on March 15, 2004
In one's life, you're better off following the teachings of Moses, Jesus, or Buddha to gain long-term happiness. But the sad fact is, many people live by a very different set of rules, and while most of these folks eventually self-destruct, they can inflict severe damage on our personal and professional lives in the process.
48 Rules of Power is a good primer for learning how these people think. I've spotted a number of similar books in the Business section (like "Career Warfare" and classics like the "Art of War") of my local bookseller, but none put things quite as succinctly as this one. In today's predatory work culture, with good jobs (read: jobs that let you own a home and pay all the bills month to month with a little left over) becoming harder and harder to find, you almost certainly will be the target of these techniques at some point. A friend once made an innocent and extraordinarily minor faux pas at an office Christmas party, and had a homicidal CEO attempt to destroy his future using methods as varied as slander and identity theft, all done through middle manager proxies to keep his own hands clean. You need to read books like these to know how too many people at the top think. But don't live out some of these rules in real life (e.g., crush your enemy completely) - there'll always be someone who does it better, and you will get crushed. Martha Stewart got hers, so don't think you're going to smash people and live to tell the tale. Reality simply doesn't work that way - and even if you survive professionally, the spiritual rot and personal decay will leave you an isolated, paranoid wreck. Read this book in the spirit of C.S. Lewis' Screwtape Letters, in which a master demon gives advice to a protege on how to destroy mortals. Learn how to spot people who live like this - and then stay very, very far away. Jesus said, "Be wise as serpents but innocent as doves." This book, read in the right spirit, will help you with both.
on July 3, 2001
I have read the many reviews that criticize the 48 Laws as "Not Practical", "Dangerous" and "Shameless". What planet are you people from. I went to night school to get a college degree, I have followed my fathers advise and worked an honest days labor. I came in early and stayed late to get the job done. I have recieved great reviews and many promises of money and promotion. All for little. I noticed my peers, who were not as dedicated as I by their own admission, careers were moving along at the same pace as mine or faster. When I had enough, I began to talk to managers that I trusted and employees who have had success in career advancement. Guess what, their comments and advice were very similiar to many of the laws in this book.
This book is very "Practical" and, while I admit, practicing many of these laws would be "Dangerous" and "Shameless" to ignore that they are present in our every day lives is delusional.
It does not matter if you want to play the game or not, you are in it. You don't have to take a sword with you but for heavens sake at lest wear some armor. This book is that armor, to understand the 48 laws allows you to see the oppertunity/danger before it is to late. NO, I WILL NOT HURT PEOPLE FOR GAIN but I will no longer be used if I can help it.
on September 4, 2001
This book is well-written and very nicely designed. Beyond that, it's hard to see what the fuss is about.
First of all, and on the one hand, the book isn't the torrent of Machiavellian amorality you may have been led to believe. The author does go out of his way to make it _sound_ as though he's presenting you with sophisticated, in-the-know, just-between-us-hardheaded-realists amoral guidance. But as a matter of fact almost every bit of this advice _could_ have been presented without offense to the most traditional of morality.
(For example, the law about letting other people do the work while you take the credit is made to sound worse than it really is. Sure, it admits of a "low" interpretation. But it's also, read slightly differently, a pretty apt description of what any good manager does.)
Second, and on the other hand, the advice isn't _that_ good; it's merely well-presented. How it works will depend on who follows it; as the old Chinese proverb has it, when the wrong person does the right thing, it's the wrong thing.
And that's why I have to deduct some stars from the book. For it seems to be designed to appeal precisely to the "wrong people."
Despite some sound advice, this book is aimed not at those who (like Socrates) share the power of reason with the gods, but at those who (like Ulysses) share it with the foxes. It seeks not to make you reasonable but to make you canny and cunning. And as a result, even when it advises you to do things that really do work out best for all concerned, it promotes an unhealthy sense that your best interests are at odds with nearly everyone else's. (And that the only reason for being helpful to other people is that it will advance your own cloak-and-dagger "career.")
