Book Review: The 48 Laws of Power by Robert Greene

“The 48 Laws of Power” is a fascinating and informative book published in 1998 that explores the concept of power. It offers practical advice on how to recognize, defend against, and utilize power to your advantage.

Author Robert Greene uses more than 3,000 years of historical examples to illustrate successful strategies used by those with power. Through this book, readers can gain insight on how to outmaneuver their opponents and become adept power players themselves. Essentially, it’s a modern-day guide to becoming a Machiavelli.

The book is organized as a comprehensive list, with each law receiving detailed attention. If you want to delve deeper into each law, check out “What Are the 48 Laws of Power” for an in-depth explanation.

So, is it worth reading? Let’s find out.

Key Insights

Lesson 1: Take credit for others’ work to attain power.

We live in a world where attaining power often means using the work of others to our advantage. It’s not uncommon to see people claiming credit for other people’s work, and history is full of examples of this.

Take, for instance, the story of Nikola Tesla and Thomas Edison. Tesla, a Serbian scientist, worked for Edison and played a crucial role in creating Edison’s famed dynamo by improving Edison’s primitive design. However, Edison and his company claimed all the credit for Tesla’s work on the dynamo, and Tesla was left with nothing.

It’s not just in science and technology that people take credit for other people’s work. Politicians often hire speechwriters to craft their speeches, and famous novelists often borrow from other writers. However, merely reaping the benefits of work done by others is not enough. You must also take credit for it.

The credit given for an invention or creation of any kind is just as essential as the invention itself. If you don’t claim credit, someone else will jump in, steal your idea, and take all the kudos that comes with it.

Therefore, it’s essential to assert your ownership and take credit for the work you’ve done or the idea you’ve created. This is not to say that you should claim credit for something you haven’t done. However, if you’ve put in the effort, time, and resources into creating something, you should rightfully take credit for it.

Lesson 2: Know them and pose as their friend to gain power.

To outmaneuver your competition, it’s crucial to gather information about the people you want to control. Knowing a person’s plans, weaknesses, and desires will help you win their favor and guide their actions.

Joseph Duveen, an art dealer in the 1920s, resolved to win industrialist Andrew Mellon as a client. But Mellon was not easily convinced, so Duveen decided to bribe Mellon’s staff to pass him secret information about their employer. When Mellon traveled to London, Duveen followed him and engaged him in a vibrant conversation. Since Duveen knew so much about Mellon’s interests, he easily gained his favor and soon became his best client.

To pull off this trick, you can hire informants or act as a spy yourself by posing as a person’s friend. While most people opt for hired spies, this strategy is risky. How can you be sure that your spies are being honest with you? To ensure the accuracy of your information, it’s best to do the spying yourself.

Posing as a companion is an effective strategy, as people are not as secretive when in the company of someone they consider a friend. However, this is no easy task, as people generally hesitate to share private information with strangers. It takes time and effort to build a relationship with a person, but the payoff can be immense.

But keep in mind that spying is not an ethical practice, and it can damage your relationships and reputation if discovered. Instead of spying, consider building genuine relationships with people and earning their trust. This way, you can gather information without resorting to unethical tactics.

Lesson 3: Unpredictability can keep your competition off balance.

In competitive scenarios, your opponents will try hard to figure you out, and they won’t hesitate to use this information against you. Acting unpredictably will protect you from being understood by your opponents and keep them off balance.

Take the 1972 chess match between Bobby Fischer and Boris Spassky. Fischer knew that Spassky targeted his opponent’s routines and predictability, so he played as unpredictably as possible. Fischer even made it unclear whether he would make it to Reykjavik, where the pair was set to play. When they finally began the match, Fischer made careless mistakes before giving up, confusing Spassky, who couldn’t tell if he was making mistakes or bluffing.

Fischer had Spassky just where he wanted him. Doing things that perplex your opponent will distract them from the task at hand, giving you the chance to strike. Fischer began winning game after game with bold moves, and Spassky conceded, making Fischer the world champion.

Unpredictability can keep your competition off balance and give you an advantage. But keep in mind that being too unpredictable can also harm your reputation and credibility.

Lesson 4: Act like a superior to be treated like one.

Maintaining a superior image is crucial if you hold a higher position than others. Failure to do so could lead to contempt and disapproval from those around you.

The story of Louis-Philippe, King of France, serves as a cautionary tale. He disliked the formalities of his position and acted like an equal to everyone, wearing a gray hat and holding an umbrella instead of his crown and scepter.

However, this behavior backfired and caused him to be hated by both the wealthy and the poor. Even his banker friends turned on him when they realized they could insult him without consequences.

Acting like an equal to others while holding a higher position will only lead to suspicion and assumptions of dishonesty. It’s better to use the “strategy of the crown” and behave like royalty to make people treat you accordingly. If you believe you’re above others and act that way, others will begin to believe it too.

Christopher Columbus is an excellent example of this strategy. By confidently socializing with the Spanish royal family, he convinced the Spanish throne to finance his voyages. People viewed him as royalty, and this image helped him secure support for his endeavors.

Lesson 5: Seduction trumps coercion for gaining power over others.

Chuko Liang, the head strategist for the ancient Chinese state of Shu, teaches us that the best way to achieve a goal is not always through brute force. In fact, using force and coercive tactics may breed resentment and resistance, making it difficult to achieve long-term success.

Instead, Liang suggests using seduction as a better strategy. By playing on people’s emotions and feelings, we can make them do what we want of their own free will. Liang demonstrates this in his handling of King Menghuo’s invasion of China.

Rather than attacking Menghuo’s army head-on, which Liang could have easily defeated, he captured the enemy king and separated him from his soldiers. Menghuo expected the worst, but to his surprise, Liang offered him delicious food and wine.

Liang then released Menghuo’s soldiers and asked the enemy king to promise that if he was ever captured again, he would bow to the Chinese king. Liang captured Menghuo several more times but always released him. By treating Menghuo kindly and giving him chances to redeem himself, Liang created a sense of gratitude and indebtedness in the enemy king.

In the end, Menghuo surrendered himself and his kingdom to Liang, of his own volition. Liang’s use of seduction, rather than force, allowed him to achieve his goal without breeding resentment and resistance.

In our own lives, we can learn from Liang’s example. When faced with difficult situations, we should consider using seduction, rather than force, to achieve our goals. By playing on people’s emotions and feelings, we can create a sense of goodwill and cooperation that can lead to long-term success.

The 48 Laws of Power Review

My take on the book is that it’s worth reading if you have the time. The book’s popularity is comparable to Machiavelli’s “The Prince,” and it contains 48 power laws that you can use to gain power.

I rated the book’s laws in three categories: Good (27%), Bad (30%), and Ugly (43%). However, some laws that appear bad on the surface are just ugly, and some seem to contradict one another, leaving you to wonder which ones to follow.

The strategies in the book may work to gain power, but the question is, for what purpose? Do you want to build a positive world, or will you destroy it and hope you’re dead before it crashes down upon you and everyone else?

Power is essentially about persuasion, whether convincing others to cooperate with you or explaining to adversaries the consequences of refusing to do so. Therefore, the book can teach Good characters about what Bad characters might do, and how they can use persuasion to achieve their goals.

In conclusion, despite its negative aspects, I recommend giving “The 48 Laws of Power” a read. It’s an interesting book that can provide insight into human nature and help you navigate complex power dynamics.

The 48 Laws of Power

About The Author

Robert Greene is a well-known American author and public speaker who graduated from the University of California, Berkeley. He has written five books that have become international bestsellers, all about strategy, power, and achieving success. His first book, The 48 Laws of Power, is particularly famous.

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