The 48 Laws of Power Summary by Robert Greene


In his 48 Laws of Power, Robert Greene provides an invaluable set of rules designed to make you an adept player in the game of power. Upon historical examples of people who excelled and failed at wielding it with glorious or bloody results, Greene draws upon this advice as part of his thesis.

As one method, he suggests taking advantage of your friends’ affection for you to induce them to perform your dirty work or act as a scapegoat. Furthermore, other strategies include selective honesty and deception.

1. Always make superiors look more intelligent than you.

By flaunting their talents in front of superiors, if they become insecure, they will find ways to replace you – this was precisely what happened with French minister of finance Nicolas Fouquet who flaunted them before King Louis XIV only to later end up behind bars for doing so.

This one is one of the more difficult laws to implement, yet crucial. People in power want to appear powerful; therefore, their feelings of energy must be made real.

Be like a chameleon: don’t reveal all of your best qualities at once so as not to be easily defined or labeled by others; this will prevent others from placing expectations upon you and controlling your actions. Also, be careful not to talk too much – short answers or silence may make you appear intimidating and formidable.

2. Be like a chameleon.

People seeking power must be adaptable, just like water. A chameleon provides an excellent example of this trait, changing colors to blend in with its environment and avoid being trapped by enemies.

The Chameleon can use language to obscure their intentions by talking endlessly about what it wants without actually saying anything – this leads to rivals being led on fruitless chases for answers about its true motivations.

Chameleons can be powerful forces in business and social settings; however, they often pay the price in intimate relationships. Chameleons struggle to find love due to fear that people won’t accept or love them for who they are; trying to meet everyone’s needs makes it hard to form lasting bonds with people who truly understand them.

3. Don’t get your hands dirty.

Greene draws upon numerous power disputes in history to demonstrate his point. Some lessons include using your enemies against you, keeping those dependent upon you dependent, enduring silence while taking credit for work done by others, and more.

He cautions, however, that those in power must sometimes make tough decisions that put fundamental values and principles at odds with each other – an instance he refers to as ‘dirty-hands dilemmas.’ Leaders must often face decisions that put actual values or principles against one another and must sometimes make difficult choices that can put these values or principles into conflict with each other.

People must often make difficult choices between security and privacy, employment and solidarity, or morally ambiguous decisions that impact both. Such options have caused Greene’s book to be banned in some prisons, but he says hiding these lessons would do more damage than good.

4. Keep your distance from trivial quarrels.

Influential people know the art of staying out of trivial disputes. They recognize it’s best to avoid getting involved or find an easy scapegoat. By staying away, influential individuals can avoid appearing weak or vulnerable while cultivating their reputation for strength and decisiveness.

Although some of Robert Greene’s 48 Laws may appear immoral, they can provide valuable lessons for anyone interested in attaining power. Greene draws upon examples from the history of those who successfully or unsuccessfully wielded it (with glorious or bloody results) into practical tips for getting what you want out of life – including using enemies against each other, remaining silent, and taking credit for others’ work. It has become one of the most beloved books about power; even rappers like Kanye West have quoted it!

5. Take credit for others’ work.

Receive recognition for all of your hard work. This is especially critical if you are fighting against prejudices such as sexism in the workplace.

When someone takes credit for your work, it can have lasting repercussions for your reputation and career. That’s why it’s crucial to stay organized and document all contributions made towards it.

Robert Greene’s 48 Laws of Power is a must-read if you are interested in power politics or looking for more insight. Drawing upon history’s most infamous power struggles to show how to gain and retain control in life. Unfortunately, its lessons may be misused to harm others; fortunately, however, its principles can also be put to good use! -CC BY 2.0

6. Beware of envy.

Envy is one of the greatest sins, leading to feelings of inferiority, hate, and hostility toward those it envies. Jealousy destroys both its victims and those close to them.

Display dignity and confidence to give the impression that you’re destined for great things, giving others a reason to respect you. However, be careful not to appear too perfect; doing so could create jealousy among peers and possibly even silent enemies.

Be flexible, adaptive, and unpredictable so your opponents cannot predict how you will respond – strategies derived from Machiavelli, Sun Tzu, and Carl von Clausewitz’s theories are critical elements in building power.

7. Beware of scarcity.

Scarcity can be used as an effective weapon to influence others. Studies have demonstrated that when exposed to something scarce, people tend to want it more and feel the urge to possess it. Scarcity manipulation works by making something appear scarce or using loose language.

Greene draws upon stories of power struggles from history to demonstrate how individuals can obtain and use it effectively. Although some of his lessons may appear harsh or immoral, they aim to educate readers how they can become players rather than spectators in this game of politics.

8. Beware of gratitude.

Law 47 teaches us to exercise caution when showing our gratitude. Excessive acts of appreciation can become liabilities; use scapegoats and allies who can shoulder your responsibility instead.

Greene suggests refraining from overexpressing gratitude unwarrantedly; studies have revealed that excessive displays of thanks can lead to moral violations such as exploitation and dishonesty.

Gratitude is not always an effective motivator; self-interest should always come first. Understanding the 48 laws of power will enable you to play the game well and achieve what you seek in life. Some laws are highly controversial; even prisons have banned certain ones due to possible misuse; yet if applied responsibly and with confidence they could prove invaluable in your career and life in general.

9. Beware of envy.

Powerful people cultivate their appearance and become masters of deception. They avoid divulging too much information and focus instead on speaking little; taking credit for others’ work while controlling all potential avenues for action; exploiting and manipulating enemies while building up a cult following; using formless words to communicate effectively while creating a sense of inevitability and destiny for themselves and their cause.

Envy can be an extremely destructive force. Unlike other sins, envy does not bring pleasure; rather it starts with negative feelings of inferiority before progressing to anger and resentment.

Be wary of appearing too perfect; this could spark jealousy and silent rivalries. Admitting harmless vices can help humanize you more, as can confessing harmless sins. Also remember that success may only last temporarily; Madame de Pompadour, King Louis XV’s mistress, discovered many of her tactics used to gain power were ultimately her undoing.

10. Beware of envy.

Envy can be an immensely destructive force since, unlike many sins, it doesn’t offer anything pleasurable in return. Starting as feelings of inferiority and progressing to bitter resentment. Once it gets what it wants, it leaves a trail of empty energy that must be diverted towards further objects of hatred.

Greene’s 48 laws of power draw upon historical examples of people who have excelled or failed at wielding power with glorious or bloody results to provide universal lessons that apply to anyone seeking power – or to avoid becoming part of someone else’s game – or want to become one themselves. His studies apply equally well whether you desire to become powerful yourself, avoid being used by another player, use enemies as allies, say less often, take credit for others’ work and be wary of envy – these are among the many critical points covered in his book!