The 48 Laws of Power Book Summary, by Robert Greene

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1-Page Summary of The 48 Laws of Power

Overview

The 48 Laws of Power is a self-help book that teaches readers how to gain and maintain power by using the lessons from historical figures.

Power comes from the relationships between people. Powerful people must appear to be honest and trustworthy, eliminate doubt in their abilities, and use tactics that give them an advantage over others. They need to understand timing and adapt quickly to changing situations. When seeking power, one should mirror the actions of those they want to control or limit their options for action. The powerful also need a relationship with audiences by creating spectacles that feed into their needs for entertainment and fantasy.

There are many people who have acquired power in the past. Some of them did it by being sneaky and manipulative, while others were more honest about their intentions. There are also generals from ancient times, as well as famous con artists and entertainers who use different strategies to become powerful.

The laws of power can be used in a reverse manner if the situation demands it. For example, while appearing unintelligent is usually best for manipulating someone, intimidating them with intelligence may accomplish what feigned ignorance could not.

Key Takeaways

If you want to increase your power, you should get people to come to you rather than going after them. Make sure they never become independent of you and don’t trust anyone who is unlucky or frequently has problems. Never outshine your superiors.

Those who want power should use the courtier’s ability to flatter and help others. They should be able to avoid isolation, while appealing to other people’s self-interest when asking for help.

Appearances are important to the powerful, so they must never be jealous of anyone else or try to take their place. Instead, the powerful should act like royalty and make it seem like everything comes easily for them. They also need to keep a good reputation while instilling fear in others. The powerful can use selective honesty by blaming others and pretending that they’re more naive than those they wish to manipulate; acting more friendly than usual; gaining information from people by being friends with them; imitating other people’s behavior in order to conceal radical ideas; and not showing up when there is work to do until after everyone has left (or at least waiting around for everyone else). Secrecy preserves power because it conceals intentions, making it harder for opponents to predict what will happen next. Power can also be cultivated through timing decisions correctly so that results maximize benefits. People who want power should learn how adaptable they can be when necessary—they should become shapeless so that no one knows exactly what kind of person they are or what kind of thing will offend them most—and give up some control temporarily if necessary as long as doing so helps gain time or resources later on. Strategies which benefit the powerful include mirroring an opponent’s actions, attacking where the enemy is weakest, remaining calm while angering someone else, tailoring attacks specifically against each target rather than using general attacks such as name-calling, planning all the way through any campaign instead of just reacting once something happens without thinking about consequences first, winning by action rather than arguing about why something would work better, totally eliminating enemies instead of trying only halfheartedly.

Powerful people attract followers who need to be managed. They are more concerned with maintaining their status and power than persuading others logically. The powerful spend their own money, accept nothing for free, and look down on anything they cannot have in order to maintain their power. The best way to achieve power is through the manipulation of others into doing one’s work for them.

Key Takeaway 1: In order to cultivate relationships that increase their power, people seeking power should force others to come to them, never allow others to become independent of them, avoid anyone who frequently encounters misfortune, never place too much trust in any one person, and never outperform their superiors.

To be powerful, you must not outperform your superiors. That will cause them to eliminate you from the group because they’ll view you as a threat. You need to make your superior rely on you for help so that they can’t get rid of you without losing their own position in the hierarchy. The more successful people are, the more likely it is that they’re already taken; therefore, don’t try to build relationships with people who aren’t successful yet or who don’t have power over others. Avoid being summoned by anyone and maintain a dominant position by forcing people to come see you if they want anything from you or want attention. Never trust anyone completely because there’s always a chance that he’ll betray your trust in order to gain his own power within the group hierarchy.”

For example, if someone were to apply for a job in the company, she might think that she’d be more likely to get it if she showed how good of a candidate she is as opposed to her superiors. She might confide with employees who report directly to her and gain their support for the position by showing them that they’ll have better benefits under her leadership. She could also neglect doing important work on time so people would start thinking that there’s no one else who can do such tasks as well as her and thus promote her. However, this will make other people see her negatively because they won’t like getting ignored or having their work done poorly. In addition, when everyone has an interest in the company being successful and productive (because otherwise they lose money), promoting such person wouldn’t be beneficial for anyone but herself.

