Power is an integral part of our societies and lives. In “The 48 Laws of Power”, Robert Greene distills 3,000 years of history into 48 laws to help us understand how we can masterfully acquire power and avoid being manipulated or crushed by others. In this free summary, we’ll briefly outline the 48 laws of power. For more details, do get our complete book summary bundle in text, infographic and audio formats.
No one likes being powerless, yet we don’t take well to power-hungry people due to our modern ideologies of fairness, equity etc. It’s important to realize that power is amoral—it’s neither good nor evil. You can choose how to use power once you have it, but it’d be foolish to dismiss power as bad or unimportant. In fact, there’s much that we can learn from the masterful scheming of the aristocratic courts of the past—those who can subtly charm, deceive and manipulate without others’ awareness can rise to power without others’ resentment or resistance.
Greene encourages us to think of power-play as a game. You can use this book to learn about power in general, or study and reflect deeply upon the ideas to truly understand people and the world you live in.
• Don’t judge people by their declared intentions, but the actual outcomes of their actions. People who claim to reject power due to moral values are often the true manipulators (or are simply naïve).
• To master the game of power, you must fundamentally shift your perspective, learn and practice new skills including the ability to master your emotions (so they won’t cloud your judgement), objectively examine the past and future (to learn and identify problems) and accept deception and masquerade as a part of human interaction (not something immoral or ugly).
The 48 Laws of Power
We’ll now introduce the 48 laws of power, and take a more detailed look at 4 of them. Do get more details on the remaining laws of power in our full version of The 48 Laws of Power summary (get full 17-page book summary here.)
LAW 1: NEVER OUTSHINE THE MASTER.
• In your quest to impress the people above you, don’t flaunt your talents too much. If your superiors feel insecure, they’ll find ways to replace you. Even if you’re currently in favor, don’t take it for granted as you can easily fall out of favor with the wrong moves.
• Instead, make those above you seem superior and smarter than you, e.g. ask for their help and attribute your ideas to their great advice. Give them the limelight rather than outshine them.
LAW 2: DON’T OVERTRUST YOUR FRIENDS. USE YOUR ENEMIES.
• Don’t hire your friends for familiarity or as a favor. Friends are more likely to envy and betray you, and also limit your power since it’s harder to keep a professional distance. It’s better to hire people with the skills and competencies to advance your interests.
• In fact, your enemies can be more useful; use them to create a sense of danger or rally people to your cause. If you can win over a former enemy, he’ll also have more to prove and is likely to be more loyal than a friend.
LAW 3: MASK YOUR INTENTIONS.
• Many people are open books: they can’t control what they say or they mistakenly believe that honesty can win hearts. It’s better to retain the upper hand by hiding your goal till you’re ready to strike.
• Here are 2 effective tactics to conceal your true purpose:
(i) Throw people off the scent by pretending to support an idea or position that’s opposed to your true interest. Or, share a heartfelt thought on something unimportant—people will mistake your sincerity for honesty and believe you when you lie later on.
(ii) Distract and misdirect people with a smoke screen. Show them something they’re familiar with so they’ll let down their guard and be led in the direction you want them to go, without realizing your true intent. Combine this with other smoke screens e.g. a poker-face, noble gesture, or setting a pattern (then breaking it later).
LAW 4: ALWAYS SAY LESS THAN NECESSARY.
• The more you say, the less impressive and in-control you seem to be and the higher the chance that you’d say something foolish.
• Powerful people tend to say little. This makes them impressive and intimidating; people can’t guess what they’re thinking and hang on to their every word and reaction. Short answers and silences also put people on the defensive; when they try to fill the silence by talking, they give away useful information.
REMAINING LAWS : THE 48 LAWS OF POWER
Here’s a quick overview of the remaining 44 laws. For more details, do our complete text, infographic and audio summary.
Law 5: Protect your reputation at all costs, since your reputation shapes others’ expectations.
Law 6: Be conspicuous & stand out. Bad publicity is still publicity.
Law 7: Get others to do the work and take the credit. Save your time/energy while building your base.
Law 8: Make people come to you, so you hold all the cards.
Law 9: Win through actions, not argument. Prove your point without offending people.
Law 10: Don’t get infected by misery and misfortune. Associate with positive, successful people.
Law 11: Make yourself indispensable, so it’s harder to cut you off.
Law 12: Disarm people with strategic honesty & generosity–use these as tools to win people over.
Law 13: Get help by appealing to self-interest, not goodness.
Law 14: Be a spy. Gather intelligence to know your opponents.
Law 15: Crush your enemy totally. Don’t give them a chance to recover.
Law 16: Raise your value through absence and scarcity. Don’t let people take you for granted.
Law 17: Keep others in suspense by being unpredictable. Keep them second-guessing.
Law 18: Don’t isolate yourself behind a fortress. Have eyes and ears everywhere.
Law 19: Know your opponents and who you’re dealing with.
Law 20: Stay neutral as long as possible to maintain your independence (vs committing to 1 side).
Law 21: Make your victims feel smarter than you, so they drop their guard.
Law 22: Use surrender as a tool. Bide your time for retaliation.
Law 23: Concentrate your forces. Don’t spread them too thin.
Law 24: Be a masterful courtier to balance the various players and power brokers.
Law 25: Create your own identity and use it like a costume.
Law 26: Don’t dirty your hands. Get others to do your dirty work.
Law 27: Create a cult-like following. Play on what people want to see/hear.
Law 28: Act boldly, so you seem confident.
Law 29: Plan till the end, so you won’t be caught by surprise.
Law 30: Make your achievements seem effortless. Don’t show your real success secrets.
Law 31: Control the options but let people think they’re in control.
Law 32: Play to people’s fantasies so they keep following you.
Law 33: Find your opponent’s fatal weakness to break their defences.
Law 34: Act in the way you want to be treated. Be regal and authoritative.
Law 35: Master the art of timing. Strike only at the right hour.
Law 36: Feign disinterest and ignore what you can’t have.
Law 37: Dazzle people with spectacles so they don’t see what you’re really doing.
Law 38: Hide your unorthodox thinking. Pretend to blend in.
Law 39: Stir up waters to catch the fish. Make your opponents reckless while you stay calm.
Law 40: Beware the free lunch. There’re always strings attached.
Law 41: Chart a new course rather than try a big man’s shoes.
Law 42: Strike the shepherd to scatter the sheep. Isolate the leader.
Law 43: Win both hearts and minds. Appeal to both feelings and logic.
Law 44: Unbalance and confuse with the mirror effect (mask reality with illusion).
Law 45: Introduce change gradually. Drastic reforms bring resistance.
Law 46: Don’t seem too perfect or you’ll invite jealousy.
Law 47: Don’t push too far in victory. Know when to stop.
Law 48: Be formless and unpredictable.
For each of the laws, Greene presents a range of stories and examples involving kings, emperors, nobility and famous people from various countries and cultures over 3000 years of history. These examples range from court politics and power struggles to courtship and warfare. Greene systematically lays out the laws, interpretation of the laws, stories to illustrate these laws and the exceptions to the laws if any.
Master the complex game of power play!