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Book Review The 48 Laws of Power

On your way to the top, you often end up in a position of asking from those who have more power than you. To ask for help is art itself, and its success depends on your ability to understand the interests and needs of the other. Do not bother to remind anyone of your past assistance and other good deeds. Show the benefits that a person will receive by fulfilling your request. Learn to distinguish between various types of influential people and to apply different approaches to them. If the said person has ulterior motives, do not appeal to his mercy. If he wants to look merciful and noble, do not appeal to his gratitude.

Law 14. Pose as a Friend, Work as a Spy

The author is convinced that it is essential to know your rival. To collect information that will help to predict further actions of a said rival, he recommends using people that are close to you as spies or play the spy yourself.  In polite social encounters, learn to probe. Ask indirect questions to get people to reveal their weaknesses and intentions. You may pretend as if you’re giving some secret away, expecting to hear the truth in response. On the contrary, your words may provoke your opponent to give crucial information accidentally. Be prepared for the fact that you also might be spied on. Use misinformation to get the upper hand.

Law 15. Crush your Enemy Totally

This law proved its relevance across multiple examples from history when a foe left alive would destroy his soft-hearted opponent later. Nowadays it’s relevant to apply during negotiations. Make sure your opponent has nothing to discuss, leave him no room for manoeuvre. If you can’t crush or isolate your enemies completely, stay sharp and don’t fall for their seeming friendly demeanour. The author feels that this law can’t be ignored, except when it’s better to allow your enemy to destroy himself rather than doing it with your own hands.

Law 16. Use Absence to Increase Respect and Honor

The law of absence and presence is in the ability to have achieved a specific position to disappear for a while, to increase your value, to force others to talk about you. It’s critical to know the time when you’ll leave and then return. An excellent example of this law is the shortage of goods in the economy. Should some product disappear from the shelves – its price’s going to rise. Spread the law of deficit on the things you’re able to. This rule can be applied by reaching a certain level of power.

Law 17. Keep Others in Suspended Terror: Cultivate an Air of Unpredictability

The inability to predict someone’s behaviour causes concern. A person with power is deliberately kept others off-balance to his advantage. Your subordinates can help you cultivate this air of unpredictability. If you feel like you’ve been trapped in a corner, reply with a series of unpredictable moves. This will confuse your rivals and force them into making mistakes with their tactics. On the flip side of that: by acting predictably you may lower the guard of your opposition.

Law 18. Do Not Build Fortresses to Protect Yourself – Isolation is Dangerous

The author is convinced: to achieve power, and it’s necessary to be in the middle of it all and to be aware of everything that happens around you. Power depends on social contacts and cooperation. Isolation is rarely ever the right choice. The only benefit it gives is the possibility to contemplate in silence, far from the public opinion. If you need time to think, resort to self-isolation but only for a short time.

Law 19. Know Who You’re Dealing with Do Not Offend the Wrong Person

The ability to assess and understand the people you’re dealing with is the most crucial skill among those described in Greene’s book. Before you act, you must study your target. Do not rely on your intuition only and never trust the appearance. If you refuse, do it as graciously and respectfully as you can. You have to handle insecure people carefully – they’re easy to deceive, but they can pose a danger.

Law 20. Do Not Commit to Anyone: Maintain Your Independence, Make Others Pursue You, Do Not Rush to Take any Sides

Do not pick any side – get more than if you would’ve teamed up with one of them. Independence seems to be the evidence of power, and everyone wants that person who has it on their side. Keep your emotions at bay, act interested, but stay independent and remain confident. The flipside of that: other people might figure out tactics against everyone. In that case, you should explicitly join one of the camps while keeping your independence.

Law 21. Play a Sucker to Catch a Sucker – Seem Dumber than your Mark

Let others feel more intelligent and more elegant than you. A sense of superiority gives people around you a false sense of security. Exception: while trying to hide your deceiving nature behind the mind and intelligence, create an image of a knowing and reputable person. This tactic is useful if you need to find a way out of a tricky situation.

Law 22. Use the Surrender Tactic: Transform Weakness into Power

Make surrender a tool of power. It’ll give you time to recover and figure out how to win. Keep your inner calm when bowing down. Your enemies have no reason to use force, and at the same time, you’ve earned yourself some time and space to retaliate.

Law 23. Concentrate Your Forces

The commitment, the total focus on fixing the problem: applying these qualities against less determined people is always useful. To illustrate this law, the author suggests an image of an arrow. Hitting two targets with one arrow is impossible. Only through concentration, your goal can be achieved.

