The 48 Laws of Power by Robert Greene

Summary

A dense, candid, and frightening examination of power and its many dynamics. If you are hoping to understand people and achieve big things in this world, this book is a must-read. If nothing else, you’ll learn about how some other people you encounter think about the world.

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Key Takeaways

Why care about power?

It’s an inevitable part of life, so better to be adept at it. Mastering your emotions, patience, and understanding human motivations are the most important facilitators of power. Emotions cloud reason, prevent you from seeing things objectively and hinder clear responses. Be patient. Understand hidden motivations.

Law 1: Never outshine the master

Shine light on the people above you. Never try to outsmart your master or display too many of your talents. That will only engender fear and insecurity. You want to do is to make the people above you appear more brilliant than they are.

Law 2: Never put too much trust in friends, learn how to use enemies

It may seem paradoxical, but you should fear your friends more than your enemies. Friends can be great, but they can also become envious and betray you if you let your guard down.

Law 3: Conceal Your Intentions

Keep people on their toes by never revealing your true intentions. You can use tactics like feigning indifference, sending unclear signals, talking about goals, and emphasizing truth and honesty as important. No one will know what you’re really up to, and without that knowledge, they won’t be able to create any reliable defense.

Law 4: Always say less than necessary

Saying little creates mystery and an air of profundity that often leads you to gain status and acquire valuable information, all while revealing very little about yourself. Plus, if you talk too much, you may end up saying the wrong thing or coming off as ordinary.

Law 5: So much depends on reputation, guard it with your life

Your reputation is one of your most important assets. Choose one good quality to build a reputation on and build an invulnerable case for it. Your reputation is particularly powerful because it can provide you with a lot of value with little extra effort once it’s built. But reputation can be destroyed with even small infractions, so guard yourself against people who try to destroy it.

Law 6: Court attention at all costs

It’s easy to get lost in the crowd or to be timid in your actions because of what other people might think. But the truth is,  you want to stand out. Be bold and decisive and mysterious so that people notice you. Even negative attention helps you out in the long run.

Law 7: Get others to do the work for you, but always take the credit

Getting others to do your bidding is a great way to save time and effort. There is no use in doing something yourself that you can get someone else to do. Learn how to get people on your side, and take the credit you get from doing what seems like an ungodly amount.

Law 8: Make other people come to you, use bait if necessary

When you make other people come to you, you have the advantage. Never go play on someone else’s turf. Find clever ways to get people in your arena.

Law 9: Win through your actions, never through argument

Even when you win an argument, the prize is often temporary because the person on the other side often becomes resentful. So instead of using your words, use your actions to prove what you want to prove. It’s a more powerful strategy that will lead to better long-term results.

Law 10: Infection: Avoid the unhappy or the unlucky

Emotions are contagious. Don’t surround yourself with miserable people or those who have been unfortunate. The misery and suffering may bring you down.

Law 11: Learn to keep people dependent on you

Always make sure that other people rely on you for their well-being and happiness. You can do this through extensive actions (wide involvement) or intensive actions (deep involvement).

Law 12: Use selective honesty and generosity to disarm your victim

You can disarm someone by being honest and generous one time. That one act can shield you from many dishonest or selfish acts in the future.

Law 13: When asking for help, appeal to people’s self interest, never their mercy or gratitude

Show people what they will gain by helping you. Don’t try to convince them with what you’ve done for them in the past. It’s best to show people how they will personally benefit, rather than relying on trading favors.

Law 14: Pose as a friend, work as a spy

Especially with your enemies, learn about them by becoming their friend. They will be disarmed as you collect information that you can later use for your advantage.

Law 15: Crush your enemy totally

Make it so that your enemy cannot recover. If there is a chance of recovery, he will find a way. It’s best to destroy him entirely the first time around.

Law 16: Use absence to increase strength and honor

You know the phrase: absence makes the heart grow fonder. To avoid being seen as common, be around in the beginning, make a big splash, and then withdraw. People will be left wanting more of you. This is particularly effective in seduction.

Law 17: Keep others in suspended terror, cultivate an air of unpredictability

Keep people off-balance by being predictable. If they don’t know what comes next, that will work to your advantage.

Law 18: Do not build a fortress to protect yourself, isolation is dangerous

Isolation leaves you with little information and makes you vulnerable to being attacked. It’s better to be out in the open, hearing what’s going on and relying on the crowd to protect you from any attacks.

Law 19: Know who you’re dealing with, do not offend the wrong person

Never offend people’s intellectual identity, appearance, or taste. You never know who is around you.

Law 20: Do not commit to anyone

Never take sides. Only commit to serving yourself.

Law 21: Play a sucker to catch a sucker, seem dumber than your mark

Always make people think they are smarter than you. If they feel smarter, they won’t expect that you have ulterior motives or that you’re even capable of what you’re planning.

Law 22: Use the surrender tactic: transform weakness into power

If you’re going to lose, surrender instead of fighting until you’re annihilated. If you’re annihilated, you have no chance of winning. If you surrender, you may have time to recover and find a new strategy to win.

