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The 48 Laws Of Power Summary – Robert Greene

48 Laws of Power Summary
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48 Laws of Power Summary
The 48 Laws of Power (1998)
by Robert Greene
The ultimate guide to becoming a sociopath gaining and defending against ultimate control – by author and your nearest dictator’s favourite leadership coach, Robert Greene.

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Note: This 48 Laws of Power summary is part of an ongoing project to summarise The 70 Best Books on Communication.

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The 48 Laws Of Power Review

The 48 Laws of Power is the definitive manual for anyone interested in gaining or defending against ultimate control. It’s the bastard love child of How To Win Friends And Influence People, The Art of War and The Game – if that child was bred to survive Coral Island, then raised by wolves, then fostered by Machiavelli.

It’s a weighty and challenging read. Partly because of its relentlessly anecdotal style. Partly because of the emotional rollercoaster it’ll send you on (expect at least horror, disgust, anger, disdain, disbelief, shame, fascination and greed). But mostly because it’ll force you to confront the sheer number of psychological tactics that are used every day to control you.

Fortunately, Greene does some simplifying. You’ll find excellent one paragraph summaries of each law in the “Contents” and start of each chapter. There’s even an official concise version of the book. (And you’ll find my own slightly more detailed summaries of each law of power, below.)

And yet even so, The 48 Laws of Power is a book to think twice about reading.

Yes, it’s wonderfully written, structured and researched. Yes, it’ll make you cannier, wiser and a whole lot less naive. And yes, it might even make you more player than pawn.

But it’s also the kind of book you can’t read without changing your world view forever.

And this is one apple you may regret picking when you realise you can’t change it back…

The 48 Laws of Power Summary

I’ve split this 48 Laws of Power summary into 4 sections:

Feel free to read it as written, or skip to a section that interests you.

But in any case, let’s dive in…

Why are the 48 Laws of Power so important?

We are constantly embroiled in struggles for power and influence…

  • At many levels – personal, professional, political; and
  • On many time-frames – hours, years, centuries.

…in which we become either players or pieces:

  • Players – win the struggle and make things happen their way; while
  • Pieces – lose the struggle and have things happen to them.

You cannot opt out of the game, only choose which role you will play.

To spend more time as a player than a piece you must:

  • Accept that the game is afoot; and
  • Learn how to play the game well.

To play the game well, you must master the 48 Laws of Power.

How can you master the 48 Laws of Power?

Each law has its own specific dos, don’ts and exceptions (see the summaries, below).

But there ARE a few general tips.

First – be wary of vocal “non-players”; those who claim:

  • Powerlessness – “I don’t know how to play the game“;
  • Equality – “Nobody should play the game“;
  • Truth and honesty – “I’d never play the game“; or
  • Naiveté. – “What’s this game all about, anyway?

These are all power moves. And the people who use them are often (knowingly or unknowingly) the most sophisticated players of all.

And second – you must master the following general qualities and skills:

  • Detachment – don’t repress emotions, learn to choose how you express them;
  • Awareness – anticipate future obstacles, plan thoroughly and never be caught unalert;
  • Understanding – observe the 48 laws directly and vicariously; don’t repeat mistakes;
  • Deception – make your appearance malleable and your intentions inscrutable;
  • Patience – learn to wait and shield yourself from impatience;
  • Objectivity – judge others not by intentions but by the effects of their actions;
  • Focus – never waste time or peace of mind on the affairs of others;
  • Psychology – study, understand and never fully trust others; and
  • Subtlety – disguise your cunning and take the indirect route to power.

To do so (and master each of the 48 laws at the same time):

  • Set aside time every day for study and reflection;
  • Review a situation – yours or someone else’s, against the 48 Laws of Power;
  • Extract a lesson – what quality or skill was at work? what law was used or transgressed? and
  • Make an oath not to repeat the mistake.

With time and practice you will learn to master the art of power and influence.

What are the 48 Laws of Power? (Full List)

Here’s a full list of the 48 Laws of Power. Click any law to skip to its summary.

Summaries of the 48 Laws of Power.

Here are some concise free summaries of each of the 48 Laws of Power…

Law 1: Never Outshine The Master.

“There can be only one sun at a time. Never obscure the sunlight or rival its brilliance.”

DON’T: Outshine your superiors:

  • Even if they love and favour you; and
  • Even if it’s just by being yourself.

DO: Make your superiors look and feel awesome (without being obsequious):

  • Make sure your victories reflect well on (instead of eclipsing) them;
  • Make little mistakes and create opportunities for them to coach you;

EXCEPTION: If the master is a falling star, outshine them and even hasten their descent.

Law 2: Never Put Too Much Trust In Friends, Learn How To Use Enemies.

The wise man profits more from his enemies than a fool from his friends.

You destroy an enemy when you make a friend of him.

DON’T: Promote friends to positions of power or trust:

  • They may prioritise friendship over honesty;
  • They may feel insecure about their appointment (and act to secure it);
  • They may feel entitled to and yet ungrateful for further favours;
  • They will rarely be the best person for the job; and
  • You will alienate more deserving candidates.

DO: Surround yourself with skill and competence, even if you find it in enemies:

  • Enemies keep you focussed, united and alert (when consciously kept weak and close);
  • Enemies expect nothing and (if reconciled) will be grateful and have something to prove;
  • Reconciled enemies are less likely to let personal feelings cloud mutual self-interest;
  • Reconciled enemies are more likely to offer dissenting (and thus useful) opinions.

EXCEPTION: Use “close” friends strategically to take risks others wouldn’t or as sacrificial scapegoats.

Law 3: Conceal Your Intentions.

“Imitate those warlike people who’s designs are not known except by the ravaged country through which they have passed.”

