The 48 Laws of Power by Robert Greene — Book Summary and Notes

48 laws of power visual summary
'The 48 Laws of Power' Visual Summary

Learning the Game of Power:

  • Master your emotions.
  • Play with appearances.
  • Shift your perspective on the world.
  • Learn from those who came before you.
  • See circumstances rather than good or evil.
  • Never discriminate as to whom you study and whom you trust.
  • Never get caught up in gauging someone’s intentions and actions.
  • If deception is the most potent weapon, then patience is your crucial shield.
  • Distance yourself from the present moment and think objectively about the past and future.
'The 48 Laws of Power' Book Cover

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.

Everyone has insecurities. Those who attain high standing in life want to feel secure in their positions, and superior to those around them in intelligence, wit, and charm.

  • Commit harmless mistakes that will not hurt you in the long run but will give you the chance to ask for his help.
  • Make it clear that your advice is merely an echo of his advice.
  • You cannot worry about upsetting every person you come across but you must be selectively cruel. If he is very weak and ready to fall, let nature takes its course.

Key to Power: Never take your position for granted and never let any favors you receive go to your head.

Law 2: Never Put Too Much Trust In Friends, Learn 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.

  • People forget the favors they have received and imagine they have earned their success on their own merits.
  • While a friend expects more and more favors and seethes with jealousy, these former enemies expect nothing and got everything.

Key to Power: Judge who is best able to further your interests in all situations. Keep friends for friendship, but work with the skilled and competent.

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, envelop them in enough smoke, and by the time they realize your intentions, it will be too late.

Part I: Use Red Herrings.

  • Our first instinct is to always trust appearances.
  • Cultivate an air of honesty in one area to disguise dishonesty in other.
  • Be measured and believable.
  • Throw your enemies off the scent
  • Kill three birds with one stone: appear friendly, conceal your intentions, and send your rivals on time-consuming wild-goose chases.

Part II: Use Smoke Screens.

  • Deception is always the best strategy, but the best deceptions require a screen of smoke to distract people's attention from your real purpose.
  • The paranoid and wary are often the easiest to deceive. Win their trust in one area, and you have a smoke screen that blinds their view in another.
  • The best deception is bland and inconspicuous, which calls no attention.

Key to Power: If you keep people off the balance, they can't counter your efforts.

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 you are in control. Even if you are saying something banal, it will seem original if you make it vague, open-ended, and sphinx-like. Powerful people impress and intimidate by saying less. The more you say, the more likely you are to say something foolish.

  • Power is, in many ways, a game of appearance, and when you say less than necessary, you inevitably appear more powerful than you are.
  • Once the words are out, you cannot take them back.
  • Short answers and silences will put people on the defensive, nervously filling the silence with all kinds of comments that will reveal valuable information about them and their weaknesses.

Key to Power: The less you say, the more intimidating you are.

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 it slips, 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.

  • Establish a reputation for one outstanding quality that sets you apart and gets other people to talk about you.
  • A solid reputation increases your presence and exaggerates your strengths without having to spend much energy.
  • It is wise to associate with someone whose image counteracts your own, using their good name to whitewash and elevate yours.

Key to Power: When you have a solid reputation, you can undermine your opponent's efforts with ridicule.

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.

  • Every crowd has a silver lining and they tend to act in conjunction.
  • Attach your name and reputation to a quality, an image, that sets you apart from other people.
  • Attack the most visible, most famous, most powerful person you can find.
  • The quality of attention is irrelevant.
  • An element of mystery can give you an intimidating presence as a leader.

Key to Power: Play against people's expectations and welcome negative attention.

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

Use your wisdom, knowledge, and the legwork of other people to further your own cause. Not only will such assistance save you valuable time and energy, but it will also 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.

  • The credit for an invention or creation is as important, if not more important, than the invention itself.
  • Keep your creation quiet until you can be sure there are no vultures circling overhead.
  • Learn to take advantage of other people’s work to further your own cause.
  • Use the past, a vast storehouse of knowledge and wisdom to build on the achievement of others.

