“Be not the slave of your own past — plunge into the sublime seas, dive deep, and swim far, so you shall come back with new self-respect, with new power, and with an advanced experience that shall explain and overlook the old.” — Ralph Waldo Emerson

The 48 Laws of Power Summary #1

Everything you need to know to thrive

The 48 Laws of Power is a book of wisdom, a compilation of tactics, and a rich set of brilliantly tested ideas for thriving in any era. No matter how you feel about the dubious power plays that have occurred and the amoral instructions of this book, the fact is that they exist. The laws of this book you will either use or will experience being used against you.

“He who forgets the past is destined to repeat it.”

Let us stand on the shoulders of giants, therefore, and learn from 3,000 years of philosophies, legacies, statesmen, warriors and seducers.


According to Robert, there is no abstinence from the game of power. Those who say that such a notion is evil are often the most adept players at power. If the game is inescapable, it is better to be an artist than a denier or an amateur. You must master your emotions, be friendly, play with appearances, and master the art of deception. You must have patience, for impatience is a principal impediment to power. Do not care about the intentions of others but the effects of their actions. Judge all things by what they will cost you.

Remember, nothing about power is natural.

Law 1 — Never Outshine the Master

  • It may seem good to display affection, be charming, or show off your skills and popularity to gain your master’s favour. Indeed, he may fake a smile at first, but inside he will be insecure and will at first chance find a way to rid himself of you.
  • What to do therefore? Make your master seem at the centre of everything. Be indispensable. All of your advice is his advice echoed. Do not be direct or obvious — indiscreet is always the best way.
  • This assumes that your master is very insecure.

Law 2 — Never Put Too Much Trust in Friends, Learn How to Use Enemies

  • Your enemies have something to prove, your friends do not.
  • Using or hiring friends limits your power: they are rarely the most able to help you.
  • Skills and competence are more important than friendly feeling.
  • You destroy an enemy when you make a friend of him.
  • Without enemies around us, we grow lazy. They sharpen our wits, keep us focused and alert. This reminds me of the expression, “good times create weak men.” Mao had a strategy of constant conflict.
  • Use enemies as enemies.
  • Never pick a fight with someone you are not sure you can defeat. It’s why if you assume a confident posture, people will be less likely to treat you poorly — they want an easy win.
  • If you have no apparent enemies, set up a convenient target: turn a friend into an enemy.
  • Use enemies to clearly define your cause to the public.
  • You are far better off with a declared opponent than not knowing where your real enemies lie.

Law 3 — Conceal Your Intentions

  • Never reveal the purpose behind your actions: they can prepare a defense
  • An air of nonchalance sends ambiguous signals — perhaps you are interested only in friendship (not something more) — thus, they no longer take your interest for granted.
  • Everything in seduction depends on suggestion: you cannot announce your intentions or reveal them directly in words. You have to scramble your signals.
  • Appear interested then feign indifference. It confuses but excites.
  • Sometimes any emotion is better than the boredom of security.
  • Should you announce your true intentions, you may not win the argument. Otto von Bismarck concealed his intentions by openly supporting a cause he detested, allowing him to gain power. It was only then that he began to behave as he liked.
  • If you are so predictable and familiar: it is impossible to respect or fear you. Power will not accrue to a person who cannot inspire such emotions.
  • False sincerity: the statesman Talleyrand took people into his confidence by revealing some apparent secret. The paranoid and wary are easiest to deceive.
  • Do not mistake appearances for reality.
  • The better you blend in, the better you can conceal your intentions.
  • Do not use the colourful smoke screen too much — they will become tired and suspicious.

Law 4 — Always Say Less Than Necessary

  • The great Roman fighter Coriolanus spent most of his time on the battlefield. Hence, the public knew little of him but his military victories and success and he became a man of legend. He was expected to become Caesar but the more he talked, the more people realised he was just a common soldier. Respect for him faded and he was banished for life.
  • The more you say the more you appear like a commoner.
  • People go insane trying to figure out what you are thinking. Silence makes people uncomfortable — they try to fill the gap, revealing more about their character in the process.
  • A man should be able to control his words, control himself.
  • Think of the man who was about to be hanged when the rope broke. This was usually seen as a sign of God and he was to be pardoned. “Even Russians can’t make ropes”, he sneered. The pardon was revoked and he was hung the next day. Be careful what you say.
  • Reversal: Sometimes not saying anything makes people uncomfortable — talking about yourself distracts them and makes them believe you are revealing yourself when this is simply another tool to mask your intentions.

Law 5 — So Much Depends on Reputation — Guard it with your Life

  • “Even those who argue against fame still want the books they write against it to bear their name in the title and hope to become famous for despising it”
  • Tactics to ruin others’ reputations:
    1. Sow doubts. Layers of suspicion may remain. In defending themselves, they make mistakes of which you can exploit.
    2. Ridicule your rivals’ reputation. Gentle barbs and mockery. Puts them on the defensive and attracts more attention to you.
  • In the social realm, appearances are the barometer of almost all of our judgements: clothes, gestures, words, and actions. One slip can be disastrous.
  • How do you want the world to judge you? Control your reputation. Your reputation inevitably precedes you.
  • In the beginning, you must work to establish a reputation for one outstanding quality: honesty, generosity, cunning. This quality sets you apart. Once people start talking about you, it will spread like a wildfire.
  • A solid reputation increases your presence and exaggerates your strengths.
  • Whitewash your reputation by associating with stellar, high-class reputation people. After all, successful people want to work with successful people.
  • Do not be angry at attacks or slander — it reveals an insecurity in your reputation.
  • There are no exceptions to this rule — there is nothing to be gained by neglecting your reputation. By not caring how you are perceived, you let others decide this for you. Even Oscar Wilde used his reputation of not caring to his advantage.

