The 48 Laws of Power (Book Review)

knowledge

title: The 48 Laws of Power

author: Robert Greene

what you’ll learn: how to acquire and hold onto power

Why You Must Read It

Let me know if this sounds familiar …

Ever since you were a little kid, parents, teachers, and authority figures controlled your life. Now that you’re all grown up, you are still being controlled.

You try to abide by the rules. You wanna be a good guy — an honest citizen that doesn’t rock the boat. You just wanna get by. You did everything right … from going to college, to paying all your taxes, to working hard at a boring-but-stable job (if you even have a job). But after plopping down on your couch after a hard day’s work, you look at your meager paycheck and shake your head.

Your life sucks. You have little money, even less freedom, and absolutely no control of your life. You’re stuck. And you’re powerless to do anything about it.

Don’t be so hard on yourself. You’re not alone. There are millions of other people just like you … powerless sheep trapped in The Matrix.

Now I offer you a chance to break out of the bleak existence. You can take the blue pill, remain powerless to change your situation, and stay where you’re at. Or you can take the red pill and acquire the power to shape your destiny.

If you choose the red pill, I wanna introduce you to Robert Greene’s most famous book, The 48 Laws of Power — one of the best books written on power in the last few decades. It is no wonder that millions of people all over the world all bought a copy, including the rich & famous: 50 Cent, Jay-Z, Kanye West and Will Smith. It is also one of the most request books among prisoners.

Personally, the book showed me the importance of history in a whole new light. It opened my eyes to history’s true value. Previously, history class was all about memorizing dates and events, only to regurgitate them on the test. I hated history, because I hated rote, useless memorization.

But The 48 Laws of Power uses world history to teach 48 lessons, all about acquiring and holding onto power. You will see how kings and generals fought. How underdogs survived until they can amass more power. How those born under unfavorable circumstances rejected their unhappy fate and created their own future instead.

Each chapter (also called “law”) are broken down into 5 main sections:

  • judgement: brief summary of the law
  • transgression of the law (and interpretation): example in history of someone breaking the law and paying the price
  • observance of the law (and interpretation): example in history of someone following the law and reaping the reward
  • keys to power: detailed explanation of why the law is important
  • reversal: situation when you should not follow the law

Some people will say the laws of the book are immoral. But I disagree. Knowledge by itself is not evil. It is what you do with knowledge and power, once you get it, that determines if you are immoral or not. Those who poo-poo the book based on ethics and morals are just uncomfortable with the concept of power. (Or maybe they’re just uncomfortable with someone else getting power.)

The major flaw with the book is that the 48 laws could be condensed into 24 laws. Many of the laws overlap. For example, Law 3 (Conceal Your Intentions) and Law 4 (Always Say Less Than Necessary) are very similar. Law 25 (Re-Create Yourself) and Law 48 (Assume Formlessness) too.

Despite repeating similar laws over and over again, the book is really, really good. It is my favorite book on power. (I was hooked ever since the first chapter.) Based on the examples from history and (more importantly) from my own experience, following the laws will make you powerful. I guarantee it.

So now, you gotta ask yourself …

Do you want to take back control of your life?

Do you want your freedom?

Do you want to get paid for what you’re worth?

And ask yourself the main question:

Are you brave enough to take the red pill and learn how to acquire power?

If so … do yourself a huge favor and get the book now!

Table of Contents

I’ve bolded the ones I particularly liked …

Law 1 – Never Outshine the Master

Law 2 – Never Put Too Much Trust in Friends, Learn How to Use Enemies

Law 3 – Conceal Your Intentions

Law 4 – Always Say Less Than Necessary

Law 5 – So Much Depends on Reputation — Guard It with Your Life

Law 6 – Court Attention at All Cost

Law 7 – Get Others to Do the Work for You, but Always Take the Credit

Law 8 – Make Others Come to You — Use Bait if Necessary

Law 9 – Win Through Your Actions, Never Through Argument

Law 10 – Infection: Avoid the Unhappy and Unlucky

Law 11 – Learn to Keep People Dependent on You

Law 12 – Use Selective Honesty and Generosity to Disarm Your Victim

Law 13 – When Asking for Help, Appeal to People’s Self-Interest, Never to Their Mercy or Gratitude

