestsellers (books shared below in summary). His books have reached millions of people across the globe. Greene attended U.C. Berkeley and the University of Wisconsin at Madison, where he received a degree in classical studies. Through his books, you can see that he puts his degree to use.
  • Pages: 452
  • Published: 2000
  • Link to book

High-Level Summary

The 48 Laws of Power is a multi-million-copy New York Times bestseller, written by Robert Greene. Robert Greene has written several other popular books including The Laws of Human Nature, Mastery, The Art of Seduction, The 33 Strategies of War, and The 50th Law.

By far, his most popular book is The 48 Laws of Power. It is a book that is recommended by nearly anyone in the business & entrepreneurship fields. Its wild popularity comes from a mix of Robert Greene’s genius writing and the fact that humans naturally want power.

Greene states in the Preface, “The feeling of having no power over people and events is generally unbearable to us—when we feel helpless we feel miserable.” He mentions how no one wants less power; everyone wants more power.

Thus, he wrote The 48 Laws of Power as a “handbook on the arts of indirection.” The 48 laws come from wisdom gathered from individuals spanning over 3,000 years of history. These individuals include strategists (Sun-tzu, Clausewitz), statesmen (Bismarck, Talleyrand), courtiers (Castiglione, Gracián), seducers (Ninon de Lenclos, Casanova), and con artists (“Yellow Kid” Weil).

The book will explain, through its laws, that certain actions almost always increase one’s power, while others decrease power or ultimately ruin it.

A focus of the text, and essential to gaining power, is that power is a social game. To learn and master the game, it’s essential that you develop the ability to study and understand people. You need empathy to understand what others may be thinking, wanting, plotting, and feeling.

According to Greene, the most important skill to have, which is foundational to power, is the ability to master your own emotions. He writes, “An emotional response to a situation is the single greatest barrier to power.”

The 48 laws have a Machiavellian theme to them, characterized by words like cunning, sneaky, scheming, and cutthroat. This doesn’t mean that you have to embody these traits, but the game of power requires a shift of perspective and a different way of looking at the world.

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Recommendation

4.8/5

If you are interested in gaining, observing, or defending against power, this book is for you.

Robert Greene wrote a fantastic book that is thought-provoking, entertaining, and instructive. By reading this book, you’ll not only have guidance on how to acquire power, but you will know how to spot power tactics and defend yourself against those trying to overpower or deceive you. 

These are valuable skills to have for your life and career.

Top 30 Takeaways

* In no particular order

1. It’s dangerous to seem too power-hungry in today’s world. So we need to be subtle. Everything must appear civilized, decent, democratic, and fair. Power moves need to be made indirectly.

2. Those who claim to be nonplayers may affect an air of naïveté, to protect them from the accusation that they are after power. You can recognize these supposed nonplayers by the way they flaunt their moral qualities, their piety, their exquisite sense of justice.

3. If the world is like a giant scheming court and we are trapped inside it, there is no use in trying to opt out of the game. That will only render you powerless, and powerlessness will make you miserable. Instead of struggling against the inevitable, instead of arguing and whining and feeling guilty, it is far better to excel at power.

4. The most important of these skills, and power’s crucial foundation, is the ability to master your emotions. An emotional response to a situation is the single greatest barrier to power, a mistake that will cost you a lot more than any temporary satisfaction you might gain by expressing your feelings. Anger is the most destructive of emotional responses, for it clouds your vision the most.

5. Power requires the ability to play with appearances. You must learn to wear many masks and keep a bag full of deceptive tricks.

6. Half of your mastery of power comes from what you do not do, what you do not allow yourself to get dragged into.

7. Power is a social game. To learn and master it, you must develop the ability to study and understand people.

8. Consider The 48 Laws of Power a kind of handbook on the arts of indirection.

9. Law 1 – Never Outshine the Master: Always make those above you feel comfortably superior. In your desire to please and impress them, do not go too far in displaying your talents or you might accomplish the opposite—inspire fear, resentment, and insecurity. All masters want to appear more brilliant than other people.

10. Law 2 – Never Put Too Much Trust in Friends, Learn How to Use Enemies: Be wary of friends—they will betray you more quickly, for they are easily aroused to envy. In fact, you have more to fear from friends than from enemies. Since honesty rarely strengthens friendship, you may never know how a friend truly feels. Without enemies around us, we grow lazy.

11. Law 3 – Conceal Your Intentions: Keep people off-balance and in the dark by never revealing the purpose behind your actions. If they have no clue what you are up to, they cannot prepare a defense. It takes effort to control your tongue and monitor what you reveal.

12. Law 4 – Always Say Less Than Necessary: Powerful people impress and intimidate by saying less. The more you say, the more likely you are to say something foolish. In most areas of life, the less you say, the more profound and mysterious you appear.

13. Law 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; once it slips, however, you are vulnerable, and will be attacked on all sides. As they say, your reputation inevitably precedes you.

14. Law 9 – Win Through Your Actions, Never Through Argument: It is much more powerful to get others to agree with you through your actions, without saying a word. Demonstrate, do not explicate.