Key to Power: Don't waste time and energy, when you can simply wait for the right moment, then take others' lunch.

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.

  • Master your anger yet play on people’s natural tendency to react angrily when pushed and baited.

Key to Power: Keep the initiative, to get others to react to your moves and keep them on the defensive.

Law 9: Win Through Your Actions, Never Through Argument.

Any momentary triumph you think you have 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.

  • When you argue with someone, even if they seem to agree with you, you can never be certain how they will react.
  • Demonstrating your point is more effective and powerful.

Key to Power: Learn to demonstrate the correctness of your ideas indirectly.

Law 10: Infection — Avoid The Unhappy And Unlucky.

You can die from someone else’s misery—emotional states are as infectious as diseases. 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.

  • People are highly susceptible to the emotions and pathologies of those they spend time with.
  • The most damaging types of infectors are those who are perpetually dissatisfied and aggrieved.

Key to Power: Choose who you are associated with carefully.

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 you.

  • Do not mistake independence for power; power requires a relationship.
  • Fear you can control; love, never. Better to have others depend on you out of fear of the consequences of losing you than out of love for your company.
  • Make yourself so indispensable that your superior is afraid to find out what their life would be like without you.

Key to Power: Cultivate an irreplaceable talent or skill

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.

  • Give before you take.
  • Selective honesty is best employed on your first encounter with someone.
  • Calculated acts of kindness can turn a Capone into a gullible child.
  • Exceptions: When you have a history of deceit behind you, no generosity will fool people.

Key to Power: Win people's hearts and you can set up your scheme without being noticed.

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.

  • Achieving power often requires seeking help from those above you.
  • To succeed in getting what you want, you need to understand their motives and tie them in with yours.

Key to Power: Understand the person you are dealing with, and not confuse your needs with theirs.

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.

  • Use spies or be a spy yourself.
  • Pay attention at social gatherings where people's guards are downs.
  • Share a fake confession and someone else will give you a real one.

Key to Power: Suppress oneself in the conversation, to make others talk endlessly about themselves and inadvertently reveal their intentions and plans.

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.

  • Chinese history abounds with examples of leaders who left their enemies alive out of mercy but returned to haunt them.
  • Recognize that you will accumulate enemies who you cannot bring over to your side, and that to leave them any escape will mean you are never secure.
  • When we sympathize with our enemies, we only strengthen their hate, and they will someday take revenge.

Key to Power: Annihilate your enemy. Do not show leniency.

Law 16: Use Absence to Increase Honor and Respect.

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.

  • Preserve and enhance your status by withdrawing at the right moment, just before people start getting tired of you.
  • Make yourself less accessible to increase your value in others' minds.
  • Image: The Sun. It can only be appreciated in its absence. The longer the days of rain, the more the sun is craved. But too many hot days and the sun overwhelms.

Key to Power: Scarcity increases value.

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 off-balance, and they will wear themselves out trying to explain your moves. Taken to an extreme, this strategy can intimidate and terrorize.

  • Nothing is more terrifying than the sudden and unpredictable. We do not know when they will strike. After one has occurred, we wait in terror for the next one.
  • Unpredictability draws attention and gets people talking, especially if you are the underdog.

Key to Power: Instill a kind of fear by deliberately unsettling those around him to keep the initiative on his side.

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.

  • Maintaining power requires social interaction.
  • An isolated person is an easy target with limited access to information.
  • Choose isolation only as a last resort.

Key to Power: When faced with threats, resist the urge to isolate yourself.

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.

  • The Arrogant and Proud Man: Any perceived slight will lead to a vengeance of overwhelming violence. Flee these people.
  • The Hopelessly Insecure Man: Attack you in small bites that will take forever to get big enough for you to notice. Do not stay around him.
  • Mr.Suspicion: Sees the worse in others and imagines that everyone is after him. Easy to deceive — get him to turn on others.
  • The Serpent With a Long Memory: If hurt or deceived, this man will show no anger on the surface; he will calculate and wait. He is cold and unaffectionate. Either crush him completely or get him out of sight.
  • The Plain, Unassuming, and Often Unintelligent Man: This man will not take the bait because he does not recognize it. Do not waste your resources deceiving him.