Key Takeaway 2: People seeking power should mimic the courtier’s ability to flatter the powerful and thwart rivals. They should make no definite commitments to anyone, but avoid becoming isolated, and appeal to others’ self-interest when asking for help.

The courtier is a person who serves the ruling class by appearing to be loyal and obedient while secretly working against them. Those seeking power must avoid isolation because it will cause people to lose interest in them or their ideas. The best way to gain followers’ trust is to make your plans relevant to their lives, not with vague arguments about the greater good or past favors that they owe you.

Today, there are few places where monarchs have courtiers attending them. However, many people still seek power by aligning themselves with those who already have it. In politics, for example, politicians want to gain power by becoming close allies of those in power now. Lady Macbeth uses similar strategies in Shakespeare’s play “Macbeth”. She persuades Thane Macbeth to kill King Duncan so that he can become king and she can be his closest advisor. She convinces him that the idea was all his own and minimizes her role so as not to appear guilty later on.

Key Takeaway 3: Appearances are vital to the powerful, so they should never attract envy or step into the role of another great person. Instead, the powerful should act like royalty, make accomplishments seem effortless, and safeguard reputation while cultivating terror in others.

Dependability is the key to earning respect. If a person has an established reputation for being dependable, then they will be considered more respectable than someone who doesn’t have that reputation. A confidence artist with a bad reputation won’t get much work, but a general with a good reputation would intimidate people without needing to behave in cruel ways. In order to succeed someone with an established legacy one must maintain their image of success and never appear to work hard at anything or seem like you are trying too hard; this will help make them look better by comparison. One way of appearing unpredictable can also earn fearful respect from others because it makes them feel as though you could do anything at any time and that they should therefore not mess around with you.

It’s important to cultivate a reputation for honesty and relentlessness in order to make significant acquisitions. To do this, you must uphold policies that relate to your value of honesty and hold your employees accountable for their work. This will help you appear as if you’re the type of person who deserves a good reputation. During negotiations with competitors, they’ll feel like they can trust you because of your reputation for being honest. Meanwhile, your relentlessness will make them believe that if they back out of the deal, there are other ways that you could take over their company instead. Since it’s useful to be unpredictable during negotiations and intimidating at times, you should also find unconventional ways to unbalance the negotiating tables in your favor when necessary.

Key Takeaway 4: The powerful can practice selective honesty, place blame on others, appear more naive than the people they wish to manipulate, act like a friend in order to gain information, and imitate others to conceal radical thinking.

Powerful people gain an advantage by being willing to use honesty and generosity for their own benefit. Powerful people should seem ignorant so that they can manipulate others into thinking that they have control over the situation. Powerful people should act like friends or conformers in order to get information from others without them noticing what’s going on.

In business and politics, honesty is hard to come by. In contract law, using public money or company money dishonestly can result in criminal charges. Lying about these things is not advised, but there are other ways to be selectively honest while increasing power in these two spheres. A businesswoman might be honest in contract dealings but omit promises and clauses that would require her to disclose competing interests, conceal the fact that she’s also working for a competitor or agitating for leadership change within a company. If she appears smarter than her supervisors or clients they might suspect ulterior motives; therefore it’s best if she comes off as less experienced and trusting than anyone else with whom she works.

Key Takeaway 5: Secrecy preserves power, which can be cultivated by concealing intentions and being conspicuously, temporarily absent.

In some cases, leaving a position of power or being temporarily absent from it increases respect because it emphasizes confidence and highlights others’ dependence. For example, if the public official was going on vacation at an inopportune time (when others weren’t expecting him to be gone), he would make himself appear indispensable by doing so. If he successfully made himself as vital to the processes in his department as he hoped, employees would accept that he is leaving for the vacation but soon realize that nothing can be accomplished without him. If someone threatened to fire him later on, they would advocate for his work and fear what might happen if he were permanently unavailable.

