Based on historical examples, 48 Laws of Power presents compelling insights into the dynamics of competition and control, using an irreverent and humorous look at the characteristics of power, and how to read, understand, and use it to your advantage.
You do not have to read the entire book if you don’t have time. This book summary provides an overview of everything you can learn from it.
Let’s get started without further ado.
The 48 Laws of Power List
“The 48 Laws of Power” is structured as a detailed list that delves into each law in detail. Below is a complete list of the laws.
- Law 1: Never outshine the master
- Law 2: Never put too much trust in friends, learn how to use enemies
- Law 3: Conceal your intentions
- Law 4: Always say less than necessary
- Law 5: So much depends on reputation—guard it with your life
- Law 6: Court attention at all cost
- Law 7: Get others to do the work for you, but always take the credit
- Law 8: Make other people come to you—use bait if necessary
- Law 9: Win through your actions, never through an argument
- Law 10: Infection: Avoid the unhappy and unlucky
- Law 11: Learn to keep people dependent on you
- Law 12: Use selective honesty and generosity to disarm your victim
- Law 13: When asking for help, appeal to people’s self-interest, never to their mercy or gratitude
- Law 14: Pose as a friend, work as a spy
- Law 15: Crush your enemy totally
- Law 16: Use absence to increase respect and honor
- Law 17: Keep others in suspended terror: Cultivate an air of unpredictability
- Law 18: Do not build fortresses to protect yourself—isolation is dangerous
- Law 19: Know who you’re dealing with—do not offend the wrong person
- Law 20: Do not commit to anyone
- Law 21: Play a sucker to catch a sucker—seem dumber than your mark
- Law 22: Use the surrender tactic: transform weakness into power
- Law 23: Concentrate your forces
- Law 24: Play the perfect courtier
- Law 25: Recreate yourself
- Law 26: Keep your hands clean
- Law 27: Play on people’s need to believe to create a cultlike following
- Law 28: Enter action with boldness
- Law 29: Plan all the way to the end
- Law 30: Make your accomplishments seem effortless
- Law 31: Control the options: Get others to play with the cards you deal
- Law 32: Play to people’s fantasies
- Law 33: Discover each man’s thumbscrew
- Law 34: Be royal in your own fashion: Act like a king to be treated like one
- Law 35: Master the art of timing
- Law 36: Disdain things you cannot have: Ignoring them is the best revenge
- Law 37: Create compelling spectacles
- Law 38: Think as you like but behave like others
- Law 39: Stir up waters to catch fish
- Law 40: Despise the free lunch
- Law 41: Avoid stepping into a great man’s shoes
- Law 42: Strike the shepherd and the sheep will scatter
- Law 43: Work on the hearts and minds of others
- Law 44: Disarm and infuriate with the mirror effect
- Law 45: Preach the need for change, but never reform too much at once
- Law 46: Never appear too perfect
- Law 47: Do not go past the mark you aimed for: In victory, learn when to stop
- Law 48: Assume formlessness
The 48 Laws of Power Book Summary
Entering primary school is a bit of a shock for children. You probably faced a steep learning curve once you were thrown into the class with your new classmates if you were raised by conscientious parents. In an instant, it became clear that fairness does not exist for suckers or wimps!
You are more likely to succeed if you don’t try to always be fair. You already know that if you are a top business leader or politician. Even if you’re not, you can still make a difference.
In his search for power, Robert Greene learned all about the history and machinations of power, as well as how to gain, use and resist it.
This summary will explain each of Greene’s 48 Laws briefly, ranging from crushing your enemies, asking for help, concealing your intentions, and mastering the art of the time; there is truly something in here for everyone because we have 48 laws to go through.
Law 1: Never outshine the master
Always make people above you feel comfortably superior. Do not go too far in exhibiting your abilities in your attempt to please and impress them; you can end up doing the opposite—inspiring fear and insecurity. On the other hand, you will obtain the heights of power if you make your superiors appear more intelligent than they are.
Law 2: Never put too much trust in friends, learn how to use enemies
The more envious your friends are, the more likely they are to betray you. They also become spoiled and tyrannical. When you recruit an ex-enemy, he will be more devoted than a friend because he has more to prove. Rather than being afraid of your enemies, you should be fearful of your friends. If you don’t already have enemies, find a way to create them.
