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The 48 Laws of Power by Robert Greene
Some of the content of this book is not moral or ethical (see laws 7, 11 and 27 as examples). Unfortunately the tactics are real and in common use today. One should be aware of such tactics and reading this will help with understanding the dynamics of power.
My favorite laws and those that challenged me the most are laws 1, 4, 5, 9, 10, 19, 28, 29, 30, 35, 36, 40 and 46.
At the end of the summary are action steps that I put into practice after reading.
My Favorite Quotes
- The more you say, the more common you appear and less in control. You have more power when you stop talking.
- The truth is generally seen, rarely heard.
- Never outshine the master.
- Judge people by the effects they have on the world and not on the reasons they give for their problems.
- The highest form of power is the ability to distinguish the wolves from the lambs. Being able to recognize types of people and to act accordingly is critical.
- No one likes feeling dumber than the next person, the trick is to make people feel smart, and not just smart but smarter than you are.
- It is wise to be polite; consequently it is stupid to be rude.
- Working on yourself like clay should be one of your greatest and most pleasurable life tasks.
- Everyone admires the bold, no one honors the timid.
- Fear of failure is already evidence of failure.
- Avoid the temptation of revealing how hard you work.
- It is rarely wise to be seen exerting power directly and forcefully.
- Envy creates silent enemies.
- Never be so foolish to believe you are stirring up admiration by flaunting the qualities that rate you above others.
- The appearance of superiority over others is inconsequential next to the reality of it.
- The way you carry yourself will often determine how others treat you.
- Hurrying betrays a lack of control over yourself and over time.
- People who lack the time to think will make mistakes.
- When your mind is uncluttered by constant emergencies you will see further into the future.
- What has worth is worth paying for.
The most important skill of power is the ability to master your emotions.
An emotional response to a situation is the single greatest barrier to power.
Emotions cloud reason.
Two faces you should have, looking to the future and the past.
Nothing should catch you by surprise if you are constantly anticipating problems before they arise.
The further you see, the more steps ahead you plan, the more powerful you become.
Look at your past mistakes and resolve not to repeat them.
You must be many different people, be the person to match the situation.
Patience in all situations is your crucial shield.
Impatience makes you weak.
Power is a game.
Half of your mastery of power is from what you don’t do.
Learn to study and understand people.
The laws all have a simple premise: certain actions increase ones power.
1st Law: Never Outshine the Master
Always make those above you feel comfortably superior.
You may inadvertently outshine your master without trying.
Never take your position for granted.
Use indirect flattery.
Make your master feel smarter than you.
Power eventually fades and weakens.
2nd Law: Never Put Too Much Trust in Friends, Learn How to Use Enemies
Hire a former enemy and he will be more loyal than a friend.
You have more to fear from friends than enemies.
Former enemies will expect nothing.
You often do not know your friends as well as you think.
Hiring and using your friends will limit your power. Skill and competence are far more important.
Keep friends for friendship and work with the skilled and competent.
Your enemies are an untapped gold mine.
A person who has something to prove will move mountains for you.
You destroy an enemy when you make a friend of him.
3rd Law: Conceal Your Intentions
Keep people off balance and in the dark.
Part 1: use decoyed objects of desire and red herrings to throw people off the scent.
Part 2: use smoke screens to disguise your actions.
People can only focus on one thing at a time.
The simplest form of smokescreen is facial expression.
Another effective form of smokescreen is patterns of behavior.
People tend to mistake appearances for reality.
II Kings 10, Jehu used this to trick and execute worshipers of a false god.
4th Law: Always Say Less than Necessary
The more you say, the more common you appear and less in control.
Powerful people impress and intimidate by saying less.
Power is a game of appearances.
The less you say the more profound and mysterious you appear.
You have more power when you stop talking.
Be particularly careful with sarcasm.
5th Law: So Much Depends on Reputation, Guard it with Your Life
Reputation is the cornerstone of power.
6th Law: Court Attention at All Cost
What is unseen counts for nothing. Be conspicuous at all cost.
Part 1: surround your name with the sensational and scandalous.
You have to learn to attract attention.
Part 2: create an air of mystery.
An air of mystery can make the mediocre seem intelligent and profound.
7th Law: Get Others to do the Work for You but Always Take the Credit
Use the wisdom, knowledge and legwork of other people to further your own cause.
If you do all the work yourself you will never get far.
Find and hire people with the skills and creativity you lack.
Use the past, a vast storehouse of knowledge and wisdom.
Isaac Newton called it standing on the shoulders of Giants.
Learn to use the knowledge of the past and you will look like a genius.
8th Law: Make other people come to you, use bait if necessary
When you force the other person to act, you are the one in control.
Play for long term power, not quick victory.
Learn to master your emotions, never be influenced by anger.
9th Law: Win through your actions, never through argument
Demonstrate do not explicate.
By arguing with a superior you impugn the intelligence of one more powerful than you.
We all believe we are masters in the realm of opinion.
In the realm of power you must learn to judge your moves by the long term effect they have on other people.
The truth is generally seen, rarely heard.
The most powerful persuasion goes beyond action into symbol.
Choose your battles carefully. If it does not matter in the long run whether the other person agrees with you, or if time and experience will make them understand what you mean, then it is best not to even bother with a demonstration. Save your time and energy.
10th Law: Infection: Avoid the Unhappy and Unlucky
Emotional states are as infectious as diseases.
Associate with the happy and fortunate instead.
In the game of power the people you associate yourself with are critical.
Avoid the chronic sufferer of dissatisfaction.
The solution to infection is quarantine.
Judge people by the effects they have on the world and not on the reasons they give for their problems.
All positive qualities can also infect us.
Only generous souls attain greatness. Associate with the generous.
11th Law: Learn to keep people dependent on you
The more you are relied on the more freedom you have.
The ultimate power is the power to get people to do as you wish.
Power involves a relationship between people. You will always need others.
Possess a talent and creative skills that simply cannot be replaced.
Have a skill that sets you apart from the crowd.
12th Law: Use selective honesty and generosity to disarm your victim
Like a Trojan horse.
The essence of deception is distraction.
Give before you take.
Selective honesty is best employed on our first encounter with someone.
Gift of the Trojan horse won a war.
Selective kindness should also be used in your arsenal.
13th Law: when asking for help appeal to people’s self-interest, never to their mercy and gratitude
Remind them of what will benefit them.
Appeals to justice and gratitude rarely work.
It is always best to speak pragmatically to a pragmatic person.
Self-interest is the lever that will move people.
14th Law: Pose as a friend, work as a spy
Learn to probe.
Ask indirect questions that will make them reveal their weaknesses and intentions.
Joseph Devine and Andrew Mellon.
A friendly front will allow you to gather information.
Suppress yourself and let others talk.
Spy to reveal a person’s character.
Expect people to spy on you. Be prepared to plant false information to put spies off track.
15th Law: Crush Your Enemy Totally
Crush him in body and spirit.
If possible let them destroy themselves.
16th Law: Use absence to increase respect and honor
Too much circulation makes the price go down.
The more you are seen and heard from the more common you appear.
You must learn when to leave. Create value by scarcity.
Diocese ruler of Medes and grandfather of Cyrus.
17th Law: Keep others in suspended terror, cultivate an air of unpredictability
Your predictability gives people a sense of control. Turn the tables and be unpredictable.
Boris Spassky vs Bobby Fischer world championship chess match in 1970s.
When people cannot figure or what you are doing they are kept in a state of terror, waiting, uncertain and confused.
Man has the power to overcome the weight of routine and habit.
18th Law: Do not build fortresses to protect yourself, isolation is dangerous
The crowd will protect you from enemies.
It can cut you off from the knowledge on which your life depends.
Power depends on social interaction and circulation.
Find old allies, seek new ones, and force yourself into more and more different circles.
The moment you cut yourself off from your people, rebellion is brewing.
The more you are in contact with others the more graceful and at ease you become.
19th Law: Know who you are dealing with; do not offend the wrong person
Everyone will not react to you in the same way.
Opponents, suckers and victims, preliminary typology.
You will come across many breeds of opponents, suckers and victims.
The highest form of power is the ability to distinguish the wolves from the lambs.
Being able to recognize types of people and to act accordingly is critical.
Five typical types:
- The arrogant and proud man
- The hopelessly insecure man
- Mr. Suspicion
- The serpent with a long memory
- The plain, unassuming and often unintelligent man
Turn people down politely and respectfully.
20th Law: Do not commit to anyone
The fool rushes to take sides.
Part One: do not commit to anyone but be courted by all.
Part Two: do not commit to anyone, stay above the fray.
To succeed in the game of power you have to master your emotions.
21st Law: Play a sucker to catch a sucker; seem dumber than your mark
No one likes feeling dumber than the next person, the trick is to make people feel smart, and not just smart but smarter than you are.
Never impugn or insult another person’s brain power (intelligence).
22nd Law: Use the surrender tactic, transform weakness into power
By yielding you control the situation.
Gives you time to plan and maneuver.
Use surrender to gain access to your enemy.
23rd Law: Concentrate your forces
Intensity defeats extensity every time.
Rothschild banking family example.
Intellect is a magnitude of intensity.
A single patron can be better than many small ones.
Tying yourself to a single source of power.
24th Law: Play the perfect courtier
Wizards in the accumulation of influence.
Be frugal with flattery.
Arrange to be noticed.
Change your style and way of speaking to suit each person.
This is an art, learn the art.
Never be the bearer of bad news.
Never criticize those above you directly.
Skill and talent are not all that matters.
Never spend so much time on your art that you neglect your social skills.
It is wise to be polite; consequently it is stupid to be rude.
25th Law: Recreate yourself
Example of Julius Caesar.
Be constantly aware of your audience.
Example, woman writer published under a man’s name.
Do not allow others to limit you.
Remake yourself into a person of power.
Working on yourself like clay should be one of your greatest and most pleasurable life tasks.
Learn to play many roles.
26th Law: Keep your hands clean
Everyone makes mistakes, the key is how you deal with them. Excuses satisfy no one.
Use the cat’s paw.
27th Law: Play on people’s need to believe to create a cult-like following
Five steps to building a cult like following.
- Keep it vague, keep it simple.
- Emphasize the visual and sensual over the intellectual.
- Borrow the forms of organized religion to structure your group.
- Disguise your source of income.
- Setup an us versus them dynamic.
28th Law: Enter action with boldness
Everyone admires the bold, no one honors the timid.
Hesitation puts obstacles in your path; boldness eliminates them.
People have a sixth sense for weaknesses.
Boldness strikes fear, fear creates authority.
Hesitation create gaps; boldness obliterates them.
Your fear of the consequences of a bold action are way out of proportion with reality.
The consequences of timidity are worse.
Feign timidity to use it as a weapon.
Fear of failure is already evidence of failure.
29th Law: Plan all the way to the end
The ending is everything.
Determine the future by thinking far ahead.
Never lose your head over a vague open-ended dream. Plan to the end.
30th Law: Make your accomplishments seem effortless
Avoid the temptation of revealing how hard you work.
What imitates nature by appearing effortless approximates natures power.
Research and practice endlessly.
31st Law: Control the options, get others to play with the cards you deal
Give people the appearance of having a choice.
Let people chose between options that both benefit you.
It is rarely wise to be seen exerting power directly and forcefully.
32nd Law: Play to people’s fantasies
People avoid the truth because it is unpleasant.
To gain power you must be a source of pleasure to those around you.
33rd Law: Discover each man’s thumb screw
Everyone has a weakness.
That weakness is usually an insecurity or uncontrollable need.
Finding the thumb screw, keep these principles in mind.
Pay attention to gestures and unconscious signals.
Show interest and share a real or fake weakness to get them to open up.
Find people’s idols, what is important to them?
Find the helpless child, most weaknesses stem from childhood needs unfulfilled.
Look for contrasts. The overt trait often conceals it’s opposite.
Find the weak link; not what but who that matters.
Fill the void; two main emotional voids are insecurity and unhappiness.
Exploit people’s need to feel important.
34th Law: Be royal in your own fashion, act like a king to be treated like one
The way you carry yourself will often determine how others treat you.
It is within your power to set your own price.
Be overcome with self-belief.
Not arrogance, arrogance betrays insecurity.
Assume the mask of dignity as if nothing can affect you. As if you have all the time in the world.
Always make a bold demand. Set your price high and do not waiver.
In a dignified way, go after the highest person in the building.
Give a gift to those above you.
Radiate confidence, not arrogance or disdain.
35th Law: Master the art of timing
Never seem to be in a hurry.
Hurrying betrays a lack of control over yourself and over time.
Always seem patient as if you know everything will come to you eventually.
Sniff out the spirit of the times, the trends that will carry you to power.
Time depends on perception.
The inner turmoil caused by emotions tends to make time move faster. Therefore once we control our emotional responses to events, time will move much more slowly.
This tends to lengthen our perception of future time. Opens up possibilities that fear and anger close off and allows us the patience that is the principle requirement in the art of timing.
Three kinds of time for us to deal with.
First: Long Time
Drawn out; years long time.
Handling of this time is mostly defensive.
The art of not reacting impulsively and waiting for opportunity.
Second: Forced Time
Short-term time that we can manipulate as an offensive weapon.
Upset the timing of others.
People who lack the time to think will make mistakes.
Set their deadlines for them.
Third: End Time
When a plan must be executed with speed and force. We have waited and planned and must not hesitate.
When you force the pace out of fear and impatience, you create a nest of problems that require fixing. You end up taking much longer than if you had taken your time.
Hurrying people end up in constant crisis mode. Fixing problems they themselves created.
Sometimes not acting is your best move.
Wait, deliberately slow down. As time passes it will eventually present opportunities you had not imagined.
Waiting involves controlling not only your own emotions but that of your colleagues.
People mistake action for power.
Let your enemies make the mistake of rushing.
When your mind is uncluttered by constant emergencies you will see further into the future.
You will have more room to be flexible.
Success that is built up slowly and surely is the only kind that lasts.
“Hurriers” see what they want to see instead of what is really happening.
36th Law: Disdain things you cannot have, ignoring them is the best revenge
It is sometimes best to leave things alone.
Show contempt for things you can’t have, the less interest you reveal the more superior you appear.
You chose to let things bother you. You can just as easily ignore them.
What you do not react to cannot drag you down in a futile engagement.
By ignoring people you cancel them out.
Never show that something has affected you or that you are offended.
To disregard is to win regard.
37th Law: Create compelling spectacles
Words put you on the defensive. If you have to explain yourself your power is already in question.
The symbol contains untold power.
Understand the primacy of sight among the senses. Visual is the sense we most depend on and trust.
Constantine seeing the symbol of the cross.
Find and associate yourself with symbols that communicate in an immediate way today and you will have untold power.
Most effective is a fusion of new images symbols that have not been seen together before.
38th Law: Think as you like but behave like others
Share your originality only with tolerant friends.
39th Law: Stir up waters to catch fish
If you can make your enemies angry while staying calm yourself you gain a decided advantage.
Angry people usually end up looking ridiculous.
Anger only cuts off our options.
More options help the powerful thrive.
40th Law: Despise the free lunch
Generosity is a sign of, and magnet for, power.
What is offered for free is dangerous.
What has worth is worth paying for.
There is no shortcut for excellence.
Pay the full price.
Learn the value of strategic generosity.
Tight purse strings are unattractive.
Money is psychologically charged.
Thousands are locked in a self-destructive refusal to use money strategically and creatively.
The bargain demon. Avoid them and don’t be one.
Indiscriminate givers are generous because they want to be loved and admired by all.
No lasting change in fortune comes quickly.
Money has to circulate to gain power.
To give a gift is to imply that you and the recipient are equals at the very least, or that you are the recipient’s superior.
Giving gifts is a sign of love and approval.
Greed does not pay.
The worth of money is not in its possession but in its use.
41st Law: Avoid stepping into a great man’s shoes
Establish your own name and identity.
Necessity compels man to take action.
Alexander the Great.
Begin at ground zero psychologically.
It is a stubborn stupidity and superstitious belief to think if the person before you succeeded by doing A, B and C that you can recreate their success by doing the same things.
This cookie-cutter approach will seduce the un-creative because it appeals to their timidity and laziness.
42nd Law: Strike the shepherd and the sheep will scatter
Trouble can often be traced to a single strong individual.
Neutralize them by isolating or banishment.
Powerful people never waste time.
In every group power is concentrated in one or two people.
It is often better to isolate your enemies than destroy them.
43rd Law: Work on the hearts and minds of others
Seduce others to want to move in your direction. Ignore the hearts and minds of others and they will hate you.
Alternate harshness with mercy.
The truly powerful look far into the future.
When meeting someone new, most people talk about themselves rather than stepping back and probing to see what makes the person unique.
Aim at the primary emotions; love, hate and jealousy.
All of us share the same desire for attachment and belonging.
Self-interest is the strongest motive of all.
You must constantly win over more allies on all levels.
44th Law: Disarm and infuriate with the mirror effect
When you mirror your enemies they cannot figure out your strategy.
Four main mirror effects in the realm of power.
The Neutralizing Effect
Percy and Gorgon Medusa
The Shadow Effect
Opposite of neutralizing.
Shadowing in secret to gain valuable insight into their habits and routines.
The Narcissus Effect
People are profoundly in love with themselves.
Look deep into the souls of others and reflect it back to them.
Mimic them psychologically.
The Moral Effect
The power of verbal argument is extremely limited.
The truth is generally seen, rarely heard.
Demonstrate your ideas through action.
Teach them a lesson by giving them a taste of their own medicine.
The teacher’s mirror.
The Hallucinatory Effect
Creating a perfect copy of a person or object. Technique of the con artist.
Mirroring gives people the feeling that you share their thoughts and goals.
45th Law: Preach the need for change but never reform too much at once
On the day to day level, people are creatures of habit. Too much innovation is traumatic and may lead to revolt.
Find ways to disguise change and sweeten the poison.
Tying and referencing change to the past can be an effective method.
Human psychology contains many dialogues. While people understand the need for change, they are also irritated and upset by change that effects them personally.
46th Law: Never appear too perfect
Appearing better than others is always dangerous.
Envy creates silent enemies.
Purposely reveal a defect or flaw in yourself.
Never flaunt your wealth.
Never be so foolish to believe you are stirring up admiration by flaunting the qualities that rate you above others.
By making others aware of their inferior position you are only stirring up unhappy admiration or envy.
The appearance of superiority over others is inconsequential next to the reality of it.
Sir Walter Raleigh was envied.
Try to lower the envy of those around you. Beware of false humility.
Envy will destroy your support base.
Excessive praise or slander is a sign of envy.
Admiration is happy self-surrender; envy is unhappy self-assertion.
It takes great talent and skill to conceal ones great talent and skill.
Joseph envied by his brothers.
47th Law: Do not go past the mark you aim for, in victory learn when to stop
The moment of victory is often the moment of greatest peril.
Success plays strange tricks on the mind, it makes you feel invulnerable.
Success makes you less able to adapt to circumstances.
The essence of strategy is controlling what comes next.
Success tends to go to your head and cause you to make mistakes.
Good luck is more dangerous than bad luck.
The rhythm of power often requires an alternating of force and cunning.
Close your examination on a triumph.
Mistakes are made most often when people get to the easy places.
48th Law: Assume formlessness
By having a visible plan you open yourself to attack.
Be as fluid and formless as water.
Never rely on stability or lasting order, everything changes.
Sparta versus Athens. The Athenians responded to every problem with consummate creativity.
Learn to adapt to a world of constant motion.
Chess comparison to Go.
Children are formless.
Power changes constantly and is unpredictable.
Being abstract. Abstract strategy.
Train yourself to take nothing personally. Never show any defensiveness.
Let no one know what gets to you.
Largeness is often the first step toward extinction.
The unintelligent often believe that size connotes power.
The need for formlessness becomes greater the older we get.
Use formlessness as a tool.
Mix abstract power with concentrated power.
My Action Steps After Reading
- Slowing down and being more thoughtful in my actions.
- Be more aware of how I treat others, especially those I work with.
- Better understanding of the laws of power and recognizing when they are being used against me or others around me.
- Controlling my emotions more and understanding how they cloud my judgement. Especially helpful in dealing with difficult people and situations.
Related Book Summaries
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- Self-Help Book Summaries
- The Art of War
- How to Win Friends & Influence People
- Work Rules!
Hope you enjoyed this and got value from my notes.
This is the 52nd book read in my 2018 reading list.
Here is a list of my book summaries.