The 48 Laws of Power (summary)

Some words of wisdom by Robert Greene

Law 1 

Never Outshine the Master

Always make those above you feel comfortably superior. In your desire to please or impress 

them, do not go too far in displaying your talents or you might accomplish the opposite – inspire 

fear and insecurity. Make your masters appear more brilliant than they are and you will attain 

the heights of power. 

Law 2

Never put too Much Trust in Friends, Learn how to use Enemies 

Be wary of friends-they will betray you more quickly, for they are easily aroused to envy. They 

also become spoiled and tyrannical. But hire a former enemy and he will be more loyal than a 

friend, because he has more to prove. In fact, you have more to fear from friends than from 

enemies. If you have no enemies, find a way to make them. 

Law 3 

Conceal your Intentions 

Keep people off-balance and in the dark by never revealing the purpose behind your actions. If 

they have no clue what you are up to, they cannot prepare a defense. Guide them far enough 

down the wrong path, envelope them in enough smoke, and by the time they realize your 

intentions, it will be too late. 

Law 4 

Always Say Less than Necessary 

When you are trying to impress people with words, the more you say, the more common you 

appear, and the less in control. Even if you are saying something banal, it will seem original if 

you make it vague, open-ended, and sphinxlike. Powerful people impress and intimidate by 

saying less. The more you say, the more likely you are to say something foolish. 

Law 5

So Much Depends on Reputation – Guard it with your Life
Reputation is the cornerstone of power. Through reputation alone you can intimidate and win; 

once you slip, however, you are vulnerable, and will be attacked on all sides. Make your 

reputation unassailable. Always be alert to potential attacks and thwart them before they 

happen. Meanwhile, learn to destroy your enemies by opening holes in their own reputations. 

Then stand aside and let public opinion hang them. 

Law 6

Court Attention at all Cost 

Everything is judged by its appearance; what is unseen counts for nothing. Never let yourself get 

lost in the crowd, then, or buried in oblivion. Stand out. Be conspicuous, at all cost. Make 

yourself a magnet of attention by appearing larger, more colorful, more mysterious, than the 

bland and timid masses. 

 Law 7

Get others to do the Work for you, but Always Take the Credit 

Use the wisdom, knowledge, and legwork of other people to further your own cause. Not only 

will such assistance save you valuable time and energy, it will give you a godlike aura of 

efficiency and speed. In the end your helpers will be forgotten and you will be remembered. 

Never do yourself what others can do for you. 

Law 8

Make other People come to you – use Bait if Necessary 

When you force the other person to act, you are the one in control. It is always better to make 

your opponent come to you, abandoning his own plans in the process. Lure him with fabulous 

gains – then attack. You hold the cards. 

Law 9

Win through your Actions, Never through Argument 

Any momentary triumph you think gained through argument is really a Pyrrhic victory: The 

resentment and ill will you stir up is stronger and lasts longer than any momentary change of 

opinion. It is much more powerful to get others to agree with you through your actions, without 

saying a word. Demonstrate, do not explicate. 

Law 10 

Infection: Avoid the Unhappy and Unlucky
You can die from someone else’s misery – emotional states are as infectious as disease. You 

may feel you are helping the drowning man but you are only precipitating your own disaster. 

The unfortunate sometimes draw misfortune on themselves; they will also draw it on you. 

Associate with the happy and fortunate instead. 

Law 11

Learn to Keep People Dependent on You 

To maintain your independence you must always be needed and wanted. The more you are 

relied on, the more freedom you have. Make people depend on you for their happiness and 

prosperity and you have nothing to fear. Never teach them enough so that they can do without 


Law 12

Use Selective Honesty and Generosity to Disarm your Victim 

One sincere and honest move will cover over dozens of dishonest ones. Open-hearted gestures 

of honesty and generosity bring down the guard of even the most suspicious people. Once your 

selective honesty opens a hole in their armor, you can deceive and manipulate them at will. A 

timely gift – a Trojan horse – will serve the same purpose. 

Law 13

When Asking for Help, Appeal to People’s Self-Interest, 

Never to their Mercy or Gratitude 

If you need to turn to an ally for help, do not bother to remind him of your past assistance and 

good deeds. He will find a way to ignore you. Instead, uncover something in your request, or in 

your alliance with him, that will benefit him, and emphasize it out of all proportion. He will 

respond enthusiastically when he sees something to be gained for himself. 