Law 23: Concentrate your forces

When you find an extremely influential person or strategy, milk that entirely. Do not focus on small sources that provide you with a little bit of benefit. It’s better to put all of your efforts into the things that work the most.

Law 24: Play the perfect courtier

Learn and master the rules of courting. Then use them to your advantage.

Law 25: Re-Create Yourself

Don’t accept any one role in life. Be responsible for your own creation, and be willing to re-invent yourself when it serves you. Make yourself seem larger than life by creating a memorable role for yourself and by acting boldly.

Law 26: Keep your hands clean

Do not do dirty work yourself – it may damage the reputation that you cannot avoid losing. Find scapegoats and other people who can do the dirty work.

Law 27: Play on people’s need to believe to create a cult-like following

Everyone wants to believe in something. Give people a philosophy and set of practices to believe in. Be the architect of how they see the world.

Law 28: Enter action with boldness

Boldness is cultivated, not inherent. People admire boldness and respect boldness in a world of plentiful timidity. It separates you from the herd and is a tactical characteristic, rather than a way of being. It’s vital for negotiation & romance. Timidity comes from worrying about how people perceive you and your desire to be liked. Seduce by engulfing and keeping the illusion alive. Self-confidence brings us out of typical reflection.

Law 29: Plan all the way to the end

Keep going until you get the prize at the end of the road. Stopping too early may lead to others getting the glory and you being forgotten.

Law 30: Make your accomplishments seem effortless

Actions should appear natural, effortless, calm, and graceful. Don’t give away your secrets. Embody the Italian art of spressatura, the capacity to make the difficult seem easy. Show only finished masterpieces. Avoid blabbing too much and only selectively reveal some practices.

Law 31: Control the options, get others to play with the cards you deal

Make people feel that they have a choice between options, but ensure that all of those options serve you. They will feel agency, and you will benefit from whatever they decide to do.

Law 32: Play to people’s fantasies

Play to people’s fantasies. Play on the desire for a great change with little time, money, and effort. Play on to the desire to live in a different world with better values and less hardship. Play to the desire for relief from boredom. The truth is too painful for most people.

Law 33: Discover each man’s thumbscrew

Every person has a weakness that you can exploit. It may be something he is insecure about or some desire that has an outsized influence on him. Once you find this weakness in each person, you can use it to your advantage.

Law 34: Be royal in your own fashion. Act like a king to be treated like one

Carry yourself in the manner you want to be treated.

Law 35: Master the art of timing

Develop the capacity to be patient so that you can stand back gracefully when the timing is not right. Then pay attention to when the timing is in your favor, and be ready to strike quickly.

Law 36: Disdain things you cannot have, ignoring them is the best revenge

Learn to ignore the things you cannot have, and you will not give them any power.

Law 37: Create compelling spectacles

Symbolic gestures are candy for the mind that can heighten your presence and distract people from what you’re really doing.

Law 38: Think as you like but behave like others

Don’t try to convince people of your contrarian opinions – it may make conventional people think that you see them as less worthy. Instead, fit in with the people around you.

Law 39: Stir up waters to catch fish

Find ways to stay calm and balanced while stirring the pot for your enemy. If you can make your enemy angry while remaining calm yourself, you can often reveal things or incite actions that will be to your advantage.

Law 40: Despise the free lunch

Everything that is “free” has some string attached to it. It’s better to pay your own way and always be free from any obligations or expected reciprocation from others. You will also avoid hard-to-detect traps if you avoid taking these “free” offers.

Law 41: Avoid stepping into a great man’s shoes

Never try to outshine a great person. You will have to work much harder with less success. It’s better to build your own reputation and to create an image that’s separate from the people that came before you.

Law 42: Strike the shepherd and the sheep will scatter

When someone else is accruing power in your domain, find a way to way to destroy him. That way, all of the sheep that follow that person will have to run and be immersed in chaos once the illusion of their former master is shattered.

Law 43: Work on the hearts and minds of others

Loyalty is created through seduction, not through coercion. Coercion may work in the short term, but it will work against you in the long run. It’s better to find a soften way to get people in your corner.

Law 44: Disarm and infuriate with the mirror effect

Demonstrate that you share similar values and understand other people’s unspoken selves.

Law 45: Preach the need to change, but never reform too much at once

People want to believe in something they can follow. Promise transformation, but be vague. Create us versus them dynamic. Make people see you as an agent of transformation. Work on groups, which reduce people’s capacity to reason. Appeal to higher ideals and noble causes. People like comfort and are scared of change, so they move slowly. Cloak change and innovation in the legitimacy of a past initiative.

Law 46: Never appear too perfect

Perfection engenders envy. It’s better to periodically reveal strategic flaws or vices so that you appear more like other people and less suspicious.

Law 47: Do not go past the mark you aimed for. In victory, know when to stop

Don’t become overconfident or arrogant when you win. Knowing when to stop will help you avoid the trap of thinking that you’re unstoppable.

Law 48: Assume formlessness

Be like a chameleon so that other people cannot pin you down. Being more like water can help you adapt to an ever-changing landscape and not stay tied to a losing strategy.

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