Key to Power: Never trust appearances or only rely on your instincts when judging someone; instead gather concentrated knowledge.

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.

Part I: Be Courted By All.

Play the Virgin Queen: Give them hope but never satisfaction.

  • Put yourself in the middle between competing powers.
  • Lure one side with the promise of your help; the other side, always wanting to outdo its enemy, will pursue you as well.
  • Desire is like a virus: If we see that someone is desired by other people, we tend to find this person desirable too.

Part II: Stay Above The Fray.

When the fighting parties are good and tired they will be ripe for the picking.

  • People who rush to the support of others tend to gain little respect, for their help is so easily obtained, while those who stand back find themselves besieged with supplicants.
  • By committing to an alliance with one party, you become embroiled in conflicts that are not your choice.

Key to Power: Keep yourself free of commitments and obligations—they are the device of another to get you into his power.

Law 21: Play A Sucker to Catch A Sucker — Seem Dumber Than Your Mark

No one likes feeling stupider than the next person. The trick, then, 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.

  • Intelligence, taste, and sophistication are all things you can downplay to reassure others they are more advanced than you.
  • The easier they think it is to prey on you, the more easily you can turn the tables.

Key to Power: If you make other people feel smarter than you, they'll let down their guard and fail to notice your 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 cheek you infuriate and unsettle him. Make surrender a tool of power.

  • When you are weak, there is nothing to be gained by fighting a useless fight. No one comes to help the weak.
  • People trying to make a show of their authority are easily deceived by the surrender tactic: inwardly you stay firm, but outwardly you bend.
  • Your outward sign of submission makes them feel important; satisfied that you respect them, they become easier targets for a later counterattack.

Key to Power: Lulling the enemy into complacency gives you time to recoup, time to undermine, and time for revenge. Never sacrifice that time in exchange for honor in a battle that you cannot win.

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.

  • Drunk with success and sick with ambition, empires expand to grotesque proportions and meet a ruin that is total.
  • Concentrate on a single goal and beat it into submission.
  • Extent alone never rises above mediocrity, and it is the misfortune of men with wide general interests that while they would like to have their finger in every pie, they have one in none.

Key to Power: Prioritize intensity over extensity.

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 most oblique and graceful manner. Learn and apply the laws of courtier ship and there will be no limit to how far you can rise in the court.

The Laws of Court Politics

  • Avoid Ostentation: modesty is always preferable.
  • Practice Nonchalance: never appear to be working too hard; your talent must appear to flow naturally, with ease.
  • Be Frugal with Flattery: flatter indirectly by being modest.
  • Arrange to be Noticed: pay attention to your appearance, and find a way to create a subtly distinctive style and image.
  • Alter Your Style and Language According to the Person You’re Dealing With: acting the same with all will be seen as condescension by those below you, and offend those above you.
  • Never Be the Bearer of Bad News: the messenger is always killed. Bring only glad news.
  • Never Affect Friendliness and Intimacy with Your Master: he does not want a friend for a subordinate.
  • Never Criticise Those Above You Directly.
  • Be Frugal in Asking Those Above You for Favours.
  • Do Not Be the Court Cynic: express admiration for the good work of others.
  • Be Self-Observant: you must train yourself to evaluate your own actions.

Key to Power: Play by the rules of the environment and thrive in any situation.

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 it for you. Incorporate dramatic devices into your public gestures and actions—your power will be enhanced and your character will seem larger than life.

  • Forge a new identity, one of your own making, one that has had no boundaries assigned to it.
  • Develop self-awareness to take control of your appearances and emotions.
  • Create a memorable character that compels attention.

Key to Power: Know how to be all things to all men. That is the art of winning over everyone, for like attracts like.

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.