DON’T: Give away information that can be used to build defences against you.

DO: Use decoys and red-herrings to throw people off the scent.

  • Don’t blurt out your true feelings and opinions; instead
  • Publicly support honesty and sincerity as important social values; then
  • Talk endlessly about desires and goals that aren’t (or even directly contradict) your own; and
  • Use false sincerity (seem to deeply believe what you say) to complete the illusion.

DO: Use smoke screens to disguise your actions.

  • Hide your thoughts and emotions behind bland smiles and nondescript looks.
  • Frame actions as noble gestures to hide/misdirect people away from your real agenda.
  • Repeat a pattern until others believe you’re predictable – then break it.
  • Blend seamlessly with the in-group to avoid their suspicion of the out-group.
  • Have the patience and humility to be thought of as less than you are.

EXCEPTION:

  • If you have a reputation for deception, use the “honest” or “repentant rogue” label as your smoke screen.
  • For faster – though less enduring – results consider colourful and conspicuous distractions instead.

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.”

DON’T: Say more than you have to.

  • Silence makes you appear more mysterious and powerful.
  • Silence discomfits others and encourages them to fill it.
  • Silence stops others from guessing what you’re thinking.
  • Silence stops you from saying something stupid.

DO: Make what you do say sound vague, open-ended and sphinx like.

  • Allow others to try and find the wisdom in your succinctness.
  • The less you say about your work, the more others will talk about it.

EXCEPTION:

  • Be careful not to come across as surly, suspicious or evasive.
  • Talking lots can encourage others to think you a fool, which you can use to your advantage.

Law 5: So Much Depends On Reputation – Guard It With Your Life.

A solid reputation increases your presence and exaggerates your strengths without your having to spend much energy,

DON’T: Get caught off guard by or tolerate attacks on your reputation.

  • Constantly and proactively cultivate and renew it.
  • Once established, never appear desperate in defence of it.

DO: Proactively establish and renew a formidable reputation.

  • Develop a reputation for one outstanding quality (e.g., generosity, honesty, cunning).
  • Subtly and slowly make your reputation known to as many people as possible.
  • Whitewash your reputation (if necessary) by associating with others in good standing.

DO: Open holes in the reputations of others and let public opinion hang them.

  • First, spread rumours and doubt that undermine your rivals integrity;
  • Then, when you have some reputation of your own – use it to ridicule your opponents.

EXCEPTION: Don’t be too heavy handed in your attacks on others, or they will backfire.

Law 6: Court Attention At All Cost.

Every crowd has a silver lining.

DO: Surround your name with the sensational and the scandalous.

  • First, attract attention at all costs:
    • Embrace the qualities that naturally set you apart or draw attention to you; and/or
    • Adopt e.g., a style of dress or personality quirk that gets talked about; and/or
    • Publicly attack the most famous, most powerful person you can find.
  • Then, constantly renew its focus by adapting your method of courting attention.
  • Don’t worry if the attention is negative – it is better to be attacked than ignored.

DO: Create an air of mystery.

  • It doesn’t need to be grand or awe-inspiring.
  • Obey law 4, be deliberately inconsistent and a little bit odd.
  • Act in ways that cannot be easily explained or interpreted.
  • What cannot be seized and consumed creates power.

EXCEPTION:

  • Don’t let your courting appear needy, greedy or insecure.
  • Don’t let your reputation for mystery become one for deceit.
  • Don’t fall foul of law 1.

Law 7: Get Others To Do The Work For You, But Always Take The Credit.

“Fools say that they learn by experience. I prefer to profit by others experience.”

DON’T: Do what others can do for you.

  • Find others with the skills or creativity you lack; then
    • Either in the present, from the people around you; or
    • From the past, from the giants that have come before.
  • Hire them and put your name on their work; or
  • Find a way to take their work and pass it off as your own.

EXCEPTION:

  • Make sure your reputation and position are unshakeable before applying this rule.
  • Don’t fall foul of law 1.

Law 8: Make Other People Come To You – Use Bait If Necessary.

It is always better to make an opponent come to you, abandoning his own plans in the process.

DON’T: Lose control, become reactive or over-stretch yourself chasing quick victories.

DO: Keep the initiative and force others on the defensive by:

  • Mastering your emotions (especially anger);
  • Keeping others off balance with false information; and
  • Taunting and baiting others into coming blindly to you.

EXCEPTION: Where a quick decisive strike would surprise and demoralise, take the lead.

Law 9: Win Through Your Actions, Never Through Argument.

“Never argue. In society nothing must be discussed; give only results.”

DON’T: Waste your breath arguing.

  • Arguing makes people defensive and unlikely to change their minds.
  • Arguing successfully may cause others to resent or dislike you.
  • Avoid pointless battles and pyrrhic victories.
  • And if you must make your point, find ways to…

DO: Demonstrate the correctness of your ideas indirectly.

  • Change the context to let others re-evaluate without backtracking.
  • Let others feel what it’s like in your shoes, instead to telling them.
  • Draw subtle attention to stories and symbols that make your point for you.

DO: Let them win if winning will serve you no purpose.

  • Walk away and save your energy; or if that’s not possible
  • Agree and follow through or at least go through the motions.

EXCEPTION: Use words deliberately to draw attention AWAY from action.

Law 10: Infection: Avoid The Unhappy And Unlucky

“You are the average of the people you spend the most time with.”

DON’T: Spend time with or around people who draw misfortune on themselves.

  • Beware of the victim whose problems are actually self-inflicted.
  • Beware of the chronically dissatisfied.
  • Beware of those who share your defects.
  • Beware of those with a long record of turbulence, misery and destruction.
  • Don’t take pity on or try to save them, they will drag you down with them instead.