Law 14

Pose as a Friend, Work as a Spy 

Knowing about your rival is critical. Use spies to gather valuable information that will keep you 

a step ahead. Better still: Play the spy yourself. In polite social encounters, learn to probe. Ask 

indirect questions to get people to reveal their weaknesses and intentions. There is no occasion 

that is not an opportunity for artful spying. 

Law 15

Crush your Enemy Totally

All great leaders since Moses have known that a feared enemy must be crushed completely. 

(Sometimes they have learned this the hard way.) If one ember is left alight, no matter how 

dimly it smolders, a fire will eventually break out. More is lost through stopping halfway than 

through total annihilation: The enemy will recover, and will seek revenge. Crush him, not only 

in body but in spirit. 

Law 16

Use Absence to Increase Respect and Honor 

Too much circulation makes the price go down: The more you are seen and heard from, the 

more common you appear. If you are already established in a group, temporary withdrawal from 

it will make you more talked about, even more admired. You must learn when to leave. Create 

value through scarcity. 

Law 17

Keep Others in Suspended Terror: Cultivate an Air of Unpredictability 

Humans are creatures of habit with an insatiable need to see familiarity in other people’s 

actions. Your predictability gives them a sense of control. Turn the tables: Be deliberately 

unpredictable. Behavior that seems to have no consistency or purpose will keep them offbalance, and they will wear themselves out trying to explain your moves. Taken to an extreme, 

this strategy can intimidate and terrorize. 

Law 18 

Do Not Build Fortresses to Protect Yourself – Isolation is Dangerous 

The world is dangerous and enemies are everywhere – everyone has to protect themselves. A 

fortress seems the safest. But isolation exposes you to more dangers than it protects you from – it 

cuts you off from valuable information, it makes you conspicuous and an easy target. Better to 

circulate among people find allies, mingle. You are shielded from your enemies by the crowd. 

Law 19 

Know Who You’re Dealing with – Do Not Offend the Wrong Person 

There are many different kinds of people in the world, and you can never assume that everyone 

will react to your strategies in the same way. Deceive or outmaneuver some people and they will 

spend the rest of their lives seeking revenge. They are wolves in lambs’ clothing. Choose your 

victims and opponents carefully, then – never offend or deceive the wrong person. 

Law 20 

Do Not Commit to Anyone

It is the fool who always rushes to take sides. Do not commit to any side or cause but yourself. 

By maintaining your independence, you become the master of others – playing people against 

one another, making them pursue you. 

Law 21 

Play a Sucker to Catch a Sucker – Seem Dumber than your Mark 

No one likes feeling stupider than the next persons. The trick, is to make your victims feel smart 

– and not just smart, but smarter than you are. Once convinced of this, they will never suspect 

that you may have ulterior motives. 

Law 22 

Use the Surrender Tactic: Transform Weakness into Power 

When you are weaker, never fight for honor’s sake; choose surrender instead. Surrender gives 

you time to recover, time to torment and irritate your conqueror, time to wait for his power to 

wane. Do not give him the satisfaction of fighting and defeating you – surrender first. By 

turning the other check you infuriate and unsettle him. Make surrender a tool of power. 

Law 23 

Concentrate Your Forces 

Conserve your forces and energies by keeping them concentrated at their strongest point. You 

gain more by finding a rich mine and mining it deeper, than by flitting from one shallow mine to 

another – intensity defeats extensity every time. When looking for sources of power to elevate 

you, find the one key patron, the fat cow who will give you milk for a long time to come. 

Law 24 

Play the Perfect Courtier 

The perfect courtier thrives in a world where everything revolves around power and political 

dexterity. He has mastered the art of indirection; he flatters, yields to superiors, and asserts 

power over others in the mot oblique and graceful manner. Learn and apply the laws of 

courtiership and there will be no limit to how far you can rise in the court. 

Law 25 

Re-Create Yourself 

Do not accept the roles that society foists on you. Re-create yourself by forging a new identity, 

one that commands attention and never bores the audience. Be the master of your own image

rather than letting others define if for you. Incorporate dramatic devices into your public 

gestures and actions – your power will be enhanced and your character will seem larger than life. 

