The 48 Laws of Power Summary: Robert Greene

The 48 Laws of Power Summary

The 48 Laws of Power Summary provides a free book summary and review, key takeaways, top quotes, author biography and other key points of Robert Greene’s book. 48 cunning, clever, detailed and deliberate tactics for getting power. Ethics is optional.

This book The 48 Laws of Power is not moral. But, it is hauntingly real and essential. It must be on the bookshelf of all those who want to succeed professionally. This book must not collect dust. Instead, it must be read frequently. Read it as per a plan. For example, one law a day, slowly taken in and genuinely thought over.

“The moment of victory is often the moment of greatest peril.”

Robert Greene is the author of this masterpiece. He draws on a wide range of sources. These include books so haunting that they were banned by early Chinese. He mentions the memoirs of Machiavelli. It may seem that people who follow all the 48 laws will become unpleasant humans. But, this is not wholly true. We think that the person who masters these laws will be charming. He/she will have a skill for likeability, yet splendid and in control. Though it will not always be so. Does this not sound tempting?

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This Summary Will Help You Learn

  • 48 principles which will help you gain power in your workplace;
  • How to be cunning, ruthless and successful.


  • Focus on your appearance. Be stylish always.
  • Do not trust anyone. Foes can be more dependable than friends.
  • Make everything look simple.
  • Draw focus on yourself.
  • Use the weaknesses of others to influence them.
  • Plan carefully. Do not outsmart your plan.
  • Never force others to do act for you. Instead, seduce and tempt them.
  • Speak as less as possible. Speaking too much is risky.
  • Maintain some distance to gain respect.
  • Play dumb. People are likely to make mistakes when they think they are smarter than you.

“If you do not declare yourself immediately, you arouse expectation.”

The 48 Laws of Power Summary

The Ways of Power

The need for power is very basic, very natural. In fact, to the extent that when you feel powerless, you get depressed. 

Those who pretend to have no desire for power are deceiving themselves. Or, they are trying to deceive others. Everybody wants power. The more you get, the more you desire. 

Power is the same as a drug. But, it does not make you weak. Instead, it makes you more powerful. 

Still, it is regarded as impolite and bad to seek power directly. Those who desire it should seem to be uninterested in it. They should pretend to care about others only. 

Someone who best displays an image of not wanting power will become the strongest. Yes, it is a paradox. Maybe, even unhealthy. But, you cannot chase power honestly and upfront. You have to hide your means and ends. 

This does not mean you should lie. Lying is wrong. And, not because it is unethical, but, because the risk of getting exposed is too big. Power relies on trust. A known liar does not have trust. Hence, he also does not have power.

Duplicity is something else. These principles may look very frank. But, you can use them without breaching any of moral principles. Indeed, that is the way to obtain the ideal outcomes.

“A Chinese proverb compares friends to the jaws and teeth of a dangerous animal: If you are not careful, you will find them chewing you up.”