DO: Associate with people of good cheer, success and with an abundance of qualities that you lack.

EXCEPTION: Sympathise and support those brought down temporarily by factors beyond their control.

Law 11: Learn To Keep People Dependent On You.

“He who has slaked his thirst, immediately turns his back on the well.”

DON’T: Take take people’s dependance for granted.

  • Beware of cheaper and/or less powerful rivals who could replace you and
  • Expect others to fear you and look for ways to replace you if they can.

DO: Become the power behind the throne by becoming indispensable.

  • Cultivate an intensive talent or creative skill that cannot be easily replaced.
  • Network extensively so many alliances and dependencies depend in their turn on you.
  • Enmesh yourself so deeply in someone’s fate that it would be painful to cut you away.
    • Either with the master directly; or
    • With someone indispensable to the master.
  • Never teach others so much they can do without you.

EXCEPTION: Get rid of those above you if you can. But realise that the position comes with its own set of risks.

Law 12: Use Selective Honesty And Generosity To Disarm Your Victim.

“Aim right for the heart. It corrodes the will to fight back.”

DO: Use upfront honesty, kindness, generosity and favours to build trust and rapport.

  • This works especially well with those who expect to be mistreated or misled.

EXCEPTION: If people know you’re dishonest, use little lies as a smoke screen for the bigger ones.

Law 13: Appeal To People’s Self-Interest, Never To Their Mercy Or Gratitude.

The shortest and best way to make your fortune is to let people see clearly that it is in their interests to promote yours.

DON’T: Turn yourself into a liability by reminding others how much they owe you.

  • Appealing to the past comes off as desperate and impotent; and
  • A quick way to pay off a debt is to simply get rid of the creditor.

DO: Turn yourself into an asset by reminding others how much they still stand to gain.

  • Even the most powerful people are locked inside needs of their own.
  • Understand what those needs are: vanity, greed, insecurity, fear; then
  • Don’t be subtle: offer to make them rich, healthy and happy.

EXCEPTION: Where cynical self-interest fails, give others the opportunity to publicly display their good hearts.

Law 14: Pose As A Friend, Work As A Spy.

There is no occasion that is not an opportunity for artful spying.

DO: Actively gather information like a spy.

  • Pay others with better access to spy for you; or
  • Use wit, grace and interest to get others talking about themselves; but
  • Emphasise friendly chatter, not valuable information to avoid suspicion.
  • Pay attention during gatherings or encounters when guards may be down.
  • Pretend to bare your heart sincerely to encourage a reciprocal exchange.
  • Vehemently disagree or disbelieve others to encourage over sharing.
  • Reveal “secret” (made up) information and watch others reactions.
  • Share and track valuable “secrets” to test trust and reveal allegiances.

DON’T: Trade secrets for secrets; keep your own ideas and motives unknown.

EXCEPTION: Weave a web of intentional misinformation around you to confuse and mislead others who are spying on you.

Law 15: Crush Your Enemy Totally.

If one ember is left alight, no matter how dimly it smoulders, a fire will eventually break out.

DON’T: Show mercy for a weakened enemy or former ally.

DO: Crush your opponents completely, body and soul.

EXCEPTION: Allow escape if doing so will lead to an enemy hanging themselves.

Law 16: Use Absence To Increase Respect And Honour

“Absence diminishes minor passions and inflames great ones.”

DON’T: Become a habit that others take for granted or stop noticing.

DO: Establish yourself, then create a pattern of presence and absence.

  • Make your skills and contributions rare and hard to find; then
  • Heighten your presence until you’ll be missed; then
  • Withdraw before the power of your presence starts to fade; and
  • Give no reason for your absence – others will assume they’re at fault; then
  • Re-appear as if you’re back from the dead; and
  • Create an ongoing pattern of presence and absence.

EXCEPTION: Be omnipresent at first until you’re certain you’ll be missed and not simply forgotten before applying this law.

Law 17: Keep Others In Suspended Terror: Cultivate An Air Of Unpredictability.

“Always mystify, mislead and surprise the enemy if possible.”

DON’T: Let force of habit make you predictable (and thus controllable).

  • Patterns gives the initiative to others.
  • Patterns make you forgettable.

DO: Use sudden and unpredictable actions to deliberately unsettle others.

  • Unpredictability wears enemies down mentally and emotionally.
  • Unpredictability keeps the initiative on your side.
  • Unpredictability creates interest and curiosity.

EXCEPTIONS:

  • Repeat patterns intentionally to lull others into a false sense of safety and predictability.
  • Be careful not to unsettle your superiors or be perceived as indecisive and weak (unless that is your plan).

Law 18: Do Not Build Fortresses To Protect Yourself – Isolation Is Dangerous.

DON’T: Physically or socially isolate yourself from others.

  • It cuts you off from useful information and feedback;
  • It stops you from practising the 48 laws;
  • It makes you a predictable and easy target; and
  • Your fortress can quickly be turned into a prison.

DO: Be at the centre of and force openness and sociability to revolve around you.

  • Mingle everywhere, know everyone, build many alliances and connections;
  • Fight the desire to close yourself off when there’s danger or uncertainty;
  • Remember: sociability breeds information and information is power.

EXCEPTION: Use occasional, small doses of isolation to help you think more clearly; to give you a sense of perspective. But leave the door back to society open.

Law 19: Know Who You’re Dealing With – Do Not Offend The Wrong Person.

Wrongs are often forgiven, but contempt never is. Our pride remembers it for ever.

DON’T: Misread others and end up thoughtlessly targeting on of the five dangerous marks:

  • The arrogant and proud man – who will react with outsized vengeance and violence;
  • The hopelessly insecure man – who’s will endlessly hound and harass you;
  • Mr. Suspicious – who may suddenly turn against you without warning;
  • The serpent with the long memory – who will wait quietly and patiently for revenge;
  • The simple man – who is too simple or honest to be manipulated.

