The 48 Laws of Power
The 48 Laws of Power

The 48 Laws of Power

Instead of using coercion or outright treachery, the perfect courtier got his way through seduction, charm, deception, and subtle strategy, always planning several moves ahead. (Location 145)

Life in the court was a never-ending game that required constant vigilance and tactical thinking. It was civilized war. (Location 146)

“Any man who tries to be good all the time is bound to come to ruin among the great number who are not good.” (Location 150)

No one will see your honest statement as completely objective and free of some personal motivation. (Location 178)

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. JOHANN VON GOETHE, 1749-1832 (Location 186)

By following the route of the perfect courtier (see Law 24) you learn to make others feel better about themselves, becoming a source of pleasure to them. They will grow dependent on your abilities and desirous of your presence. (Location 198)

You cannot repress anger or love, or avoid feeling them, and you should not try. But you should be careful about how you express them, and most important, they should never influence your plans and strategies in any way. (Location 211)

For the future, the motto is, “No days unalert.” Nothing should catch you by surprise because you are constantly imagining problems before they arise. Instead of spending your time dreaming of your plan’s happy ending, you must work on calculating every possible permutation and pitfall that might emerge in it. The further you see, the more steps ahead you plan, the more powerful you become. (Location 219)

Half of the game is learning how to forget those events in the past that eat away at you and cloud your reason. (Location 223)

Deception and masquerade should not be seen as ugly or immoral. All human interaction requires deception on many levels, and in some ways what separates humans from animals is our ability to lie and deceive. (Location 235)

If deception is the most potent weapon in your arsenal, then patience in all things is your crucial shield. (Location 244)

Never discriminate as to whom you study and whom you trust. Never trust anyone completely and study everyone, including friends and loved ones. (Location 271)

By training yourself to be indirect, you can thrive in the modern court, appearing the paragon of decency while being the consummate manipulator. (Location 274)

The 48 laws of power are the distillation of this accumulated wisdom, gathered from the writings of the most illustrious strategists (Sun-tzu, Clausewitz), statesmen (Bismarck, Talleyrand), courtiers (Castiglione, Gracián), seducers (Ninon de Lenclos, Casanova), and con artists (“Yellow Kid” Weil) in history. The laws have a simple premise: Certain actions almost always increase one’s power (the observance of the law), while others decrease it and even ruin us (the transgression of the law). These transgressions and observances are illustrated by historical examples. The laws are timeless and definitive. (Location 279)

Any man who tries to be good all the time is bound to come to ruin among the great number who are not good. Hence a prince who wants to keep his authority must learn how not to be good, and use that knowledge, or refrain from using it, as necessity requires. THE PRINCE, Niccolò Machiavelli, 1469-1527 (Location 297)

Always make those above you feel comfortably superior. (Location 302)

Never take your position for granted and never let any favors you receive go to your head. (Location 397)

you must be selectively cruel. (Location 420)

In fact, you have more to fear from friends than from enemies. If you have no enemies, find a way to make them. (Location 429)

The problem is that you often do not know your friends as well as you imagine. Friends often agree on things in order to avoid an argument. They cover up their unpleasant qualities so as to not offend each other. They laugh extra hard at each other’s jokes. Since honesty rarely strengthens friendship, you may never know how a friend truly feels. Friends will say that they love your poetry, adore your music, envy your taste in clothes—maybe they mean it, often they do not. (Location 547)

The key to power, then, is the ability to judge who is best able to further your interests in all situations. Keep friends for friendship, but work with the skilled and competent. (Location 568)

Most people are open books. They say what they feel, blurt out their opinions at every opportunity, and constantly reveal their plans and intentions. They do this for several reasons. First, it is easy and natural to always want to talk about one’s feelings and plans for the future. It takes effort to control your tongue and monitor what you reveal. Second, many believe that by being honest and open they are winning people’s hearts and showing their good nature. They are greatly deluded. Honesty is actually a blunt instrument, which bloodies more than it cuts. Your honesty is likely to offend people; it is much more prudent to tailor your words, telling people what they want to hear rather than the coarse and ugly truth of what you feel or think. More important, by being unabashedly open you make yourself so predictable and familiar that it is almost impossible to respect or fear you, and power will not accrue to a person who cannot inspire such emotions. If you yearn for power, quickly lay honesty aside, and train yourself in the art of concealing your intentions. (Location 709)