- Friends often withhold information in order to prevent disagreement; this can be dangerous.
- Keep friends for the sake of friendship but work with those who are talented and capable.
- Whenever possible, bury the hatchet with an enemy and make a point of putting him in your service.
- Use enemies to help define your cause to the public, even portraying it as a battle between good and evil.
- It is preferable to know who and where your opponents are than to be unaware of where your true enemies lie.
Law 3: Conceal your intentions
You can keep others guessing and off-balance if you don’t reveal your motivation for your actions. Without knowing what you’re planning, they can’t plan a defence. When you lead them too far down the wrong path and shroud them in enough smoke, they won’t be able to make out what your intentions are.
1). To put people off the track, use red herrings and decoyed objects of desire:
(i) All is lost if people have even the tiniest doubts about your motives at any time throughout your deceit. Don’t give them a chance to figure out what you’re up to; drag red herrings across the path to throw them off guard.
Put up deceptive objects of desire, give unclear messages, and present false sincerity. Because they cannot tell the difference between what is real and what is not, they cannot figure out what your true aim is.
(ii) Hide your motives by constantly talking about your false ambitions and goals.
2). To conceal your actions, use smoke screens:
(i) Deception is always the ideal tactic, but the best deceits require a smokescreen to divert people’s attention away from your true goal. The unreadable poker face, like the bland façade, is usually the perfect smokescreen, concealing your intentions behind the comfortable and familiar. If you take him along a familiar road, he won’t notice when you lead him into a trap.
(ii) A kind or truthful gesture can divert from deceit.
(iii) Patterns can also be used to hide deceit.
(iv) Being boring and acting in modesty is often the key to deceit.
Law 4: Always say less than necessary
With words, the more you speak, the more common you seem and the less in control you appear. Making something ambiguous, open-ended, and sphinxlike will make it sound unique, even if it’s mundane. Powerful individuals impress and intimidate others by speaking less and using sense. You are more likely to make a mistake if you speak more.
(i) People are often uncomfortable in silence, so they will jump in and nervously fill it.
(ii) Saying less helps you look more sophisticated and mysterious in general.
(iii) Sarcasm should be avoided at all costs; it is rarely useful.
(iv) By remaining mute, you risk raising suspicion or unease. Playing the jester might help you blend in at times without looking distrustful.
Law 5: So much depends on reputation—guard it with your life
Reputation is the foundation of power. You can intimidate and win based solely on your reputation, but once it has been tarnished, you become vulnerable and will be attacked from all sides. Be sure your reputation is untouchable. Always be on the lookout for prospective threats and counter them before they occur.
Meanwhile, learn to annihilate your enemies by ripping their reputations to shreds. Then take a step back and allow public opinion to hang them.
(i) Work to build a reputation of exceptional quality, whether via generosity, honesty, or deceit.
(ii) A lot of work is being done in advance by your reputation- a good reputation can save you a whole lot.
(iii) Once you’ve established, make sure to utilize the high route when attacked.
Law 6: Court attention at all cost
What is unseen has no significance; everything is judged by its outward appearance. Therefore, do not let yourself become lost in the crowd or buried in obscurity. Make a statement. At all costs, be prominent. Make yourself a focal point by seeming bigger, more colourful, and mysterious than the bland and timid masses.
1). Surround your name with exciting and controversial information.
(i) Create a distinctive, even controversial, picture to draw attention to yourself. Even court scandal, Do whatever you can to make yourself appear larger than life and shine brighter than others around you. Make no difference between types of attention—notoriety of any kind will bring you power. It is preferable to be slandered and attacked than to be ignored.
(ii) Spend all of your energy at the beginning of your rise, attracting attention. The quality of attention is unimportant.
2). Make It Feel Mysterious
(i) What appears intriguing immediately catches attention in a society that is becoming increasingly boring and familiar. Never make it too obvious what you are doing or intend to accomplish. Do not reveal all of your cards. A sense of mystery enhances your presence while also creating anticipation—everyone will be watching you see what happens next. Use mystery to entice, attract, or even threaten people.
(ii) Remember that most individuals are straightforward, can be read like a book, take little effort to control their words or image, and are hopelessly predictable.