DO: Take the time to thoroughly understand those around you before acting.

  • Never trust your instincts – Gather and use concrete data (see law 14); and
  • Never trust appearances – Especially those given in public.

DO: Remember there is nothing to be gained by unnecessary insults…

  • People forget a lot, but they rarely forget an insult; and
  • You may be dealing with one of the five dangerous marks; and even if they’re weak…
  • Those who are weak today may be strong tomorrow.

EXCEPTIONS: There are none.

Law 20: Do Not Commit To Anyone.

“Every moment wasted on the affairs of others subtracts from your strength.”

DON’T: Take sides.

  • Support easily gained is little valued; meanwhile
  • Your unattainability breeds respect and desire; and
  • That desire will make others come to you (see law 8); but
  • The moment you commit, you lose that power; and what’s more
  • You fill your mind and your time with their problems.

DO: Give others hope but never satisfaction.

  • Put yourself in the middle of competing interests; then
  • Actively stir the pot and excite interest from all sides; and
  • Bend to the attention of others but never too far.

DO: Be charming to, stir up and let others exhaust themselves squabbling, then pick them off or offer to act as the go-between.

EXCEPTION: Play the middle ground carefully. Too little or too much charm will lead to disinterest or distrust.

Law 21: Play A Sucker To Catch A Sucker – Seem Dumber Than Your Mark.

The best way to be well-received by all is to clothe yourself in the skin of the dumbest of brutes.”

DON’T: Make others feel less intelligent or sophisticated than you are.

DO: Downplay your brilliance to lull others into a false sense of security.

  • Dress awkwardly and unfashionably.
  • Act naive, impressed and incredulous.
  • Talk rashly, boldly and ignorantly.

EXCEPTION:

  • Find subtle ways to let your superiors know you’re smarter than the competition (without breaking law 1); and
  • Play the professor (selectively) when you need others to take you at your word.

Law 22: Use The Surrender Tactic: Transform Weakness Into Power.

Weak people never give way when they ought to.”

DON’T: Fight a lost cause for honour’s sake.

  • No-one will come to your aid while you’re weak;
  • Nothing can be gained except martyrdom; and
  • You will never get a chance at revenge.

DO: Make superficial surrender a tool of power.

  • Stay inwardly firm while you outwardly yield; then
  • Wait for circumstances to change; while you
  • Regroup, restrengthen and learn;
  • Subtly undermine your enemy; and
  • Plot a devastating counterblow.

EXCEPTION: Don’t surrender if you expect to be crushed (see law 15).

Law 23: Concentrate Your Forces.

It is enough to strike oil once.

DON’T: Spread yourself thin.

DO: Concentrate your forces.

  • Focus on ONE goal until you attain it.
  • Serve one single patron or master.
  • Concentrate power in just a few decision-makers.
  • Focus all your force on the enemy’s weakest spot.

EXCEPTION:

  • When under attack, use dispersal to become harder to hit.
  • Don’t become boring or predictable (unless that’s your objective).

Law 24: Play The Perfect Courtier.

Follow the laws of court politics…

DO:

  • Practise nonchalance – Make results look effortless (without looking too good);
  • Be frugal with flattery – Too much of a good thing devalues it;
  • Be polite – Nothing good comes of rudeness, much comes of understated gallantry;
  • Arrange to be noticed – Make sure you are seen, without making one;
  • Adapt your style and language to your audience – Know who you’re talking to;
  • Be self-observant – Learn to see and adapt your behaviour objectively;
  • Master your face – Hide real emotions; Master laughing and crying on demand;
  • Fit the spirit of the times – Stay physically and mentally in the now; and
  • Be a source of pleasure – Let you master take credit for your talents; don’t upset your peers; be someone others like being around.

DON’T:

  • Be ostentatious – Doing or saying too much just draws suspicion and envy;
  • Be the bearer of bad news – Let someone else be the messenger that gets shot;
  • Be intimate or friendly with your master – Keep the distance between you clear;
  • Criticise superiors directly – Give criticism or advice discreetly and indirectly;
  • Beg for favours – Especially on behalf of others; earn them instead;
  • Joke about appearances or taste – They cut far too close to the ego;
  • Be the court cynic – Nobody likes a party pooper; or
  • Get caught being a courtier – Cover your tracks; never let you master unmask you.

Law 25: Recreate Yourself.

“The character you seem to have been born with is not necessarily who you are.

DON’T: Let others (or the past) define your image.

  • Throw off the roles others want to assign you;
  • Avoid becoming consistent and predictable; and
  • Play many roles, at the same and over time.

DO: Be the master of your own image and use it to beguile and deceive.

  • Learn how to play any part like an actor; then
  • Remake yourself into a character of power.
  • Be constantly aware of and adapt to your audience;
  • Use e.g., suspense, symbolism, surprise, beau geste to create drama; and
  • Be the centre and never let yourself be upstaged.

EXCEPTIONS:

  • Don’t overact.
  • Don’t break law 1.

Law 26: Keep Your Hands Clean.

Do everything pleasant yourself, everything unpleasant through third parties.

DON’T: Soil your hands directly with hard work, mistakes or misdeeds.

DO: Use convenient and expendable scapegoats to satisfy bloodlust.

  • Use the guilty – to distance yourself from the crime;
  • Use the weak – to avoid direct repercussions;
  • Use the powerful – to avoid any sympathy;
  • Use close associates – to allay suspicion.

DO: Use cat’s-paws to do hard and/or dirty work for you.