No matter how helpful some of the advice may be, it's hard to get around the book's rather pompous conceit that the reader is learning the perennial secrets of crafty courtiers everywhere. Even if only by its tone, this volume will tend to turn the reader into a lean and hungry Cassius rather than a confident and competent Caesar.
In general the book does have some useful things to say about power and how to acquire and wield it. Unfortunately its approach will probably render the advice useless to the people who need it most. Readers who come to it for guidance will come away from it pretentiously self-absorbed if not downright narcissistic; the readers who can see through its Machiavellian posturing and recognize it for what it is will be the very readers who didn't need it in the first place.
Recommended only to readers who _aren't_ unhealthily fascinated by Sun-Tzu, Balthasar Gracian, and Michael Korda.
on November 1, 2005
Read this book and your thinking will never remain the same. Drawing upon historic examples that portray man's journey through the ages as one long, unending quest to dominate his fellows, The 48 Laws of Power reads somewhat like a much expanded version of Machiavelli's The prince. Yet it carries a lot of its own originality - on many levels. One interesting, innovative feature of this book can be found in the numerous illustrations and anecdotes appearing along the page margins that the writer uses to buttress his points. Quite educative, they provided me an easy opportunity to browse through and be acquainted with fascinating classic literature from Aesop's Fables down to Sun Tzu's The Art of war.
Can we refer to the 48 Laws as success literature? Some of Robert Greene's advice seems innocent enough: Never outshine the master; win through your actions, never through argument; concentrate your forces; enter action with boldness. These are tips you would find in any self-help book that should put anyone on a stronger footing in the workplace with their boss, with colleagues, or even within the curious context of a romantic relationship.
But there is a darker, more sinister side to the 48 Laws, a side that appears to be responsible for all the notoriety that surrounds this book. There are laws which, seeming to controvert themselves in some instances, advocate underhandedness and the practice of outright evil in the pursuit of one's ambitions. Reading The 48 Laws awakens a moral conflict within us and presents two philosophies that attend the attainment of power - one inspired by goodness and the other governed by guile. But I think it all depends on the kind of success you seek. To those that would stoop to guile I would point out that Robert Greene has neglected to include what perhaps might have been the first law: All that goes around comes around; you reap what you sow.
On the other hand, some of these laws that appear to advocate evil - taken in the right context, they shed their malicious intent and turn out to be very helpful, well-meaning principles. For instance, I agree with the thought `So much depends on your reputation - guard it with you life'. But I think my reputation rests, more than anything, on my character and commitment to whatever I do, and it is along these lines I will seek to guard it. Also, when I think of `Make other people come to you - use bait if necessary', I tend to see it in the light of the principle that pronounces: The kind of person you are, to a large extent, determines the kind of people you will attract into your life. So I go about developing my `bait' - myself - in the best way I can. Fishing, as opposed to hunting, one success writer calls it.
An anecdote which fascinated me and which I kept returning to was one about Cosimo de Medici, the 15th Century Florentine banking magnate, who rode a mule instead of a horse and decidedly deferred to city officials, but effectively controlled government policy in Florence for decades. He spent a lot of his own funds on grandiose development projects across the city but preferred to live in a nondescript villa, and when he died asked to be buried in a simple tomb devoid of lavish ornamentation. Robert Greene uses Cosimo's example to illustrate a concept that is profound as it is though-provoking: the REALITY of power is much more important than the appearance of it. Unfortunately, most people tend to see it the other way.
On the whole, the 48 Laws awaken one to the on-going struggle for domination and control even in the most mundane transactions between humans. They insist that power is a reality, whether we like it or not. They impress upon us the thinking that, to survive in today's world, one has to become a man or woman of the world - at least, if not in one's actions, in one's awareness. For me, the 48 laws show one how to discern power-bids in relationships, how to read between the lines and scour the fine-print; how to recognize various inter-personal issues at stake in business and the workplace, navigating with panache and perceptiveness. They show one how to be `peaceful as a dove but wise as a serpent', how to `see the tricks coming', as another reviewer put it. Indeed, the 48 Laws seek to banish our innocence. And you'll agree...innocence, many times, can be a painful thing.
on August 15, 2001
When it comes to morality and ethics, people are used to thinking in terms of black and white. Conversely, "The 48 Laws of Power" deals primarily with the gray areas. At the risk of sounding melodramatic and trite, I say that most of the Laws covered in this book can be used for great evil or for great good. It depends on the reader. There is really nothing wrong with most of the Laws per se.
