Book Summary — The 48 Laws of Power (Robert Greene)

The quest for power is timeless. Humans constantly try to get control, influence, and authority over others in the office, boardroom, church, or classroom.

But how is power gained, lost, and maintained in all aspects of life? That’s what seasoned author Robert Greene unravels in his classic The 48 Laws of Power.

Since its release in 1998, this has become a bible for millions, from executives and entertainers to politicians.

The 48 Laws examines the shady social game of power by profiling the tactics and habits of its greatest historical practitioners.

This blog post’ll summarize Robert Greene’s 48 Laws to help you be smart, make good plans, and defend yourself.

Show you the timeless keys to dominance, deception, charm, and intimidation, tools that work for both the lion and the fox.

You’ll also find examples of power plays that have worked and failures by famous people who ignored key laws.

The 48 Laws of Power Book Chapter Wise Summary

Robert Greene’s masterful book dissects power chapter by chapter into 48 must-know “laws”, from Law #1: “Never Outshine the Master” to Law #48: “Assume Formlessness”.

Find out how to make people feel special and how having too much confidence can be dangerous. Read stories about famous people who were hurt by not following these rules.

Will you become famous or not? Find out how to get power that’s still affecting the world, how to spot power scams, and what mistakes to avoid.

Let’s explore…

Law 1 Never Outshine The Master


This law states that we should never try to show that we are more talented than our masters, like Nicolas Fouquet did.

Nicolas Fouquet XIV was the finance minister of his reign. When the prime minister died, he thought that the king would make him the next minister, but he abolished that position instead.

So, to impress the king, he threw the most spectacular party the world had ever seen.

The party started with a lavish seven-course dinner. There were so many brilliant-minded people, and music and fireworks were thrown at the end to honor the king.

But to his amazement, the king’s musketeer arrested him the next day.

Interpretation

After the night party, the king was jealous of his minister because he had never been able to throw such a party himself.

So he sent his musketeers the next day to arrest Fouquet because he stole from the treasury three months ago.

Never Outshine The Master

Law 2 Never Put Too Much Trust In Friends, Learn How To Use Enemies

As the law itself says, we should never put too much trust in a friend because if he/she is a cunning friend, then he/she will definitely use you for his/their profit. But you can certainly trust an enemy because he/she can break your trust once, but not twice.

Let’s understand this by an example—when a prince (Michael lll) was handed over the throne of the Byzantine Empire, he was confused as to whom he should give the post of chief councilor. At that precise moment, he thought of his friend (Basilius) whom he had given education and the post of a horse trainer several years ago.

Now, he could be trained to become a chief councilor. The newly made king refused a highly ambitious man, ‘Bardas’ (his uncle), as the chief councilor and gave his friend that post.

When Basilius became powerful enough to control the army, he had more money than the king, so he and his army killed the king.

Interpretation

Once someone gets the taste of success and power, he/she forgets the favors he/she has received and imagines they have earned their success by his/her merits.

Never Put Too Much Trust In Friends, Learn How To Use Enemies

Law 3 Conceal Your Intentions

This law says that we should never reveal our intentions or the purpose behind our actions. Because if our enemies or friends don’t know what we’re up to, they can’t plan to make us fail.

Do something else and show them something else so that they can’t figure out what you’re up to.

Create a misleading path for those who want to snatch your success. Sometimes, it’s challenging to monitor your tongue and not blurt out your opinions and reveal your plan.

Some people also think that revealing their plans is winning people’s hearts, but on the contrary, they are creating more competitors for themselves.

Know More: 50 Best Self Help Books Of All Time

Law 4 Always Say Less Than Necessary

You’re breaking the third law if you say more than necessary. So, say less and do more.

Powerful people also impress their fans by saying less. It also saves you embarrassment because the more you say, the more likely you will say something foolish.

The more you keep silent, the more people become uncomfortable. The more they become uncomfortable, the easier it is for you to hide your intention.