  • Use those outside your inner circle – so they won’t know they’re being manipulated.
  • Use two cat’s paws against each other – let them weaken each other.

EXCEPTIONS:

  • Don’t get caught or others will quickly distrust you.
  • Consider playing the penitent if you know you’re secure in your power.
  • Punish others yourself if you need your subordinates to fear your (use sparingly).

Law 27: Play On People’s Need To Believe To Create A Cult-like Following.

People are not interested in the truth about change… they are dying to believe in something romantic, otherworldly.

The 5 Steps To Creating A Cult:

  • Step 1: Keep it vague and simple – Promise a great (the bigger the better), simple, transformative solution and use power words, fancy titles, frameworks and numerical “data” to keep things vague and at the same time superficially credible;
  • Step 2: Overwhelm the senses – Use sensory spectacles to attract attention, prevent boredom and keep people too distracted to think;
  • Step 3: Act like an organised religion – Talk and act like a prophet, create rituals, organise hierarchies, rank them by loyalty, assign lofty titles and ask for sacrifices that increase your power and wealth;
  • Step 4: Disguise your income – Surround yourself with luxury but don’t let your followers realise it comes from their pockets; and
  • Step 5: Set up an us-vs-them dynamic – Reinforce the group’s sense of exclusive belonging then create the notion of an outside force out to ruin you.

WARNING: A mishandled cult can quickly turn against you as an angry and dangerous mob.

Law 28: Enter Action With Boldness.

Great enterprises are only achieved by adventurous spirits.

DON’T: Hesitate or act timidly.

  • Hesitation is inwardly directed; it represents fear of failure.
  • Hesitation creates space for doubt and second-guessing.
  • Hesitation belies weakness; weakness gets exploited.
  • Hesitation leads to stagnation; to death by a thousand cuts.

DO: Cultivate boldness and commit yourself fully to your actions.

  • Boldness demonstrates and inspires confidence.
  • Boldness draws attention; attention creates power.
  • Boldness strikes fear; fear creates authority.
  • Swift, sudden boldness is hard to defend against.
  • The bolder a lie the more convincing it becomes.

EXCEPTIONS:

  • Use boldness selectively – overuse leads to recklessness and/or blunts the effect; and
  • Feigning timidity is one way of lowering other people’s defences.

Law 29: Plan All The Way To The End.

The ending is everything.

DON’T: Improvise.

  • Don’t react emotionally; and
  • Don’t get distracted by immediate dangers or pleasures.

DO: Plan all the way to the end.

  • Decide on ONE clear goal;
  • Step back and think it through to the end;
  • Anticipate consequences, obstacles and twists;
  • Plan several steps ahead; and
  • Stop to plan again when you get there.

EXCEPTION: Be prepared to adapt and rework your plan for sudden changes in fortune.

Law 30: Make Your Accomplishments Seem Effortless.

The wise man does not allow his knowledge and abilities to be sounded to the bottom.”

DON’T: Give everything away.

  • Don’t reveal your tricks;
  • Don’t reveal how hard you practice or work;
  • Don’t make effort ostentatious.

DO: Appear graceful and effortless.

  • Practice endlessly until you make it look easy;
  • Make a lighthearted game of your secrecy; and
  • Hold back a few secrets from your students for yourself.

EXCEPTION: Partially disclose your tricks to others on purpose if you want to create a false sense of safety and superiority.

Law 31: Control The Options: Get Others To Play With The Cards You Deal.

A man convinced against his will is of the same opinion still.

DON’T: Force people to do things your way.

DO: Create choices that give others the illusion of control.

  • Colour the choices – Make one choice sound obviously better;
  • Force the Register – Advocate the opposite of what you actually want;
  • Alter the Playing Field – Undermine the options you want off the table;
  • Move the Options – Reduce rewards or increase prices with each repetition;
  • Create Urgency – Make the cost of inaction look higher and increasingly urgent;
  • Entwine Fates – Make negative outcomes for you negative for the decider;
  • The Horns of Dilemma – Make both choices damaging and let them wriggle.

EXCEPTIONS: Don’t use this tactic if…

  • Collecting information – Freedom lets you observe more natural choices; or
  • Showing your power – Giving others choices hides the true seat of power.

Law 32: Play To People’s Fantasies.

The most detested person in the world is the one who always tells the truth.

DON’T: Tell people the truth. Don’t tell them that:

  • They mostly create their own problems;
  • Change takes patience, sacrifice, luck and hard work;
  • Society is fragmented and full of conflict; or
  • Death and the past can’t be reversed.

DO: Appeal to romance and fantasy.

  • Blame outside events for people’s misfortunes;
  • Understand what they wish was the truth;
    (Note: Sometimes simplicity is the fantasy.)
  • Promise a sudden and miraculous transformation;
  • Promise to make it quick, easy and simple; but
  • Make the “how” feel exotic, vague and indecipherable; and
  • Bring it close enough to be tempting while keeping it just out of reach.

EXCEPTIONS: Avoid the rage that accompanies disillusionment. Either avoid getting forced into producing results or keep your fantasies playful, entertaining and light.

Law 33: Discover Each Man’s Thumbscrew.

Everyone has a weakness, some part of their psychological armour that will bend to your will if you push on it.

DO: Save time and effort by finding and pushing on pressure points:

  • Notice Gestures and Unconscious Signals – Show interest, feign vulnerability, look for details in day-to-day interactions and small matters, when guards are down.
  • Find the Helpless Child – Make a note of any sources of childlike delight or frustration;
  • Look for Contrasts – Invert exaggerated public traits to uncover overcompensation;
  • Find the Weak Link – Find the power behind the power or the person who will break;
  • Fill the Void – Look for and exploit sources of insecurity or unhappiness; give them what they can’t get on their own;
  • Feed on Uncontrollable Emotions – Capitalise on extreme fear, lust, greed, vanity or hated that can’t be controlled.

