The 48 Laws of Power by Robert Greene is a compelling study of manipulative behavior and the use of power in human interactions. Drawing on examples from history, literature, and contemporary life, Greene illustrates how individuals can gain and maintain power over others by following certain time-tested strategies and tactics. The book is organized into 48 concise chapters, each devoted to a specific “law” or principle of power.
1. Never outshine the master.
This law advises against showing up your superiors. Always make your boss look good and don’t try to outshine them – doing so can lead to envy and resentment, which can ultimately harm your career.
2. Never put too much trust in friends, learn how to use enemies.
This law cautions against putting too much trust in friends or allies, who can easily turn on you. Instead, learn to use your enemies strategically, by manipulating them or turning them against others.
3. Conceal your intentions.
This law advises a cautious, strategic approach. By concealing your true intentions, you can keep others guessing and maintain an element of surprise – a key tool in gaining and maintaining power.
4. Always say less than necessary.
By controlling the flow of information, you can avoid giving away more than you need to, or revealing weaknesses that others can exploit. In conversations, aim to listen more than you speak, and only share information that’s necessary.
5. So much depends on reputation – guard it with your life.
Your reputation is your most valuable asset. By cultivating a positive image and maintaining a strong reputation, you can create lasting influence and gain the respect of others.
6. Court attention at all costs.
This law advises that in order to be successful, you need to be visible and memorable. By seeking out attention and making bold moves, you can make a strong impression on others and increase your power.
7. Get others to do the work for you, but always take the credit.
This law advises that in order to be successful, you need to learn how to delegate effectively. By getting others to do the work for you, you can focus on more strategic tasks and still reap the benefits of their efforts.
8. Make other people come to you – use bait if necessary.
This law advises a strategic, seductive approach. By making others come to you, you can create the impression that you are in high demand and increase your power. Use subtle “bait” to lure others in and create a sense of desire.
9. Win through your actions, never through argument.
This law advises that actions speak louder than words. By focusing on accomplishing your goals and making a strong impression through your actions, you can avoid the pitfalls of argument and debate.
10. Infection: avoid the unhappy and the unlucky.
This law advises that negative emotions and experiences can be contagious. By avoiding negative people and situations, you can protect yourself from being dragged down and increase your chances of success.
11. Learn to keep people dependent on you.
This law advises maintaining control and power by making others dependent on you. By providing valuable services, building relationships, and creating a sense of loyalty, you can create a circle of influence that strengthens your position.
12. Use selective honesty and generosity to disarm your victim.
This law advises a strategic approach to honesty and generosity. By selecting situations in which to be honest and generous, you can create a sense of trust and disarm your opponents.
13. When asking for help, appeal to people’s self-interest.
This law advises a strategic approach to asking for help. By framing your request in terms of how it can benefit the other person, you can make a strong case and increase your chances of success.
14. Pose as a friend, work as a spy.
This law advises a cautious and strategic approach to relationships. By cultivating friendly relationships and gaining access to valuable information, you can gain power and protect yourself from harm.
15. Crush your enemy totally.
This law advises a ruthless approach to enemies. By crushing your opponent completely, you can eliminate future threats and ensure your own safety.
16. Use absence to increase respect and honor.
This law advises a strategic approach to presence and absence. By appearing mysterious and scarce, you can increase your value and create a sense of demand.
17. Keep others in suspended terror: cultivate an air of unpredictability.
This law advises an unpredictable approach. By keeping others on edge and guessing about your next move, you can increase their fear and respect.
18. Do not build fortresses to protect yourself – isolation is dangerous.
This law advises a strategic approach to protection. By building alliances, maintaining relationships, and staying connected, you can protect yourself from harm and increase your power.
19. Know who you’re dealing with – do not offend the wrong person.
This law advises caution and awareness. By understanding the personalities and motivations of those around you, you can avoid offending the wrong people and putting yourself in danger.
20. Do not commit to anyone.
This law advises a detached approach to relationships. By avoiding commitments and playing the field, you can increase your freedom and independence, while protecting yourself from harm.
21. Play a sucker to catch a sucker – seem dumber than your mark.
This law advises a cunning approach to deception. By appearing vulnerable or foolish, you can lure others into a false sense of security and take advantage of their weaknesses.
22. Use the surrender tactic: transform weakness into power.
This law advises a strategic approach to weakness. By surrendering and appearing powerless, you can actually gain power and leverage in certain situations.