Each Law comes with true stories from history about those who successfully observed it and those who foolishly or naively trangressed it. Robert Greene has an interpretation for each story. Though each Law is self-explanatory, Greene's explanations are not padding, fluff or stuffing to make the book longer. They actually give greater clarification and depth. Greene's insight even extends to crucial warnings about how the Laws could backfire.
There are two reasons to read this book:
1. For attack: To gain power, as have others who have carefully observed the Laws;
2. For defense: To be aware of ways that people may be trying to manipulate you.
As Johann von Goethe said (as quoted in "The 48 Laws of Power", of course): "The only means to gain one's ends with people are force and cunning. Love also, they say, but that is to wait for sunshine, and life needs every moment."
Those who say they have never used any of these laws are either being hypocritical--or lying.
on April 28, 2004
I am not earning over a million bucks a year so I might not be qualified to judge the value of the book. However, as somebody in his late thirties and always stuck in the middle of world class big corps, I can tell just knowing the laws can greatly improve your ability to defend against arrows shooting at your back.
For your easy reference, the laws are:-
1. Never outshine the master
2. Never put too much trust in friends, learn how to use enemies
3. Conceal your intentions
4. Always say less than necessary
5. So much depends on reputation - guard it with your life
6. Court attention at all cost
7. Get others to do the work for you, but always take the credit
8. Make other people come to use - use bait if necessary
9. Win thru your actions, neer thru argument
10. Infection: Avoid the unhappy and unlucky
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 to their mercy or gratitude
14. Pose as a friend, work as a spy
15. Crush your enemy totally
16. Use absence to increase respect and honor
17. Keep others in suspended terror: cultivate an air of unpredictability
18. Do not build fortresses to protect yourself - isolation is dangerous
19. Know who you are dealing with - do not offend the wrong person
20. Do not commit to anyone
21. Play a sucker to catch a sucker - seem dumber than your mark
22. Use the surrender tactic: transform weakness into power
23. Concentrate your forces
24. Play the perfect courtier
25. Re-create yourself
26. Keep your hands clean
27. Play on people's need to believe to create cultlike following
28. Enter action with boldness
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
32. Play to people's fantasies
33. Discover each man's thumbcrew
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
37. Create compelling spectacles
38. Think as you like but behave like others
39. Stir up waters to catch fish
40. Despise the free lunch
41. Avoid stepping into a great man's shoes
42. Strike the shepherd and the sheep with scatter
43. Work on the hearts and minds of others
44. Disarm and infuriate with the mirror effect
45. Preach the need for change, but never reform too much at once
46. Never appear too perfect
47. Do not go past the mark you aimed for: in victory, learn when to stop
48. Assume formlessness
I hope you wont find the above "laws" too repugnant. Anyway, this book is well written with plenty of lively and interesting examples or stories. An excellent read for both leisure and self improvement, I must say. Highly recommended.
on April 13, 2000
The book is well written, engaging in concept, and it gets its points across well. It is also very useful and practical. It is, of course, also quite evil. The very essense of it in fact. Please understand that I don't usually speak in such black and white terms, or religious terms, but this book struck me as that - pure evil. Despite it's title, however, it is not really about true power. True power is about leadership, vision, and conviction. This is merely about the immoral and unethical tricks, manipulations and deceptions that some people use to work themselves into positions of influence and authority over others. Since these people and their tactics certainly exist however, this book is an excellent guide to tell you exactly what to look for in others and so help you plan your defenses. Some of the laws are common sense and relatively harmless (like law 1 - never outshine the master, or another: do not show your weaknesses, keep your mystery) but some are ruthless, unethical, immoral and I could never follow them (like - having others do your work for you and then taking credit for their work, or: targeting weaker people as demonstrations for your power by setting them up for public attack, etc.) Even if you do not plan to use the techniques yourself, it is good to know about them. It is useful to be able to form an effective defense against them for when they do come up in life. Add to this the fact that the book is entertaining to read, and you have a worthwhile purchase. Like looking at the opposite team's playbook.
