BOOK REVIEW: The 48 Laws of Power


By Ox Drover

Many times on Lovefraud, bloggers have joked with me that a particular phrase or behavior “came out of the ”˜Psychopath’s play book,’“ the kind of book in which a football team would write all their usual plays.

I recently bought a book entitled, The 48 Laws of Power, by Robert Greene, because it sounded like an interesting book. But the more I got into it, I realized that the heretofore-thought-mythical “Psychopathic Play book” does exist, and this is it!

Robert Greene, by the way, also wrote The Art of Seduction.

Here’s what the jacket blurb on the back of The 48 Laws of Power says about its content:

The best-selling book for those who want POWER, watch POWER, or want to arm themselves against POWER. Amoral, cunning, ruthless and instructive, this piercing work distills three thousand years of the history of power into forty-eight well explicated laws. As attention-grabbing in its design as in its content, this bold volume outlines the laws of power in their unvarnished essence, synthesizing the philosophies of Machiavelli, Sun Tzu, Carol Von Clausewitz and other great thinkers. Some laws require prudence, some stealth, some total absence of mercy, but like it or not, all have applications in real-life situations. Illustrated through the tactics of Queen Elizabeth I, Henry Kissinger, P. T. Barnum, and other famous figures who have wielded, or been victimized by power, these laws will fascinate any reader interested in gaining, observing, or defending against ultimate control.

The 48 laws are listed in the contents

Law 1: Never outshine the master

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

Law 3: Conceal your intentions

Law 4: Always say less than necessary

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

Law 6: Court attention at all cost

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

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

Law 9: Win through your actions, never through argument

Law 10: Infection: avoid the unhappy and unlucky

Law 11: Learn to keep people dependent on you

Law 12: Use selective honesty and generosity to disarm your victim

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

Law 14: Pose as a friend, work as a spy

Law 15: Crush your enemy totally

Law 16: Use absence to increase respect and honor

Law 17: Cultivate an air of unpredictability

Law 18: Do not built fortresses to protect yourself, isolation is dangerous

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

Law 20: Do not commit to anyone

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

Law 22: Use the surrender tactic: Transform weakness into power

Law 23: Concentrate your forces

Law 24: Play the perfect courtier

Law 25: Re-create yourself

Law 26: Keep your hands clean

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

Law 28: Enter action with boldness

Law 29: Play all the way to the end

Law 30: Make your accomplishments seem effortless

Law 31: Control the options: Get others to play with the cards you deal

Law 32: Play to people’s fantasies

Law 33: Discover each man’s thumb screw

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

Law 35: Master the art of timing

Law 36: Disdain things you cannot have: Ignoring them is the best revenge

Law 37: Create compelling spectacles

Law 38: Think as you like but behave like others

Law 39: Stir up waters to catch fish

Law 40: Despise the free lunch

Law 41: Avoid stepping into a great man’s shoes

Law 42 Strike the shepherd and the sheep will scatter

Law 43: Work on the hearts and minds of others

Law 44: Disarm and infuriate with the mirror effect

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

Law 46: Never appear too perfect

Law 47: Do not go past the mark you aimed for; in victory, learn when to stop

Law 48: Assume formlessness

Perfect advice for psychopaths

The preface of the book gets right down to business:

No one wants less power, everyone wants more ”¦ in the world today,  however, it is dangerous to seem too power hungry, to be overt with your power moves. We have to seem fair and decent. So we need to be subtle—congenial yet cunning, democratic, yet devious.

This game of constant duplicity most resembles the power dynamic that existed in the scheming world of the old aristocratic court(s).

The author, Greene, then goes on to perfectly describe the psychopath’s ways, without naming him such “”¦those who make a show or display of innocence are the least innocent of all.” What else but a psychopath could “recognize”¦by the way they flaunt their moral qualities, their piety, their exquisite sense of justice ”¦ but (they) are merely throwing dust in our eyes distracting us from their power plays with their air of moral superiority”¦.you will see they are often the ones most skillful at indirect manipulation, …and they greatly resent any publicizing of the tactics they use.”


