The 48 Laws of Power by Robert Greene

Rating: 7/10

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High-Level Thoughts

Fantastic stories broadly applicable to success in life, though a bit overwhelming in scope and heavy to work through. That said, it was banned from US prisons for a reason.

Summary Notes

1: Never outshine the master

Make your masters appear more brilliant than they are and you will attain the heights of power

When it comes to power, outshining the master is perhaps the worst mistake of all.

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

2: Never put too much trust in friends, learn how to use enemies

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

Since honesty rarely strengthens friendship, you may never know how a friend truly feels. Friends will say that they love your poetry, adore your music, envy your taste in clothes— maybe they mean it, often they do not.

The key to power, then, is the ability to judge who is best able to further your interests in all situations. Keep friends for friendship, but work with the skilled and competent.

3: Conceal Your Intentions

Use decoyed objects and desires and red herrings to throw people off the scent

Hide your intentions not by closing up (with the risk of appearing secretive, and making people suspicious) but by talking endlessly about your desires and goals— just not your real ones. You will kill three birds with one stone: You appear friendly, open, and trusting; you conceal your intentions; and you send your rivals on time-consuming wild-goose chases.

Use smoke screens to disguise your actions. This derives from a simple truth: people can only focus on one thing at a time. It is really too difficult for them to imagine that the bland and harmless person they are dealing with is simultaneously setting up something else

As Kierkegaard wrote, “The world wants to be deceived.”

4: Always say less than necessary

One oft-told tale about Kissinger… involved a report that Winston Lord had worked on for days. After giving it to Kissinger, he got it back with the notation, “Is this the best you can do?” Lord rewrote and polished and finally resubmitted it; back it came with the same curt question. After redrafting it one more time— and once again getting the same question from Kissinger-Lord snapped, “Damn it, yes, it’s the best I can do. ” To which Kissinger replied: “Fine, then I guess I’ll read it this time. ”

Persons who cannot control his words shows that he cannot control himself, and is unworthy of respect. But the human tongue is a beast that few can master. It strains constantly to break out of its cage, and if it is not tamed, it will run wild and cause you grief. Power cannot accrue to those who squander their treasure of words.

Power is in many ways a game of appearances, and when you say less than necessary, you inevitably appear greater and more powerful than you are.

Learn the lesson: Once the words are out, you cannot take them back. Keep them under control. Be particularly careful with sarcasm: The momentary satisfaction you gain with your biting words will be outweighed by the price you pay.

5: So much depends on reputation, guard it with your life

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.

Doubt is a powerful weapon: Once you let it out of the bag with insidious rumors, your opponents are in a horrible dilemma.

Once you have a solid base of respect, ridiculing your opponent both puts him on the defensive and draws more attention to you, enhancing your own reputation.

6: Court attention at all costs

Surround your name with the sensational and the scandalous.

Better to be slandered and attacked than ignored.

Every crowd has a silver lining.

At the start of your career, you must attach your name and reputation to a quality, an image, that sets you apart from other people.

Create an air of mystery.

Remember: Most people are upfront, can be read like an open book, take little care to control their words or image, and are hopelessly predictable. By simply holding back, keeping silent, occasionally uttering ambiguous phrases, deliberately appearing inconsistent, and acting odd in the subtlest of ways, you will emanate an aura of mystery. The people around you will then magnify that aura by constantly trying to interpret you

Do something that cannot be easily explained or interpreted

7: Get others to do the work for you, but always take the credit

8: Make other people come to you, use bait if necessary

For negotiations or meetings, it is always wise to lure others into your territory, or the territory of your choice. You have your bearings, while they see nothing familiar and are subtly placed on the defensive.

9: Win through your actions, never through argument

10: Infection: Avoid the unhappy or the unlucky

When you suspect you are in the presence of an infector, don’t argue, don’t try to help, don’t pass the person on to your friends, or you will become enmeshed. Flee the infector’s presence or suffer the consequences.

11: Learn to keep people dependent on you

12: Use selective honesty and generosity to disarm your victim

13: When asking for help, appeal to people’s self interest, never their mercy or gratitude

14: Pose as a friend, work as a spy

15: Crush your enemy totally

16: Use absence to increase strength and honor

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.

At the start of an affair, you need to heighten your presence in the eyes of the other. If you absent yourself too early, you may be forgotten. But once your lover’s emotions are engaged, and the feeling of love has crystallized, absence inflames and excites. Giving no reason for your absence excites even more.

17: Keep others in suspended terror, cultivate an air of unpredictability

Too much unpredictability will be seen as a sign of indecisiveness, or even of some more serious psychic problem. Patterns are powerful, and you can terrify people by disrupting them. Such power should only be used judiciously.

18: Do not build a fortress to protect yourself, isolation is dangerous

19: Know who you’re dealing with, do not offend the wrong person

20: Do not commit to anyone

Do not commit to anyone, but be courted by all.

When you hold yourself back, you incur not anger but a kind of respect. You instantly seem powerful because you make yourself ungraspable, rather than succumbing to the group, or to the relationship, as most people do.

People who rush to the support of others tend to gain little respect in the process, for their help is so easily obtained, while those who stand back find themselves besieged with supplicants.

Do not commit to anyone, stay above the fray.

Remember: You have only so much energy and so much time. Every moment wasted on the affairs of others subtracts from your strength.

21: Play a sucker to catch a sucker, seem dumber than your mark

Given how important the idea of intelligence is to most people’s vanity, it is critical never inadvertently to insult or impugn a person’s brain power.

22: Use the surrender tactic: transform weakness into power

People trying to make a show of their authority are easily deceived by the surrender tactic.