You can create an atmosphere of mystery by simply holding back, being silent, occasionally uttering ambiguous words, purposely appearing inconsistent, and acting weird in the most subtle of ways.
(iii) Do not allow the mystery to take on a deceptive air; it must always appear to be a game, fun, and unthreatening.
Law 7: Get others to do the work for you, but always take the credit
Utilize other people’s skills, knowledge, and work to advance your own cause. Such support would not only save you time and energy, but would also grant you a godlike aura of efficiency and speed. In the end, your helpers will be long forgotten, but you will be remembered. Do not try to accomplish something that others can accomplish for you.
(i) You must keep the credit for yourself.
(ii) Learn how to leverage the efforts of others to further your own cause.
(iii) Take advantage of the past, which is a huge repository of information and wisdom. If you learn this, you will appear to be a genius.
Law 8: Make other people come to you—use bait if necessary
You are in command when you force the other person to act. It is always preferable to force your opponent to come to you, thereby forcing him to abandon his own plans. Entice him with fantastic gains, then attack. You have the upper hand.
Law 9: Win through your actions, never through an argument
Any temporary success you believe you’ve achieved via argument is a Pyrrhic victory: the hate and ill will you create is stronger and lasts longer than any quick change of view. It is far more effective to persuade others to agree with you by your actions than words. Demonstrate rather than explain.
Law 10: Infection: Avoid the unhappy and unlucky
You can die as a result of someone else’s anguish — emotional states are just as contagious as a disease. You may think you are assisting the drowning guy, but you are actually hastening your own demise. The unfortunate sometimes attract misery to themselves; they will also attract same to you. So instead, associate with the joyful and fortunate.
Law 11: Learn to keep people dependent on you
To keep your freedom, you must constantly be needed and desired. The more they rely on you, the more freedom you have. You have nothing to fear if you make others depend on you for their pleasure and success. Never teach them to the point where they can function without you.
Law 12: Use selective honesty and generosity to disarm your victim
A genuine and honest move will outweigh dozens of dishonest ones. Even the most distrustful individuals are taken aback by open-hearted acts of honesty and kindness. You may lie and manipulate them at will after your selective honesty has pierced their armor. A Trojan horse –A timed gift – will serve the same purpose.
Law 13: When asking for help, appeal to people’s self-interest, never to their mercy or gratitude
If you need to ask an ally for assistance, don’t bother reminding him of your previous support and good deeds. He’ll find a method to avoid you. Instead, find anything in your request or in your partnership with him that would benefit him and emphasize it. Then, when he perceives an opportunity to benefit himself, he will respond eagerly.
Law 14: Pose as a friend, work as a spy
It is vital to be aware of your rival. Use spies to obtain important information that will keep you one step ahead of the competition. Better still, be the spy. Learn to probe in polite social situations. Ask Indirect questions to get individuals to expose their flaws and goals. There isn’t a situation where artistic spying isn’t possible.
Law 15: Crush your enemy totally
Since the time of Moses, all great leaders have understood the need to thoroughly crush a dreaded enemy. (They sometimes have to learn this the hard way.) A fire will ultimately break out if one ember is left alight, no matter how weakly it smoulders. Stopping halfway can cause total devastation since the enemy will rebound and seek vengeance. So crush him not just physically but also spiritually.
Law 16: Use absence to increase respect and honor
When there is too much circulation, the price falls: You appear to be more prevalent the more you are seen and heard. If you’re already a part of a group, stepping away for a while will make you more well-known and admired. You must learn to know when it’s time to leave. Scarcity is used to create value.
Law 17: Keep others in suspended terror: Cultivate an air of unpredictability
Humans are creatures of habit, with an unquenchable desire to recognize familiarity in the acts of others. Your predictability enhances their sensation of control. So flip the script: Be intentionally unexpected.
Behavior that appears to lack consistency or purpose will throw them off guard, and they will tire themselves out trying to explain your actions. When taken to its logical conclusion, this method can intimidate and terrorize.
Law 18: Do not build fortresses to protect yourself—isolation is dangerous
The world is perilous, and there are adversaries everywhere; everyone must take precautions. A fortress appears to be the safest option. However, Isolation exposes you to more risks than it protects you against – it shuts you off from important information and makes you visible, making you an easy target.