EXCEPTION: Plan ahead in case you stir up a response that you cannot control.

Law 34: Be Royal In Your Own Fashion: Act Like A King To Be Treated Like One.

“It is up to you to set your own price. Ask for less and that is just what you will get. Ask for more, however, and you send a signal that you are worth a king’s ransom.”

DO: Act regally and confident in your power.

  • Believe and act like you’re destined for great things;
  • Rewrite your past to enhance your reputation;
  • Dress and act with poise and confidence;
  • Act with quiet, calm and self-assured dignity;
  • Go after the most important person in the building;
  • Give gifts and services to your superiors to create a sense of equality; and
  • Set your price high; make bold demands as if they were nothing but natural.

DON’T: Appear vulgar and common.

  • Don’t accept and live within self-imposed limitations;
  • Don’t underestimate the power of fantasy (see law 32);
  • Don’t dress down for or act like your inferiors; or
  • Don’t use false friendliness to try and inspire loyalty or love.

EXCEPTIONS:

  • Don’t break law 1.
  • Don’t humiliate others to increase your own importance.
  • Stand out but don’t loom too high above the crowd.
  • Radiate confidence, not arrogance or disdain.

Law 35: Master The Art Of Timing.

Space we can recover, time never.

DON’T: Hurry (or seem to be hurried).

  • It makes you look like an amateur;
  • It fills your mind with short-sighted emergencies; and
  • It sets up mistakes which take longer to fix in the long run.

DO: Know when to join and leave the party.

  • Anticipate and prepare for the next swing of the times;
  • Get on the pendulum as it passes and use it to carry you ahead;
  • Get off the pendulum just before it starts to slow down;
  • Wait patiently while the swing ends and reverses;
  • Anticipate and prepare for the next swing of the times.

DO: Master the three kinds of time.

  • Long time – Play defensively; stay flexible; wait for opportunity.
  • Forced (short) time – Play disruptively; make others wait ↔ rush; upset their timing.
  • End time – Play proactively; seize the moment and execute with speed and force.

EXCEPTION: None. Master time or become a victim of it.

Law 36: Disdain Things You Cannot Have: Ignoring Them Is The Best Revenge.

What you do not react to cannot drag you down in a futile engagement.

DON’T: Pay attention to enemies or mistakes that can’t harm you – it’s your reaction that makes them a big deal.

DO: Hide the full extent of your desire or commitment to the things that you want; feign public disregard.

EXCEPTION: Monitor small problems privately even as you pretend to ignore them; you never know which spark might cause a fire.

Law 37: Create Compelling Spectacles.

The truth is generally seen, rarely heard.

DON’T: Rely on words to convince others.

DO: Use powerful visual imagery to cut through to people’s emotions.

  • Associate yourself with striking, meaningful visual symbolism;
  • Exploit colours (e.g., red for urgency, gold for excellence);
  • Exploit placement (e.g., first for power, central for importance);
  • Bring everything together in a grand, distracting spectacle.

EXCEPTION: None. Never ignore images and symbols.

Law 38: Think As You Like But Behave Like Others.

Keep your differences in your thoughts and not in your fleece.

DON’T: Be the black sheep.

  • Don’t flaunt unconventional ideas and unorthodox ways.
  • People will feel like you’re condemning or trying to outshine them; and
  • They will find a way to punish you for it.

DO: Blend in and nurture the common touch.

  • Use outward conformity as a front for your real opinions; and
  • Use overt gestures to make others feel like you share their beliefs; meanwhile
  • Limit uncensored expression to close friends and sympathisers; and
  • (If you must) find subtle ways to express your ideas (e.g., by stating their case eloquently as you pretend to argue against them).

EXCEPTIONS: When you’re already powerful, feel free to stand out from the crowd to accentuate your power (but be careful not to lose touch with it).

Law 39: Stir Up Waters To Catch Fish.

Keep your head when all about you are losing theirs.

DON’T: Throw tantrums.

  • Your reaction will often be reckless and out of proportion;
  • It betrays a powerless sense of frustration;
  • It cuts off options; and
  • It makes you look weak.

DO: Take nothing personally.

  • Genuine emotions have deeper causes than one individual; and in any case
  • Others may be intentionally trying to throw you off balance; so, either way
  • Reframe every provocation or outburst as an intentional power move; and
  • Bide your time; react intellectually and objectively (if at all) when you are ready.

DO: Make your enemies angry and emotional; throw them off balance.

  • Find your enemy’s emotional pressure points (anger, arrogance, vanity etc…); and
  • Play on uncontrollable emotions like pride, vanity, love and hate; then
  • Stir up situations that taunt them into acting before they are ready

EXCEPTIONS:

  • Be careful not to stir up a response you can’t deal with.
  • Stage displays of anger judiciously (but not frequently) to create power.

Law 40: Despise The Free Lunch.

Everything has a price.

DON’T: Accept discounts or freebies.

  • No lasting change in fortune comes quickly (or cheaply);
  • There is almost always a trick or a hidden obligation.

DON’T: Hoard money or forget that it is only a tool to gain power; don’t be…

  • A Greedy Fish – Don’t trample over others for wealth;
  • A Bargain Demon – Don’t quibble relentlessly over the best price;
  • A Financial Sadist – Don’t use or withhold money to persecute others;
  • A Materialist – Don’t buy objects unless they’re trappings or tools to gain power;
  • An Indiscriminate Giver – Don’t give without a definite goal.

DO: Give liberally, strategically, unexpectedly and make your gifts play on sentiment.