Key Takeaway 6: The powerful must learn the art of timing decisions to maximize results, and they must know when to end a campaign after victory.

Analyzing

The timing of power is essential because it can result in success or disaster. For example, if you exercise your power at the wrong time, people will not respect you and may try to take advantage of you. If you use your power at the right time, however, people will look up to you and be more likely to follow your lead. Once victory has been achieved, powerful individuals should know when to quit so that their success doesn’t get taken away from them by others who are jealous of their achievements.

Business decisions are crucial and can make or break a company. Hiring the right people at the right time is critical to success. For example, hiring Carly Fiorina as CEO of Hewlett-Packard was a great decision because she doubled revenues and employee numbers following several mergers. However, her reputation suffered when she forced employees to take pay cuts after that merger failed to deliver results. She lost her job over this incident but later ran for president in 2016 with little success due to these issues from her past job performance.

Key Takeaway 7: Adaptability is a key tool for power, so people seeking power should learn to be shapeless, to re-create themselves as needed, and to accept surrender to gain time and resources for a comeback.

Analyze

Being adaptable is important because it allows you to be whatever the situation calls for. If one strategy fails, being able to adapt will help you succeed in other situations. For example, if a person loses power and needs time to regroup before trying again, they should be willing to accept defeat and act congenially until they’re ready for their next attempt at power.

In every profession, adaptation is important. Politicians often change their strategy to gain more power and influence. For example, when Hillary Clinton ran for president, she accused Barack Obama of not having the right qualifications or perspective to be president. Later on, after he became the Democratic nominee for president, they worked together in his administration as secretary of state and vice-president respectively. They had to adapt because if they didn’t work together in that administration they wouldn’t have gained enough power to continue gaining influence later on down the road.

Key Takeaway 8: Strategies that benefit the powerful include mirroring the opponent’s actions, attacking the one point that holds the opponent’s forces together, remaining calm while stirring up anger, finding and exploiting weaknesses, and planning all the way to the end of the campaign.

Analyzing

To gain power, one must have a strategy that involves mirroring the opponent’s moves, attacking its center of organization and dispersing its resources. A strategist can make use of someone else’s anger while remaining calm, making the opponent appear reckless or irrational. Everyone has a weakness to exploit; it is just a matter of finding it in time. Strategists should remember that they are planning for the long run instead of simply looking at how to win this battle right now.

In politics, one could mimic an opponent’s attacks and tone to co-opt the moral high ground. One could also find out what a rival organization is doing well and offer more money for that person to join your campaign instead. In debate, one should hit on weaknesses in his or her reputation while remaining calm when attacked by the opponent. This will get under their skin and make them angry during the debate, which will help you win over voters later on election day.

Key Takeaway 9: Other strategies for the powerful are acting boldly, concentrating energies on one task, tailoring the attack to the target, winning through action rather than argument, and totally eliminating the enemy.

The best way to win respect and inspire fear in enemies is to act quickly without hesitation. It’s important to focus on one front or goal at a time, rather than spreading resources too thin across multiple areas. Each target has its own strengths and weaknesses, so the attack should be customized based on those weaknesses. Power is gained by acting instead of arguing with enemies because they’ll regain strength if you leave them alone after their defeat.

Businesses that follow these laws will have more confidence from their investors and customers. They’ll focus on one market rather than expand into other markets, because expanding might weaken their standing in the original market and hurt them in the new market. Rather than saying they’re better than competitors, they’ll prove it by showing how much better they are. And instead of trying to be the biggest company, they’ll try to control a monopoly—even if that means going bankrupting or buying out competitors.

Sometimes, telecommunications companies will divide a market into regions and allow one company to dominate each region. This allows the companies to claim that they’re providing their customers with the best service possible. The fact is that there are no other choices for those customers. These strategies don’t work in other utility markets (power or water).

Key Takeaway 10: The powerful attract followers who must be managed as audiences, with spectacles and appeals to hold the attention of hearts and minds replacing logical persuasion. Followers’ needs for fantasy and belief in something should be cultivated, although the person in power should not push followers too far toward change.