In directing his readers how to master the most important skills in acquiring power, Greene tells them that the most important foundation is to “master your emotions.” He states that an emotional response is the single greatest barrier to gaining power. In this particular thing, I totally agree with him, because if we are emotional about a situation, we lose sight of the ultimate goal, and as he says, “cannot prepare for and respond to it with any degree of control.”

Greene goes on to say that anger is the most destructive of emotional responses, and “clouds your vision the most.” Again, I totally agree with Greene in this statement, but then he goes on to add what I would think is directed more toward the vengeful psychopath than to less pathological people, “If you are trying to destroy an enemy who has hurt you, far better to keep him off-guard by feigning friendliness than showing your anger.”

The mask

Psychopaths have been described by many writers as “wearing a mask” or even “the mask of sanity.” Greene seems to be very aware of this “masking” when he advises his readers that, “You cannot succeed at deception unless you take a somewhat distanced approach to yourself—unless you can be many different people, wearing the mask that the day and moment require.”

Psychopaths tend to project blame for their behavior on to other people, to refuse to assume responsibility for any of the things they have done. They lie “when the truth would fit better.” Greene says, “Power requires the ability to play with appearances. To this end you must learn to wear many masks and keep a bag full of deceptive tricks.” He goes on to say, “Playing with appearances and mastering arts of deception are among the aesthetic pleasures of life. They are also the key components in the acquisition of power.”

Green does not seem to view deception or the acquisition of power as anything immoral, and he actually says, “Power is essentially amoral”¦power is a game”¦and in games you do not judge your opponents by their intentions but by the effect of their actions.” He goes on to advise the reader to not be caught by assuming that someone has good intentions, or that their good intentions matter. Greene advises his readers that some sets of moral judgments are “really an excuse for the accumulation of power.” I can definitely agree with that last statement. Frequently, religion and moral judgments are used as justification for a power stance that has no other legitimacy, and does great harm to the victims.

Chapter One

For each of the 48 laws of power, Green has a short chapter that consists of the name of the law, the first being, “Never Outshine the Master.”  Then he has a section called “Judgment,” in which he explains more fully the named law of power. The first law is reasonably self-explanatory and makes sense, really, because if you show your boss you are superior to him/her, then he/she will resent you.

After giving several good examples of using this law, or failing to use this law, Greene finishes up Chapter One by saying, “You cannot worry about upsetting every person you come across, but you must be selectively cruel. If your superior is a falling star, there is nothing to fear in outshining him. Do not be merciful—your master had no such scruples in his own cold-blooded climb to the top. Gauge his strength. If he is weak, discreetly hasten his downfall: Outdo, outcharm, outsmart him at key moments.”

While this book seems aimed at the “amoral-wannabe-politician on the way up,” rather than the psychopathic “wannabe-gang-banger thug” on the corner who is illiterate, I think that those of us who have had or even will have associations with psychopaths, or “Snakes in Suits” (to highjack the name of the book as a noun), should read this to learn how to discern when we are being played by the power-seeker. If we can recognize the masks for their deceptive cover, we can avoid the consequences of being played, or possibly turn the play back on to the player.

Disturbing, but necessary, reading

Frankly, this book made me uncomfortable while I was reading it, I think possibly by showing me “red flags” of power plays that I had experienced in the past, but had not quite recognized at the time I was being played. However, I do think the knowledge I gained by reading this book is well worth the slight discomfort. It isn’t a book that you can “zip through” quickly, but one that must, like the textbook that it is, read and ponder, and even re-read, and ponder again.

The most personally disturbing part of the book was one in which he was discussing the siege of Troy, and he said, “Image: The Trojan Horse. Your guile is hidden inside a magnificent gift that proves irresistible to your opponent. The walls open. Once inside, wreak havoc.”