Law 6 — Court Attention at all Costs

  • Stand out. Make yourself larger than you seem, at all costs unless threatening those above you.
  • Do not compete with those above you — efforts at gaining attention will seem desperate, paltry, insecure.
  • Appear unthreatening, playful, fun.
  • Do not be afraid to make ambiguous or contradictory comments. Shake things up.
  • Everything is familiar, banal nowadays — everything can be explained or predicted. What people crave is mystery. Give that to them.
  • Use slanderous attacks on people of power.
  • Never allow yourself to fade into the background.
  • People feel superior to the person whose actions they can predict. Play against their expectations. Show them who’s in control.

Law 7 — Get Others to Do the Work for You, but Always Take the Credit

‘Their wit can be your wit, their skill your skill, and they will never come around to tell people how unoriginal you really are. You can slog through life, making endless mistakes, wasting time and energy, trying to do things from your own experience, or you can use the armies of the past. As Bismarck said, “Fools say that they learn by experience. I prefer to profit by others’ experience.”’

  • Credit for an invention is as important or even more important than the invention itself.
  • Keep your creation quiet.
  • Take advantage of other people’s work to further your own cause. You can’t do it all yourself.
  • Time is precious and life is short.
  • Find people with the skills and creativity you lack. Don’t do it all yourself or suffer like Tesla did. Hier them or take their work and make it your own.
  • You must stand on the shoulders of giants.
  • Don’t try to do things from your own experience. Their wit, their skill can be your wit, your skill. Profit from others’ experience.
  • Most politicians do not write their own speeches.
  • “Good artists copy. Great artists steal.” — Picasso

Law 8 — Make Other People Come to You — Use Bait if Necessary

  • Learn to master your emotions. Never be influenced by anger.
  • Play on people’s natural tendency to react angrily when pushed and baited.
  • Attempting to convince people with your words turns them against you.
  • Making them come to you forces them to operate in your territory. You have your bearings. They see nothing familiar and are subtly on the defensive.
  • Reversal: sometimes you need to force the issue, take the lead, strike suddenly and aggressively to demoralise them. It gives them no time to react so they are defensive and make errors of judgement.

Law 9 — Win Through Your Actions, Never Through Argument

Arguments just stir up ill will and resentment which lasts a lot longer than any momentary change of opinion. Demonstrate, do not explicate.

  • Learn to demonstrate the correctedness of your ideas indirectly.
  • Winning through action. No one is offended if your point is proven.
  • Judge your moves by their long-term effects on people.
  • Words have that insidious ability to be interpreted according to the other person’s mood and insecurities. We can never be sure how our words are taken.
  • “Truth is generally seen, rarely heard.”
  • Always look for the indirect route.
  • If it does not matter in the long run then save your energy and walk away.
  • Reversal: Words have a vital use when distracting, when converting your tracks. The more emotional and certain you appear, the less likely it seems you’re lying.

Law 10 — Infection: Avoid the Unhappy and Unlucky

  • Avoid infectious people. There are those that need help and those who invite dissatisfaction — the infector remains unchanged, you become unhinged.
  • Judge people on the effects they have on the world and not on the reasons they give for their problems.
  • Infectors can be recognised by the misfortune they draw on themselves: turbulent past, broken relationships, unstable careers, the very force of their character.
  • All positive qualities can infect us. Keep this in mind.
  • If you are gloomy, gravitate to the cheerful. If you are prone to isolation, associate with the gregarious. If you are miserly by nature, associate with the generous.
  • Never associate with those who share your defects. They will reinforce everything that holds you back.
  • Only create associations with positive affinities.
  • That is not to say don’t help those in need but rather makes it obvious that toxic people drain us of our time and our energy. We must stay clear of such people else we feed them and starve ourselves in the process, Greene suggests.

Law 11 — Learn to Keep Others Dependent On You

  • Be the only one who can do what you do.
  • Make the fate of those who hire you so entwined with yours that they cannot get rid of you.
  • No one will come to depend on you if they are already strong.
  • Necessity rules the world. People rarely act unless compelled to.
  • If you create no need for yourself, then you will be done away at the first opportunity.
  • Possess a talent or skill that cannot be replaced.
  • If you are not really indispensable in reality, make it as if you are — give the appearance of specialist knowledge.

Law 12 — Use Selective Honesty and Generosity to Disarm Your Victim

  • Use selective kindness: gifts make us feel like children again. Any noble, selfless act will do. Selective kindness and gifts break down even the most stubborn foe.
  • When you are about to take, you should give.
  • If you have a reputation for being deceitful or dishonest, use this to your advantage.
  • Disarm people through acts of apparent sincerity and honesty. Unexpected, well timed gestures conflicts the emotions and creates distraction.
  • Use selective honesty on your first encounter with someone. First impressions last — if they believe you are honest at the start of your relationship, it takes a lot to convince them otherwise.
  • Build a reputation for honesty.
  • However, if people see through your actions, what was warmth and gratitude becomes violent hatred and disgust.

** Note: all 48 laws listed here are from the book: The 48 Laws of Power written by Robert Greene




Mathematician | Writer and Content Creator for the University of Nottingham | Self & Personal Development. How can we get unstuck and achieve our goals?

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Mathematician | Writer and Content Creator for the University of Nottingham | Self & Personal Development. How can we get unstuck and achieve our goals?

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