Review: The 48 Laws of Power by Robert Greene – Part 1

“Any man who tries to be good all the time is bound to come to ruin among the great number who are not good.”

– Robert Greene

For those who don’t know, Robert Greene is one of the best authors alive today. His work includes 6 national bestsellers, one of which we will be reviewing today: The 48 Laws of Power.

This book focuses on strategy and how to apply it to advance in your life. It is by no means an ethical book, but the neither is the world we live in. By removing emotion from decisions, we are able to look at things logically and decide on the best course of action.

Due to the length of the book, this review will be broken down into 2 parts. The first will cover laws 1-24, and the second covering 25-48.

Law 1: Never outshine the Master

This is the first law for a reason. In your work life, you will likely have those who are superior to you in rank. By outshining them, you are laying the foundation for insecurity and contempt. 

It is easy to fall into the thinking that your boss is your friend. Do not make this mistake. Thousands have paid for with their life/job in the past by taking their position for granted.

The best thing you can do, is to make you Master look better than he/she is. By elevating him in the eyes of others, you are indirectly elevating yourself. 

Law 2: Never put too much trust in friends, learn to how to use enemies

A controversial law. Beware those closest to you, because they will likely be the quickest to betray you. Naturally, we tend to trust those closest because of familiarity. However, that same familiarity often blinds us to the negative qualities that harm us down the road.

Partnerships with enemies are not clouded by emotion. They exist purely due to a beneficial relationship. Having an enemy close by keeps our wits about us.

Law 3: Conceal your intentions

“If they have no idea what you are up to, they cannot prepare a defense”

The moment somebody realizes your intent, the game becomes more difficult. They begin to analyze every action you take, and the purpose behind it. Better to act in a way that doesn’t raise suspicion as to your goal.

People would rather be told what they want to hear over the truth.

Law 4: Always say less than necessary

What has been said, can never be taken back. The moment you speak, those words are etched in history. Be select in the information you share. A man that cannot control words, cannot control his thoughts. 

By only saying what is necessary, you  give your words weight.

Law 5: So much depends on reputation – guard it with your life

Your reputation will proceed you. It can either help or harm you depending on it’s state. Once it has been damaged, it will be much more difficult to repair it. 

Focus on building a reputation that makes you unique. That same uniqueness will increase discussion and with that your popularity. 

Law 6: Court attention at all costs

 We live in a superficial world. So many conclusions are drawn by how it appears on the outside. What cannot be seen, simply does not exist. Out of sight, out of mind. 

Ever heard of the saying “No news is bad news”? That’s what this is. However, don’t seem too eager to gather attention. People will see through this and assume insecurity.

Law 7: Get others to do the work for you, but always take the credit

“Never do yourself what others can do for you”

When you are able to use others to your advantage, you are savings both time and energy. In addition, it gives the appearance that you are able to accomplish things quickly with little effort. Be strategic when sharing credit. Do so when they still serve a purpose.

Law 8: Make other people come to you – use bait if necessary

The one who has the most power is the one who needs the other the least. Having your target on your terms gives you the upper hand. They are no longer in familiar territory. You make the rules. 

One of the pillars of power is to have your opponent react, rather than be proactive. In this scenario you control the outcome. It allows you to plan ahead.

Law 9: Win through your actions, never through argument

“Never argue with a fool, onlookers may not be able to tell the difference” – Mark Twain

A powerful law, you will never truly win an argument. What you cannot see if the seething resentment you have created in the other person. As humans we have a tendency to believe we are always right. When you try to change that, you are attacking that person on a personal level. It is better to convince your target through actions.

Actions will always speak louder than words.

Law 10: Infection: Avoid the unhappy and unlucky

You are a sum of the people you surround yourself with. Those who are unhappy and unlucky tend to infect those around them with their disease. Better to rid yourself rather than chancing their fate with your own. 

By associating yourself with these people, you are risking yourself to wasted energy and time trying to fix their situation. Better to focus your time on the happy and lucky, for their company will act in your favor.

If you associate with losers, you will end up a losers. Associating with winners, will make you a winner.

Law 11: Learn to keep people dependent on you

“To maintain your independence you must always be needed and wanted. The more you are relied on, the more freedom and happiness you have” – Robert Greene

A requirement of power is to have an effect on people. Solitude is not power. You should strive to cultivate a dependence on you. By doing so you are giving yourself independence. 

“Their need for you frees you” – Robert Greene

Law 12: Use selective honestly and generosity to disarm your victim

“One sincere and honest move will cover up a dozen dishonest ones” – Robert Greene

We’ve all heard the story of the Trojan Horse. What seemed like a gift by the Greeks resulted in the fall of Troy. The same can be applied to this law. Use a kind gesture of token of honesty to lower your target’s guard. Then you will be free to act without facing defensiveness. 

Law 13: When asking for help, appeal to people’s self interest, never to their mercy or gratitude

People will always act out of their self interest. WIIFM – What’s in it for me?

You are much more likely to gain an ally when it is apparent that the relationship will further their own cause. Bringing up the past does not change the future. Past deeds should never be considered to affect future requests. 

Usually, when we need help it is from those who are more powerful than ourselves. Realize that they too have needs of their own. It is in your best interest to play on those needs. 