  • It makes you seem powerful (and an equal of those in power);
  • It creates psychological obligations;
  • It can lure out greedy marks; and
  • It’s a great way to win people’s hearts.

EXCEPTION: Don’t give clumsily or too frequently to the same people:

  • It may feel too much like charity or bribery; and
  • The strategy lose its power with repetition; so
  • You’ll just create monsters of ingratitude.

Law 41: Avoid Stepping Into A Great Man’s Shoes.

Those who follow are taken for imitators. No matter how much they sweat.

DON’T: Try to follow a strong act with more of the same.

  • What came first will always seem better and more original; so
  • Don’t get bogged down in other people’s traditions or precedents; and
  • Don’t rest in the shade of your predecessors or your own past accomplishments.

DO: Throw off the weight of the past and chart a new direction.

  • Clear out the dead weight and fixed orders of the past;
  • Belittle what has come before you; make it laughable;
  • Use a fresh style and symbolism to demonstrate a clear break;
  • Find overlooked areas of culture in which you can shine;
  • Be prepared to keep returning to square 1 psychologically; and
  • Keep moving constantly into new vacuums of power.

EXCEPTIONS: 

  • Use the shadow of a great predecessor as temporary cover while you prepare your own break from the past.
  • If you are mediocre, you may need to lean more on the knowledge and experience of the past (especially if the past was a well-loved success).
  • Keep the next generation close and snuff out attempts to get rid of you in their turn.

Law 42: Strike The Shepherd And The Sheep Will Scatter.

In every group, power is concentrated in the hands of one or two people.”

DON’T: Wait for hotspots to fester and spread. Watch out for…

  • The stirrer – Who aggravates divisions and sows discontent;
  • The arrogant underling – Who undermines your authority; and
  • The poisoner of goodwill – Who poops all your parties.

DO: Surgically strike at the head.

  • Expose and isolate (or banish) the ringleader;
  • Point out the person who is stealthily pulling people’s strings;
  • Sabotage or separate them from their power base;
  • Put them in environments or contexts they’re unfamiliar with; or
  • Send or lure them away out of sight (e.g., on a mission).

EXCEPTION: Beware of those capable of revenge; keep powerful enemies close and compromise their position more delicately and indirectly.

Law 43: Work On The Hearts And Minds Of Others.

“It is better to battle with hearts than with weapons.”

DON’T: Coerce others or take their support for granted.

  • Nothing is owed to you; and
  • Force only breeds resistance or skin-deep compliance.
  • Assuming otherwise will leave you powerless and isolated.

DO: Charm, seduce, excite and gently persuade others into alignment.

  • Take the time to listen and understand what makes people tick.
  • Work on their emotions (love, hate, jealousy); then
  • Play on their intellectual desires and weaknesses.
  • Use harshness (push them to despair) to soften them up; then
  • Use mercy (offer them relief) to win them over as allies.
  • Use symbolic self-sacrifice to generate sympathy and goodwill.
  • Appeal to the visceral, the physical and to self-interest.
  • The higher your station, the more important this becomes.
  • Employ others to do this for you if you can’t do it yourself.
  • Win as many allies as you can at all levels of the game.

EXCEPTION: None.

Law 44: Disarm And Infuriate With The Mirror Effect.

“Study the world’s surfaces and learn to mirror them.”

DO: Mimic others to…

  • Understand – Step back and soak in their eyes, words, actions, environment, habits, reactions and other details to puzzle out their fears and desires;
  • Seduce – Reflect and fulfil their desires, values, tastes and spirit to make them feel validated, valued and powerful;
  • Neutralise – Mock and infuriate them by repeating their actions back at them while you shield your strategy or conserve energy/buy time when you don’t have one;
  • Teach – Do to them as they have done to you; slightly exaggerate and make them face unpleasant caricatures of their own qualities, follies and behaviour;
  • Symbolise – Use symbolic copies to approach difficult subjects indirectly;
  • Misdirect – Use perfect superficial copies used to simulate, deceive or misdirect.

WARNING: Beware of becoming a mirror for, and thus associated with, people or situations that you don’t fully understand and which might reflect badly on you.

Law 45: Preach The Need For Change, But Never Reform Too Much At Once.

Too much innovation is traumatic, and will lead to revolt.

DON’T: Make modernisation too disconnected or fast.

  • Don’t misjudge people’s attachment to habit and routine.
  • Don’t underestimate the depth and extent of conservatism.
  • Don’t let seductive ideas cloud your reasoning.
  • Never leave a void or a vacuum.

DO: Cloak and legitimise change by dressing it up in familiar clothing. 

  • Pay attention to the times; measure people’s reactions to change.
  • Prepare for a backlash of nostalgia after any great steps forward.
  • Make a step into the future sound like a return to old values.
  • Keep familiar stories, symbols, titles and traditions.
  • Reinterpret the past and present it so it supports your agenda.

EXCEPTIONS:

  • If the past was painful, don’t associate yourself with it.
  • Be wary of power in fields where innovation happens quickly. It can be lost just as fast.

Law 46: Never Appear Too Perfect.

Envy creates silent enemies… it is a weed that should not be watered.”

DON’T: Become a focus for envy or unhappy admiration.

  • Don’t appear to have no faults or weaknesses.
  • Don’t brag about your luck or successes.
  • Don’t parade your superior intelligence or good looks.
  • Don’t flaunt the extent of your wealth or influence.
  • Don’t make others feel like victims of condescension or charity;
  • Don’t make others face the truth of their own mediocrity.

DO: Deflect envy; disguise the true extent of your influence, talent and skill.

  • Overstate the importance of luck in your success;
  • Exert your power indirectly and unobtrusively;
  • Make your power look like a burden you grudgingly barely;
  • Form alliances with and elevate those below you;
  • Occasionally downplay your skills to not outshine others;
  • Admit to harmless defects, anxieties and vices; and
  • Be happy to give up the appearance of superiority for the reality of it.