It is always our first instinct to react, to meet aggression with some other kind of aggression. But the next time someone pushes you and you find yourself starting to react, try this: Do not resist or fight back, but yield, turn the other cheek, bend.

If you surrender instead, you have an opportunity to coil around your enemy and strike with your fangs from close up.

23: Concentrate your forces

intensity defeats extensity every time.

24: Play the perfect courtier

The laws of court politics:

Avoid ostentationPractice nonchalanceBe frugal with flatteryArrange to be noticedAlter your style and language according to the person ou are dealing withNever be the bearer of bad newsNever affect friendliness and intimacy with your masterNever criticize those above you directlyBe frugal in asking those above you for favorsNever joke about appearances of tastesDo not be the court cynicBe self observantMaster your emotionsFit the spirits of the timesBe the source of pleasure

25: Re-Create Yourself

Be the master of your own image rather than letting others define it for you.

The world wants to assign you a role in life. And once you accept that role you are doomed.

Remake yourself into a character of power. Working on yourself like clay should be one of your greatest and most pleasurable life tasks.

The first step in the process of self-creation is self-consciousness— being aware of yourself as an actor and taking control of your appearance and emotions.

The second step in the process of self-creation is a variation on the George Sand strategy: the creation of a memorable character, one that compels attention, that stands out above the other players on the stage.

26: Keep your hands clean

Conceal your mistakes, have a scapegoat around to blame.

Make use of the cats paw.

27: Play on people’s need to believe to create a cult like following

Five rules of cult making

Keep it vague, keep it simpleEmphasize the visual and sensational over the intellectualBorrow the forms of organized religion to structure the groupDisguise your source of incomeSet up an us vs them dynamic

28: Enter action with boldness

The bolder lie the better.

Lions circle the hesitant prey.

Boldness strikes fear, fear creates authority.

Going halfway with half a heart digs a deeper grave.

Hesitation creates gaps, boldness obliterates them.

Audacity separates you from the herd.

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.

29: Plan all the way to the end

30: Make your accomplishments seem effortless

31: Control the options, get others to play with the cards you deal

You 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 three or four choices of action for each situation, and would present them in such a way that the one he preferred always seemed the best solution compared to the others.

Force the resister, Push them to “choose” what you want them to do by appearing to advocate the opposite.

Alter the playing field.

The shrinking options: A variation on this technique is to raise the price every time the buyer hesitates and another day goes by. This is an excellent negotiating ploy to use on the chronically indecisive, who will fall for the idea that they are getting a better deal today than if they wait till tomorrow.

The weak man on the precipice: This tactic is similar to “Color the Choices,” but with the weak you have to be more aggressive. Work on their emotions— use fear and terror to propel them into action. Try reason and they will always find a way to procrastinate.

Brothers in Crime: You attract your victims to some criminal scheme, creating a bond of blood and guilt between you.

The horns of a dilemma: The lawyer leads the witnesses to decide between two possible explanations of an event, both of which poke a hole in their story. They have to answer the lawyer’s questions, but whatever they say they hurt themselves. The key to this move is to strike quickly: Deny the victim the time to think of an escape. As they wriggle between the horns of the dilemma, they dig their own grave.

32: Play to people’s fantasies

People rarely believe that their problems arise from their own misdeeds and stupidity. Someone or something out there is to blame— the other, the world, the gods— and so salvation comes from the outside as well.

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 need; it can also be a small secret pleasure. Either way, once found, it is a thumbscrew you can turn to your advantage.

Finding the thumbscrews

Pay attention to gestures and unconscious signalsFind the helpless child, look to their childhoodLook for contrasts, an overt trait often reveals its oppositeFind the weak link,Fill their emotional voidFeed on their uncontrollable emotion

Always look for passions and obsessions that cannot be controlled. What people cannot control, you can control for them.

34: Be royal in your own fashion. Act like a king to be treated like one.

35: Master the art of timing

36: Disdain things you cannot have, ignoring them is the best revenge

Remember: You choose to let things bother you. You can just as easily choose not to notice the irritating offender, to consider the matter trivial and unworthy of your interest. That is the powerful move.

Desire often creates paradoxical effects: The more you want something, the more you chase after it, the more it eludes you. The more interest you show, the more you repel the object of your desire. This is because your interest is too strong— it makes people awkward, even fearful. Uncontrollable desire makes you seem weak, unworthy, pathetic.

37: Create compelling spectacles

38: Think as you like but behave like others

If Machiavelli had had a prince for disciple, the first thing he would have recommended him to do would have been to write a book against Machiavellism.

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.

40: Despise the free lunch

The worth of money is not in its possession, but in its use.

41: Avoid stepping into a great man’s shoes

42: Strike the shepherd and the sheep will scatter

Within any group, trouble can most often be traced to a single source, the unhappy, chronically dissatisfied one who will always stir up dissension and infect the group with his or her ill ease. Before you know what hit you the dissatisfaction spreads. Act before it becomes impossible to disentangle

Once you recognize who the stirrer is, pointing it out to other people will accomplish a great deal.

43: Work on the hearts and minds of others

Remember: The key to persuasion is softening people up and breaking them down, gently. Seduce them with a two-pronged approach: Work on their emotions and play on their intellectual weaknesses.

44: Disarm and infuriate with the mirror effect

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.

45: Preach the need to change, but never reform too much at once

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

Even while people understand the need for change, knowing how important it is for institutions and individuals to be occasionally renewed, they are also irritated and upset by changes that affect them personally.

46: Never appear too perfect

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.

Do not try to help or do favors for those who envy you; they will think you are condescending to them.

47: Do not go past the mark you aimed for. In victory, know when to stop

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.

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