Law 14 – Pose as a Friend, Work as a Spy

Law 15 – Crush Your Enemy Totally

Law 16 – Use Absence to Increase Respect and Honor

Law 17 – Keep Others in Suspended Terror: Cultivate an Air of Unpredictability

Law 18 – Do Not Build Fortresses to Protect Yourself — Isolation is Dangerous

Law 19 – Know Who You’re Dealing with — Do Not Offend the Wrong Person

Law 20 – Do Not Commit to Anyone

Law 21 – Play Sucker to Catch a Sucker — Seem Dumber than Your Mark

Law 22 – Use the Surrender Tactic: Transform Weakness into Power

Law 23 – Concentrate Your Forces

Law 24 – Play the Perfect Courtier

Law 25 – Re-Create Yourself

Law 26 – Keep Your Hands Clean

Law 27 – Play on People’s Need to Believe to Create a Cultlike Following

Law 28 – Enter Action with Boldness

Law 29 – Plan All the Way to the End

Law 30 – Make Your Accomplishments Seem Effortless

Law 31 – Control the Options: Get Others to Play with the Cards You Deal

Law 32 – Play to People’s Fantasies

Law 33 – Discover Each Man’s Thumbscrew

Law 34 – Be Royal in Your Own Fashion: Act Like a King to be Treated Like One

Law 35 – Master the Art of Timing

Law 36 – Disdain Things You Cannot Have: Ignoring Them Is the Best Revenge

Law 37 – Create Compelling Spectacles

Law 38 – Think as You Like but Behave Like Others

Law 39 – Stir Up Waters to Catch Fish

Law 40 – Despise the Free Lunch

Law 41 – Avoid Stepping into a Great Man’s Shoes

Law 42 – Strike the Shepherd and the Sheep Will Scatter

Law 43 – Work on the Hearts and Minds of Others

Law 44 – Disarm and Infuriate with the Mirror Effect

Law 45 – Preach the Need for Change, but Never Reform Too Much at Once

Law 46 – Never Appear Too Perfect

Law 47 – Do Not Go Past the Mark You Aimed For; In Victory, Learn When to Stop

Law 48 – Assume Formlessness

Choice Excerpt

ASSUME FORMLESSNESS

Judgment

By taking a shape, by having a visible plan, you open yourself to attack. Instead of taking a form for your enemy to grasp, keep yourself adaptable and on the move. Accept the fact that nothing is certain and no law is fixed. The best way to protect yourself is to be as fluid as formless as water; never bet on stability or lasting order. Everything changes.

Keys to Power

The human animal is distinguished by its constant creation of forms. Rarely expressing its emotions directly, it gives them form through language, or through socially acceptable rituals. We cannot communicate our emotions without a form.

The forms that we create, however, change constantly — in fashion, in style, in all those human phenomena representing the mood of the moment. We are constantly altering the forms we have inherited from previous generations, and these changes are signs of life and vitality. Indeed, the things that don’t change, the forms that rigidify, come to look to us like death, and we destroy them. The young show this most clearly: Uncomfortable with the forms that society imposes upon them, having no set identity, they play with their own characters, trying on a variety of masks and poses to express themselves. This is the vitality that drives the motor of form, creating constant changes in style.

The powerful are often people who in their youth have shown immense creativity in expressing something new through a new form. Society grants them power because it hungers for and rewards this sort of newness. The problem comes later, when they grow conservative and possessive. They no longer dream of creating new forms; their identities are set, their habits congeal, and their rigidity makes them easy targets. Everyone knows their next move. Instead of demanding respect they elicit boredom: “Get off the stage!” we say, “Let someone else, someone younger, entertain us.” When locked in the past, the powerful look comical — they are overripe fruit, waiting to fall from the tree.

Power can only thrive if it is flexible in its forms. To be formless is not to be amorphous; everything has a form — it is impossible to avoid. The formlessness of power is more like that of water, or mercury, taking the form of whatever is around it. Changing constantly, it is never predictable. The powerful are constantly creating form, and their power comes from the rapidity with which they can change. Their formlessness is in the eye of the enemy who cannot see what they are up to and so has nothing solid to attack. This is the premier pose of power: ungraspable, as elusive and swift as the god of Mercury, who could take any form he pleased and used this ability to wreak havoc on Mount Olympus.