Always Say Less Than Necessary

Law-5 So Much Depends On Reputation-guard It With Your Life

There was once a kingdom whose king’s general governor was Chuko Liang. After a fight, Chuko Liang and his handful of soldiers decided to rest in a small town. But suddenly a soldier came running towards him with the alarming news that Sima Yi (another ruler of a different kingdom) had approached with an army of 150,000.

Instead of complaining about his situation, he ordered his troops to remove their flag, open the city gate, and hide.

Then he sat on the most visible part of the wall wearing a Taoist robe, lit some incense, and began to chant. After a while, Sima Yi appeared with his army. He was hesitant and retreated with his army.

Interpretation

Chuko Liang was also known as the ‘sleeping dragon’ and had a reputation as the cleverest man in China.

So, when Sima Yi came to attack him, he was reluctant to pass through the gate because he thought it was a trick made by Chuko Liang to capture him, so he retreated.

So Much Depends On Reputation-guard It With Your Life

Law-6 Court Attention At All Cost

In this law, the author says that we should try to become a magnet of attention if we want to gain power and fame. Make yourself look more mysterious.

There is a famous Indian fable named The Wasp and the Prince. Let’s understand this law by that Indian fable. A wasp named Pin Tail was on a quest to become famous, so he entered a palace and stung the prince. The Prince woke up crying and told the king that a wasp, liece, or maybe a bed bug had stung him while sleeping.

So, the king sent some courtiers to catch whoever was causing the prince discomfort. But the wasp stung everyone who tried to catch him in this way; he became famous, and before he died, he said, “A name without fame is like fire without flame. There is nothing like attracting attention at any cost.

Interpretation

Even though this fable tells us to become famous, we should never harm anyone else to become famous, as the wasp hurt the prince.

Court Attention At All Cost

Law-7 Get Others To Do The Work For You, But Always Take The Credit

Once, a tortoise met an elephant on his way, but the elephant told him, “Out of my way, coward, I might step on you!” but the tortoise was bold and stayed where he was.

The elephant tried to crush him, but he couldn’t because the tortoise shell was so hard that it wouldn’t break easily, and then the tortoise said, “Do not boast, Mr. Elephant, I am as strong as you are!”

So after that, he asked the elephant to come to his hill the next day to test who was more powerful. The next morning, before sunrise, the tortoise ran down the hill near the river, where he found a hippopotamus.

The tortoise told him, “Mr. Hippo! Shall we have a tug-of-war? I bet I’m as strong as you are!” and then he gave one end of the rope to the hippo and told him that after he called “hey!” he should start the match. Then he went up to the hill where he found the elephant waiting. And so, he told him to hold the other end of the rope and told him the same thing that he asked the hippo to do.

Then he went half the way down to the hill and exclaimed, “Hey!” Then, both of them started pushing the rope towards each other but couldn’t budge each other because they were of equal strength. Thereafter, he went to both of them individually, and they mutually agreed that he was strong. This shows us that he made others do his work and took the credit for being strong.

Get Others To Do The Work For You, But Always Take The Credit

Law-8 Make Other People Come To You-use Bait If Necessary

You should learn how to attract people to you if you want to become famous. If you think you can attract people to yourself, use someone like Filippo Brunelleschi, the great Renaissance artist.

Although he already knew how to attract people to him as a sign of power, he was assigned to repair the dome of Santa Maria del Fiore cathedral in Florence on one occasion.

Along with him, one more architect was assigned: Lorenzo Ghiberti. But Brunelleschi didn’t like the idea of Ghiberti working with him because he knew that he was lazy, and he wouldn’t do any work, and he would be the one who had to do all the work, but still, Ghiberti would get half credit if the dome was built.

So, Brunelleschi pretended to be ill and didn’t come to work for several days. But soon after that, some officials (the officials who appointed him) came to him begging him to return because they realized that Ghiberti was useless and lazy, and they fired him.

After some days, Brunelleschi again pretended to recover and came to work. This example proves that “make other people come to you.”

