48 Laws of Power List (Ultimate Summary)

The game of chess offers a metaphor for the game of power.

Learn to Be Powerful

Our 48 Laws of Power list summarizes each of the laws while preserving the important details contained in Robert Greene’s timeless classic. It is a long book, and we thought you might like a summary. Without further ado, the concise 48 Laws of Power list:

Law #1: Never Outshine the Master

Nicolas Fouquet made the mistake of appearing larger than his King, Louis XIV, and spent his remaining days incarcerated. Avoid victories over superiors. It will cost you more than it is worth.

Law #2: Never Put too Much Trust in Friends,

Learn how to use enemies. Michael III of the Byzantine Empire was saved from death by his friend Basilius. Michael favored Basilius with gifts and prestige. Basilius, lusting for more power, murdered Michael out of greed. He was insatiable. Trust from a distance. People are selfish and pursue their own interests. Former opponents make often make more loyal and stronger friends.

Law #3: Conceal Your Intentions

The Marquis de Sevigne wanted to seduce a young countess. Instead of being indirect and subtle he exposed his true feelings for her and she lost all interest as he blurted out that he loved her. Add a sense of inexplicable mystery to your character.

Law #4: Always Say Less than Necessary

A woman shushing because it is important to say less.

Due to his unpredictability, Louis XIV would have his courtiers tremble in fear when delivering bad news. He would say "I shall see,” then order them to leave the room. He would either take action or decide to do nothing about the issue, but in either case kept an intimidating silence. Only speak when you have something meaningful to say. Actions speak louder than words.

Law #5: So Much Depends on Reputation – Guard It with Your Life

During the second World War Erwin Rommel was known for his cunning skill and deceptive strategy. The allied generals were demoralized and doubted their ability to win against Rommel. Your reputation precedes you. Build and protect it carefully.

Law #6: Court Attention at all Cost

Pablo Picasso would not allow himself to fade into the background. He would rather paint something out of the ordinary and ugly than be forgotten. All publicity is good publicity. Don't let yourself become one of many.

Law #7: Get Others to Do the Work for You

Thomas Edison wasn't much of a scientist, but he was an excellent businessman. He often capitalized on Nikola Tesla's genius and stole all the credit. Hire talents capable of doing what you can't.

Law #8: Make Other People Come to You – Use Bait if Necessary

When I have laid bait for deer, I don’t shoot at the first doe that comes to sniff but wait until the whole herd has gathered round.
— Otto von Bismarck

Force your opponent to react to your moves.

Law #9: Win Through Your Actions - Not Through Argument

Mucianus needed strong war ships and requested his engineers build him a fleet. Without guarding his tongue, the king’s head engineer argued for a different class than the one Mucianus preferred, saying his choice would be much better for the campaign. Despite being right, the engineer was sentenced to death. Don't argue with authorities. Agree and suggest an alternative, then demonstrate.

Law #10: Infection: Avoid the Unhappy and Unlucky

Lola Montez brought down the King of Bavaria and his whole kingdom by seducing him. Her lust for destruction and chaos was insatiable. Countless lives perished because of her charm. Cut off the firestarters. Try to help them and you will burn alongside them.

Law #11: Learn to Keep People Dependent on You

Otto von Bismarck led the King's hand in uniting a mighty Prussia. None other than Bismarck was able to do so. He proved himself to be an indispensable asset and secured his position by being impossible to replace. Be the only one who can do what you do or see yourself replaced sooner or later.

Law #12: Use Selective Honesty to Disarm Your Victim

Count Victor Lustig offered to double Al Capone's $50,000. Instead of running with the money, he gave it all back to Capone who thought he was being played by a con artist. Capone gave Lustig the $50,000 to reward an honest man. Tell the truth to gain your opponent's trust. Be honest when expected to be dishonest to throw your opponent off guard.

Law #13: Asking for Help Appeal to People's Self Interest

A man and a woman shaking hands over a game of chess.

In 433 B.C., the Athenians found themselves in a favorable position. The Corcyrans & the Corinthians were preparing for war. Both parties wanted to secure the help of the Athenians. The Corinthians chose to remind them of an existing debt. The Corcyrans spoke only of mutual interests, and asked the Athenians to imagine the combined force of their navy directed against Sparta. The Athenians allied with the Corcyrans. In sales of any kind, pragmatic arguments will always trump moralizing. The past does not matter. Don't count on loyalty. Aim for win-win deals.