Human creations evolve toward abstraction, toward being more mental and less material. This evolution is clear in art, which, in this century, made the great discovery of abstraction and conceptualism; it can also be seen in politics, which over time have become less overtly violent, more complicated, indirect and cerebral. Warfare and strategy too have followed this pattern. Strategy began in the manipulation of armies on land, positioning them in ordered formations; on land, strategy is relatively two dimensional, and controlled by topography. But all the great powers have eventually taken to the sea, for commerce and colonization. And to protect their trading lanes they have had to learn how to fight at sea. Maritime warfare requires tremendous creativity and abstract thinking, since the lines are constantly shifting. Naval captains distinguish themselves by their ability to adapt to the literal fluidity of the terrain and to confuse the enemy with an abstract, hard-to-anticipate form. they are operating in a third dimension: the mind.

Back on land, guerrilla warfare too demonstrates this evolution toward abstraction. T. E. Lawrence was perhaps the modern strategist to develop the theory behind this kind of warfare, and to put it into practice. His ideas influenced Mao, who founded in his writings an uncanny Western equivalent to wei-chi. Lawrence was working with Arabs fighting for their territory against the Turks. His idea was to make the Arabs blend into the vast desert, never providing a target, never collecting together in one place. As the Turks scrambled to fight this vaporous army, they spread themselves thin, wasting energy in moving from place to place. They had the superior firepower but the Arabs kept the initiative by playing cat and mouse, giving the Turks nothing to hold onto, destroying their morale. “Most wars were wars of contact … Ours should be a war of detachment,” Lawrence wrote. “We were to contain the enemy by the silent threat of a vast unknown desert, not disclosing ourselves till we attacked.”

This is the ultimate form of strategy. The war of engagement has become far too dangerous and costly; indirection and elusiveness yield far better results at a much lower cost. The main cost, in fact, is mental — the thinking it takes to align your forces in scattered patterns, and to undermine the minds and psychology of your opponents. And nothing will infuriate and disorient them more than formlessness. In a world where wars of detachment are the order of the day, formlessness is crucial.

The first psychological requirement of formlessness is to train yourself to take nothing personally. Never show any defensiveness. When you act defensive, you show your emotions, revealing a clear form. Your opponents will realize they have hit a nerve, an Achilles’ heel. And they will hit it again and again. So train yourself to take nothing personally. Never let anyone get your back up. Be like a slippery ball that cannot be held: Let no one know what gets to you, or where your weaknesses lie. Make your face a formless mask and you will infuriate and disorient your scheming colleagues and opponents.

As you get older, you must rely even less on the past. Be vigilant lest the form your character has taken makes you seem a relic. It is not a matter of mimicking the fashions of youth — that is equally worthy of laughter. Rather your mind must constantly adapt to each circumstance, even the inevitable change that the time has come to move over and let those of younger age prepare for their ascendancy. Rigidity will only make you look uncannily like a cadaver.

Never forget, though, that formlessness is a strategic pose. It gives you room to create tactical surprises; as your enemies struggle to guess your next move, they reveal their own strategy, putting them at a decided disadvantage. It keeps the initiative on your side, putting your enemies in the position of never acting, constantly reacting. It foils their spying and intelligence. Remember: Formlessness is a tool Never confuse it with a go-with-the-flow style, not because it creates inner harmony and pace, but because it will increase your power.

Finally, learning to adapt to each new circumstance means seeing events through your own eyes, and often ignoring the advice that people constantly peddle your way. It means that ultimately you must throw out the laws that others preach, and the books they write to tell you what to do, and the sage advice of the elder. “The laws that govern circumstances are abolished by new circumstances,” Napoleon wrote, which means that it is up to you to gauge each new situation. Rely too much on other people’s ideas and you end up taking a form not of your own making. Too much respect for other people’s wisdom will make you depreciate your own. Be brutal with the past, especially your own, and have no respect for the philosophies that are foisted on your from outside.

Get it now!

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Comments

  1. The book 48 laws of power is a great read! I also read the 50th law which almost the same type of book and just as good.

    This book has taught me a few things since most of laws i had to learn the hard way growing up in the inner city where surviving everyday is routine. Thank God I was able to get out of that environment!

    These are the laws I tend to follow in my own life:
    Law 1: Never Outshine The Master!