15. Law 10 – Infection: Avoid the Unhappy and Unlucky: In the game of power, the people you associate with are critical. The unfortunate sometimes draw misfortune on themselves; they will also draw it on you. Associate with the happy and fortunate instead.

16. Law 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.

17. Law 13 – When Asking For Help, Appeal to People’s Self-Interest, Never to Their Mercy or Gratitude: If you need to turn to an ally for help, do not bother to remind him of your past assistance and good deeds. Instead, uncover something in your request that will benefit him, and emphasize it out of all proportion.

18. Law 16 – Use Absence to Increase Respect and Honor: Too much circulation makes the price go down: The more you are seen and heard from, the more common you appear. If you are already established in a group, temporary withdrawal from it will make you more talked about, even more admired. You must learn when to leave. Create value through scarcity.

19. Law 19 – Know Who You’re Dealing With: 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. The ability to measure people and to know who you’re dealing with is the most important skill of all in gathering and conserving power.

20. Law 23 – Concentrate Your Forces: Conserve your forces and energies by keeping them concentrated at their strongest point. Intensity defeats extensity every time. The mind must not wander from goal to goal, or be distracted by success from its sense of purpose and proportion.

21. Law 24 – Play the Perfect Courtier: The perfect courtier thrives in a world where everything revolves around power and political dexterity. He has mastered the art of indirection; he flatters, yields to superiors, and asserts power over others in the most oblique and graceful manner. Learn and apply the laws of courtiership and there will be no limit to how far you can rise in the court.

22. Law 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. Be the master of your own image rather than letting others define it for you. Working on yourself like clay should be one of your greatest and most pleasurable life tasks.

23. Law 29 – Plan All The Way to the End: The ending is everything. Plan all the way to it, taking into account all the possible consequences, obstacles, and twists of fortune that might reverse your hard work and give the glory to others. By planning to the end you will not be overwhelmed by circumstances and you will know when to stop.

24. Law 32 – Play To People’s Fantasies: The truth is often avoided because it is ugly and unpleasant. Never appeal to truth and reality unless you are prepared for the anger that comes from disenchantment. 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.

25. Law 35 – Master the Art of Timing: Always seem patient, as if you know that everything will come to you eventually. Become a detective of the right moment; sniff out the spirit of the times, the trends that will carry you to power. Learn to stand back when the time is not yet ripe, and to strike fiercely when it has reached fruition.

26. Law 38 – Think As Your Like But Behave Like Others: It is far safer to blend in and nurture the common touch. Share your originality only with tolerant friends and those who are sure to appreciate your uniqueness. Image: The Black Sheep. The herd shuns the black sheep, uncertain whether or not it belongs with them.

27. Law 41 – Avoid Stepping Into a Great Man’s Shoes: What happens first always appears better and more original than what comes after. If you succeed a great man or have a famous parent, you will have to accomplish double their achievements to outshine them.

28. Law 43 – Work on the Hearts and Minds of Others: You must seduce others into wanting to move in your direction. And the way to seduce others is to operate on their individual psychologies and weaknesses. The key to persuasion is softening people up and breaking them down, gently.

29. Law 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. Envy creates silent enemies. It is smart to occasionally display defects, and admit to harmless vices, in order to deflect envy and appear more human and approachable.

30. Law 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. The best way to protect yourself is to be as fluid and formless as water. Power can only thrive if it is flexible in its forms.

What I Liked

  • Machiavellian way of looking seeing things
  • Uses a sprawling variety of stories from history
  • Quotes, parables, and metaphors provide additional context and entertainment
  • Prescriptive, handbook-style writing in “Keys to Power” sections
  • Provides reversals to each law at the end of the chapters

Benefits To Your Life and Career

48 tools to use in the game of power

With this handbook you have, you essentially have over 48 tools to use in the game of power. You may not remember all 48 at any given time, but hopefully you’ll internalize most of them.

Any time you find yourself in a situation where power is being played, you can refer back to this book. A refresher can help you identify the elements at play and the lessons can show you how taking one path or another may go.

Just as good for defense as it is for offense: Acquire power and stay in power

The 48 Laws of Power isn’t just a book all about offense. This book is about defense too. Sure, you’ll learn how to acquire power, but will you keep it? Many will argue that staying in power is what’s hard. Robert Greene will point out what you can do and what pitfalls you should avoid.

Additionally, you’ll be able to defend yourself when power tactics are being used against you. They’ll catch your eye and you’ll see right through the individual. This happens all the time in your professional life. You can’t be naïve to it.

Resources

The 48 Laws of Power can be found on Amazon at this link here if you are interested in reading.

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Author: Brandon Hill

Brandon is the creator of Bizness Professionals and author behind each post. He is currently a working professional, primarily in finance, and looks to provide resources to aspiring or current young professionals for well-rounded professional and personal development. Find out more on the About page.

There may be affiliate links on this page, which means I may receive a small commission for any purchases made through links in this post. As an Amazon Associate, I earn from qualifying purchases. Products that are linked are ones I highly recommend and have used/tested myself.

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