Part I: Have a Scapegoat to Take The Blame.

Our good name and reputation depend more on what we conceal than on what we reveal.

  • Shift the guilt and sin to an outside figure—object, animal, or man—which is then banished or destroyed.
  • Consider a close associate to set up the Fall of the Favorite — why would the king sacrifice his favorite unless he were guilty?

Part II: Use A Cat’s Paw.

You need a cat’s paw—someone who does the dirty, dangerous work for you.

  • Do everything pleasant yourself, everything unpleasant through third parties.
  • Disguise your goal, shrouding it in mystery.

Key to Power: All men make mistakes, but the wise conceal the blunders they have made, while fools make them public.

Law 27: Play On People’s Need to Believe to Create A Cult-Like 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, and 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.

  1. Keep it Vague; Keep it Simple: The promise of something great and transformation. Most people want to hear that a simple solution will cure their problems.
  2. Emphasize the Visual and the Sensual over the Intellectual: Create a spectacle.
  3. Borrow the Forms of Organized Religion: Create rituals, organise followers into a hierarchy, rank them in grades of sanctity, and give them names and titles.
  4. Disguise your Source of Income: Followers will copy your each and every move in the belief that it will bring them the same results, and their imitative enthusiasm will blind them to the charlatan nature of your wealth.
  5. Set Up an Us-Verses-Them Dynamic: Unified by your common goals, manufacture the notion of a common enemy out to ruin you all.

Key to Power: People have a desperate need to believe in something, and belong to a cause. Become the magnet, the invisible force that attracts people's imaginations.

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.

  • The Bolder The Better: Ask for the moon and you’ll be surprised how often you get it. The largeness of scale deceives the human eye.
  • Lions Circle the Hesitant Prey: Everything depends on perception, and once you demonstrate a willingness to compromise, you will be pushed around without mercy.
  • Boldness Strikes Fear; Fear Creates Authority: When you are as small and obscure as David was, you must find a Goliath to attack. The larger the target, the more attention you gain.

Key to Power: Root out the habit of timidity and replace it with boldness.

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 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 ahead.

  • The ending is everything that determines the glory, the money, the prize.
  • Overcome the natural tendency to react to things as they happen, and instead train oneself to step back.
  • So much of power is not what you do but what you do not do—the rash and foolish actions that you refrain from before they get you into trouble.

Key to Power: Begin with an end in mind.

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.

  • Conceal the effort behind one’s work. One never sees the source of a god’s power revealed; one only sees its effects.
  • Research and practice endlessly before appearing in public.
  • Revealing your tricks lets others use them against you.
  • The more mystery surrounds your actions, the more awesome your power seems—the appearance of having an exclusive gift.

Key to Power: Make it seem easy.

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.

  • Withdrawal and disappearance are classic ways of controlling the options.
  • Give people a sense of how things will fall apart without you, and you offer them a “choice”: I stay away, and you suffer the consequences, or I return under circumstances that I dictate.
  • Color the Choices: Propose multiple solutions but always present the favored option as the best compared to the others.
  • The Shrinking Options: Raise the price every time the buyer hesitates and another day goes by.

Key to Power: Control the options to disguise yourself as an agent of power and punishment.

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 from 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.

  • The Reality: Change is slow and gradual. It requires hard work, a bit of luck, a fair number of sacrifices, and a lot of patience.
  • The Fantasy: A sudden transformation will bring a total change in one’s fortunes, bypassing work, luck, self-sacrifice, and time in one fantastic stroke.
  • Image: The Moon. Unattainable, always changing shape, disappearing and reappearing. We look at it, imagine, wonder, and pine—never familiar, continuous provoker of dreams. Do not offer the obvious. Promise the moon.

Key to Power: Promise the moon at the right moment, when spirits are low.

Law 33: Discover Each Man’s Thumbscrew.

Everyone has a weakness, a gap in the castle wall. That weakness is usually an insecurity, an uncontrollable emotion, or a need; it can also be a small secret pleasure. Either way, once found, it is a thumbscrew you can turn to your advantage.