    Law2: Never put too much trust in friends

    Law3: Conceal Your Intentions

    Law5: So much depends on reputation

    Law9: Win through your actions, Never through arguments

    Law11: Learn to keep people dependent on you

    Law12: Use selective honesty and generosity to disarm your victim

    Law14: Pose as a friend, work as a spy

    Law19: Know who you are dealing with, do not offend the wrong person

    Law21: Play a sucker to catch a sucker

    Law22: Use the surrender tactic, Transform weakness into power

    Law28: Enter action with boldness

    Law32: Play to people’s fantasies

    Law43: Work on the hearts and minds of others

    I use these laws everyday and has gotten me out of some very tight situations. Also if you like to know more about Power there is also Sun Tzu’s “Art Of War” book which is a good read as well!

    Great post Alex

    • Alex Ding says:

      Hey Jose,

      I read The 50th Law too and it was a great read.

      Good choices in the laws.

      Regarding Sun Tzu’s The Art of War, I actually have the whole book on my site. I even added my own comments at the end.

      Good to hear from you.

  2. Bob Smith says:

    Hi Alex Ding,
    I can see why you like this book so much. Speaking from personal experience, I have observed, and practiced, to a certain degree, most of the points in this book. First, let me comment on your opinion about the book and then I will focus on what I think is the most important aspect of power: the ability to adapt to change.
    I agree with you when you said that some will say that the laws of the book are immoral. It never ceases to amaze me that man, in his arrogance, thinks he has the authority to distinguish from right or wrong. I am reminded of a quote:
    “There is nothing either good or bad but thinking makes it so.” –William Shakespeare
    When I first read this quote it struck me like a bolt of lightning. Even though I always knew this on a subconscious level, having the truth so naked and distilled in this way totally influenced the way I looked at crime and punishment. Would laws exist if no one broke them?
    Also, you claimed that the major flaw of this book is that it could easily be condensed. This is so true for so much literature. There is a lot of fluff, by necessity, for marketing and entertainment purposes. Allow me to demonstrate this in an extreme way: If I wrote a 500 page book on how to be successful and convinced you to buy it, you would probably have a high expectation of the book’s content. You set aside some time to read the book and on the very first page all it said was “Be yourself.” And every page after that was blank. Would you feel cheated?

    Power, in its essence, is the ability to adapt to change. A perfect example is a typical game of chess. In my experience, I usually won the game not because I was particularly good, but because I would wait until my opponent made a mistake and then I would exploit it. Also, I have won many games even after losing a powerful piece, the queen for example, because my opponent would get too confident and would usually neglect his strategy, in which I would exploit to my advantage. In addition, I never gave up, even when it was almost certain that I would lose, because I always learned something and I would apply it to the ongoing game or the next one. I kept adapting according to my circumstances. And last, but not least, when I realized my opponent had made a grave mistake I kept a poker face (but was ecstatic inside). I am reminded of a quote by Napoleon:
    Never interrupt your enemy when he is making a mistake. -Napolean Bonaparte
    When I examine history, it’s basically all the same. Of course, the dates and names change, but history really does repeat itself. Civilizations rise for a number of reasons but they eventually fall because of one critical reason: those in power fail to adapt. Even if a conqueror had the perfect recipe for absolute power, he still has to come to terms with his own mortality. He could train his successors in every conceivable way to hold onto his legacy of power, but if they do not adapt to their particular times, their bestowed power could easily be taken by others. The environment and circumstances changes daily, but unfortunately, human nature rarely changes, if at all.

    Let me exit with a humorous quote that pertains to power. Are you familiar with the Golden Rule of Christianity? Well, in the real world, here it is in a nutshell:
    “The one with the gold makes the rules.”
    Sincerely,
    Bob Smith

    • Alex Ding says:

      Hey Bob,

      Great comment!

      I totally agree that the best law is being adaptable. That is why I featured it in my choice excerpts.

      As for what is right and wrong, I personally base morality on the Bible. I think after our lives here, we’ll have to answer to our maker.

      But generalizing something as wrong, just become the critic is not comfortable with it, is absurd. Cutting someone could be wrong. But is could also be right, such as a procedure done with a scalpel in the hands of surgeon.

      I really like your insights. Keep it up!

    • WOW Fantastic comment Bob!

  3. Great book….as a matter of fact you guys should read all of Robert Greene’s books….Good info. Bob great kick ass comment

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  1. […] by Robert Greene. (If you’re interested in my favorite book by Greene, check out my review of The 48 Laws of Power.)The general concepts of the book are common sense. If all you want are general concepts, […]

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