Great entertainers are the best examples of how to attract and keep an audience. They provide spectacles that audiences would like, and they appeal to emotions rather than logic. Any kind of attention is good attention, even if it seems negative at first. It’s important for a powerful person advocating change to remember that people generally dislike too much change, so it’s better not to threaten them too much when trying to make changes happen.

It is well known that newspapers and magazines sell more copies when they have controversial articles. Some of the most widely read publications are tabloids and daily news magazines because they stir up negativity and make controversial allegations. These articles feed people’s desire to believe that a conspiracy is behind the political elite, or fuel their fantasies about celebrities’ flaws. Anything too drastic can turn readers away, though, so it would be bad if a partisan publication began attacking the party it had long supported.

Key Takeaway 11: The powerful spend their own money, accept nothing for free, and look down on anything they cannot have in order to preserve power. The best strategy for achieving power is to get others to do one’s own work.

Analyze

Powerful people gain power by giving favors and expecting to get something in return. They also give money to attract followers, who can be used for work that the powerful shouldn’t do or which would reflect poorly on them if it doesn’t lead to anything.

There are a few principles that can help an investor succeed. One of those is to make as much money as possible, while never taking gifts from clients and always looking successful. She should be careful not to chase after clients who quit her and never admit any mistakes she makes at work; instead, she should blame them on others or automation.

Book Structure

Robert Greene writes in a scholarly style, like other books on power and leadership. He cites classics about power and leadership, including Niccolò Machiavelli’s The Prince and Sun Tzu’s The Art of War. He provides advice that is absolute rather than specific to the reader’s situation.

Some of the advice in this book is amoral, such as misrepresenting one’s expertise and laying blame on innocent people. Some recommendations are difficult to justify, including ruthlessness toward a rival or starting rivals. The audience for this book isn’t clear because it doesn’t recommend lying outright but does advise that readers offer to die for a cause or martyr themselves without specifying whether this is literal or figurative speech.

There are many examples of people who followed or broke the laws of power, and they come from a variety of sources. For example, there was a leader named Napoleon Bonaparte who didn’t follow these laws, but he ended up failing. A more modern-day example is Henry Kissinger; although he did break some rules in his political career, it worked out for him overall. There’s no mention of Greene’s personal life in this passage nor do we know much about the lives of those with whom he has worked.

The examples in this book sometimes follow a format. For example, they begin with someone who broke the law of power and then continue with an analysis of why breaking that law was bad, followed by an example of someone who followed the law well and ended up succeeding. There are also sections about how to reverse situations where following or breaking the laws would be advantageous.

About the Author

Robert Greene is an author and business consultant who graduated from a prestigious school. He wrote The 48 Laws of Power after meeting with book producer Joost Elffers at an Italian art school, where he went on to write additional books on seduction, war strategies for business, and subject mastery. His advice in these books is sometimes controversial because it’s amoral or misogynistic; however, he embraces the controversy. He currently works as a board member for American Apparel, where he consults for the company’s founder.

Full Summary of The 48 Laws of Power

Overview

When you’re young and enter school, it can be a bit of a shock. If your parents were good people who taught you about honesty and fairness, then there’s going to be some learning curves ahead when put in with other kids at school. The truth is that life isn’t fair and the best way to succeed is not being honest but instead doing whatever it takes for success!

In reality, it’s not always fair to be fair. Of course, if you’re a top-level business manager or politician, you already know that. But there is hope even if you’re not; Robert Greene was once just like the average person but decided to look into how power works and came up with 48 laws of power. These seven laws will focus on the most powerful ones.

This passage tells us about three key points. The first is that a beginner’s mistake can lead to victory in chess tournaments. Second, a minister was thrown into the dungeon for throwing a party for his king. Third, sometimes your best chance of winning is to surrender and give up the fight.

Big Idea #1: Flaunting your brilliance won’t win you your boss’s favor, but making him or her shine will.