Law #14: Pose as a Friend, Work as a Spy

Charles Maurice de Talleyrand-Périgord, French politician and mastermind behind Napoleon Bonaparte's defeat would hold himself back in conversation and let others talk endlessly of themselves. They often betrayed their thoughts, intentions, and strategies. His conversations were interrogations disguised as friendly chats. The tactic was so subtle that the victim did not notice. Learn to judge a person's character by what they reveal about themselves. This skill will allow you to recognize a threat before it arises. Test people's honesty before you consider trusting them.

Law #15: Crush Your Enemy Totally

I do not have to forgive my enemies. I have had them all shot.
— Ramon Narvaez

A priest asked the dying Spanish statesman and general Ramon Maria Narvaez (1800-1868), "Does your Excellency forgive all your enemies?"

When it is clear that words are useless and the enemy cannot possibly be reasoned with, you must employ your last resort: total destruction. Merely wound the enemy, he will recover and show no mercy in turn.

Law #16: Use Absence to Increase Respect and Honor

A man said to a Dervish:

Why do I not see you more often?” The Dervish replied, “Because the words ‘Why have you not been to see me?’ are sweeter to my ear than the words ‘Why have you come again?’
— Mulla Jami

Give people time to miss you by robbing them of your presence. It's when we lose something, that we discover how valuable it had been to us. On your return you will be appreciated more.

Law #17: Cultivate an Air of Unpredictability

Once Pablo Picasso had become a recognized artist, the people he did business with assumed that his actions were all calculated. The art dealer Paul Rosenberg was confused when one day Picasso told him they would no longer work together. Rosenberg couldn't figure out why and offered Picasso a much better deal. The unpredictable is terrifying. When you don't know what to expect, you cannot prepare properly. It is impossible to devise a clever plan when you're in the dark. Put others in such a position when negotiating.

Law #18: Isolation is Dangerous

The more isolated you are, the easier it is to deceive you. You lose touch with reality. When someone is urging you to cut friends and family out of your life, realize that they want to control and influence you all by themselves. Whether they do this consciously or unconsciously, it is malicious. Be careful in cutting yourself off from others for too long. Whether or not you are introverted, you may cause yourself great harm psychologically by pushing others away from you.

Law #19: Do Not Offend the Wrong Person

Muhammad, the shah of Khwarezm, and Inalchik had Ghengis Khan's messengers beheaded despite the fact that they came in peace with gifts and offerings. The Khan declared war, seized the enemy's capital and had Inalchik killed by having molten silver poured into his eyes and ears. Later Ghengis Khan seized Samarkand, bringing his brutal conquest of Muhammad's vast empire to an end. Would the world be different if Adolf Hitler had been given the chance to become an artist? Perhaps history would have taken a different course. Avoid insulting others. You do not know who you're dealing with... even though we live in a time where everyone is offended and the level of political correctness borders on absolute madness.

Law #20: Do Not Commit to Anyone

Alcibiades, Greek soldier & statesman found himself courted by the Athenians and the Spartans because he wielded influence over the Persians who honored him because he had influence over the Greek city states. Instead of committing to one side, he played all of them in his favor. Committing is like handing yourself over to be someone else’s tool. It will burden you with more obligations and less control.

Law #21: Play a Sucker to Catch a Sucker

The only true wisdom is in knowing you know nothing
— Socrates

Socrates didn't actually believe that he did not know anything. It was his way of disarming people. Sometimes you have to play dumb, so that the enemy lets his guard down. Being openly smart is foolish. Being openly foolish is smart.

Law #22: Surrender Tactic: Transform Weakness into Power

Weak people never give way when they ought to.
— Cardinal de Retz

The Melians were asked to surrender by the Athenians but declined the offer. Despite an alliance with the Spartans, the Spartans did not come to the Melians’ rescue. Melos was conquered, and their population slaughtered & sold into slavery.

Avoid weakness, but when you find yourself in a weak spot, choose to fight another day. You will lose the current battle, but the war is not over.

Law #23: Concentrate Your Forces

The greater an empire's territories the more vulnerable it is. Great lands need strong borders. Else they may be overrun by barbarian tribes as happened to the Romans. Your armies are strongest when they march together. Divide them and they may not be able to protect the empire from an invasion. Dedicate your complete focus to one front, using every resource at your disposal and all of your energy to master your craft through total immersion.