Basic to an ability to conceal one’s intentions is a simple truth about human nature: Our first instinct is to always trust appearances. (Location 717)

Tags: pink

Simply dangle an object you seem to desire, a goal you seem to aim for, in front of people’s eyes and they will take the appearance for reality. (Location 720)

In seduction, set up conflicting signals, such as desire and indifference, and you not only throw them off the scent, you inflame their desire to possess you. (Location 721)

Use this tactic in the following manner: Hide your intentions not by closing up (with the risk of appearing secretive, and making people suspicious) but by talking endlessly about your desires and goals—just not your real ones. You will kill three birds with one stone: You appear friendly, open, and trusting; you conceal your intentions; and you send your rivals on time-consuming wild-goose chases. (Location 732)

Spectacle and entertainment, clearly, are excellent devices to conceal your intentions, but they cannot be used indefinitely. (Location 940)

When you are trying to impress people with words, the more you say, the more common you appear, and the less in control. Even if you are saying something banal, it will seem original if you make it vague, open-ended, and sphinxlike. Powerful people impress and intimidate by saying less. The more you say, the more likely you are to say something foolish. (Location 947)

Note: Or you can drop accurate facts and speak a lot.

Power cannot accrue to those who squander their treasure of words. (Location 1007)

Power is in many ways a game of appearances, and when you say less than necessary, you inevitably appear greater and more powerful than you are. Your silence will make other people uncomfortable. (Location 1039)

Humans are machines of interpretation and explanation; they have to know what you are thinking. When you carefully control what you reveal, they cannot pierce your intentions or your meaning. (Location 1040)

Your short answers and silences will put them on the defensive, and they will jump in, nervously filling the silence with all kinds of comments that will reveal valuable information about them and their weaknesses. (Location 1041)

Never start moving your own lips and teeth before the subordinates do. The longer I keep quiet, the sooner others move their lips and teeth. (Location 1070)

There are times when it is unwise to be silent. (Location 1073)

Also, words can sometimes act as a kind of smoke screen for any deception you might practice. By bending your listener’s ear with talk, you can distract and mesmerize them; the more you talk, in fact, the less suspicious of you they become. The verbose are not perceived as sly and manipulative but as helpless and unsophisticated. This is the reverse of the silent policy employed by the powerful: By talking more, and making yourself appear weaker and less intelligent than your mark, you can practice deception with greater ease. (Location 1077)

our eyes—clothes, gestures, words, actions. In the social realm, appearances are the barometer of almost all of our judgments, and you must never be misled into believing otherwise. (Location 1177)

A reputation for honesty will allow you to practice all manner of deception. (Location 1207)

Perhaps you have already stained your reputation, so that you are prevented from establishing a new one. In such cases it is wise to associate with someone whose image counteracts your own, using their good name to whitewash and elevate yours. (Location 1209)

Perhaps, not caring what others think of you, you gain a reputation for insolence and arrogance, but that can be a valuable image in itself—Oscar Wilde used it to great advantage. Since we must live in society and must depend on the opinions of others, there is nothing to be gained by neglecting your reputation. By not caring how you are perceived, you let others decide this for you. Be the master of your fate, and also of your reputation. (Location 1242)

Everything is judged by its appearance; what is unseen counts for nothing. Never let yourself get lost in the crowd, then, or buried in oblivion. Stand out. Be conspicuous, at all cost. Make yourself a magnet of attention by appearing larger, more colorful, more mysterious than the bland and timid masses. (Location 1248)


Draw attention to yourself by creating an unforgettable, even controversial image. Court scandal. Do anything to make yourself seem larger than life and shine more brightly than those around you. Make no distinction between kinds of attention—notoriety of any sort will bring you power. Better to be slandered and attacked than ignored. (Location 1252)

Barnum would never complain. If a newspaper critic reviled him particularly badly, in fact, he made sure to invite the man to an opening and to give him the best seat in the house. He would even write anonymous attacks on his own work, just to keep his name in the papers. (Location 1321)

At the start of your career, you must attach your name and reputation to a quality, an image, that sets you apart from other people. This image can be something like a characteristic style of dress, or a personality quirk that amuses people and gets talked about. Once the image is established, you have an appearance, a place in the sky for your star. (Location 1331)