More knowledge is good I think. I feel somewhat wiser for having read it.
on May 25, 1999
This is one of the best books that I have ever read. Unfortunately it is also one that can easily be misunderstood or misused. First let me say what the book is. The book is a guide to amoral methods of gaining power. It gives 48 different "laws" to use to accomplish that. The 1st misunderstanding of the book is purely the fault of the authors. "Laws" is very misleading in this case. "Strategies" works much better, but isn't quite as marketable. Anyone who tries to follow all 48 laws simultaneously all the time will be sorely dissapointed. The book will not make you an expert power player. Yes, the book does contradict itself, but in real life different strategies are needed in different situations. It's still up to you which ones to use. This brings me to the next point. Yes, the book is a distillation of many great masters of power. And, as with any distillation, the end result is not as good. But the simple fact is that the great masters are fairly difficult and boring to take straight. The book is best used almost as a primer course. It makes reading the actual texts by Machiavelli and Sun Tzu much easier. Next, the book does not advocate the use of these ideas. It does not say "Here, everyone should do this." In fact, in expressly says that these laws are not right for everyone. Those who morals tell them not to act this way, shouldn't. The book is a study of strategies for gaining power which have worked for those in the past. The book also does not advocate any particular use for power. It does not say that one should gain power for its own sake, or that one should gain power to help others. It just says that if you want to have power, here are some ways to do it. It's up to you how to use the power. The cold, hard truth is that the methods described in the book do work. Every major wielder of power in history has used some of the rules to get that power. Gandhi was a master of the use of power - Law 6 "Court Attention At All Costs", Law 8 "Make Other's Come To You", Law 9 "Win Through Your Actions", Law 16 "Use Absence to Increase Respect." These were all methods used by Gandhi to take power from the British. The most important law in my opinion is Law 19, "Know Who You're Dealing With, Do Not Offend the Wrong Person." The person who does not treat the methods in hear with the proper respect and uses them rashly will violate this law over and over. The wise reader, however, will take Law 19 to heart and learn when to and when not to use the strategies, The laws themselves are neither moral nor immoral. How they are used defines their morality. I found the book to be a wealth of ideas and examples of what works and what doesn't work. The immorality of many of the laws is balanced by the fact that the more immoral your course of action seems, the more likely you are to violate Law 19. I recomend this book on many levels. It is a fascinating study of power, and the historical examples they use are equally interesting. I would have read it for that alone. On a larger scale it is a guidebook for those who feel that they are capable of gaining power, for whatever purporse, and are also prepared to accept the risk of failure and the pain that comes with it.
on September 24, 2011
Or rather, "How to be a Sociopath in 48 Ways". This hefty tome's lessons range from the common sensical to the downright wrong. Reading through, you will most likely find an example of someone you despised for each of the laws. If you pick and choose, follow some and not others, you run the risk of following generalized and ill-suited advice, and will most likely have some bad experiences. If you follow the book's laws moderately, people will point you out and your game will be over. If you follow and digest the entire essence of the book, and live by these "laws" every day, then you surely have crossed the line into the path of evil. The author says the book is amoral, but let's examine this distinction. Amoral means without the evaluation or characteristics of right or wrong. An amoral view of human nature says that people do things for their own benefit or self-enhancement. Thus, in the process they will not care if their actions result in harm to others. That's where it crosses the line into immoral. You can ascribe to an amoral lifestyle and live the life of a hermit, and perhaps not hurt anyone in the process. But if you live in the world and interact with people, you have to consider morals. An amoral person would end up hurting someone. And after all, this book is about power. Then you'll really end up hurting many, many people.
