80 pages 2 hours read

Robert Greene

The 48 Laws Of Power

Nonfiction | Book | Adult | Published in 1998

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Summary and Study Guide


Robert Greene (1959) is an American self-help book author with a focus on strategy and power. After training in Classical Studies at the University of California, Berkeley, Greene worked numerous jobs before pitching The 48 Laws of Power to book packager Joost Elffers in 1995. The book was inspired by Greene’s time as a writer in Hollywood, where he learned that today’s powerful people share common traits with historic princes, leaders, and tyrants. As he sought to distill the essence of what made such people powerful, he came up with 48 laws that underpinned their strategies. The resulting The 48 Laws of Power (1998) became a New York Times bestseller, selling over 1.2 million copies in the United States.

While Greene intended that the volume should be a guide for those in search of empowerment, his amoral stance caused some in the media to dub his work a “psychopath’s bible” (Lynskey). Indeed, Christopher Goodwin in The Sunday Times considered how “despite Greene's obvious influence, most Hollywood executives are coy about” admitting how they have used it as a vital resource for their careers (Goodwin).

In subsequent years, while Greene did not condemn his first book, he became “a little worried that young people would think the only game was being political and manipulative when really the bigger game is being so good at what you do that nobody can argue with your results” (Lynskey). He therefore wrote Mastery (2012), a study of human genius and the perfectionism and work ethic that produces results, as a counterpart to The 48 Laws of Power.

This guide uses the Profile Books Ltd Kindle edition (3 Sept. 2010).


The 48 Laws of Power maintains that learning how to influence others and have power over them is essential to a person’s success. The 48 laws are each self-contained, featuring examples of historical figures who have transgressed and abided by that particular law. While transgressors have seen their power depleted, observers have enjoyed unparalleled influence over others and events.

A prominent trend amongst the laws is mastering the balance of standing out enough to attract attention, whilst seeming discreet and amenable enough to not be viewed as a threat and thereby eradicated by the more powerful. While Greene’s injunctions to be subtle and bold, congenial and ruthless often contradict each other, the text as a whole shows that power wears “many masks” and keeps “a bag full of deceptive tricks” (31). Thus, a reader’s ability to read the situation they find themselves in is paramount, as is their ability to plan and act accordingly. Throughout, the laws emphasize the importance of dissimulation over candor, as Greene views honesty as a “blunt instrument, which bloodies more than it cuts” when it offends others and gives away your character, thereby making you easier to defeat (67).

Greene ends his book with the paradox that no amount of received wisdom will help you in the present challenge you find yourself in. Instead of aiming to apply the laws of the book or the methods that have led to past triumphs, the reader would be better off immersing themselves in the present moment and tailoring their response to the situation at hand.