Society craves larger-than-life figures, people who stand above the general mediocrity. Never be afraid, then, of the qualities that set you apart and draw attention to you. Court controversy, even scandal. It is better to be attacked, even slandered, than ignored. All professions are ruled by this law, and all professionals must have a bit of the showman about them. (Location 1342)

If you find yourself in a lowly position that offers little opportunity for you to draw attention, an effective trick is to attack the most visible, most famous, most powerful person you can find. (Location 1354)

Pablo Picasso never allowed himself to fade into the background; if his name became too attached to a particular style, he would deliberately upset the public with a new series of paintings that went against all expectations. (Location 1361)

Understand: People feel superior to the person whose actions they can predict. (Location 1363)

Count Victor Lustig, the aristocrat of swindlers, played the game to perfection. He was always doing things that were different, or seemed to make no sense. He would show up at the best hotels in a limo driven by a Japanese chauffeur; no one had ever seen a Japanese chauffeur before, so this seemed exotic and strange. (Location 1428)

In hotels he would be seen receiving telegrams at all hours, one after the other, brought to him by his Japanese chauffeur—telegrams he would tear up with utter nonchalance. (In fact they were fakes, completely blank.) He would sit alone in the dining room, reading a large and impressive-looking book, smiling at people yet remaining aloof. Within a few days, of course, the entire hotel would be abuzz with interest in this strange man. (Location 1432)

An air of mystery can make the mediocre appear intelligent and profound. (Location 1437)

Mao Tse-tung, for example, cleverly cultivated an enigmatic image; he had no worries about seeming inconsistent or contradicting himself—the very contradictoriness of his actions and words meant that he always had the upper hand. No one, not even his own wife, ever felt they understood him, and he therefore seemed larger than life. (Location 1443)

If your social position prevents you from completely wrapping your actions in mystery, you must at least learn to make yourself less obvious. (Location 1446)

In the beginning of your rise to the top, you must attract attention at all cost, but as you rise higher you must constantly adapt. (Location 1479)


Note: Not a general law but okay

Many harbor the illusion that science, dealing with facts as it does, is beyond the petty rivalries that trouble the rest of the world. Nikola Tesla was one of those. (Location 1548)

Edison was Tesla’s polar opposite. He wasn’t actually much of a scientific thinker or inventor; he once said that he had no need to be a mathematician because he could always hire one. That was Edison’s main method. He was really a businessman and publicist, spotting the trends and the opportunities that were out there, then hiring the best in the field to do the work for him. If he had to he would steal from his competitors. Yet his name is much better known than Tesla’s, and is associated with more inventions. (Location 1553)

The lesson is twofold: First, the credit for an invention or creation is as important, if not more important, than the invention itself. You must secure the credit for yourself and keep others from stealing it away, or from piggy-backing on your hard work. (Location 1563)

Everybody steals in commerce and industry. I’ve stolen a lot myself. But I know how to steal. Thomas Edison, 1847-1931 (Location 1568)

Shakespeare borrowed plots, characterizations, and even dialogue from Plutarch, among other writers, for he knew that nobody surpassed Plutarch in the writing of subtle psychology and witty quotes. How many later writers have in their turn borrowed from—plagiarized—Shakespeare ? (Location 1602)

Learn to use the knowledge of the past and you will look like a genius, even when you are really just a clever borrower. (Location 1606)

Your idea of power is wrong. You have mistaken aggressive action for effective action. And most often the most effective action is to stay back, keep calm, and let others be frustrated by the traps you lay for them, playing for long-term power rather than quick victory. (Location 1679)

Fast attack can be an awesome weapon, for it forces the other person to react without the time to think or plan. With no time to think, people make errors of judgment, (Location 1743)

The problem in trying to prove a point or gain a victory through argument is that in the end you can never be certain how it affects the people you’re arguing with: They may appear to agree with you politely, but inside they may resent you. (Location 1841)

Verbal argument has one vital use in the realm of power: To distract and cover your tracks when you are practicing deception or are caught in a lie. (Location 1893)


You can die from someone else’s misery—emotional states are as infectious as diseases. You may feel you are helping the drowning man but you are only precipitating your own disaster. The unfortunate sometimes draw misfortune on themselves; they will also draw it on you. Associate with the happy and fortunate instead. (Location 1914)

When you suspect you are in the presence of an infector, don’t argue, don’t try to help, don’t pass the person on to your friends, or you will become enmeshed. Flee the infector’s presence or suffer the consequences. (Location 2003)

