Review of “The 48 Laws of Power” by Robert Greene

If the world is like a giant scheming court and we are trapped inside it, there is no use in trying to opt out of the game. That will only render you powerless, and powerlessness will make you miserable. Instead of struggling against the inevitable, instead of arguing and whining and feeling guilty, it is far better to excel at power.

Here are the 48 Laws of Power:

  1. Never outshine the master
  2. Never put too Much Trust in Friends, Learn how to use Enemies
  3. Conceal your Intentions
  4. Always Say Less than Necessary
  5. So Much Depends on Reputation – Guard it with your Life
  6. Court Attention at all Cost
  7. Get others to do the Work for you, but Always Take the Credit
  8. Make other People come to you – use Bait if Necessary
  9. Win through your Actions, Never through Argument
  10. Infection: Avoid the Unhappy and Unlucky
  11. Learn to Keep People Dependent on You
  12. Use Selective Honesty and Generosity to Disarm your Victim
  13. When Asking for Help, Appeal to People’s Self-Interest,

    Never to their Mercy or Gratitude

  14. Pose as a Friend, Work as a Spy
  15. Crush your Enemy Totally
  16. Use Absence to Increase Respect and Honor
  17. Keep Others in Suspended Terror: Cultivate an Air of Unpredictability
  18. Do Not Build Fortresses to Protect Yourself – Isolation is Dangerous
  19. Know Who You’re Dealing with – Do Not Offend the Wrong Person
  20. Do Not Commit to Anyone
  21. Play a Sucker to Catch a Sucker – Seem Dumber than your Mark
  22. Use the Surrender Tactic: Transform Weakness into Power
  23. Concentrate Your Forces
  24. Play the Perfect Courtier
  25. Re-Create Yourself
  26. Keep Your Hands Clean
  27. Play on People’s Need to Believe to Create a Cultlike Following
  28. Enter Action with Boldness
  29. Plan All the Way to the End
  30. Make your Accomplishments Seem Effortless
  31. Control the Options: Get Others to Play with the Cards you Deal
  32. Play to People’s Fantasies
  33. Discover Each Man’s Thumbscrew
  34. Be Royal in your Own Fashion: Act like a King to be treated like one
  35. Master the Art of Timing
  36. Disdain Things you cannot have: Ignoring them is the best Revenge
  37. Create Compelling Spectacles
  38. Think as you like but Behave like others
  39. Stir up Waters to Catch Fish
  40. Despise the Free Lunch
  41. Avoid Stepping into a Great Man’s Shoes
  42. Strike the Shepherd and the Sheep will Scatter
  43. Work on the Hearts and Minds of Others
  44. Disarm and Infuriate with the Mirror Effect
  45. Preach the Need for Change, but Never Reform too much at Once
  46. Never appear too Perfect
  47. Do not go Past the Mark you Aimed for; In Victory, Learn when to Stop
  48. Assume Formlessness

The book takes each "law" in turn and gives historical examples of those who follow the law and fail to follow the law. You’ll quickly see that the laws of power aren’t really laws – they’re more like principles that will help you in the art of gaining and exercising power. I don’t mean to suggest that the laws are incorrect – they’re absolutely correct – they’re just not laws.

I suppose it’s true for all large organizations, but these laws certainly apply my job. I get to live these every day.

Even outside of large organizations, the laws apply. Greene uses the example of Tesla and Edison to illustrate several of the laws. Tesla was the better inventor, but you’ve heard of Edison because Edison understood power.

Here are a few select quotes for your enjoyment:

A sharply defined enemy is a far stronger argument for your side than all the words you could possibly put together.

. . .

Another strategy of the supposed non-player is to demand equality in every area of life. Everyone must be treated alike, whatever their status and strength. But if, to avoid the taint of power, you attempt to treat everyone equally and fairly, you will confront the problem that some people do certain things better than others. Treating everyone equally means ignoring their differences, elevating the less skillful and suppressing those who excel. Again, many of those who behave this way are actually deploying another power strategy, redistributing people’s rewards in a way that they determine.

. . .

Society craves larger-than-life figures, people who stand above the general mediocrity.

. . .

Alter your style and language according to the person you are dealing with. The pseudo-belief in equality, the idea that talking and acting the same way with everyone, no matter what their rank, makes you somehow a paragon of civilization is a terrible mistake.

. . .