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Law 9: Win Through Your Actions, Never Through Argument

There was once a vizier who served 30 years of his life to his master. But his loyalty and honesty made the courtiers his enemies. They started conspiring against him. They spread fake stories about his duplicity to the king as well. These attempts really worked, and the king gave him the punishment that he would be tied and fed to his fiercest dog.

But before that, he can ask for his last wish, and so, he replies that he wants to go home for the last ten days of his life and pay his debts, take the money that someone else has borrowed from him, and appoint a guardian for his children’s.

After the king ensured he wouldn’t escape, he permitted him to go home. Soon, he reached his home and rushed to grab one hundred gold pieces, and he paid a visit to the huntsman who kept the dog and gave him the coins in exchange for caring for the dog.

He cared for the dog for 10 days, and they soon became friends. He was amazed to see that instead of eating the vizier, the dog was wagging his tail around the tied vizier. When the king asked the vizier why he behaved this way, he replied that he had looked after the dog for 10 days. The sultan had seen the result for himself.

I have looked after you for 30 years, and what is the result? I am condemned to death based on an accusation made by my enemies. After hearing this, the king felt ashamed and rewarded the vizier with a fine cloth set. He also handed the courtiers who had conspired against him, but he set them free.

Interpretation

The vizier never argued for his punishment to the king; if he had argued by chance, the situation could have become worse, so, instead, he took the action of taking care of the dog.

Win Through Your Actions, Never Through Argument

Law-10 Infection: Avoid The Unhappy And Unlucky

In this law, the author states that people spread their unhappiness to others like an infection.

He says we should avoid these people because we always think we are helping them, but we don’t realize that they are also making us miserable.

For example, if you’re helping a drowning man, then due to his weight, you could also get drowned away. The weight here refers to his unhappiness, which could also infect you with his unhappiness, making you drown with him as well.

That’s why the author says that unfortunate people draw misfortune to themselves and may draw it to you if you associate with them.

READ It To Find True Happiness And Purpose of Life: Ikigai Book Summary (With Pdf)

law-11 Learn To Keep People Dependent On You

If people depend on you, they will never want to lose you because they know that you are the only source of profit for him/her.

You can understand this by the example of Otto Von Bismarck, who became the deputy in the Prussian parliament in 1847. He was 32 years old at that time. At that time, the parliament liberals were in power and King Frederick William IV was at a low point, but Bismarck, rather than joining with the parliament, helped the king regain his power.

After the king came into power, he made him a minister in his king’s cabinet. After several years, when he finally died in 1861, his brother William took over the throne. He disliked Bismarck, but he also knew that he was loyal to his brother and saved him once, so he gave him the post of prime minister. After getting this job, he quarreled about the policy with his king. But the king realized he was dependent on him.

After several years, Bismarck forced the king to get him crowned, and he became the king and united several German states into a country.

Learn To Keep People Dependent On You

Law-12 Use Selective Honesty And Generosity To Disarm Your Victim

In 1926, a man named Count Victor Lustig paid a visit to the most feared gangster, Al Capone. He said most courteously and sincerely to the gangster that if he gave him $50,000, then he would double it in 60 days.

Although Copone never gives large sums of money to a stranger, something is different about Lustig and his voice’s note of honesty and generosity. So, he finally gave him the $50,000. Lustig went to Chicago, kept the money in a safe deposit, and went to New York, where he had other money schemes.

He came after 2 months and paid a visit to Capone with his money. He apologized that he could not double it due to a problem and handed over the money to him. At first, he was furious, but later, he rewarded $5,000 for his honesty even though he was not honest at all, and it was his plan that by showing fake honesty, he would gain some profit.

Want To Know How To Get Blessed With Money And Happiness? Read This. The Richest Man In Babylon Book Summary

Law-13 When Asking For Help, Appeal To People’s Self Interest, To Their Mercy Or Gratitude

Once, there was an apple tree in the garden of a peasant, but it bore no fruit; still, it was a home for several birds and grasshoppers. But one day, the peasant decided to cut down the tree and, with his axe, he stroked the tree’s roots.