Those misfortunates among us who have been brought down by circumstances beyond their control deserve all the help and sympathy we can give them. But there are others who are not born to misfortune or unhappiness, but who draw it upon themselves by their destructive actions and unsettling effect on others. It would be a great thing if we could raise them up, change their patterns, but more often than not it is their patterns that end up getting inside and changing us. The reason is simple—humans are extremely susceptible to the moods, emotions, and even the ways of thinking of those with whom they spend their time. The incurably unhappy and unstable have a particularly strong infecting power because their characters and emotions are so intense. They often present themselves as victims, making it difficult, at first, to see their miseries as self-inflicted. Before you realize the real nature of their problems you have been infected by them. (Location 2009)

There are people who attract happiness to themselves by their good cheer, natural buoyancy, and intelligence. They are a source of pleasure, and you must associate with them to share in the prosperity they draw upon themselves. (Location 2035)

Associate with the generous, then, and they will infect you, opening up everything that is tight and restricted in you. If you are gloomy, gravitate to the cheerful. If you are prone to isolation, force yourself to befriend the gregarious. (Location 2045)

Never associate with those who share your defects—they will reinforce everything that holds you back. (Location 2046)

To maintain your independence you must always be needed and wanted. The more you are relied on, the more freedom you have. Make people depend on you for their happiness and prosperity and you have nothing to fear. Never teach them enough so that they can do without you. (Location 2057)

Necessity rules the world. (Location 2122)

Do not be one of the many who mistakenly believe that the ultimate form of power is independence. Power involves a relationship between people; you will always need others as allies, pawns, or even as weak masters who serve as your front. (Location 2145)

There are many ways to obtain such a position. Foremost among them is to possess a talent and creative skill that simply cannot be replaced. (Location 2161)

Depending on an emotion as subtle and changeable as love or friendship will only make you insecure. Better to have others depend on you out of fear of the consequences of losing you than out of love of your company. (Location 2196)

Everything turns gray when I don’t have at least one mark on the horizon. Life then seems empty and depressing. I cannot understand honest men. They lead desperate lives, full of boredom. Count Victor Lustig, 1890-1947 (Location 2259)


Most men are so thoroughly subjective that nothing really interests them but themselves. They always think of their own case as soon as ever any remark is made, and their whole attention is engrossed and absorbed by the merest chance reference to anything which affects them personally, be it never so remote.   ARTHUR SCHOPENHAUER, 1788-1860 (Location 2387)


Too much circulation makes the price go down: The more you are seen and heard from, the more common you appear. (Location 2749)

If you are already established in a group, temporary withdrawal from it will make you more talked about, even more admired. You must learn when to leave. Create value through scarcity. (Location 2750)

If you absent yourself too early, you may be forgotten. But once your lover’s emotions are engaged, and the feeling of love has crystallized, absence inflames and excites. Giving no reason for your absence excites even more: The other person assumes he or she is at fault. (Location 2804)

While you are away, the lover’s imagination takes flight, and a stimulated imagination cannot help but make love grow stronger. (Location 2806)

Absence diminishes minor passions and inflames great ones, as the wind douses a candle and fans a fire. La Rochefoucauld, 1613-1680 (Location 2813)

Everything in the world depends on absence and presence. A strong presence will draw power and attention to you—you shine more brightly than those around you. But a point is inevitably reached where too much presence creates the opposite effect: The more you are seen and heard from, the more your value degrades. You become a habit. (Location 2855)

“Love never dies of starvation,” she wrote, “but often of indigestion.” (Location 2863)

Napoleon was recognizing the law of absence and presence when he said, “If I am often seen at the theater, people will cease to notice me.” (Location 2871)

By withdrawing something from the market, you create instant value. (Location 2875)


Animals behave in set patterns, which is why we are able to hunt and kill them. Only man has the capacity to consciously alter his behavior, to improvise and overcome the weight of routine and habit. Yet most men do not realize this power. They prefer the comforts of routine, of giving in to the animal nature that has them repeating the same compulsive actions time and time again. They do this because it requires no effort, and because they mistakenly believé that if they do not unsettle others, they will be left alone. (Location 2976)