Law 24. Play the Perfect Courtier

Greene is convinced that the laws of courtship haven’t lost any relevance today; they are eternal, as are the rules of power. The courtship, in this case, is the world of diplomats and international statesmen – a place where everyone is dependent on each other. The author feels that the great courtiers of both past and present have something to learn from each other.

He cites several laws of courtship: do not brag about your achievements just for show, be cautious; know the significance of flattery; learn to adapt to other cultures, language, and styles of communication; Do not bring bad news; Do not yield to your superiors; never criticize, be an example of delicacy. Make sure that you’re being noticed; do not ask for favours, try to deserve them; Do not joke about the appearance and the preferences of people; applaud the successes of others, get rid of your court cynicism; achieve the goal easily, it’s more impressive than a hard grind; evaluate yourself from the outside; learn to control your emotions; keep up with the times and become the source of delight – it attracts people.

Law 25. Re-Create Yourself

Robert Greene proposes not to accept the role imposed on you by society, but to create your image adding a bit of theatrics for effect. The first people who started experimenting with their vision were artists and writers, and later – dandies and bohemians. The first step is self-discovery. Feel as an actor, learn to control your emotions and determine your appearance. Then create a memorable and vivid character. The third step would be adding various theatrical effects in your arsenal, choosing the right moment to appear on “stage”. Do not overact, learn to play different roles, be relevant.

Law 26. Keep Your Hands Clean: Hide Your Mistakes Use Others as Scapegoats to Disguise Your Involvement

It’s not the mistakes themselves that hurt people, but how people correct them. Those with power are tending to avoid apologies and excuses; they prefer to pass the blame on someone else without any harm to their reputation. The flipside of that: you should deal with scapegoats in an extremely delicate manner. There comes a time when it’s better to use a grand ‘ole trick and take all the blame for a mistake yourself.

Law 27. Play on People’s Need to Believe to Create a Cult-like Following

The frauds of the XVI and XVII centuries were using the people’s desire to believe in something, hence why they were the masters in creating cults. Just like us, they were living during the time of change: the organized religion was in its decline, and science was on the rise. Scammers started their dealings by selling health elixirs and potions helping to get rich. Nowadays, they’re using the same methods. Greene cites numerous historical examples and concludes that people are not interested in bland things; they crave something impressive and extraordinary. The bigger your delusions, the better. Take the newest technological trends, then mix those with noble ideals, mystical faith, and new ways of healing. People will bring their interpretation and will grant you power over them.

Law 28. Enter Action with Boldness

Bold isn’t born. Even the great Napoleon himself had to develop a habit of battles, being very uptight and timid in his social life. Develop the determination and the courage in yourself. The best area for training is in the negotiations, especially when you are asked to name the price. Give it a high price and then keep raising it.

Law 29. Plan All the Way to the End

Figure out all the details before you begin to act, do not let any vagueness confuse you. Endgame determines everything. Your calculations should anticipate potential failures; those will tempt you to improvise. Consider alternative ways to stand up against the sudden twists of fate.

Law 30. Make your Accomplishments Seem Effortless

No matter how big of a victory you’ve earned – what matters is the price you’ve paid for it. Instead of celebrating you might feel a little bit awkward in the end. Create an illusion that your skills aren’t the result of your hard work but your natural quality. It brings admiration slightly bordering on fear. There might come a time when it’s better to slightly reveal your tricks and techniques; it will create an illusion of participation to the audience.

Law 31. Control the Options: Get Others to Play with the Cards you Deal

The author makes an overview of the most common forms of having control over the “ freedom of choice”, pointing out that one of the forms of manipulation is to let another person make a choice, even though it completely serves your purpose. This can be achieved by properly giving options, restricting choice, putting pressure on the emotions, suggesting alternative options for stubborn people, changing the playing field, involving the victim in the illegal business and turning him into a co-conspirator, giving the lesser of two evils, and so on and so forth. It all depends on whom you are dealing with. By having control over the choices of others, you’re also keeping control over the results.

Law 32. Play to People’s Fantasies

For centuries, the frauds and scammers were creating a romanticized fantasy and obtaining power over people. Dreams are built on contrast: the dullness of the day-to-day routine versus the exoticism, the hard work and the gradual improvement versus the instant prosperity and the other fantasies. To obtain power, become a source of delight for others; do not promise a gradual recovery, which can come as a result of hard work, promise an instant miracle. The key to the success of playing to people’s fantasies is keeping your distance. Allow victims to come close to you so they can see and get seduced, but keep them at a distance, so they continue to dream.

