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 summary, we’ll discuss perspectives on the role of power, and briefly outline the 48 laws of power. For the full details, examples and tips, do get a copy of the book, or get a detailed overview at a glance with our complete book summary bundle.
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
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.
OVERVIEW OF ALL 48 LAWS OF POWER
Law 1: Never Outshine the Master
Law 2: Don’t over-trust your friends. Use your enemies.
Law 3: Mask your Intentions
Law 4: Always Say Less than Necessary
Law 5: Protect your Reputation at all Costs
Law 6: Be Conspicuous. Stand Out.
Law 7: Get others to do the Work and Take the Credit
Law 8: Make People Come to You
Law 9: Win through Actions, not Argument
Law 10: Don’t get Infected by Misery and Misfortune
Law 11: Make yourself Indispensable
Law 12: Disarm People with Strategic Honesty & Generosity
Law 13: Get Help by Appealing to Self-Interest, not Goodness
Law 14: Be a Spy. Gather Intelligence.
Law 15: Crush your Enemy Totally
Law 16: Raise your Value through Absence and Scarcity
Law 17: Keep Others in Suspense by being Unpredictable
Law 18: Don’t Isolate Yourself Behind a Fortress
Law 19: Know Who You’re Dealing with
Law 20: Maintain your Independence (as long as possible)
Law 21: Make your Victims Feel Smarter Than You
Law 22: Use Surrender as a Tool
Law 23: Concentrate Your Forces
Law 24: Be a Masterful Courtier
Law 25: Create your Own Identity
Law 26: Don’t Dirty Your Hands
Law 27: Create a Cult-Like Following
Law 28: Act with Boldness
Law 29: Plan Till the End
Law 30: Make your Achievements Seem Effortless
Law 31: Control the Options
Law 32: Play to People’s Fantasies
Law 33: Find Your Opponent’s Fatal Weakness
Law 34: Act in the Way you Want to be Treated
Law 35: Master the Art of Timing
Law 36: Ignore What you Can’t Have
Law 37: Dazzle People with Spectacles
Law 38: Hide your Unorthodox Thinking
Law 39: Stir up Waters to Catch the Fish
Law 40: Beware the Free Lunch
Law 41: Don’t Get Lost in a Great Man’s Shadow
Law 42: Strike the Shepherd to Scatter the Sheep
Law 43: Win Both Hearts and Minds
Law 44: Unbalance and Confuse with the Mirror Effect
Law 45: Advocate Change but Not Drastic Reforms
Law 46: Don’t Seem Too Perfect
Law 47: Don’t Push Too Far in Victory
Law 48: Be Formless
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!