The animals living on the tree pleaded with him not to cut it down, and in return, they would sing for him. But he paid no attention to their words but gave the tree a second and a third blow and when he reached the hollow, he found a beehive full of honey and after tasting the delicious honey, he took great care of the tree to restore it for his self-interest. that’s why self-interest alone moves some men.

When Asking For Help, Appeal To People’s Self Interest, To Their Mercy Or Gratitude

Law-14 Pose As A Friend, Work As A Spy

You can understand this by the example of Joseph Duveen, who knows this art very well and has been using it from 1904 to 1940. His goal was to monopolize millionaires in his art-collecting market, and he almost did that also by befriending them and making them his regular clients, but only one millionaire was left whom he had not monopolized, and he was Andrew Mellon.

Even though some of his friends told him, it was impossible. But he was determined to make him his client and told his friends that he would make Mellon buy from him and buy only from him.

He even sent some of his people to spy on him and learn about his habits and hobbies. He waited until Mellon visited London in 1921 and stayed in the Claridge Hotel. Duveen also booked his room just below Mellon’s on the second floor.

He also sends his valet (A person who parks cars at a hotel or restaurant) to befriend Mellon’s valet to get additional information about Mellon. After some time, his valet informed him that Mellon was visiting the National Gallery. He thought that this was the best chance to make him his friend.

So he rushed towards the spot where Mellon was standing and started talking about going to the national gallery, which at first dazzled him, but later, he was amazed that his and Duveen’s tastes were almost the same.

Duveen was successful in befriending him, and in later years, Mellon was one of his best and most generous clients.

Law-15 Crush Your Enemy Totally

This law explains to us that we should crush or finish our enemy totally; otherwise, he/she will come back again to take revenge with a much greater force, and maybe this time, your enemy may crush you instead of you crushing him/her.

You can understand this by the example of two Chinese rivals, Hsiang Yu and Liu Pang.

  • Hsiang Yu believes in violence and power, and he is also a mighty warrior,
  • Liu Pang is not much of a warrior but is the best at devising good strategies.

One day, the king ordered them to capture the capital (Hsien-Yang) of the kingdom, Ch’in. The king divided his army into two, one under the leadership of Sung Yi and Hsiang Yu as the commanders and one under the leadership of Liu Pang, which was heading to Hsien-Yang from the south.

On the way, Sung Yi hesitated to lead the army into the capital, but as Hsiang Yu’s nature was violent, he called Sung Yi a traitor, cut off his head, and took command of the entire army.

He was also impatient and didn’t want Liu Pang to reach the capital first, but he was amazed to see that he had already captured the capital with his troops.

Hsiang Yu’s adviser, Fan Tseng, advised him to kill him because Liu could be his biggest competitor because he used to be greedy only for riches, but since entering the capital, he has not been distracted by wealth and that means he is aiming high. But Yu insisted that he would cut off his head in the celebratory sword dance.

Later, when Lui entered the party, he sensed that something was wrong because Yu was hesitating to do something, and he escaped. Hsiang Yu searched for him for several years, and he finally found him, but he decided to be merciful because he wanted to take him to the kingdom so he could get his former friend to acknowledge him as the master of Ch’in and this time also he didn’t listen to his adviser who was telling him to kill Liu instantly, but Liu again escaped when they were negotiating.

Then, after a few weeks, when Yu was hunting with his forces, he unwisely scattered his army. then, after getting a chance, Liu attacked him and killed him.

Law-16 Use Absence To Increase Respect And Honor

In those times when Assyrians ruled the upper Asia, the people of Medea (northwestern Iran) revolted against them and made a separate country. They didn’t want any monarchy or government, and as a result, the country was divided into states, and states were divided into villages and started fighting with each other.

Wherever your vision can see is chaos and confusion. So, at that time, a man named Deioces started settling disputes for his village and as he became famous, the people from other villages also started coming to him to settle their disputes because every other judge in the country was corrupt and distrustful.

So, when he reached the height of his power, he retired, and the country fell into chaos again. Thereafter, the people of Medes held a meeting, and a wise tribal said, ”Let us appoint one of our members to rule so that we can live under an orderly government rather than lose our homes altogether in the present chaos.”