Therefore, it is better to circulate among individuals in order to establish alliances and socialize. The crowd protects you from your attackers.
Law 19: Know who you’re dealing with—do not offend the wrong person
There are many various types of individuals in the world, and you should never assume that everyone will react the same way to your methods. Some people will spend the rest of their life seeking vengeance if they are duped or outmanoeuvred.
They are wolves dressed as lambs. So then, choose your victims and opponents with care – never upset or deceive the wrong person.
Law 20: Do not commit to anyone
A fool is the one who constantly jumps to take sides. Make no commitments to any side or cause other than yourself. You become the master of others by retaining your independence – pitting people against one another and making them chase you.
Law 21: Play a sucker to catch a sucker—seem dumber than your mark
Nobody enjoys feeling dumber than the other person. So the idea is to make your victims feel intelligent — and not just intelligent, but more intelligent than you are. Once they are convinced of this, they will not even think of accusing or suspecting you of having hidden objectives.
Law 22: Use the surrender tactic: transform weakness into power
When you’re weaker, never fight for the sake of honor; instead, yield. Surrender allows you to rest, torture, annoy your conqueror and wait for his power to wane. Give him no pleasure in battling and conquering you; instead, submit first. Then, you enrage and upset him by turning the other check. Make surrender a powerful tool.
Law 23: Concentrate your forces
Keep your strengths and energies focused at their most powerful spot to save them. You gain more by identifying a rich mine and digging it deeper than wandering from one shallow mine to another — intensity always wins over extensity. Finally, you should find the one important patron, the plump cow that will supply you milk for a long time when seeking sources of power to raise you.
Law 24: Play the perfect courtier
The ideal courtier flourishes in a society where everything revolves around power and political agility. He’s a master of indirection, flattering superiors, yielding to superiors, and asserting authority over others in the most subtle and charming manner. There is no limitation to how far you may rise in the court if you learn and implement the laws of a courtier.
Law 25: Recreate yourself
Do not take the roles that society assigns to you. Instead, recreate yourself by developing a new personality that grabs attention and never bores the audience. Be the boss of your own image rather than allowing others to define it for you. Incorporate dramatic techniques into your public gestures and movements to increase your influence and make your personality seem larger than life.
Law 26: Keep your hands clean
You must appear to be a model of decency and efficiency: never soil your hands with mistakes and wicked actions. Instead, maintain your squeaky-clean image by utilizing others as scapegoats and cat’s-paws to hide your participation.
Law 27: Play on people’s need to believe to create a cultlike following
People have a strong need to believe in something. Make yourself the focal focus of such longing by providing them a cause, a new faith to follow. Keep your words ambiguous but full of promise; stress passion over reason and clear thinking.
Give your new followers a ritual to perform and compel them to make sacrifices on your behalf. Your new belief system will give you unfathomable power in the absence of organized religion and noble causes.
Law 28: Enter action with boldness
If you are undecided about a course of action, don’t try it. Your hesitations and fears will affect your execution. Timidity is dangerous: it is better to approach with confidence; any errors you make as a result of your boldness can be easily corrected with additional audacity. Everyone admires the brave; no one respects the timid.
Law 29: Plan all the way to the end
The conclusion is everything. Plan every step along the journey, considering all of the conceivable outcomes, hurdles, and turns of fate that may undo your hard work and give credit to others. Circumstances will not overcome you if you plan to the finish, and you will know when to stop. Think far ahead to gently lead fortune and help define the future.
Law 30: Make your accomplishments seem effortless
Your actions must appear spontaneous and effortless. All the hard work and effort that goes into them, as well as the ingenious tricks, must be kept hidden.
When you act, do it with ease, as though you had much more to offer. Avoid the desire to reveal how hard you work – it will just provoke more inquiries.
Moreover, if you teach your techniques to others, they will be used against you.
Law 31: Control the options: Get others to play with the cards you deal
The greatest deceits are those that appear to give the other person a choice: Your victims believe they are in charge, but they are actually your puppets. Give people options that will benefit you regardless of which one they select.
Forcing people to choose between the lesser of two evils, both of which suit your aim. Put them in a pickle: they’re getting gored everywhere they turn.
Law 32: Play to people’s fantasies
The truth is often ignored because it is unappealing and unpleasant. Never appeal to truth and reality unless you are prepared to face the wrath that comes with disillusionment.