As a psychology graduate, I will tell readers that this book is a guide to becoming like a megalomaniacal, paranoid sociopath (antisocial personality disorder). If you already have some of the dark triad traits (psychopathy, Machiavellianism, narcissism), then some of this book comes naturally to you. But for those people out there that respect human beings, do not like manipulation or power games, please spare this book and read something better, like Daniel Goleman's "Emotional Intelligence". The author made an offshoot called "The 50th Law"- and guess who co-authored it? 50 Cent, or Curtis Jackson. Is it a surprise that his work inspires renowned scumbags? Everyone from Bernie Madoff to the guys at Enron has done the type of things that this book describes. And being well versed in WWII history and totalitarianism, I will tell you flatly that this book's tactics were all similar to those followed by Adolf Hitler in his rise to power. Ask yourself if the hurt the world has caused you warrants turning into someone like that.
If you are someone high in Social Dominance Orientation (look it up), this book is for you- although you probably wouldn't need it. But these are not "laws" of power. Some of the material in this book is okay- but a majority of it is ill-natured. To read this book and employ its tactics, you must lose all senses of empathy, live for yourself only, begin using people as tools, viewing people as objects, living in total deceit, and losing any of that which makes you a mannered and loving human. Following these rules will make you not want to shave in the morning because you won't bear to even look at yourself in the mirror. If you want that for your life, please go ahead. This criticism is not based on religious grounds- I am an atheist telling you that this book is wrong. At least Machiavelli said that he'd rather be both feared and loved, but under dire circumstances, feared. This book will make you feared by some, but hated and held in contempt by others. It's the culmination of American narcissism that leads to a book like this being published. If you've read the author's other book, "The Art of Seduction" you would be similarly disgusted. At least the pick-up artist losers have an air of almost cute simple-mindedness. The author implores you to masquerade and run circles around your "victim" with mixed messages. Exactly what this country needs to bridge the gender misunderstanding. We already have a problem with cutthroats and selfish individuals.
To appreciate this book, you must be a certain type of person. You must have lived in an environment that was bleak, hopeless, and filled with traps and treachery. I know two people who accurately embody the material in this book. One left from communist Russia, the other came a few years ago from the Islamic Republic of Iran. This is a good survival guide in highly-stressful societies where saying the wrong thing or being associated with the wrong person is a ticket to the gulag or being hung from a crane in the middle of Tehran. But this is not useful for people not in those situations. Here is what the book teaches you, you decide if its worth it:
1. Kiss the boss's ass.
2. Make enemies, because you learn from them.
3. Hide your intentions.
4. Speak cryptically.
5. Guard your reputation; destroy those who undermine it.
6. Be an attention-seeker.
7. Use other people to do things for you and take the credit.
8. Bait people.
9. Don't analyze, act (the motto of fascism).
10. People who are hurt are like infectious parasites.
11. Make people depend on you.
12. Be "selectively honest", disarm your "victim" with generosity.
13. People have no sense of mercy or thankfulness.
14. Pretend to be someone's friend while gathering information on them.
15. Destroy people, annihilate them. Ruin their lives.
16. Play hookie to make people "want" you.
17. Interpersonal Terrorism
18. Be one in the crowd, use the crowd to shield you from your enemies.
19. Don't screw over the wrong person.
20. Be non-commital.
21. Pretend to be dumb, so they won't suspect.
22. Surrender, to stab your enemy in the back.
23. Use every resource you have to defeat an enemy.
24. Flatter people, yield to your boss, and be cruel to those under you.
25. Don't abide by the social contract. Ally yourself only to your self. Redefine this self to get as much attention as possible.
26. Keep your hands clean- erase any knowledge others have of you messing things up. Never admit to your mistakes. Instead, scapegoat other people.
27. Develop a God complex. Feed people what they want to hear and make them follow you.
28. Be bold in all of your actions.
29. Plan out every little thing.
30. Make your accomplishments seem effortless. Also, never let anyone know how you did them.
31. Control people's options.
32. Feed people the lies they want to hear.
33. Find out everyone's button, save this information, and push it accordingly.
34. Act like a member of royalty.
35. Master timing.
36. Show contempt for things (and people) you cannot have. By showing you are upset, you are admitting "weakness".
37. Create a lot of spectacles.
38. Behave like other people as a mask.
39. Use other people's emotions; play with them.
40. Free things are dangerous. Instead, pay for everything yourself and make sure people see it.
41. Don't follow in anyone's footsteps.
42. Attack someone that bothers you. Don't bother negotiating or understanding them. Just attack them so they shut up and your reputation remains intact.