The Laws

  1. Never eclipse your superiors – Always strengthen their sense of seniority. Maybe they are very aware of their weakness and defects. And even alert to any danger from below. If you make them look like a fool, they will damage you. Your life can become miserable. Hence, never outsmart them. Only prove your usefulness.
  2. Do not trust allies, but understand the utility of enemies – Friends may betray you out of jealousy. They tend to expect too much from you due to your friendship. So, do not hire friends. Instead, hire foes. A foe whom you forgive will always feel the need to prove his loyalty. Do not have any foes? Then get to work making some.
  3. Don’t tip your hand – If others do not know what you want, they cannot prepare against you. Hence, keep your goals secret. Act behind a smokescreen.
  4. Spare your words – The powerful rarely speak. The more you speak, the more you make yourself vulnerable. You become more familiar. And, the more common you’re become, the less great you look. So, talk sparingly.
  5. Protect your reputation – A good name can save you in any onslaught. But, it is of no use once tarnished. So, never ignore any threat to damage your name.
  6. Make yourself the center of attention – People tend to make decisions based on what they see. They do not know the unseen. So, avoid working in isolation. The only reward for that will be more hard work and more anonymity. Make a display of yourself.
  7. Take credit for others’ work – Yes, it is not decent to take credit for others’ work. But, it is highly effective. You will be an idiot to do otherwise. You will look like a magician of skill and speed. Plus, no one will remember the people who made your success likely. Hence, they cannot threaten you.
  8. Lure people – You gain control when you make others move first. Power is equal to taking control. Hence, never move first. Instead, make your opponents come to you. Bait them, lure them, do anything to draw them to you.
  9. Win by deeds not by debate — Do not argue. This creates losers who keep grudges. Instead, win by acting. Prove yourself by actions and not demonstrations.
  10. Shun losers; unhappiness and bad luck are contagious — A drowning person drags his saver under. Hence, shun losers. Instead, surround yourself with winners. Avoid the unlucky, poor, unhappy and unloved.
  11. Make people need you – It is great to have others depend on you. Keep their dependency alive. This gives you control over them. Never teach them so much that they can do without you. Keep some secrets which will keep you in power.
  12. Tell part of the truth and be tactically generous – When you are kind and honest, others relax and start trusting you. Then they become vulnerable and in your control. Look honest and kind. Give gifts. Remember the tale of Trojan Horse. It worked very well.
  13. When you ask for help, let people know what’s in it for them – Do not look for humanity. When people are selfless, you are in their debt. Mostly, others will not wish to help you with your interest. Hence, to gain their support, first appeal to their interest. If something benefits them, shamelessly exaggerate. They will run to your help.
  14. Seem to be a friend to gather intelligence – Draw others out. Ask manipulative questions. Get them to talk about themselves. Disarm opponents by looking like their best friend.
  15. Destroy your enemy – When in a fight, do not leave your enemy alive. Destroy all your opponents completely. Remember a small spark can also start a fire.
  16. Absent yourself to inspire awe – When you are highly visible, people will not respect you. So, be out of sight just enough to inspire admiration and maybe fear. Scarce is valuable.
  17. Be unpredictable to inspire fear – If you are erratic, others will drain themselves trying to figure your moves. In extreme conditions, unpredictable changes of plan, temper or mood can reinforce you as a dictator. This will help you terrorize your subjects.
  18. Do not withdraw totally because isolation has its perils – It is one thing to not make yourself available every time to everyone. But, it is another to hide behind walls. You cannot rely on anyone to give you the right information. Hence, you cannot be invisible. Be out and about sufficiently to know what is going on.
  19. Know with whom you deal; give no offense to the powerful – Try to read others. Study what power and friends your opponents have. Do not make guesses. People pretend to be something they are not.
  20. Make no promises – Your only commitment is with yourself. Do not keep inseparable allies. Like Washington suggested, shun entangling alliances.
  21. Play dumb – Looking smarter than others does not help. It only cautions them. Hence, disarm your targets by making them feel the smartest. They love it. Plus, they will lose all their fear and caution. And then you can easily manipulate them to your will.
  22. Surrender to gain power – If your rival is stronger, do not stage a great fight for glory. Instead, surrender on terms which allow you to keep maximum possible power. Then wait for your rival to make one wrong move. Attack from the dark, unimagined.
  23. Focus your strength – Choose one point and focus all your energy on it. Do not distribute your power or energy. Nurture one strong patron or mentor diligently.
  24. Be courtly – The courtier is skilled at manipulation, flattery, conversation, and intrigue. An ideal courtier looks great. He/she gathers power without seeming to chase it. To control even the ruler, be the ideal courtier.
  25. Re-invent yourself – Do not become what others force you to become. Make your own distinct identity. Never be dull. Instead be interesting and dramatic. Have your signature actions, deeds, and even clothes. This way, people will always remember who you are.
  26. Don’t get your hands dirty – Use somebody else to do your dirty work. Then, find someone who will take the blame. Cats’-paws and scapegoats are very useful.
  27. Exploit people’s needs to build your cult – People like believing. It never really matters whom or what they believe. Give them something to believe and follow. Talk persuasively. Imply big assurances. But, do not go into the specifics. This way no one can accuse you of not performing. Have your followers sacrifice on your behalf. This will empower you.
  28. Act boldly – Do not be afraid. Take decisive and bold steps. If you doubt yourself your chances of failure will increase. Also, never fail in public. The missteps of the brave are forgiven and forgotten. But, the trips of the fearful are not.
  29. Plan everything – Do not leave anything to chance. Plan every move of yours. Even the last one and the one following that. Many have not been able to enjoy the fruit of their planning by ignoring the finale. Hence, the power, credit, and money went to somebody else.
  30. Look as if everything you do is easy – Do not show how much effort you put in. Magicians hide their tricks, so should you. Startle others with the effortlessness of your achievements. Especially when you have come as far as you can and are about to fall. Look as if you are full of energy and ready for another round.
  31. You have to deal the cards to control the game – You should appear to give others some freedom of choice. But, control the limits of their choices invisibly. Provide them options which benefit you regardless of what they choose.
  32. Seem to offer what people have dreamed of and longed for – Do not make others face the harsh truth. Offer them dreams, and they will give you power.
  33. Learn what hurts and use it – Every person has some need, weakness or insecurity. Know what it is and exploit it. Relieve or inflict pain whichever serves your goal.
  34. Play the king and people will treat you royally – Treat yourself like a king. Value and respect yourself. Others will treat you like you treat yourself.
  35. Timing is everything – The correct deed at a wrong time is a wrong deed. But, an incorrect deed at the right time is the right deed. Hence, timing is key. Part of looking confident is about being patient. Never look in a rush. Act as if things are going in your favor.
  36. Despise what is beyond your reach – Like Aesop’s fable of sour grapes, if you cannot attain a prize, hate it. If you recognize a problem, you give power to that problem. But, if you seem to despise what others want or fear, you will look superior. Others will be in awe of you.
  37. Be spectacular – Do not restrict your light. Use dramatic words, gestures, and signs to draw attention to yourself.
  38. Think what you please, but act like the crowd – There is no benefit in playing the maniac. If you run too much against the customs, people will hate you. Hence, show your creativity only to the ones close to you.
  39. Make a splash, and you’ll fill your net with fish – Do not get angry in front of others. Never vent your intense feelings. Instead, make your foes do that. When they attack in rage, they will make some mistake. They will expose themselves to your well-planned counter-strike.
  40. Don’t look for a free lunch; disdain it – Things which look free are not. Anything worth having comes with a price. Carry your weight, pay for yourself. Do not owe anything to anyone. Instead, make others depend on you.
  41. Don’t try to fill the shoes of the great – If those shoes are not your size, you’ll fall and look like a fool. If your predecessor were great, you would always be in his shadow. So, make your own identity. Act in a new direction.
  42. Strike the shepherd to scatter the sheep – If the group is hostile, find the troublemakers. Often a single rotten apple can poison the whole basket. An attack that one individual and you will crush the whole movement.
  43. Win hearts and minds – Do not compel others to do your will. They hate force and build dreams of revenge. Win them by craft, and flattery. Let them feel they are doing their own will. Then they will work for you out of love.
  44. Enrage people by mirroring them – Replicate the actions of your enemies. Compel them to see themselves. This way they will not see you in your deeds, but themselves. You will anger them, disarm them and then beat them.
  45. Talk about reform but make changes slowly – People love talking about change. But, they hate changes. So, if you become powerful, avoid making big changes soon. Talk about them, inspire hopes of change. But, take one step at a time.
  46. Never look perfect – If you look perfect, people will become jealous. And, so they will want to destroy you. Hence, claim an imperfection so minute it is almost an asset. But, in front of others call it a fault.
  47. When you reach your goal, stop – Most people lose the prize by being too proud or greedy. So, do not be over smart. When you reach your goal, it means you are at the end of your plan. Just stop there. Do not go beyond till you have another plan.
  48. Be protean – When you do not have any form, others will not find your core. Hence, they cannot attack you. So, be fluid. Change with situations. Be like water and adapt to every container.