Excuses and apologies are much too blunt tools for this delicate operation; the powerful avoid them. By apologizing you open up all sorts of doubts about your competence, your intentions, any other mistakes you may not have confessed. Excuses satisfy no one and apologies make everyone uncomfortable. The mistake does not vanish with an apology; it deepens and festers.

. . .

The truly powerful, on the other hand, seem never to be in a hurry or overburdened. While others work their fingers to the bone, they take their leisure. They know how to find the right people to put in the effort while they save their energy and keep their hands out of the fire.

. . .

Most people’s problems have complex causes: deep-rooted neurosis, interconnected social factors, roots that go way back in time and are exceedingly hard to unravel. Few, however, have the patience to deal with this; most people want to hear that a simple solution will cure their problems. The ability to offer this kind of solution will give you great power and build you a following.

. . .

Most people believe that they are in fact aware of the future, that they are planning and thinking ahead. They are usually deluded: What they are really doing is succumbing to their desires, to what they want the future to be.

. . .

Words like “freedom,” “options,” and “choice” evoke a power of possibility far beyond the reality of the benefits they entail.

. . .

The truth is often avoided because it is ugly and unpleasant. Never appeal to truth and reality unless you are prepared for the anger that comes from disenchantment.

. . .

The fact diat die past is dead and buried gives you die freedom to reinterpret it. To support your cause, tinker with die facts. The past is a text in which you can safely insert your own lines.

. . .

Actually, however, power has changed in its numbers but not in its essence. There may be fewer mighty tyrants commanding the power of life and death over millions, but there remain thousands of petty tyrants ruling smaller realms, and enforcing their will through indirect power games, charisma, and so on. In every group, power is concentrated in the hands of one or two people, for this is one area in which human nature will never change: People will congregate around a single strong personality like planets orbiting a sun.

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12 Responses to Review of “The 48 Laws of Power” by Robert Greene

  1. Kevin Vaillancourt says:

    These sorts of things are interesting, I suppose, but since those who give a damn will care about it to the point of thinking about adoption of some of these maxims in their own lives, those who don’t care much for such social games won’t be convinced to do so because a list is good and makes solid sense.

    Like you, I work in USG. The people I see at the top are there because they want and desire power. The people who are not there, by and large, do not want nor really desire it. In fact, this latter group tends to view the first group as fundamentally defective, even though they acknowledge that they’re in charge and do have power.

    The issue here is a lot like Game. Sure, it makes sense, and some of it produces real insight. And everyone would love more attention from the girls, just as everyone would love more power. But I can no sooner do the things on this list as I can conjure up some kind of inner douchebag. I find it distasteful, regardless of reward.

    Don’t get me wrong; this is not an argument for quietism or against the possibility of self-improvement. People shouldn’t just assume that because they are “being themselves” that it’s unjust for them not to receive credit for it.

    If being successful means tricking others into doing the work while I take credit–and this seems to be true–then I simply will not be successful.

    Corruption is not compulsory, and I have to look at myself while shaving, if you see what I mean.

    btw, and off topic, do you find as I do that non-USG people are profoundly unaware of just how deeply dysfunctional USG are, even govt-suspicious conservatives?

    • Foseti says:

      The answer to your last question is easily “yes.” Sometimes conservatives are the worst – they should know better.

      Back on topic . . .

      I think the analogy to game is apt. I sympathize with your distaste, but my feelings are much more mixed. A certain amount of acting – however distasteful – may just be part of interacting with others. Swallowing your distaste almost certainly serves you better in the long run.

      It’s also important to understand that power is ultimately what matters. The dysfunctionality of USG is undeniably true, but truth doesn’t really matter in the end.

    • Obstinance Works says:

      Who cares what you think? You sound like a wuss. I want to win.

    • Anonymous says:

      Invoking rule 10. (sorry)

  2. AC says:

    Yeah these rules are broadly applicable and that’s unfortunate, speaking as someone who has to put a lot of effort into playing these games, and even then is not very good at them. Anyone have suggestions for a training regimen that won’t leave me burned out?

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  6. Since most of these Laws are self-motivated, manipulative and completely transparent to many, I would suggest that any of them be employed only when the situations end can justify the means, and do it with style.

  7. Isma'el I. Saulawa says:

    Indeed, this is one of the best books I’ve ever had a pleasure of reading.

  8. Okolo Samuel says:

    great mind!

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