  • Find the Helpless Child: Most weaknesses begin in childhood before the self builds up compensatory defenses.
  • Find the Weak Link: Win the favor of those behind the scenes and you indirectly influence the king. Find the one person who will bend under pressure.
  • Fill the Void: Insecurity and unhappiness.
  • Feed on Uncontrollable Emotions: Passions and obsessions that cannot be controlled—Lust, Greed, Vanity, Hatred. People’s need for validation and recognition, their need to feel important, is the best kind of weakness to exploit.

Key to Power: Exploit others' weaknesses.

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.

  • It is within your power to set your own price.
  • Ask for less and that is just what you will get. Ask for more, however, and you send a signal that you are worth a king’s ransom.
  • The Strategy of the Crown: If we believe we are destined for great things, our belief will radiate outward, just as a crown creates an aura around a king.
  • The David and Goliath Strategy: By choosing a great opponent, you create the appearance of greatness.
  • The Patreon Strategy: Give a gift to those above you.

Key to Power: Do not wait for a coronation; the greatest emperors crown themselves.

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.

  • Power rarely ends up in the hands of those who start a revolution; power sticks to those who bring a conclusion.
  • Long Time: Have remarkable patience, control your emotions, and take advantage of opportunities when they arise.
  • Forced Time: Upset the timing of our opponents.
  • End Time: Recognize the spirit of times and act decisively. Bring things to a swift and definitive conclusion.

Key to Power: Be patient and wait for your moment. Recognize when the time is right and act decisively.

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.

  • You choose to let things bother you. Turn your back on what cannot harm you in the long run.
  • If there is something you want but that you realize you cannot have, the worse thing you can do is draw attention to your disappointment by complaining about it.
  • Treat your mistakes lightly.

Key to Power: Learn to distinguish between the potentially disastrous and the nuisance. Most small troubles will vanish on their own if you leave them be.

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 doing.

  • Words stir up arguments and division; images, which bypass rational thought, create powerful emotional associations.
  • Use symbols to rally, excite, and unify your followers.
  • If you have to explain yourself your power is already in question.

Key to Power: People do not always want words or rational explanations; they want an immediate appeal to their emotions.

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 the 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.

  • Most unconventional people learn to blend in with others and to share their differing views only with like-minded people.
  • Display conventional behavior and mouth conventional ideas without having to believe in them.
  • Once you have established yourself in a position of power, you can try to convince a wider circle of the correctness of your ideas.
  • Play the clever fox and feign the common touch.

Key to Power: Recognize the invaluable ability to be all things to all people.

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.

  • When the waters are still, your opponents have the time and space to plot against you. So stir the waters, force the fish to the surface, get them to act before they are ready, and steal the initiative.
  • Play on uncontrollable emotions: pride, vanity, love, and hate.
  • Tantrums neither intimidate nor inspire loyalty. They only create doubts and uneasiness about your power.
  • Instead of seeing it as a personal grudge, look at the emotional outburst as a disguised power move, an attempt to control or punish you cloaked in the form of hurt feelings and anger.

Key to Power: Keep your head while others are losing theirs.

Law 40: Despise the Free Lunch.

What is offered for free is dangerous—it usually involves either a trick or hidden obligations. 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 are no cutting corners with excellence. Be lavish with your keep and keep it circulating, for generosity is a sign and a magnet of power.

  • What is offered free often comes with a psychological price tag.
  • Everything must be judged by its cost, and everything has a price.
  • Value the strategic generosity — “give when you are about to take” and put the recipient under obligation.
  • Be flexible with your wealth, putting it to work, not to buy objects, but to win people’s hearts.
  • Humans instill objects with meaning and value—these are what make them worth having.

Avoid these people:

  • The Greedy Fish: Lured by the bait of easy money, they swallow the ruse hook, line, and sinker.
  • The Bargain Demon: Wasting valuable time digging for bargains, they worry endlessly about what they could have gotten elsewhere for a little less.
  • The Sadist: Thinks that paying for something gives them the right to torture and abuse the seller.
  • The Indiscriminate Giver: Want to be loved and admired by all, burdened by their insatiable emotional needs.