We must learn to protect ourselves from those power-players who have no conscience, the power players who will use calculated acts of kindness or proffered gifts to earn our trust. Selective kindness can be the biggest part of the arsenal of deception. “Aimed for the heart, it corrodes the will to fight back.”

The 48 Laws of Power is available on

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215 Comments on "BOOK REVIEW: The 48 Laws of Power"

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Thanks for the response, Oxy. No, I don’t get the sense that Greene will be overly burdened by conscience in any of his books. I think, though, that he explains this tone early on — that letting in “conscience” can be deceptive. A lot of people unconsciously play these games while using their consciences as a defense — speaking particularly of activist communities. Whew. Been there, done that! A display of “conscience” itself can be a power play.

A lot of this advice can be used in good conscience. The directive to “always say less than is necessary” is a good one. Or to pretend that you’re with the program in a group situation, while subtly undermining it somewhere else. You don’t score points for morality by speaking up when the tide is clearly against you; live to see another battle.

I personally find the fun part in turning someone’s own tactics against them. I kind of mental judo, where they think they’re so smart but if they keep running in that direction they’re going to hit a wall. It is, yes, DELICIOUS to me. I’m bad, I know, but at least I’m not a spath.

Nah, Sister, you are not “bad” just wiser.

I saw a TV show today (I’m at my friend’s house for a few weeks and she always has TV on) and it was about a teacher in a hi sch who flunked 28 students for plagerism on a progect and the kids and the parents had signed a contract BEFORE the project was started that said they promised not to take others work and try to take credit for it, and LO AND BEHOLD, SHE CAUGHT THEM.

The parents went to the school board and complained and the school board PASSED THEM ALL….FIRED THE TEACHER.

Then there was another stroy about 4 men who cheated at the Naval academy and 30 days before graduation they were asked to leave because one of them told about the cheating. They all were booted, and ended up going into other fields not quite like flying F-14s LOL one became a teacher and he told his students about the consequences of the cheating. they all 4 manned up and owned up and didn’t blame others, or even the guy who turned them in. So it amazes me….they also interviewed a hi sch senior that says he cheats all the time because it is the “only way to succeed” (his face was blurred) and that everyone he knew who did well cheated as you had to in order to succeed.

What a society we have–I guess nothing new, really, but I don’t want to be that way. I don’t want to associate with people who are. I think our schools need to take the lead, but with parents backing up cheating kids, and the school boards backing up those parents against the teacher….what can we expect from the people in politics and power? Honesty? ROTFLMAO WAAAAAAA HAAAAA HAAAAAA CHOKE SNORT

I can’t even believe this… MY SPATH READ THIS BOOK EVERY SINGLE DAY!!!!!!!!!!! It was one of many that he read like a bible. Another book is THE MASTER KEY SYSTEM. The scary thing about 48 Laws of Power is that Greene co-authored the same book with 50 Cent (rapper/actor), called “The 50 Laws of Power”, which is geared towards the younger audience. Perfect for our raising spaths. I am STUNNED about this post. Every morning, when he read this book, I never put 2 and 2 together. He is such a TEXTBOOK SOCIOPATH!! Not original at all. It still amazes me how much they are all alike. Sometimes, when I get angry (because I’m still holding anger) I wish we could sit them all down together, with scripts from their relationships and show them how unoriginal they are. Would that just be so greatl!??!! But then I snap out of anger mode and back to putting the healthy energy on healing.

Happy Healing Everyone. xo

Dear Wiserheart,

REading this book was difficult for me, it was like a continual trigger. I had to read it in small bites to digest it and not “puke.” It is good to know the enemy though, and know how they think. If you can read this book I think it will help you understand how they think.

I know he also wrote the “art of seduction” but I haven’t read it.

I have fantasies of a “roast” or an “intervention” where all the people he kept compartmentalized come together to make fun of his stupid assed bs. And at the end he implodes. hahshshhahahaha!
too bad some of those people would not be able to laugh, like the woman whose father he killed to get his helicopter.

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