DO: Diffuse envy fast.

  • Keep an eye out for excessive praise or hypercriticism;
  • Be especially wary in environments with a veneer of equality;
  • Ignore or leave the presence of the envious parties; and
  • Moderate your behaviour to avoid further unwanted attention.

EXCEPTIONS:

  • Make envy worse, turn it a weapon to make your enemies crush themselves if there is nothing they can do to challenge you.
  • Turn the envy you feel outwards; use it as rocket fuel to spur you to ever new heights.

Law 47: Do Not Go Past The Mark You Aimed For; In Victory, Learn When To Stop.

Mistakes are always made when people get to the easy places.

DON’T: Let success go to your head.

  • Don’t abuse your power in an orgy of fear and greed.
  • Don’t grab for more than you can handle.
  • Don’t become emotional and reactive.
  • Don’t provoke a response you can’t handle.
  • Don’t ask for more favours.
  • Don’t forget your duty of obedience.
  • Don’t lose your balance and initiative.

DO: Stop, step back, replan.

  • Give yourself space to pause, get perspective and reflect.
  • Check that your trajectory is still the right one.
  • Keep setting and varying the tempo (force ↔ cunning).
  • Lie low and lull the enemy into inaction.
  • Let your final action resonate and stick in people’s minds.
  • Stay in control.

EXCEPTIONS:

  • Either destroy a man or leave him alone entirely. Don’t go halfway. But don’t also create new enemies by overreaching.
  • Don’t confuse caution with hesitation and cowardice.

Law 48: Assume Formlessness.

It is important that strategy be unfathomable, that form be concealed, and that movements be unexpected.

DON’T: Become predictable or bet on lasting stability or order.

  • Don’t mindlessly repeat what won you initial success.
  • Don’t become strategically rigid and formulaic.
  • Don’t rely too much on other people’s advice.
  • Don’t concentrate all your forces and weight in one place.
  • Don’t commit to one side (see law 20).
  • Don’t take things personally and get defensive.
  • Don’t hide behind armour (see law 18).

DO: Accept that everything changes; and change with it.

  • Make your own decisions.
  • Be as elusive and fluid as mercury.
  • Become hard to grab hold of.
  • Let your enemies exhaust themselves chasing you; then
  • Encircle them when they overreach into emptiness.
  • Embrace chaos; and remember
  • Flexibility, mobility and adaptability always win.

EXCEPTIONS:

  • Don’t confuse formlessness with thoughtlessness.
  • Don’t lose track of the long term strategy.
  • When you do strike – think concentration, speed and power.

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The 48 Laws of Power

34 MINUTE READ | The ultimate guide to gaining and defending against ultimate control – by author and your nearest dictator’s favourite leadership coach, Robert Greene.

URL: https://amzn.to/3hwjI2b

Editor's Rating:
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Enjoyed this 48 Laws of Power summary? You might enjoy the rest of the books on this list of The 70 Best Books on Communication.

Arthur Worsley
Arthur Worsley
Arthur is a thinker and writer who helps people who want more from their lives learn to be more productive, find more balance and live life more meaningfully. Want to know more? Take this 2-minute quiz to discover your Productivity Quotient (PQ) and learn how to get BIG things done. Take the Quiz →

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  1. Curious says:

    Great work! Sometimes I just can’t help but be curious what’s the overall benefit in your life for being able summarize loads of books? I mean in terms of overall performance or IQ (Fluid Intelligence). Does it drives you more to take action and actually be able contribute something solid? Or does it just happens to add confusion? In general I am just curious if overall you became more internally satisfied or just driven (in that sense obsess I guess to learn). Just curious as my natural inclinations seems to be heading that similar path. I would be luck if you can reply via email

    • Curious says:

      I also happen to find your analytical process or thinking-method amazing. The metacognitive aspects: Speed-Reading, Learning and other methods to simply boost metacognitive skills.

      • Arthur says:

        Hey curious. 👋

        Re book summaries – Two big advantages from summarising books:

        1. It’s helped me much better internalise the contents of each book; and
        2. It’s made me a much more effective reader in general.

        If you haven’t checked it out yet, I strongly recommend reading this summary of Adler and Van Doren’s wonderful How To Read A Book (then read the original!) for more on the difference between being well read and being widely read.

        Re clarity vs. confusion – to quote Mr. Einstein (and many others before him) “The more I learn, the more I realize how much I don’t know.“. In some ways, it never gets easier, you just get stronger. But life never stops getting more interesting in the process.

        I think learning for learning’s sake is a beautiful thing. But if I have to choose, I’ll always try to learn for a reason. Or at least put what I’ve learned to some use. (Even if that just means sharing it so others can work out if/how it fits into their puzzle.)

        As the Chinese proverb goes:

        Industry without wisdom leads to futility.
        Wisdom without industry leads to triviality
        .”

        I hope that helps. Thanks for stopping by and good luck on your journey!

        • Curious says:

          Thanks for reply man, really appreciate it! Yes I will check Adler and Von Doren’s book, sounds interesting!

    • Arthur Worsley says:

      Hey Curious,

      I can only speak for myself but summarising books (that is forcing myself to think through their contents thoroughly enough that I’m able to synthesize an author’s arguments in my own words without looking at the original text) has been a total gamechanger when it comes to internalising and implementing what I learn while reading.

      Don’t fall into the trap of just highlighting and forgetting (although there’s a lot to be said for keeping a commonplace book in addition to your summaries). Take the time to restate a book’s main thoughts as if you were teaching them to someone else and I guarantee you’ll never look back.

      Best, A

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