Law 26 

Keep Your Hands Clean 

You must seem a paragon of civility and efficiency: Your hands are never soiled by mistakes and 

nasty deeds. Maintain such a spotless appearance by using others as scapegoats and cat’s-paws 

to disguise your involvement. 

Law 27 

Play on People’s Need to Believe to Create a Cultlike Following 

People have an overwhelming desire to believe in something. Become the focal point of such 

desire by offering them a cause, a new faith to follow. Keep your words vague but full of 

promise; emphasize enthusiasm over rationality and clear thinking. Give your new disciples 

rituals to perform, ask them to make sacrifices on your behalf. In the absence of organized 

religion and grand causes, your new belief system will bring you untold power. 

Law 28 

Enter Action with Boldness 

If you are unsure of a course of action, do not attempt it. Your doubts and hesitations will infect 

your execution. Timidity is dangerous: Better to enter with boldness. Any mistakes you 

commit through audacity are easily corrected with more audacity. Everyone admires the bold; 

no one honors the timid. 

Law 29 

Plan All the Way to the End 

The ending is everything. Plan all the way to it, taking into account all the possible 

consequences, obstacles, and twists of fortune that might reverse your hard work and give the 

glory to others. By planning to the end you will not be overwhelmed by circumstances and you 

will know when to stop. Gently guide fortune and help determine the future by thinking far 


Law 30 

Make your Accomplishments Seem Effortless 

Your actions must seem natural and executed with ease. All the toil and practice that go into 

them, and also all the clever tricks, must be concealed. When you act, act effortlessly, as if you

could do much more. Avoid the temptation of revealing how hard you work – it only raises 

questions. Teach no one your tricks or they will be used against you. 

Law 31 

Control the Options: Get Others to Play with the Cards you Deal 

The best deceptions are the ones that seem to give the other person a choice: Your victims feel 

they are in control, but are actually your puppets. Give people options that come out in your 

favor whichever one they choose. Force them to make choices between the lesser of two evils, 

both of which serve your purpose. Put them on the horns of a dilemma: They are gored 

wherever they turn. 

Law 32 

Play to People’s Fantasies 

The truth is often avoided because it is ugly and unpleasant. Never appeal to truth and reality 

unless you are prepared for the anger that comes for disenchantment. Life is so harsh and 

distressing that people who can manufacture romance or conjure up fantasy are like oases in the 

desert: Everyone flocks to them. There is great power in tapping into the fantasies of the masses. 

Law 33 

Discover Each Man’s Thumbscrew 

Everyone has a weakness, a gap in the castle wall. That weakness is usual y an insecurity, an 

uncontrollable emotion or need; it can also be a small secret pleasure. Either way, once found, it 

is a thumbscrew you can turn to your advantage. 

 Law 34 

Be Royal in your Own Fashion: Act like a King to be treated like one 

The way you carry yourself will often determine how you are treated; In the long run, appearing 

vulgar or common will make people disrespect you. For a king respects himself and inspires the 

same sentiment in others. By acting regally and confident of your powers, you make yourself 

seem destined to wear a crown. 

Law 35 

Master the Art of Timing 

Never seem to be in a hurry – hurrying betrays a lack of control over yourself, and over time. 

Always seem patient, as if you know that everything will come to you eventually. Become a 

detective of the right moment; sniff out the spirit of the times, the trends that will carry you to

power. Learn to stand back when the time is not yet ripe, and to strike fiercely when it has 

reached fruition. 

Law 36 

Disdain Things you cannot have: Ignoring them is the best Revenge 

By acknowledging a petty problem you give it existence and credibility. The more attention you 

pay an enemy, the stronger you make him; and a small mistake is often made worse and more 

visible when you try to fix it. It is sometimes best to leave things alone. If there is something 

you want but cannot have, show contempt for it. The less interest you reveal, the more superior 

you seem. 

Law 37 

Create Compelling Spectacles 

Striking imagery and grand symbolic gestures create the aura of power – everyone responds to 

them. Stage spectacles for those around you, then full of arresting visuals and radiant symbols 

that heighten your presence. Dazzled by appearances, no one will notice what you are really 


Law 38 

Think as you like but Behave like others 

If you make a show of going against the times, flaunting your unconventional ideas and 

unorthodox ways, people will think that you only want attention and that you look down upon 

them. They will find a way to punish you for making them feel inferior. It is far safer to blend 

in and nurture the common touch. Share your originality only with tolerant friends and those who 

are sure to appreciate your uniqueness. 