So, after this discussion, they decided to set up a monarchy, and of course, Deioces was made the king after so much pleading, but he put some conditions on it and that was to build him a palace with guards and only selective people could meet him and all his wishes were granted. He ruled for the next 53 years.

Interpretation

Deioces always knew that if he retired at the heights of power, then due to his absence, the country would fall into chaos, and that’s what happened. People started realizing they needed someone to rule the country and who could be a better option than Deioces.

Use Absence To Increase Respect And Honor

Law-17 Keep Others In Suspended Terror: Cultivate An Air Of Unpredictability

This means that you should always show something else and do something else because this creates confusion for your enemy cause he will no longer be able to predict your next moves.

Like Pablo Picasso did, he always sold his paintings to an art dealer named Paul Rosenberg and he always gave him a fair price for his paintings but suddenly, he said that he couldn’t sell his work to him anymore.

He was very anxious for the first two days and couldn’t predict why Picasso was not selling his paintings. On the third day, he came up to Picasso with a substantially higher figure than usual to buy his paintings, and that’s what Picasso wanted.

Law-18 Do Not Build Fortresses To Protect Yourself- Isolation Is Dangerous

Even though the idea of hiding or isolating us in a fortress seems safe, it actually isn’t because communication keeps us updated about our enemies, but if we cut off the source of communication about the outside world, we won’t be able to survive the evils of it later.

Keeping ourselves social when needed helps us in many ways. For example, we can check what enemies are doing against us, what kind of strategies they are planning to execute, and many more.

If we know all this, then we can make a better strategy than theirs and even defeat them in times of war. So, by this, we know that it’s better to dilute ourselves with the crowd rather than hide in a fortress because it makes us a clear target for enemies to reach and kill us.

Law-19 Know Who You’re Dealing With-Do Not Offend The Wrong Person

There are so many people in this world, and they are all unique in their own way and have different ways to perceiving you; on that base, they give their opinions.

So, likewise, they can also react differently to the same sentence you said. In conclusion, we can say that some people may be impressed with you, and some can be offended too. You have to decide how to act accordingly because, on the battlefield, you don’t recite a poem in front of a warrior and show attacking skills in front of a poet.

Let’s understand this law by the fable named “The Crow and the Sheep.” Once, a mischievous crow sat on the back of a sheep. It didn’t matter how much the sheep tried to get him off, but he always returned. At last, the sheep said to him, ”if you had treated a dog in this way, you would have had your desserts from his sharp teeth.” And to this, the crow replied, ”I despise the weak and yield to the strong. I know whom I may bully and whom I may flatter, and thus, I hope to prolong my life to a good old age.”

Interpretation

This crow knows how to differentiate between different people (the sheep and the dog) and how to act differently (to despise the weak people and flatter those who are stronger than him).

Know Who You’re Dealing With-Do Not Offend The Wrong Person

Law-20 Do Not Commit To Anyone

Once upon a time, there was an agreement between the kites and crows that whatever they found in the jungle to eat would be shared equally between both of them. One day, they found a wounded fox who was lying helplessly on the floor.

After seeing this, the crows replied that they would take his head, and the kites also agreed that they would take the bottom half of the fox, but just then, the crows replied that they thought that kites were more intelligent than us, but it appears that they don’t even know that the head contains the delicious brain, eyeballs, and nerves.

After listening to this, the kites thought that what he was saying was right and that they should take the head, so they both started fighting for the upper half of the fox’s body.

This caused them to die and the one who was left was the wounded fox who later enjoyed the dead bodies of the crows and the kites.

Interpretation

That’s why it is said not to commit or reveal your plans before executing them. If the crows never had said these words, they could have saved themselves and the kites from dying and also enjoyed their meal.

Law-21 Play A Sucker To Catch A Sucker-seem Dumber Than Your Mark

This means that we should practice the art of making other people think that they are smarter than us. You may be thinking, why shouldn’t we show them our intelligence if we are more capable than them?