Because life is so harsh and painful that those who can conjure up romance or imagination are like an oasis in the desert: everyone goes to them. It is quite powerful to tap into the dreams of the people.
Law 33: Discover each man’s thumbscrew
Everyone has a flaw, a hole in the castle wall. That weakness is usually an insecurity, an overwhelming feeling, or a desire, but it may also be a modest private pleasure. In any case, once discovered, it is a thumbscrew you can use to your advantage.
Law 34: Be royal in your own fashion: Act like a king to be treated like one
The way you conduct yourself will always determine how you are regarded; seeming vulgar or ordinary can make others dislike you in the long run. For a king respects himself and urges others to do the same. You make yourself appear destined to wear a crown by appearing regally and secure in your abilities.
Law 35: Master the art of timing
Never appear to be in haste, Because haste reveals a lack of self-discipline and control over time. Always seem patient, as though you know everything will come to you in the end. Become a right-time detective, sniffing out the spirit of the times and the trends that will propel you to power. Learn to be patient when the timing is not yet right and to strike with ferocity when the time is right.
Law 36: Disdain things you cannot have: Ignoring them is the best revenge
You give a little problem credence and existence by acknowledging it. The more you pay attention to an opponent, the more powerful he becomes, and trying to rectify a little error typically makes it worse and more noticeable.
It’s sometimes best to just let things be. If you desire something but can’t have it, show your disdain for it. The less you show interest in anything, the more superior you appear.
Law 37: Create compelling spectacles
Everyone responds to striking images and noble symbolic actions that generate an atmosphere of authority. Create spectacles for people around you, then fill them with stunning sights and dazzling symbols that amplify your presence. No one will notice what you are truly accomplishing because they are distracted by looks.
Law 38: Think as you like but behave like others
People will assume you simply want attention and look down on them if you make a show of going against the grain, displaying your unique thoughts and uncommon ways. Then, they’ll find a way to retaliate against you for making them feel incompetent.
Blending in and nurturing the common touch is significantly safer. Only share your individuality with tolerant friends and those who are sure to appreciate it.
Law 39: Stir up waters to catch fish
Anger and passion are detrimental from a strategic standpoint. You must maintain your composure and objectivity at all times. However, if you can get your enemies upset while remaining cool yourself, you will have a distinct edge.
Put your adversaries off-balance: You hold the strings if you can find the crack in their vanity through which you may rattle them.
Law 40: Despise the free lunch
What is given out for free is risky because it often involves a ruse or a hidden mission. Nevertheless, it is worthwhile to pay for what is valuable. You can avoid gratitude, regret, and deception by paying your own way.
It’s also advisable to pay the full price – there’s no way to cut corners when it comes to quality. Spend your money lavishly and keep it moving since generosity is a symbol and a magnet for power.
Law 41: Avoid stepping into a great man’s shoes
What occurs first seems to be better and more original than what follows. If you succeed a great guy or have a renowned father, you will have to do twice as much as they did to outshine them.
Don’t become lost in their shadow or locked in a history you didn’t create: change direction to establish your own name and identity. Slay the overbearing father, discredit his legacy, and rise to prominence by shining in your own unique manner.
Law 42: Strike the shepherd and the sheep will scatter
Trouble is usually traced to a single powerful individual — the agitator, the haughty underling, the poisoner of goodwill. Allowing such persons to function will lead to others succumbing to their influence.
Don’t wait for the problems they cause to increase and don’t try to bargain with them — they’re unredeemable. Instead, isolate or exile them to counteract their impact. The sheep will scatter if you strike at the source of the problem.
Law 43: Work on the hearts and minds of others
Coercion causes an adverse reaction that will eventually work against you. You must persuade people to walk in your path. Someone you’ve charmed becomes your devoted pawn. And the best approach to entice people is to use their distinct psychologies and flaws.
Work on their emotions, play on what they value and fear, to soften the resistive. Ignore other people’s emotions and thoughts, and they will come to despise you.
Law 44: Disarm and infuriate with the mirror effect
The mirror not only reflects reality, but it’s also an excellent tool for deception. If you mirror your adversaries, doing precisely what they do, they will be unable to figure out your method. The Mirror Effect humiliates and mocks them, causing them to overreact.