43. Seduce people by playing with their emotions.
44. Mirror people so they get annoyed and humiliated.
45. Preach "change" and other vague promises, but never act too much on them.
46. Pretend to mess up once in a while. People will see that you're not a sociopath after all.
47. Achieve in moderation.
48. Be formless. Form, order, routine= predictability. And those CIA guys following you over your shoulder all this time will spot that and destroy you.
There you have it. The 48 Laws of Power. I will say that if you plan on entering politics or illicit trade, this is a must-read. But if you are not a scumbag, please don't waste your money on this.
on April 25, 2011
One of the most thought-provoking books I've read in years. Unfortunately, it is full of bad advice. The problem is, some of the book's most fundamental premises are deeply flawed.
The core premise is that everyone wants power. Everyone is actively seeking more power, and nobody wants less. This assumption, while generally true, is also a deceptive oversimplification. Most people do not want more power than necessary. Most want a limited but adequate and sustainable power base, enough to secure their needs, their loved ones, and some of their desires. They want survival and fulfillment, and they need an ongoing flow of power sufficient to sustain them over time. And unlike many of the historical figures referenced in the book, they do not idolize or fetishize power. They do not pursue power over others without regard to moral consequences.
This is not the book's worst problem, however. After all, if the reader wants more power, why not keep reading? The core premise is true for the reader, and so the advice is still of interest.
Unfortunately, the advice is bad. In particular, Mr. Green advocates two patterns of behavior that he views as essential to the struggle for power: deception and ruthlessness.
One cannot deny that deception and ruthlessness are, to some extent, necessary in the struggle for power. But the basic orientation should be toward honesty and care for one's fellow human being. Departures from that basic orientation need to be given careful consideration. Tactics of deception and ruthlessness are often detrimental to society, and dangerous for the individual who adopts them.
Mr. Greene does an excellent job of sifting through centuries of history to find anecdotes to fit his theories. Mr. Greene's general form of analysis is to describe a success story in which using some form of deception or ruthlessness leads to an increase in power. But what about those stories in which deception and ruthlessness lead to ruin? Is not history full of those tales as well?
Another problem with Greene's analysis is that he looks at specific, bounded chains of events, rather than at the overall lives of the people involved. He focuses on particular actions, and a particular set of consequences arising from them, not on the long-term effects of habitual behavior. In so doing, he looks at the external factors, but neglects the inner life of the actor. He does not consider the alienation that can arise from a life of deception, from the creation of a sharp divide between public and private life. He does not consider the sense of emptiness and disorientation that comes from living without authenticity, from behaving in ways contrary to what one really needs and wants, all for the purpose of some public façade. He does not consider that trust is utterly essential to meaningful, fulfilling human relationships, and must be cultivated over years, and is ever fragile.
Finally, by way of critique, I'd like to point out the inherent tension between some of Greene's specific laws. Law 5 states, "So much depends on reputation - guard it with your life." Law 26 states, "Keep your hands clean." But by contrast, consider some other laws. "Get others to do the work for you, but always take the credit" (Law 7). "Crush your enemy totally" (Law 15). "Conceal your intentions" (Law 3). "Keep other in suspended terror . . ." (Law 17). I would argue that a practitioner of laws 3, 7, 15, and 17 would have great difficulty observing laws 5 and 26. You can fool some people some of the time. As for the rest, if you continually deprive them of credit for their work, fail to show mercy toward others, constantly conceal your intentions or disappoint their expectations, and behave erratically and unpredictably, they will quickly learn to regard you with caution, if not disdain. Your reputation will be horrible.
Instead, focus on the creation of a marketable source of value. History, and society today, are full of people who became wealthy and powerful because they were able to create a product or service that other people needed or wanted. This might involve mastering a skill, or a specialized area of knowledge, or just the ability to make others enjoy one's own company. And be tactfully honest, to the extent that you can, reserving deception for special cases where it's morally defensible. And watch out for people who adhere to Mr. Greene's advice. They should be held at a distance, and handled with great care.