Have you ever tried to impress your boss by doing something great, only to fail? This could be because powerful people don’t like being outshined or upstaged. If they feel that way, then trying too hard can make them lose face and look bad in front of their peers.

The worst thing you can do is to act superior. That will make your boss feel threatened and they might fire you because of it. Take King Louis XIV’s relationship with Nicolas Fouquet, his finance minister. Although he was a smart and loyal advisor, the prime minister position went to someone else when the old one died. To get promoted, Fouquet threw a lavish party at his chateau that showed off how well-connected he was and influential in society.

The next day, Fouquet was arrested. He lived in prison for the rest of his life.

So, you may know not to impress your boss, but how can you gain her favor? A better strategy is to always make the person in charge look smarter than everyone else, including yourself. For example, when Galileo Galilei discovered the four moons of Jupiter in 1610 he made sure that his discovery was linked with Cosimo II de’ Medici’s enthronement.

How did Galileo convince the king to name him as a court philosopher? He compared Jupiter’s four moons to Cosimo II and his three brothers, while he compared Jupiter itself to their father. This was an effective way of flattering the ruler’s ego, which led to him being named as a court philosopher.

Big Idea #2: Take credit for other people’s work and be sure to protect your own.

Did you ever use someone’s work and claim it as your own? Maybe you took part of somebody’s answer during a math test. This happens quite often in school, but the truth is that people who are successful do this all the time. For example, did you know that Nikola Tesla worked for Thomas Edison? And he actually improved Edison’s design to create something even better than what Edison had originally created.

Tesla worked for a year to make this discovery. He often worked 18 hours a day, and his hard work paid off in the end. However, Edison’s name is now linked with Tesla’s invention.

Politicians and writers haven’t changed much since Edison’s time. For example, few politicians write their own speeches, and famous novelists often borrow from other writers.

But that’s not enough. You’ll also need to take credit for the work of others. For example, Edison didn’t share any of his profits with Tesla even though he promised him $50,000!

So, keep in mind that credit is just as important as an idea. If you don’t claim the credit for your own idea, someone else will take it and get all of the fame and success that comes with it.

Big Idea #3: Gaining power over somebody means getting to know them – and posing as their friend is the best way to do so.

Have you ever been in a situation where you’re trying to outmaneuver the competition, but it’s difficult to predict their next move? How can we get around that and figure out what they’ll do?

The best way to gain power is to know as much information about the people you want to control. This will help you both win their favor and guide their actions. For example, Joseph Duveen used this technique when he wanted Andrew Mellon as a client. He visited art galleries in London where Mellon was present and engaged him in conversation while hinting that he knew things about his employer’s plans that would be very valuable for them both if they were true.

Duveen was very knowledgeable about what Mellon would like, so he easily gained his favor by making him think they shared similar tastes. The two soon became the best of friends, and Duveen’s business flourished as a result.

What Can You Do to Succeed?

You can hire a spy or even act as one yourself by pretending to be someone’s friend. Most people choose to use hired spies like Duveen did, but this strategy is risky because you don’t know if the information your spies are giving you is accurate or not.

It’s important to make sure that your information is accurate, so it’s best to spy on people yourself. This isn’t an easy task because most people are cautious about sharing private information with strangers.

However, they’re not as secretive when in the company of a friend. Therefore, posing as a friend is an effective strategy to get them to open up about their secrets.

Big Idea #4: Act unpredictably to confuse the competition.

Most people don’t like sudden changes, but did you know that acting unpredictably can keep your competition off-balance? You can do it by making unexpected moves.

When you’re competing against someone, they will likely try to figure out your habits and decision making by watching how you act. They might use that information against you, so it’s best to be unpredictable.

In 1972, Bobby Fischer and Boris Spassky played a chess match. Fischer had to know that Spassky would target his predictability, so he tried to be as unpredictable as possible by not showing up for the match at first and complaining about trivial things like chairs and lighting.

When the match finally began, Fischer made careless mistakes and gave up. He was known for his persistence, so Spassky couldn’t tell if he was really making mistakes or just bluffing.