Law #24: Play the Perfect Courtier

One cannot write out courtiership without recalling Charles Maurice de Talleyrand Perigord, the man who brought down Napoleon Bonaparte, master of the battlefield. You are a courtier whether you like it or not. You must play the game of power, so you might as well choose to be good at it. The perfect courtier obeys his masters but shines in his own light. He is not powerless, does not trust, but appears trustful, doesn't talk much, but finds the right words and speaks at the right time when he does. Everyone likes him. He is charming, witty, and helpful. He appears to be neutral, a paragon of honesty and fairness. He always has a genuine smile on his face. We don't doubt his intentions for one second. Although he is very talented, we are not threatened by him. We seek him as an ally. The perfect courtier holds more power than the king himself, without the dangers of that position. As he targets the highest authorities, he watches the chest board from the shadows. Though pieces are struck down on both sides, he is winning. Learn the art of courtiership.

Law #25: Recreate Yourself

A man holding a mask that represents the 25th law of power.

Others will label you what they think of you. They will remember you by what they think they see in you. Our public identities are all superficial. Every now and again you'll receive a genuine compliment, but your parents, friends, society, and your government expects you to fit into their mold. Choose to be whatever you want to be. Feel free to change yourself in whatever way you like. You have the freedom to dismiss and reject the opinions of others. While you do it, put on a good show like Gaius Julius Caesar. The world is your stage. You decide what role you want to play. Think of life like a book that you are writing. You're the main character, so act like it. But tip your hat to peoples expectations to keep them on your side.

Law #26: Keep Your Hands Clean

As recorded in Niccolo Machiavelli's letter to his prince, Cesare Borgia used Remirro di Orco as a tool to harass his enemies. In the end, he used his servant as a scapegoat. He blamed Remirro di Orco for his atrocities and threw lavish banquets for the common folk, presenting himself as a caring and benevolent ruler. The ultimate act of betrayal, is to have someone's back only to find out they've been using you this whole time. Avoid falling into the trap of being someone's cats-paw or scapegoat.

Law #27: Play on People’s Need to Believe

There are two different types of people in the world, those who want to know, and those who want to believe.
— Friedrich Nietzsche

We strive to find meaning in a world filled with formless chaos. Most of us resort to the comfort of believing in unproven divine entities. Your quest for answers and your need to belong can be used against you, whether your manipulator is using you as a mindless disciple or as a loyal customer for a particular brand.

Beware the irrational, however seductive. Shun the ‘transcendent’ and all who invite you to subordinate or annihilate yourself.
— Christopher Hitchens

If someone claims to have all the answers, they are a liar. When you fall prey to these predators, you give more power to those who don't have your best interest at heart. You cannot let others think for you. If something doesn't make sense to you, feel free to dismiss it.

Law #28: Enter Action with Boldness

Be confident enough to play the role of Monsieur Lustig, one of the greatest con artists in history. He sold the Eiffeltower to greedy scrap metal business owners looking to make a fortune over night for millions of dollars, not once, but twice. Make sure it is clear that you are not playing around. If you do not hesitate, you will find that your moves meet success. Be bold in seduction, strategy and power games. Do you remember the split second before a Mike Tyson boxing match, where Mike Tyson's opponent would flinch and break eye contact? They already knew that they were beaten. There is scene where Marco Polo & Kublai Khan stare down a wolf. Juxtaposition hesitation versus boldness. In order to be fearless, you need courage. Be bold.

Law #29: Plan all the Way to the End

The Gods on Mount Olympus look down on human actions from the clouds. They see in advance the endings of all great dreams that lead to disaster and tragedy. And they laugh at our inability to see beyond the moment, and at how we delude ourselves.
— Robert Greene

Before you take action consider the possible outcomes and consequences, and calculate the risk. Then, execute, but only if the goal is worth it. As time passes you may need to reform your strategy as it would be foolish to stick to a plan that ignores change.

Law #30: Make Your Accomplishments Seem Effortless

Harry Houdini made his stunt performances look like they were a walk in the park, a piece of cake, as easy as stealing a child's lollipop. No one saw how much work, preparation, and practice went into every piece of the show. We call such illusions magic. Make it look like your success was improvised, invented upon the spot, and you will seem like a genius. Boast about how much work you expended and the natural allure of your accomplishment, the magic, disappears.

Law #31: Get others to Play with the Cards

Ivan the Terrible let Russia choose between him as their czar or total destruction at the hands of his enemies the Boyars. He made them see that he offered the only hope for safety. The Russians begged him to come back to the capitol and lead them. This was what he wanted all along. People like to think they have a choice. Present options that will work for you either way. This is the norm in elections and anything of real importance. Just like Houdini's performance, the choice is an illusion.