The answer to this question is that it makes other people think that you are dumb and he is smarter than you, thus making him feel superior. Secondly, if you pretend to be dumb, you will be safe from future threats.

The author also says that the wisest man is one who pretends to be a fool around the fools.

Play A Sucker To Catch A Sucker-seem Dumber Than Your Mark

Law-22 Use The Surrender Tactic: Transform Weakness Into Power

This law states that when our opponent is stronger than us, it’s best to surrender because surrendering allows you the time to make new strategies and defeat your opponent later. This also states that we should never fight for our honor when our enemy is more powerful.

Let’s understand this by using the chestnut and fig tree examples. In this story, there are two trees: one is chestnut, and the second is fig.

One person came and plucked the fig fruit and chewed it. The chestnut tree exclaimed to the fig tree that it was so unprotected, whereas he (chestnut) was safe because he was covered by a thick shell and thorns around its leaves. After listening to this, the fig tree laughed and said that he was plucked gently while the chestnut was being plucked by throwing stones on it, and it was then harshly beaten to crack open its hard shell.

This story shows us that the fig tree surrenders to humans and is thus treated softly, but when the rigid chestnut doesn’t come off, he’s beaten harshly even though he knows that humans are more powerful than him.

Law-23 Concentrate Your Forces

Once, there was a goose plucking grass on a lawn and a horse was grazing beside it. So, he went up to the horse and told him that he (the goose himself) was more perfect than the horse because he could walk on the ground, swim in the water, and also fly in the sky.

The horse replied to this, ” It is true you inhibit three elements, but you make no well-distinguished figure in any of them.

  • You fly, indeed, but your flight is so heavy and clumsy that you have no right to put yourself on a level with a lark or the swallow.
  • You can swim on the surface of waters, but you cannot live in them as fishes do; you cannot find your food in that element nor glide smoothly along the bottom of the waves.
  • And when you walk, or rather waddle, upon the ground, with your broad feet and your long neck stretched out, hissing at everyone who passes by, you bring upon yourself the derision of all beholders.

I confess that I am only formed to move upon the ground, but how graceful is my make! How well turned my limbs! How highly finished my whole body! Ho great, my strength! How astonishing my speed. I had much rather be confirmed to one element and be admired in that than be a goose in all.

This story tells us to focus all our forces on one particular field in which we are best, rather than doing them all.

Concentrate Your Forces

Law-24 Play The Perfect Courtier

This means that we should know how to flatter someone because it can be used to protect you, just like a courtier usually flatters his king.

You can understand this by the example of two dogs who first lived in a shelter. Later, they were adopted; a rich man adopted one small dog, and a poor man adopted a big dog.

After several years, the poor dog sees his old friend seated on a soft cushion, and he goes up to him and asks him what sort of life he leads now. The rich dog told him that he was really living his best life because he ate and drank between the richest, and he played all day long, and when he got tired, he slept on his comfortable and soft cushion.

After finishing his sentence, he asked the poor dog what kind of life he was living. The poor dog became sad after listening to his question and said that he didn’t get any love or attention from his master. He also guards the door day and night and sleeps at the front door without cushions.

And he asked the small dog what he did to attract the rich man. So the small dog replied that he just flattered him by standing on his two legs. So now, did you understand the power of flattering?

Law-25 Re-create Yourself

Don’t act the way society wants you to because they are just limiting you so that you can’t really be yourself, but make yourself into what you want, like Aurore Dupin Dudevant did.

In 1831, she left her husband and family and moved to Paris because she wanted to become a writer. However, after coming to Paris, she was exposed to the world’s harsh realities because, as a woman, you cannot do this work. If you’re really into it, your loved ones and husbands should be there for you and let you do these things.

Even when she did it all by herself and wrote a book, she was again forced to face the harsh reality of the world because her publisher rejected her book by saying that she was a female and also without a husband.

But she was determined to sell her books, so she started wearing men’s clothes and also wrote the false name ‘George Sand’ on her books. This finally worked for her and can also work for you if you use this law on yourself.

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