Law 33. Discover Each Man’s Thumbscrew

Everyone has their weakness. Learn how to identify them by observing the body language and subconscious cues. Watch out for the details, “test the waters”, and look for any passion, strong feelings or obsessions which that person is unable to cope with. The stronger that passion is, the more vulnerable your victim will be. When you’re searching for weakness, often it’s not about “what” but “who”. There is a weak link in any group of people. Having found the weakness, use it to your advantage; they won’t be able to resist you. Do not get too carried away with submitting your victim to your will. After all, it’s not a goal in itself, but merely a step towards achieving something greater.

Law 34. Be Royal in your Own Fashion: Act Like a King – Be Treated Like One

The way a person is carrying himself reflects his thoughts and self-esteem. Your belief in yourself must overcome your insecurities. An excellent way to emphasize the difference is always to carry yourself with dignity. Set a high bar and keep it like that, act with bold claims. Even those who’d deny you will respect your confidence; it’ll play its part sooner or later. Show some respect for yourself by choosing someone who has all of the authority as your rival. It’ll create an image of your own greatness. Getting presents to your superior will show that you’re both equal. Try not to overplay that law in a power struggle.

Law 35. Master the Art of Timing

Hurrying betrays a lack of control over yourself, and over time. Stay calm; become a detective of the right moment to capture the spirit of the times. Patience is essential to the art of time management. By having control over your emotions, you’re able to slow down time to make decisions more carefully. Even a small power is unobtainable if you don’t have a grip on time. You must learn to manage it if you do not want to become a victim of it. This law has no downside.

Law 36. Disdain Things You Cannot Have: Ignoring Them is the Best Revenge

By acknowledging a petty problem, you give it existence and credibility. An active person reacts to trivial things with contempt or condescension. The author recommends applying this law carefully and solving small problems before they get out of control. Also, it’s essential to be able to distinguish between the significant issues that can eventually lead to a disaster and the small problems that will in time resolve themselves.

Law 37. Create Compelling Spectacles

Success on your way to power often depends on the ability to choose the method that requires minimal cost correctly. One of them is to use striking images and symbols as the most important instruments of power. Visual information is straight; it goes past all of the words and acts instantly. Power cannot be obtained without resorting to images and symbols. There are no drawbacks to this law.

Law 38. Think as You Like – Behave Like Others

At all times, there came ideas that would violate the conventional beliefs. Their supporters have all become either martyr or those who were repressed but found a way to convey their thoughts and feelings implicitly.

Law 39. Stir Up Water to Catch Fish

Regarding strategy, anger and emotion are strategically counterproductive; being irritated means showing weakness. Stay calm, and you’ll have an advantage. If you want to pull enemies off-balance, play on their feelings: their pride, vanity, love, or hate. Getting nervous they’re losing control and becoming your puppet. Be careful while toying with their emotions, choose your victim thoroughly, and avoid any emotional outbursts that can hurt you.

Law 40. Despise the Free Lunch

Nothing is more expensive than what we’re getting for free. It’s often wiser to pay the full price; you stay clear of gratitude and guilt; it’s better than to agree on a gift or a discount. Independence and the room for manoeuvre are the most important values. Strong people pay the full price and are staying out of any psychological burden, sense of obligation or concern. The author advises spending money, making them work because being generous is one of the signs of power. Another important thing is the power of gifts. A gift always involves decent gratitude. A gesture of gift-giving itself means that the giver and recipient are equal, or additionally it could also say that the giver is on a much higher level.

Law 41. Avoid Stepping into a Great Man’s Shoes

It’s not wise to live in your predecessor’s shadow. It‘s better to avoid that by choosing the opposite, a new direction to move in, to carve a new niche where you can be the best. To demonstrate what makes you different from anybody else you can develop an original style through symbols. The flip side of that law: staying in the shadow of a great predecessor can have its benefits. Stick to your gut and use the experience of previous generations to your advantage. Also, keep an eye on the young people, your future opponents.