Key to Power: Use money as a tool of power to strategically enhance your reputation.

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.

  • Many successors struggle when they have to succeed a great leader parent.
  • The father most often manages to amass his fortune, his kingdom, because he begins with little or nothing.
  • When a man like this has a son, he becomes domineering and oppressive, imposing his lessons on the son, who is starting off life in different circumstances than him.
  • The son will never step out of his father’s shadow unless he disparages the past and creates his own kingdom, playing the timeless antagonism between the generations.

Key to Power: Never let yourself be seen as following your predecessor’s path. Establish a style and symbolism that sets you apart.

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 poisoner 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.

  • In every group, there are one or two people who control the power, determining the group's effectiveness.
  • Find the source and isolate them: physically, politically, or psychologically.
  • Lure the troublemaker away from their power base at the critical moment.
  • Image: A Flock of Fatted Sheep. Do not waste precious time trying to steal a sheep or two; do not risk life and limb by setting upon the dogs that guard the flock. Aim at the shepherd. Lure him away and the dogs will follow. Strike him down and the flock will scatter—you can pick them off one by one.

Key to Power: Strike the one head that matters the most—the person with willpower, smarts, or most important of all, charisma.

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 resistance 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.

  • The key to persuasion is working on people's emotions and playing on their intellectual weaknesses.
  • Play on Contrasts: Push people to despair, then give them relief. If they expect pain and you give them pleasure, you win their hearts.
  • A great cause may capture minds, but once the first flush of excitement is over, interest will flag—unless there is something to be gained.

Key to Power: Win hearts and minds through people's emotions and weaknesses.

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 the Mirror Effect.

  • The Neutralizing Effect: Do what your enemies do, following their actions as best you can, and they cannot see what you are up to—they are blinded by your mirror.
  • The Narcissus Effect: Reflect their desires, values, and tastes.
  • The Moral Effect: Give them a taste of their own medicine.
  • The Hallucinatory Effect: Create a perfect copy of an object, a place, a person, that people take for the real thing.

Key to Power: Use mirror effects to disturb others, giving you the power to manipulate and seduce them.

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 from the past.

  • Humans are creatures of habit and change upsets our routines.
  • The man who initiates strong reforms often becomes the scapegoat for any kind of dissatisfaction.
  • Preach change, but maintain the comforting appearance of familiar traditions.

Key to Power: Say the right things, make a show of conformity, and meanwhile let your theories do their radical work.

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.

Never Underestimate the Power of Envy:

  • Once success happens, the people to fear the most are those in your own circle, the friends and acquaintances you have left behind.
  • Beware signs of envy: excessive praise, hypercritical people, public slandering.
  • Either dampen your brilliance occasionally, purposefully revealing a defect, or attribute your success to luck.

Key to Power: Occasionally admit to harmless vices to deflect envy.

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.

  • In the realm of power, you must be guided by reason. To let a momentary thrill or an emotional victory influence or guide your movies will prove fatal.
  • History is littered with ruins of victorious empires and corpses of leaders who could not learn to stop and consolidate their gains.
  • Good luck is more dangerous than back luck, as it deludes you into thinking your own brilliance is the reason for your success.
  • The powerful vary their rhythms and patterns, change course, adapt to circumstances, and learn to improvise.

Key to Power: Begin with an end in mind (Law 29) and be guided by reason, not emotion.

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.

  • The powerful are not locked into a single system; they are constantly adapting their systems to suit their needs.
  • Learning to adapt to each new circumstance means seeing events through your own eyes and often ignoring the advice that people constantly peddle your way.
  • When you find yourself in conflict with someone stronger and more rigid, allow them a momentary victory—conform on the surface while breaking down your enemy from the inside.

Key to Power: Be flexible, fluid, and unpredictable.