The 48 Laws of Power
Category: handling people
This is a site about personal development books. You all knew this one had to come up eventually.
The 48 Laws of Power is a fascinating book about power in history.
Each chapter discusses one of the 48 laws of power and its uses throughout history. The typical chapter often begins with a transgression of the law, then an observance, then goes in depth in the the subtleties of the law, and finally ends with a possible reversal of that law.
Each law is illustrated with multiple examples from 3000 years of history.
Some people say that these laws have only worked in history, and won’t work today. I beg to differ. In light of the 2016 election, Donald Trump has used multiple principles from this book to his advantage. It’s downright scary what they can do.
Some people might say these laws only apply to politics and business. Again, they would be wrong. Robert Greene has pulled examples from the world of art, seduction, and con artists. Anywhere there is a hierarchy, these laws are at play.
Which brings be to my next point:
I honestly found it tough to write a review about this book. A lot of it is worrying about other peoples’ opinions of you, and acting strategically false to gain power and influence (think about that for a sec).
It goes against most personal development ideas which tell you to be authentic and vulnerable. I do believe that you must be authentic and vulnerable in order to connect with people. That has actually been one of my big sticking points lately.
Law 46 deals with this topic: “Never appear too perfect.” But again, it tells you to strategically leak a minor weakness.
After a lot of refection on this topic and the topic of the book in general, I came to this conclusion: It is a book about human nature and society. After all, society is by definition a power structure.
This book takes a radical view of things: it makes the world into a Hunger Games-like fight to the death when we all know it is much more than that. It is a very complete work on the subject of power and addresses you, the reader, directly, as if it were a kind of handbook for the power-hungry.
The trick is to read between the lines: what is actually discussed is how people and society operate and respond to different stimuli.
Now that we have covered that, I want to talk about another reason why it can be useful to you.
Of course you could live your whole life by this book, taking it literally, and in the process never creating any close relationship with anyone. But I’m sure you would rise to the top of the totem pole and have the same influence as the Medici family did in Italy.
But I wouldn’t advise it.
The blurb on the back of the book says it is for “those who want power, watch power, or want to arm themselves against power.” I think it is extremely important that you know how power works and how it can be used against you.
The other benefit of reading this book is, again, to learn about human nature. If you look deeper than the ruthless cunning this book tells you to partake in, you can find plenty of gold nuggets about how people work.
An example to illustrate this point would be Law 17: Keep others in suspended terror: Cultivate an air of unpredictability.
Rephrasing that sentence to study human nature would look something like this: People are afraid of what they don’t know.
It should also be noted that some of these laws are purely methods of influence (for example “Get others to play with the cards you deal”).
This book has a lot in common with How to Win Friends and Influence People by Dale Carnegie. A lot of people disagree with this. How to Win Friends is so positive and the 48 Laws are so bleak!
They seem different on the outside, but the message is the same.
Look at some of the things they talk about: One rule in the latter is to “Talk in terms of the other person’s interests.” One of the 48 Laws is “When asking for help, appeal to people’s self-interest, never to their mercy or gratitude.” Same message, very different package.
I will say that the 48 Laws makes life out to be heartless and bleak whereas How to Win Friends is the family-friendly version.
You should read both.
All in all, The 48 Laws of Power is a VERY complete book on the subject of power, influence, and human nature at large.
“Power has its own rhythms and patterns. Those who succeed at the game are the ones who control the patterns and vary them at will, keeping people off balance while they set the tempo.”
Despite it’s bold content and approach to life, The 48 Laws of Power is an excellent book for two reasons:
- To understand human nature and society as a whole.
- To understand and protect yourself from forces of power.