You entice people with the illusion that you share their ideals by holding up a mirror to their psyches; you teach them a lesson by putting up a mirror to their deeds. Few can withstand the Mirror Effect’s force.
Law 45: Preach the need for change, but never reform too much at once
In theory, everyone knows the need for change, yet individuals are creatures of habit on a daily basis. Too much innovation may be stressful, and it can lead to a backlash.
Make a show of honouring the old way of doing things if you are new to a position of authority or an outsider seeking to develop a power base. If change is required, make it feel like a gradual improvement over the previous situation.
Law 46: Never appear too perfect
Appearing to be better than everyone is always risky, but the most hazardous is to pretend to have no flaws or shortcomings. Envy breeds silent enemies. It is wise to flaunt imperfection and admit to innocuous vices on occasion in order to deflect jealousy and look more human and accessible. Only gods and the dead may appear flawless with impunity.
Law 47: Do not go past the mark you aimed for: In victory, learn when to stop
The moment of victory is usually the moment of greatest danger. Arrogance and overconfidence can push you over the objective you set for yourself in the heat of triumph, and by going too far, you gain more enemies than you conquer.
Don’t let success get to your head. There is no replacement for meticulous preparation and strategy. Set a goal and then quit when you attain it.
Law 48: Assume formlessness
You expose yourself to attack by acquiring shape, by having a visible strategy, instead of adopting a form that your enemy can recognize, keep yourself versatile and on the go. Accept that nothing is assured and that no law is set.
The greatest approach to defending yourself is to be as fluid and formless as water; never put your faith in stability or long-term order—everything changes.
The 48 Laws of Power is an essential guide for those who want to learn from Queen Elizabeth I, Louis XIV, Henry Kissinger, and Machiavelli’s mistakes. Robert Greene also offers a guide to leading and utilizing power based on the history of power. By following these 48 laws, You will be able to tap into the wisdom that strong individuals have acquired through their past failures.
In contrast, the 48 Laws of Power won’t tell you what you want to hear if you’re a “Mr. Nice Guy” like me. It may however be what you need to hear in certain circumstances. I don’t agree with all of the laws, but they all have compelling reasons.
The 48 Laws of Power Review
The 48 Laws of Power is worth a read if you have the time.
Like a certain biblical tree, this highly popular book strikes me as almost akin to Machiavelli’s “The Prince,” or a close cousin to it.
I rated the 452-page collection of 48 power laws in the following categories (one law was split): Good (27%), Bad (30%), and Ugly (43%, which could be either good or bad to follow the crowd).
Using archetypes, one can translate this into a good Washington, a bad Hitler, and perhaps an ordinary, somewhat unprincipled modern politician.
Furthermore, some of the laws that appear to be Bad on the surface are just Ugly, given that examples of the law subsequently provided soften the apparent top-level advice to do harm. Furthermore, certain laws seem to contradict one another, leaving one to wonder which laws should be followed.
These strategies are said to work in order to gain power, but for what purpose? Do you want to build up a positive world for everyone, or will you destroy it and hope you’re dead before it crashes down upon you and everyone else?
Machiavelli’s “The Prince” is regarded as one of the first works of modern political philosophy, purporting to share “the truth” rather than ideals. Today, the term Machiavellian is viewed as derogatory.
However, if one recalls George Washington’s words, he frequently used the word “interest” to determine the motivation of people and peoples (nations). Even Machiavelli urged princes to construct compelling arguments.
Therefore, power is essentially about persuasion, whether convincing others to cooperate with you or explaining to adversaries the consequences of refusing to do so. The carrot/stick approach is often the best way of addressing “interest”.
Despite the book’s negative aspects, at least it teaches Good characters about what Bad characters might do.
Therefore, all in all, I highly recommend even Good guys take a tasteful bite of this good/evil book.
About The Author
Robert Greene is an American author and public speaker. He graduated from the University of California, Berkeley. Green wrote five international bestsellers about strategy, power, and success. The 48 Laws of Power is the first.
One of my favorite quotes from 48 Laws of Power is:
“Be lavish with your money and keep it circulating, for generosity is a sign and a magnet for power” – Robert Greene
Buy The Book: The 48 Laws of Power
If you want to buy the book The 48 Laws of Power, you can get it from the following links: