The 48 Laws of Power

book: The 48 Laws of Power
author: Robert Greene

general overview

i started this book already knowing that it is controversial title. i had heard about its cult following in the hip hop and rap communities, as well as its popularity with prison populations. and of course, the rapper 50 Cent loved it so much that he later collaborated with Greene to create The 50th Law.

overall, something that stuck out to me after finishing this book was that it shifted my perspective a bit. i knew before that people have personal motivations, and that pushing them to act in self-interest was a practical way to get things done, but Greene and Elffers’ book put those motivations and the principles of power at the forefront of my mind.

“Powerful people impress and intimidate by saying less. The more you say, the more likely you are to say something foolish.”

summary notes

important power principles to know

the first principle is that one cannot escape the game of power. many claim to simply not participate, but Greene’s insight is that power resonates at all levels of society throughout history.

the second principle is that the laws of power highlighted in the book aren’t good or evil. they are merely tools, and like any tool, they can be used for good or evil purposes.

on cautiousness, confidence, and self-preservation

Greene and Elffers boil down 3,000 years of history into 48 essential laws relating to power. they do this by analyzing philosophies of prominent thought and of famous personalities in world history as far-flung as Carl von Clausewitz, Henry Kissinger, P.T. Barnum, Machiavelli, and Sun Tzu. these leaders may seem untouchable, but Greene and Elffers offer real-life applications to each law.

there are laws teaching the reader to be cautious, there are lessons on confidence, and warnings to save your own butt before anyone else’s. the book delves into — yes, you guessed it — a total of 48 laws designed to appeal to readers who seek to dominate the world, defend themselves against structures of power in their own lives, or simply understand how power dynamics work a little better.

make your superiors look smarter

one law or lesson that stuck with me was this one: strive to make your superiors look more intelligent than you.

you’re probably thinking, “why do that? wouldn’t that create the illusion that i’m losing power if i’m lower on the smarts chain?” not exactly.

Greene argues that a foolproof way to not get that promotion you’ve been after is to correct your boss, step on their toes to solve a problem before they do, and so on. people who hold power positions don’t want to look powerless.

Greene recommends that you instead make your superior look like they are the smartest and most powerful person in the room by giving the “good idea” credit away to them.

this was also one of my favorite examples in the book: when Galileo Galilei discovered Jupiter’s four moons, he easily could have taken that credit and named the moons after himself. instead, Galileo titled the moons after the Grand Duke of Tuscany, Cosimo de Medici and his brothers. as a result of this stellar gift, Cosimo named Galileo his official philosopher and mathematician, which then gave Galileo a ton of funding for further research.

seduce the enemy

“Remember: The best deceivers do everything they can to cloak their roguish qualities. They cultivate an air of honesty in one area to disguise their dishonesty in others. Honesty is merely another decoy in their arsenal of weapons.”

another law that stuck with me long after closing this book is the lesson deals with wanting someone to do something for you but not forcing their hand. sometimes gifts, flattery, and illusions of peace can push one to achieving a goal.

this law is well-illustrated through a story about 17th-century English explorers and a tribe of Powhatan Native Americans.

according to an article published by the National Park Service, there was an attack on the Powhatans people in 1622. earlier that year, Chief Opechancanough killed 350 colonists in plantations surrounding Jamestown. the English decided to seek revenge, but the way they went about their counterattack was quite interesting.

the English waited for more weapons, supplies, and soldiers to arrive. once their wait time was over for the extra power, the colonists raided the tribes repeatedly. seeing that the tribe was losing power and people, Chief Opechancanough decided to negotiate with Captain William Tucker and Dr. John Potts and create and enact a peace agreement.

however, during the otherwise-peaceful negotiation, Tucker and Potts poisoned wine they serviced the Powhatans. two hundred Native Americans died from the poisoned wine, then the English massacred 50 more. this is a violent example, but you get the idea: seducing a person or group to get what you want or achieve a goal is sometimes the path of least resistance.

“There is nothing more intoxicating than victory, and nothing more dangerous.”