“People easily mistake sincerity for honesty.”

The 48 Laws of Power Review 

When it comes to ethics and morality, people usually think regarding white and black. But, “The 48 Laws of Power” largely deals with the gray areas. Most of the laws in this book can either be employed for great good or great evil. It depends on the reader. There is nothing incorrect or immoral with the majority of the Laws. Most of them are accompanied with real stories from past about the ones who efficiently followed it and those who stupidly disobeyed it. Greene gives an interpretation for every story. Though every Law explains itself very well, Greene’s description is not padding or stuffing merely to make the book long. They give better depth and clarification. Indeed, Greene’s insights expand to key warnings on how the laws may backfire.

This book does fall into the category of sad but real. For readers who have an ethical objection to the unethical approach of Greene’s presentation, they are missing the point. Regardless of how you feel about the power plays which have taken place all through history and that happen in modern lives, the truth is that they exist. Here are 48 ways to power that people will either try to apply or will experience them being applied against them. If you are one of the people, who picks never to exercise power and influence over others, at least learn to acknowledge the subtle and maybe not so subtle methods others will try to exercise power over you. It is possible that the dearth of knowledge is as accountable for the power abuse, as is the propagation of it.

In short, this book is replete with interesting and fun historical examples and is an enjoyable read.

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The 48 Laws of Power Quotes

“The moment of victory is often the moment of greatest peril.”

“If you do not declare yourself immediately, you arouse expectation.”

“A Chinese proverb compares friends to the jaws and teeth of a dangerous animal: If you are not careful, you will find them chewing you up.”

“People easily mistake sincerity for honesty.”

“Selective honesty is best employed on your first encounter with someone.”

“Weakness is no sin, and can even become a strength if you learn how to play it right.”

“If you have no enemies, invent one.”

“Recognize the moment… to hide in the grass or slither under a rock, as well as the moment to bare your fangs and attack.”

“Use the power of symbols as a way to rally, animate, and unite your troops or team.”

“Angry people usually end up looking ridiculous, for their response seems out of proportion to what occasioned it.”

“The mirror reflects reality, but it is also the perfect tool for deception: When you mirror your enemies, doing exactly as they do, they cannot figure out your strategy.”

“What happens first always appears better and more original than what comes after.”

About the Author

Robert Greene has been an editor at Esquire and many other magazines too. He holds a degree in classical studies.

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