The world is dangerous and enemies are everywhere—everyone has to protect themselves. A fortress seems the safest. But isolation exposes you to more dangers than it Protects you from—it cuts you off from valuable information, it makes you conspicuous and an easy target. Better to circulate among people, find allies, mingle. You are shielded from your enemies by the crowd. (Location 3043)

Solitude is dangerous to reason, without being favorable to virtue.... Remember that the solitary mortal is certainly luxurious, probably superstitious, and possibly mad. (Location 3132)

Because humans are social creatures by nature, power depends on social interaction and circulation. To make yourself powerful you must place yourself at the center of things, (Location 3141)

make yourself more accessible, seek out old allies and make new ones, force yourself into more and more different circles. This has been the trick of powerful people for centuries. (Location 3147)

Instead of falling into the fortress mentality, view the world in the following manner: It is like a vast Versailles, with every room communicating with another. (Location 3182)

Always on the move, you mix and mingle in the rooms of the palace, never sitting or settling in one place. (Location 3185)

No hunter can fix his aim on such a swift-moving creature. (Location 3185)

REVERSAL (Location 3193)

About the only thing that constant human contact cannot facilitate is thought. (Location 3194)

Machiavelli could write The Prince only once he found himself in exile and isolated on a farm far from the political intrigues of Florence. (Location 3197)

The danger is, however, that this kind of isolation will sire all kinds of strange and perverted ideas. You may gain perspective on the larger picture, but you lose a sense of your own smallness and limitations. (Location 3198)

Also, the more isolated you are, the harder it is to break out of your isolation when you choose to—it sinks you deep into its quicksand without your noticing. (Location 3200)

If you need time to think, then, choose isolation only as a last resort, and only in small doses. Be careful to keep your way back into society open. (Location 3201)

Being able to recognize types of people, and to act accordingly, is critical. (Location 3212)

When you meet a swordsman, draw your sword: Do not recite poetry to one who is not a poet. FROM A CH’AN BUDDHIST CLASSIC, QUOTED IN THUNDER IN THE SKY, TRANSLATED BY THOMAS CLEARY, 1993 (Location 3214)

The Arrogant and Proud Man. (Location 3216)

Whatever you are hoping for from him isn’t worth it. (Location 3219)

The Hopelessly Insecure Man. (Location 3239)

This man is related to the proud and arrogant type, but is less violent and harder to spot. His ego is fragile, his sense of self insecure, and if he feels himself deceived or attacked, the hurt will simmer. He will attack you in bites that will take forever to get big enough for you to notice. (Location 3239)

Do not stay around him or he will nibble you to death. (Location 3242)

Mr. Suspicion. (Location 3243)

He sees what he wants to see—usually the worst—in other people, and imagines that everyone is after him. (Location 3243)

The Serpent with a Long Memory. If hurt or deceived, this man will show no anger on the surface; he will calculate and wait. Then, when he is in a position to turn the tables, he will exact a revenge marked by a cold-blooded shrewdness. (Location 3246)

Recognize this man by his calculation and cunning in the different areas of his life. He is usually cold and unaffectionate. Be doubly careful of this snake, and if you have somehow injured him, either crush him completely or get him out of your sight. (Location 3248)

The Plain, Unassuming, and Often Unintelligent Man. Ah, your ears prick up when you find such a tempting victim. But this man is a lot harder to deceive than you imagine. Falling for a ruse often takes intelligence and imagination—a sense of the possible rewards. The blunt man will not take the bait because he does not recognize it. He is that unaware. The danger with this man is not that he will harm you or seek revenge, but merely that he will waste your time, energy, resources, and even your sanity in trying to deceive him. Have a test ready for a mark—a joke, a story. If his reaction is utterly literal, this is the type you are dealing with. Continue at your own risk. (Location 3250)

Never assume that the person you are dealing with is weaker or less important than you are. (Location 3276)

Being fooled, being conned, has activated their self-doubt, and they are desperate to repair the damage. (Location 3310)

The ability to measure people and to know who you’re dealing with is the most important skill of all in gathering and conserving power. (Location 3358)

The moment you commit, the magic is gone. You become like everyone else. (Location 3428)

You cannot let yourself become the lackey for any cause. (Location 3443)

Men of great abilities are slow to act. for it is easier to avoid occasions for committing yourself than to come well out of a commitment. Such occasions test your judgment; (Location 3507)

Most people operate in a whirlpool of emotions, constantly reacting, churning up squabbles and conflicts. (Location 3559)