Law 39 

Stir up Waters to Catch Fish 

Anger and emotion are strategically counterproductive. You must always stay calm and 

objective. But if you can make your enemies angry while staying calm yourself, you gain a 

decided advantage. Put your enemies off-balance: Find the chink in their vanity through which 

you can rattle them and you hold the strings. 

Law 40 

Despise the Free Lunch

What is offered for free is dangerous – it usually involves either a trick or a hidden obligation. 

What has worth is worth paying for. By paying your own way you stay clear of gratitude, guilt, 

and deceit. It is also often wise to pay the full price – there is no cutting corners with 

excellence. Be lavish with your money and keep it circulating, for generosity is a sign and a 

magnet for power. 

Law 41 

Avoid Stepping into a Great Man’s Shoes 

What happens first always appears better and more original than what comes after. If you 

succeed a great man or have a famous parent, you will have to accomplish double their 

achievements to outshine them. Do not get lost in their shadow, or stuck in a past not of your 

own making: Establish your own name and identity by changing course. Slay the overbearing 

father, disparage his legacy, and gain power by shining in your own way. 

Law 42 

Strike the Shepherd and the Sheep will Scatter 

Trouble can often be traced to a single strong individual – the stirrer, the arrogant underling, the 

poisoned of goodwill. If you allow such people room to operate, others will succumb to their 

influence. Do not wait for the troubles they cause to multiply, do not try to negotiate with them 

– they are irredeemable. Neutralize their influence by isolating or banishing them. Strike at the 

source of the trouble and the sheep will scatter. 

Law 43 

Work on the Hearts and Minds of Others 

Coercion creates a reaction that will eventually work against you. You must seduce others into 

wanting to move in your direction. A person you have seduced becomes your loyal pawn. And 

the way to seduce others is to operate on their individual psychologies and weaknesses. Soften 

up the resistant by working on their emotions, playing on what they hold dear and what they 

fear. Ignore the hearts and minds of others and they will grow to hate you. 

Law 44 

Disarm and Infuriate with the Mirror Effect 

The mirror reflects reality, but it is also the perfect tool for deception: When you mirror your 

enemies, doing exactly as they do, they cannot figure out your strategy. The Mirror Effect 

mocks and humiliates them, making them overreact. By holding up a mirror to their psyches, 

you seduce them with the illusion that you share their values; by holding up a mirror to their 

actions, you teach them a lesson. Few can resist the power of Mirror Effect.

for Change, but Never Reform too much at Once 

Law 45

Preach the Need for Change, but Never Reform too much at Once 

Everyone understands the need for change in the abstract, but on the day-to-day level people are 

creatures of habit. Too much innovation is traumatic, and will lead to revolt. If you are new to a 

position of power, or an outsider trying to build a power base, make a show of respecting the old 

way of doing things. If change is necessary, make it feel like a gentle improvement on the past. 

Law 46 

Never appear too Perfect 

Appearing better than others is always dangerous, but most dangerous of all is to appear to have 

no faults or weaknesses. Envy creates silent enemies. It is smart to occasionally display defects, 

and admit to harmless vices, in order to deflect envy and appear more human and approachable. 

Only gods and the dead can seem perfect with impunity. 

Law 47 

Do not go Past the Mark you Aimed for; In Victory, Learn when to Stop 

The moment of victory is often the moment of greatest peril. In the heat of victory, arrogance 

and overconfidence can push you past the goal you had aimed for, and by going too far, you 

make more enemies than you defeat. Do not allow success to go to your head. There is no 

substitute for strategy and careful planning. Set a goal, and when you reach it, stop. 

Law 48 

Assume Formlessness 

By taking a shape, by having a visible plan, you open yourself to attack. Instead of taking a form 

for your enemy to grasp, keep yourself adaptable and on the move. Accept the fact that nothing 

is certain and no law is fixed. The best way to protect yourself is to be as fluid and formless as 

water; never bet on stability or lasting order. Everything changes.


8 thoughts on “The 48 Laws of Power (summary)

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