Book Review: The 48 Laws of Power


The 48 Laws of Power book cover

Title: The 48 Laws of Power

Author(s): Robert Greene

I will begin by saying that, after reading this book, I still don't know if it is meant to be serious, funny, or just an interpretation of some history lessons and tales. As the name implies, it is about "laws of power", ways of achieving power, maintaining it, or simply learning to deal with those who have it. By narrating at least one story per law, depicting from kings and nobles, to conquistadors, inventors and military generals, we are explained an example of the law, followed by an analysis, and optionally related flaws and further details.

Some laws apply perfectly to modern times, in corporate or political environments, while others feel either vastly outdated, or more suited for a con film (e.g. a USA diamonds fake mine story). A few rules contradict, or at least are incompatible with, other rules. But, even ignoring the contradictions, in general, if you try to follow all of them, you will become a despicable and sad person (e.g. by treating your friends and your partner as also untrustworthy).

So my take on the book is that it is a 50% history of old times, 50% humorous take on some history figures and interpretation of their acts and "fates" (sometimes great, but quite often fatal).

This is the full list of laws mentioned in the book, so you can have a good idea of what to expect:

  • 1st - Never outshine the master
  • 2nd - Never put too much trust in friends, learn how to use enemies
  • 3rd - Conceal your intentions
  • 4th - Always say less than necessary
  • 5th - So much depends on reputation, guard it with your life
  • 6th - Court attention at all cost
  • 7th - Get others to do the work for you, but always take the credit
  • 8th - Make other people come to you, use bait if necessary
  • 9th - Win through your actions, never through argument
  • 10th - Infection, avoid the unhappy and unlucky
  • 11th - Learn to keep people dependent on you
  • 12th - Use selective honesty and generosity to disarm your victim
  • 13th - When asking for help, appeal to people’s self-interest, never to their mercy or gratitude
  • 14th - Pose as a friend, work as a spy
  • 15th - Crush your enemy totally
  • 16th - Use absence to increase respect and honor
  • 17th - Keep others in suspended terror, cultivate an air of unpredictability
  • 18th - Do not build fortresses to protect yourself, isolation is dangerous
  • 19th - Know who you’re dealing with, do not offend the wrong person
  • 20th - Do not commit to anyone
  • 21st - Play a sucker to catch a sucker, seem dumber than your mark
  • 22nd - Use the surrender tactic, transform weakness into power
  • 23rd - Concentrate your forces
  • 24th - Play the perfect courtier
  • 25th - Re-create yourself
  • 26th - Keep your hands clean
  • 27th - Play on people’s need to believe to create a cult-like following
  • 28th - Enter action with boldness
  • 29th - Plan all the way to the end
  • 30th - Make your accomplishments seem effortless
  • 31st - Control the options, get others to play with the cards you deal
  • 32nd - Play to people’s fantasies
  • 33rd - Discover each man’s thumbscrew
  • 34th - Be royal in your own fashion, act like a king to be treated like one
  • 35th - Master the art of timing
  • 36th - Disdain things you cannot have, ignoring them is the best revenge
  • 37th - Create compelling spectacles
  • 38th - Think as you like but behave like others
  • 39th - Stir up waters to catch fish
  • 40th - Despise the free lunch
  • 41st - Avoid stepping into a great man’s shoes
  • 42nd - Strike the shepherd and the sheep will scatter
  • 43rd - Work on the hearts and minds of others
  • 44th - Disarm and infuriate with the mirror effect
  • 45th - Preach the need for change, but never reform too much at once
  • 46th - Never appear too perfect
  • 47th - In victory, learn when to stop
  • 48th - Assume formlessness

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