“The shortest and best way to make your fortune is to let people see clearly that it is in their best interest to promote yours” – Jean de La Bruyère

Law 14: Pose as a friend, work as a spy

Information is king. Make it a priority to gather all you can on your target. Use those around you to gather valuable information. Indirect questions are an effective tool to get them to reveal their secrets. 

To be powerful, you must have control over future events. Therefore it is imperative to know about those who can affect the course of these events. Be aware that others likely have the same strategy as you. Refer to Law 4. 

Law 15: Crush your enemy totally

A theory found in the famed “Art of War”, this law details the importance of ensuring there will not be repercussions for down the road. By showing mercy, you give your enemy time to plan a new attack. 

“More is lost through stopping halfway than through total annihilation. The enemy will recover, and seek revenge. Crush him, not only in body but in spirit.” – Robert Greene

Law 16: 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” – Robert Greene

The most valuable things in this world, are that way due to the level of scarcity. If everyone had the thing you desired, it would not be sought after. Learn to withdraw your presence strategically. It will increase your value to those who desire it. 

Law 17: Keep others in suspended terror; Cultivate an air of unpredictability

When people feel like they can predict your moves, they are in control. It allows them to plan their moves ahead of time based on how you are expected to act. However, if you keep your actions unpredictable it is impossible to plan a defense.

There are instances where acting predictably gives you an opportunity. At that point your opponent believes they have you figured out. This is the time where you counter with a move completely contrary to what they were expecting.

Law 18: Do not build fortresses to protect yourself – isolation is dangerous

It is a dangerous world, full of people who wish to take advantage and do you harm. With that being said it may seem in your interest to block yourself out from the world. The opposite couldn’t be more true. 

Though there are enemies abound, there are also people who have valuable resources and information. A man with allies is a man who can weather storms. When you isolate yourself from the world, you are also isolating yourself from a different point of view. 

Law 19: Know who you’re dealing with – do not offend the wrong person

Beware of wolves in lambs clothing. Be cautious with whom you offend or disrespect. Do so against the wrong person and they will make you regret it.

“Never assume that the person you are dealing with is weaker or less important than you” – Robert Greene

If you find yourself in a situation where you must reject an offer or request, do so politely. Better to do so then make an enemy of future importance. Never trust what is presented in appearance. Often that is not their true form. 

“We forget a lot in our lives, but we rarely forget an insult” – Robert Greene

Law 20: Do not commit to anyone

“It is the fool who always rushes to take sides. Do not commit to any side or cause but yourself.” – Robert Green

“If you allow people to feel they posses you to any degree, you lose all power over them. By not committing your affections, they will only try harder to win you over. Stay aloof and you gain the power that comes from their attention and frustrated desire.”

He who needs the other the least controls the power in any relationship. This also hits on social proof, where if an object or person is desired by other people, we tend to desire this object as well.

If you find yourself in the middle of a feud. Do not be quick to choose a side. Sit back and wait. Act as the intermediary between the two. You will make no enemies but sustain a relationship with both parties. 

Law 21: Play a sucker to catch a sucker – seem dumber than your mark

“No one likes feeling stupider than the next person. The trick, then, is to make your victims feel smart – and not just smart, but smarter than you are. Once convinced of this, they will never suspect that you have ulterior motives” – Robert Greene

Be a wolf in sheep clothing.

We are a proud species. When we run into someone smarter than we are, we tend to rationalize it. The “book smart” vs “street smart” debate. 

Law 22: Use the surrender tactic: Transform weakness into power

Do not let your ego be your downfall. Opt for surrender. Recognize when you have beaten so you may live to fight another day. 

“When you are weaker, there is nothing to be gained by fighting a useless fight. No one comes to help the week- by doing so they would only put themselves in jeopardy . The weak are alone and must submit.” – Robert Greene

“Never sacrifice long term maneuverability for the short lived glories of martyrdom” – Robert Greene

Law 23: Concentrate your forces

“You gain more by finding a rich mine and mining it deeper, than by flitting from one shallow mine to another – intensity defeats extensity every time. When looking for sources of power to elevate you, find the one key patron, the fat cow who will give you milk for a long time to come”    – Robert Greene

This a common thought when it comes to the stock market. Let your winners run but cut your losses short. If you come across an ally with potential, focus on this person. For they have much to give and can help you greatly. 

Law 24: Play the perfect courtier 

Learn when and who to flatter. Learn when to yield. Learn how to assert your powerful in a graceful way. In addition, he provides the following rules of courtship:

  • Practice nonchalance
  • Be frugal with flatter
  • Arrange to be noticed
  • Alter your style and language according to the person you are dealing with
  • Never be the bearer of bad news
  • Never affect friendliness and intimacy with your master
  • Never criticize those above you directly
  • Be frugal in asking those above you for favors
  • Never joke about appearance or taste
  • Do not be the court cynic
  • Be self observant
  • Master your emotions
  • Fit the spirit of the times
  • Be a source of pleasure

This was one of the best and most informative chapters of the book. So good in fact, that it deserves its own post. We will see what happens there. 

Skill and talent will get you far, but the ability to make your superior look greater than they are will take you much farther. 

That concludes the review/summary of Laws 1-24 by Robert Greene. In the next post we will detail Laws 25-48. I will attach a link to the book if you are interested.

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