23. Concentrate your forces.
This law advises focus and concentration. By narrowing your focus and putting all your energy into one area, you can achieve greater success and increase your power.
24. Play the perfect courtier.
This law advises a courtly approach to power. By mastering social graces, flattery, and diplomacy, you can gain influence and respect among the powerful and elite.
25. Re-create yourself.
This law advises reinvention and transformation. By constantly evolving and adapting, you can stay fresh and relevant in the eyes of others, and increase your power and influence.
26. Keep your hands clean.
This law advises caution and discretion. By avoiding direct involvement in controversial or risky situations, you can maintain your reputation and protect yourself from harm.
27. Play on people’s need to believe to create a cult-like following.
This law advises exploiting people’s need for belief and meaning. By creating a sense of devotion and loyalty, you can gain a powerful following and increase your influence.
28. Enter action with boldness.
This law advises a bold and decisive approach to action. By acting quickly and decisively, you can make a strong impression and increase your chances of success.
29. Plan all the way to the end.
This law advises a strategic, long-term approach to planning. By anticipating problems and obstacles, and preparing for every contingency, you can increase your chances of success and avoid costly mistakes.
30. Make your accomplishments seem effortless.
This law advises a strategic approach to achievement. By making your efforts look easy and natural, you can create a sense of awe and admiration, and increase your influence.
31. Control the options: get others to play with the cards you deal.
This law advises a strategic approach to control. By limiting the options of others and forcing them to play by your rules, you can gain power and leverage in any situation.
32. Play to people’s fantasies.
This law advises exploiting people’s fantasies and desires. By appealing to their hopes and dreams, you can gain a powerful influence and make a strong impression on others.
33. Discover each man’s thumbscrew.
This law advises finding the weakness in others. By identifying their “thumbscrew” – the thing that will make them vulnerable or defensive – you can gain power and influence in any situation.
34. Be royal in your own fashion: act like a king to be treated like one.
This law advises a regal approach to power. By behaving with confidence, authority, and dignity, you can create a sense of majesty and command respect from others.
35. Master the art of timing.
This law advises a strategic approach to timing. By carefully selecting the right moment for action, you can increase your chances of success and minimize risks.
36. Disdain things you cannot have: ignoring them is the best revenge.
This law advises detachment and indifference when facing loss or disappointment. By refusing to dwell on what you can’t have, you can avoid bitterness and gain a sense of freedom and power.
37. Create compelling spectacles.
This law advises a dramatic and attention-grabbing approach. By creating spectacles – bold gestures, grand entrances, and impressive displays – you can make a strong impression and increase your power.
38. Think as you like but behave like others.
This law advises caution and conformity. By blending in and behaving according to the norms of the group, you can avoid provoking criticism or negative attention.
39. Stir up waters to catch fish.
This law advises a provocative and disruptive approach to action. By stirring up controversy and creating chaos, you can gain power and influence in any situation.
40. Despise the free lunch.
This law advises avoiding any form of dependence or obligation. By refusing to accept handouts or favors, you can maintain your independence and increase your power.
41. Avoid stepping into a great man’s shoes.
This law advises against following in the footsteps of a great leader. By forging your own path and creating your own legacy, you can avoid living in someone else’s shadow and increase your influence.
42. Strike the shepherd and the sheep will scatter.
This law advises targeting the leader in order to break up a group or organization. By removing the “shepherd” – the person who maintains control – you can destabilize the group and open up new opportunities.
43. Work on the hearts and minds of others.
This law advises a persuasive and influential approach. By appealing to people’s emotions and beliefs, you can create a sense of loyalty and gain powerful influence.
44. Disarm and infuriate with the mirror effect.
This law advises a strategic approach to conflict. By mirroring your opponent’s behavior and emotions, you can disarm them and create a sense of confusion and frustration.
45. Preach the need for change, but never reform too much at once.
This law advises a cautious and incremental approach to change. By advocating for change but implementing it gradually, you can minimize resistance and increase your chances of success.
46. Never appear too perfect.
This law advises humility and authenticity. By admitting to faults and weaknesses, you can create a sense of relatability and likability, which can increase your influence and power.
47. Do not go past the mark you aimed for; in victory, learn when to stop.
This law advises caution and restraint. By avoiding overreaching and knowing when to stop, you can avoid costly mistakes and maintain your position of power.
48. Assume formlessness.
This law advises a fluid and adaptable approach to power. By avoiding fixed or rigid positions, and adapting to changing circumstances, you can increase your flexibility and maintain your position of power.