Law 42. Strike the Shepherd, and the Sheep will Scatter

Within any group, you can find the single most unlucky person who’s infecting the rest with his way of thinking. Identify troublemakers and isolate them from society. That isolation may be physical (via exile), political (via limited political or financial support), or even psychological (via division within a group through conspiracy). Aim for the leaders and watch the sheep scattering. Isolating the enemy’s forces is a critical element of building a strategy. On the flip side of that, you must apply isolation subtly, so you won’t fear that your enemy will retaliate later.

Law 43. Work on the Hearts and Minds of Others

In a quest for power, we are surrounded by people who have no reason to help us, and they’re fighting for themselves. The easiest way to persuade others to your site is to show them what you can offer, what benefits they’ll have. Do not use force in an attempt to convince them, do it carefully, operate on their psychologies and weaknesses; the main would be love, hatred, and jealousy. To illustrate this law the author brings up a keyhole. There’s no need in breaking down the walls that people built. You just need to find a door that leads to their hearts and minds and pick the right key.

Law 44. Disarm and Infuriate with the Mirror Effect

One way to obtain power is by using the Mirror Effect. It provides some advantages. First, some people get the sense that you fully share their thoughts and ideas with them. Second, if they’re suspecting ulterior motives, they cannot figure out your strategy, since you’re mirroring everything that they do. Finally, it’s unsettling, and they grow frustrated. Playing a double game, you get the opportunity to get on top.

Also, the Mirror Effect keeps your mental energy: it allows you only to repeat the actions done by others, therefore creating some echo; it gives you the room needed to develop your plans. Beware of the situations closely resembling those once reflected previously. Once you notice that the people around you are associating you with some past events or people, you have to separate yourself from them.

Law 45. Preach the Need for Change, But Never Reform too much at Once

In any reform, effort changes require sugarcoating. Give them a sense of the past, a sense of tradition. Use something that will connect you with it, and will provide support from a historical point of view (I.e. names, ideas, references to heroes of the past). At least, you can disguise drastic changes as small improvements. Listen to the trends of times. In a time of change, the power is obtained by the one who preaches a return to the past, to the comfort of tradition. In a time of stagnation, the one preaching for reform emerges victorious. In general, revolutions aren’t ended by the ones who started them. Using the past to your advantage, you will achieve greater power rather than attempting to completely break away from it.

Law 46. Never Appear Too Perfect

People tend to compare themselves with others. To avoid the envy of others, try to look inconspicuous, be friends with someone below you, and lift them by granting them power, to have their support in the future. Natural perfection is the greatest point of envy: not money or power, but intelligence, beauty, and charm. Not everyone is born with them. Display one or two defects to deflect envy before it takes any root. On the contrary, if there are already people jealous of you, make it clear that you don’t possess any faults. Once you obtain power, the envious wouldn’t be able to harm you and will remain trapped in their envy.

Law 47. Do Not Go Past the Mark you Aimed for – In Victory, Learn when to Stop

Object to reason, not emotion. Once victorious, consider yourself lucky. Do not be tempted to repeat past actions to get the same results. Our mistakes teach us very important things: to be patient, to know when the right moment is, to be prepared for the worst. Blind luck makes you think you are brilliant and talented. To hold power, choose between strength and cunning; know when to stop. The flip side of that law: being cautious after the victory isn’t to hesitate or not taking the proper advantage. It should serve as a protection, to warn against sloppy and reckless actions.

Law 48. Assume Formlessness

Greene feels that it’s important to learn how to quickly react and adapt. Powers That Be are constantly creating new forms and their power depends on the speed of their changes. A stoic ruler may seem strong, but people will eventually get tired of his lack of flexibility, and his servants will dream to overthrow him. Flexible rulers tend to be criticized more, but they stand the test of time, and sooner or later people come to recognize them. Being fluid in your form is a strategy, and the constant change of your shape is a tool. The flipside of that: if it’s necessary, then quickly gather all your forces for a strong attack. Remember not only about the element for a surprise but also think about strategy.

Review The 48 Laws of Power

The very structure of the book. Every law is illustrated by many examples from history (both positive and negative – a clear demonstration of what’s going to happen if you apply or violate a rule), Greene’s interpretations and explanations (“keys to power”), all sorts of references to the authorities, “the flipside” being demonstrated (because, as you know, there are no rules without exceptions), and how every law has its symbol (Law 6: Court Attention at all Cost = a spotlight). Each law presents its well-thought-out arguments.

The specific and highly debatable way of how certain events are told, coupled with a certain lopsidedness of Greene. While the former can all be attributed to the author’s personal opinions, the latter is just boring: we meet the same characters during the same events across different laws over and over again.

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