The 48 Laws of Power

I grabbed this book to discuss with a fellow reader who was reading it at the same time. I read The 50th Law (Greene’s collaboration with 50 Cent) last year and liked it. This is a completely different monster compared to that book. And a beast it is. It’s long and arduous at times.

It took me forever to read it. I read it piecemeal over the course of about 5 months. At times, I dreaded picking it up. In the end, I’m glad I did, not solely for the self-improvement aspect, but also for the educational aspect. It’s packed with a lot of history and analysis thereof.

If you want to check out the 48 Laws, you can see them in chronological order here in the Wiki article. It’s worth taking a quick perusal before we dig into this. I’ve actually grouped all 48 (using the terms in the Wiki article) in a manner relevant for my life.

Obvious, Universal

  • Law 5 Guard your reputation with your life
  • Law 13 When asking for help, appeal to self-interest, not mercy
  • Law 15 Crush your enemy, totally
  • Law 19 Know who you’re dealing with
  • Law 31 Control the options
  • Law 34 Be royal, act like a king to be treated as such
  • Law 35 Master the art of timing
  • Law 42 Strike the shepherd and the sheep will scatter
  • Law 43 Work on the hearts and minds of others

Valuable, Maybe Not So Obvious

  • Law 3 Conceal your intentions
  • Law 4 Always say less than necessary
  • Law 9 Win through actions, not argument
  • Law 18 Do not build a fortress around yourself
  • Law 23 Concentrate your forces
  • Law 25 Re-create yourself
  • Law 26 Keep your hands clean
  • Law 28 Enter action with boldness
  • Law 29 Plan all the way to the end
  • Law 37 Create compelling spectacles
  • Law 40 Despise the free lunch
  • Law 48 Assume Formlessness

Subtle, Difficult, But Worth the Effort

  • Law 8 Make other people come to you
  • Law 16 Use absence to increase respect and honor
  • Law 21 Play dumber than your mark
  • Law 22 Use surrender, turn weakness into power
  • Law 27 Create a cult-like following
  • Law 30 Make your accomplishments seem effortless
  • Law 32 Play to people’s fantasies
  • Law 39 Stir up the waters to catch fish
  • Law 44 Disarm and infuriate with the mirror effect
  • Law 45 Preach change, but reform slowly

Not in my DNA

  • Law 2 Don’t trust friends too much, use enemies
  • Law 10 Avoid the unhappy and unlucky
  • Law 12 Use selective honesty and generosity to disarm people
  • Law 14 Pose as a friend, work as a spy
  • Law 24 Pay the perfect courtier
  • Law 33 Discover each man’s thumbscrew

Potentially Dangerous

  • Law 6 Court attention at all costs
  • Law 20 Do not commit to anyone
  • Law 36 Disdain things you cannot have
  • Law 38 Think as you like, but behave like others
  • Law 46 Never appear perfect

Counterproductive

  • Law 1 Never outshine the master
  • Law 7 Get others to do work for you, but take credit
  • Law 11 Learn to keep people dependent on you
  • Law 17 Cultivate an air of unpredictability
  • Law 41 Avoid stepping into a great man’s shoes
  • Law 47 Do not go past the mark, in victory, learn when to stop

Here is another grouping, these are the ones that have no reversal, which means Greene thinks they’re universal and you should make them second nature.

  • Law 5 Guard your reputation with your life
  • Law 10 Avoid the unhappy and unlucky
  • Law 19 Know who you’re dealing with
  • Law 25 Re-create yourself
  • Law 29 Plan all the way to the end
  • Law 35 Master the art of timing
  • Law 37 Create compelling spectacles
  • Law 43 Work on the hearts and minds of others

My point with this grouping methodology is that application of these laws should vary greatly depending on your situation. I talked about a few of the laws with a youngster and found that it’s dangerous, in certain environments, to start promoting many of them. Some of them just aren’t appropriate for a learning or nurturing environment. It takes a little maturity to understand that power is not a goal for every situation. For many of the laws, unless you’re in a boardroom or a political office, they may not even by applicable.

But if you’re in a boardroom or political office, this is a solid read, especially if you’re interested in history. Greene exhaustively goes through multiple examples for each law and interprets them. He uses giant figures like Napoleon, Tallyrand, Churchill, and Kissinger in his examples. Many examples are also from ancient Greece, Sparta, and China. It would have been nice to have more examples after the mid-1980s – call it the information age. A few of these laws break down in the Twitter age where information flows freely and publication is much simpler, or where the powerful find it more difficult to use subterfuge and opaqueness. I would grab an updated version if Greene were so inclined.

Greene also throws in the aforementioned reversal discussion on each law, which gives another perspective and hammers home some of the points. The reader needs this level of analysis to sort through subtle differences and potential conflicts. How, for instance, do you reconcile these?

  • Law 15 Crush your enemy, totally
  • Law 47 Do not go past the mark, in victory, learn when to stop

Or these?

  • Law 6 Court attention at all costs
  • Law 4 Always say less than necessary

There are differences, grab the book and dig into it. It was a labor, but I’m glad I got through it.