Law #32: Play to People’s Fantasies

People's need to believe their fantasies . Il Brigadino was an alchemist. People believed he could turn objects like wood into gold. Ironically the only gold he ever made was given to him by the people who wanted him to multiply it. People inspired by his success started trying to learn and practice alchemy. Stop clicking on How to Make a Million Dollars Overnight click bait, stop buying 6-minute ab workout programs, and stop going to the 7 Steps On How to Pull Hot Chicks events. Stop deceiving yourself. If it sounds too good to be true, it probably is.

Law #33: Discover Each Man’s Thumbscrew

Cardinal Richelieu would discover the weaknesses of everyone around him. He capitalized on the knowledge by being useful to them until they were of no use to him. He eventually worked his way up through the court to the king. Know the weak spots of your opponents, the cracks in their defense and you will know what you have to work with, when you need it. In reverse, do not betray your own weaknesses.

Law #34: Be Royal in Your Own Fashion – Act Like a King

The King piece on a chess board representing law 34.

Christopher Columbus did not accept the lowly status in the world into which he was born. He recreated his family tree, married into nobility and peddled with kings. People begin to think that there must be something to his bold requests. He appeared legitimate. If you ask for less, you will receive less. Do not think lowly of yourself. You're a king in your own right. You're a queen in your own right.

Law #35: Master the Art of Timing

Joseph Fouché switched sides whenever he sensed danger. His biography is riddled with nigh impossible escapes from death. He did not deem it necessary to be loyal to disloyal men. Say what you will of his ethics, he certainly knew when to act and when to wait. Time brings with it change. You must know not only when to adapt, but at what exact moment to apply pressure. Act too quickly and you're a traitor. Too late and you're just an imitator. In any case, learn to use time to your advantage.

Law #36: Disdain Things You Cannot Have

King Henry VIII of England would not speak to his wife Cathrine of Aragon for denying him a son. He and Thomas Cromwell devised a clever plan that would allow Henry VIII to marry Anne Boelyn. When you ignore someone, they cannot argue with you. They cannot influence you. You're out of reach and they have no power. If there is something you desire but cannot have given the circumstances, it is best to reject and replace it with another strategy.

Law #37: Create Compelling Spectacles

Whenever you find yourself on the side of the majority, it is time to pause and reflect.
— Mark Twain

Dr. Weisleder pretended to heal his patients with the energy of moonlight. Why was this obvious scam so successful? Well, people didn't have the internet back then, but they also believed it was too spectacular to be a lie. The grandiosity of the spectacle, inspired rich and famous personalities to beg for a turn. Use powerful symbols like the moon to inspire people; the very absence of plausibility lets people fill in the logical gaps with their imaginations. We tend to believe that if everyone believes something, it must be true.

Law #38: Think As You Like, But Behave Like Others

In 478 B.C. the fearless and experienced warrior Pausinias and his Greek troops captured part of the Persian empire. The power caused Pausinias to act very strangely. He spoke ill of his people and treated them poorly. Feeling and showing superiority breeds hate. His god-complex and constant need to stand out resulted in his assassination. You want to fit in, whether you share common beliefs or not. Being better or different in any way just causes trouble. If you flaunt your success, you invite other people's envy and disdain. Your people will ostracize you from the group and slander your reputation. Remember: How much money do you make? About 70% of whatever the person that asked makes.

Law #39: Stir Up Waters to Catch Fish

Lay a trap with bait and wait. Mice love cheese so much, they often fail to see the obvious construction around it. When you know your enemies and their weaknesses, you know what they react to. Use this knowledge against them. Create a false alarm. They will scramble about, trying to save what they hold dear. They thus expose their weaknesses. Now you know where you hit them. Keep yourself from being reactive. Rage, blinding emotions, fear, desire, etc. make you predictable, which makes you weak. Don't be impulsive.

Law #40: Despise the Free Lunch

Louis XIV had an eagle eye for the strategic power of money. He would gift paintings of great value to people who didn't like him very much. In doing so he inspired the nobility to take his side. At the same time, he taxed the aristocrats who wanted him gone. He took money from his enemies and gave it to his new friends. Thus, he killed two birds with one stone. This is one of my favorite laws, because it shows that misers miss out on opportunities. It pays to be generous and it pays not to accept "free" gifts. What is the Return of Investment (ROI) on paying for someone's coffee? Sit down at Starbucks with an influential, connected, and experienced entrepreneur. Talk to him for 10 minutes, ask his advice, learn from his mistakes. If you retain one thing from this 48 Laws of Power list list, remember law 41.