Fischer had taken advantage of Spassky’s confusion and was now in a good position to win.

If you do things that confuse your opponent, he will try to figure out why you’re doing them and lose his focus.

After two games of chess, Fischer began winning with bold moves. Spassky conceded and Fischer was named world champion.

Big Idea #5: Surrendering to a stronger opponent will help you gather power down the line.

Sometimes, people fight for glory even when they know that they’ll lose. However, the path to power is not fighting against all odds. So what should you do if you’re up against someone more powerful than you? Give up.

It may seem counterintuitive to surrender when you’re being attacked, but it’s the best strategy in some cases. If your competitor knows that he can beat you, then fighting back will only make things worse for you both. Instead of fighting him, give up and let him think that he has won—then strike when his guard is down.

Bertolt Brecht, a writer of communist ideas, immigrated to the United States in 1941. He was summoned before Congress during an investigation into communism’s influence on Hollywood.

While other radicals caused a commotion and challenged the authority of Congress by yelling, Brecht was calm and answered their questions politely.

Brecht was released from jail by the government because he behaved well and had no charges against him. They even helped with his immigration process, but it wasn’t necessary because Brecht left the country and continued writing about his beliefs.

They were unable to publish for years.

So, as Brecht did, use surrender for your own good. Build strength instead of making sacrifices to achieve short-term goals.

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Big Idea #6: If you want to be treated like a superior, you’ve got to act like one.

If you are in a superior position to someone else, it’s important that you act that way. However, if you’re equal to them and want them to respect your authority, then don’t pretend like they’re your equals.

Louis-Philippe, king of France in the 1830s and 40s, hated royal ceremonies. He also refused to wear his crown or carry a scepter. Instead, he wore a gray hat and carried an umbrella instead of wearing them. Not only that, but he befriended bankers rather than royalty.

However, his behavior didn’t prove to be beneficial in the long run. He was soon hated by both the rich and poor because of how he treated them differently. The wealthy people disapproved of him since he acted like a commoner but wasn’t one himself. On the other hand, the poor disliked him for not caring about their plights as they were accustomed to doing before his reign began. Even those who had previously supported him turned against him when they realized that they could insult or ignore him without fear of being reprimanded or punished for it.

People eventually grew to hate the king because he acted like one of them. They suspected that his modest ways were a trick to hide his high status and power.

What’s a better tactic? You should use the strategy of the crown to make people treat you like royalty. If you act as if you’re superior, other people will think that it makes sense for you to be superior. People will assume that there is good reason for your behavior and they’ll treat you accordingly.

For example, Christopher Columbus behaved like royalty and was treated as such. In fact, he was able to convince the Spanish royal family to finance his voyages by socializing with them frequently.

Big Idea #7: To gain power over others, seduction works better than coercion.

Imagine you are Chuko Liang, the head strategist for Shu. You have just declared war on China by King Menghuo from the south. There is a lot at stake here, but before knowing what to do, it’s essential to know what not to do. In fact, using force and coercion will never be successful because they breed resentment and resistance in people; even if you win with them initially, that won’t last long. Instead of using force and coercion against Menghuo’s army (which would probably defeat him), Liang decided not to use those tactics because he knew they’d backfire later on when he needed support from his countrymen.

A better strategy is to play on people’s emotions. People are emotional, so if you can appeal to them emotionally, they will do what you want – of their own free will.

In order to win, you can threaten your opponent with pain. Then, when they expect the worst from you, treat them kindly. For example, Menghuo attacked China and was captured by Liang. He expected the worst but instead he was treated well and given food and wine.

Liang released his enemy’s soldiers and would only let Menghuo go when the other king promised to bow down to Liang if he was captured again. However, on the seventh capture, Menghuo dropped down at Liang’s feet and surrendered himself.

Although the king could have killed Menghuo when he captured him, he gave Menghuo many chances and treated him well. As a result, Menghuo was grateful to the Chinese king, and eventually surrendered of his own accord.

The 48 Laws of Power Book Summary, by Robert Greene
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