Law #41: Avoid Stepping into a Great Man’s Shoes

Alexander the Great's father set the standard of achievement very high. Alexander was not content to live in his father's shadow. He refused to rest on his father's laurels.

When Alexander saw the breadth of his domain, he wept for there were no more worlds to conquer.

What if Alexander the Great had had a son who wanted to be a conqueror? It is an understatement to say that he would pale in comparison. Not a soul would have attributed Alexander’s son’s success to him for he would have achieve everything on the shoulders of his father. Don't try to be someone else. Instead go your own way. Be your best self without apology.

Law #42: Strike the Shepherd and the Sheep Will Scatter

When the tree falls, the monkeys scatter. Cut the snake at the head. What is an army without its generals, without leadership? Whole empires have been built by conscientious leaders with iron willpower and visions. Take away the leader and the empire will break apart and crumble as people turn on each other, just like what happened to the Macedonian empire after Alexander’s death. Often a few key people make up the glue that keeps an organization running. This is true for any kind of social group or hierarchy in business. Do with this information what you will.

Law #43: Work on the Heart and Mind of Others

In October 1793, the French Revolution brought the end of the monarchy. Marie-Antoinette knelt under the guillotine because she never cared about her people's opinions and complaints. She thought she was above the common folk. She paid the price for her pampered life and disgustingly narcissistic attitude. You should influence people using Dale Carnegie’s strategies. Become a person recognized for your kindness and helpful demeanor. Be agreeable or face the consequences of being hated. Be humble or be humbled.

Law #44: Disarm and Infuriate with the Mirror Effect

Alcibiades was accused by the Athenians of profaning sacred statues, so he fled. He then charmed the Spartans and impregnated the king's wife. He later helped Athens win their war against Sparta. They welcomed him back with open arms.

Wherever Alcibiades went, whoever he had to deal with, he would leave behind his own values and appear to share the values of his victims. No one could resist a man who not only concurred with them, but also admired their ways of living, seeming to be one of their own.
— Robert Greene

You like people who like you and who are like you. Match people's energy, speak their language, eat their food, find common ground and even envious people will drop their preconceived notions against you.

Law #45: Preach Change but Never Reform Quickly

Sometimes change is imperative, but human beings love the comfort of familiarity. The unknown, disorder, and chaos are very disruptive and undesirable even when the risk might improve our position. We prefer small, incremental changes that build over a long period of time allowing everyone to adjust at a comfortable pace. Move things in the right direction, while not stirring up too much anxiety and dissent. Change the world gradually, one step at a time.

Law #46 Never Appear Too Perfect

It takes great talent and skill to conceal one’s talent and skill.
— La Rochefoucauld

If you have been paying attention, you will have noticed that a lot of the laws in this 48 Laws of Power list repeat the themes of master and slave, domination and submission, superiority and inferiority, ego and humility, arrogance and envy, jealousy and hatred. The suggestions are often vicious and destructive. Everyone wants to be the king, no one wants to be the pawn. But you do not want to envy nor be envied. You want to be the faceless man behind the throne. Let others die on the chess board. You don't want to be a visible target. You want to win at the game of power no matter what side loses.

Law #47: In Victory Learn When to Stop

In 1751 Madame de Pompadour found herself unable to satisfy Louis XV's lustful ambitions. To hold onto her privileged position she arranged for younger, prettier women to keep the king happy. She had to swallow her pride and share Louis with others. They, however, could not compete with her charm, talents, taste and flawless sense of fashion. Her reign as mistress lasted an unprecedented twenty years. Don't push too far or you risk losing it all. Know when to take a loss and move on.

Law #48: Assume Formlessness

The Spartans, the most powerful infantry the world had ever seen, lost a war with Athens because they were outnumbered and unwilling to change their strategy. They did not adapt to the circumstance. They did not build walls. They did not want to conquer new lands, nor engage in trade for gold. Meanwhile Athens was thriving through constant reform. Sparta fell behind and collapsed. Don't fight change. When you catch yourself in the futile attempt to resist a new order, remind yourself that it represents an opportunity for you to fill the vacuum.

You must be shapeless, formless, like water. When you pour water in a cup, it becomes the cup. When you pour water in a bottle, it becomes the bottle. When you pour water in a teapot, it becomes the teapot. Water can drip, and it can crash. Be water my friend.
— Bruce Lee

That is it! You have finished reading through our 48 Laws of Power list! Go get powerful!