Preface: This book review does contain spoilers, furthermore it is also contains my thoughts on the book as well as the lessons that I learnt from the book. If you disagree with my thoughts on the book, don’t take it out on the book itself. Have a read because I think this book is interesting to say the least. I did learn somethings from the book but I also disagreed with some other aspects of the book. Overall, this is just a Book Review which contains my thoughts on the book.
What attracted me to this book?
The 48 Laws of Power is a very famous and interesting book here in the west. I only got into reading last year and so I never came across it before but many of my fellow university students have told me how they have often come across quotes from the book on social media as well as various websites within the internet. The reason that I wanted to read the book was that, at the time, I didn’t necessarily understand laws of power at all. I assumed (incorrectly) that there are ‘secrets’ to power that are really only kept between families that are in higher positions and as a result, the idea of knowing what these ‘secrets’ would be really attracted me to reading this book. There are some truths to that statement, in the sense that powerful families probably do have what we would call “know-how” of politics that they teach to their children but it isn’t something someone can’t acquire.
Furthermore, not only can everyone acquire this sort of knowledge but the book explains how there are 48 laws of power that are universal and if used and applied correctly will place someone in a position of power. No doubt, successful people in positions of power are probably using some of these laws and are aware of others and when I first picked up the book, I wanted to know what these ‘secretive’ laws were that do feel like they are hidden in society. So I opened up the book and read the first chapter which was titled ‘law 1 – never outshine the master’ and after reading that chapter I was really amazed by the introduction as well as the content of the first chapter itself. Immediately, I decided that I would read the entire book.
Amoral, cunning, ruthless, and instructive, this multi-million-copy New York Times bestsellers the definitive manual for anyone interested in gaining, observing, or defending against ultimate control – from the author of The Laws of Human Nature.
The Blurb is definitely interesting because practically everyone on the planet wants to either gain power, understand the world of power and politics so that they could know what is going on or at least defend themselves against other powerful people who might want to cause the harm. For me, I just wanted to know what is going on in the world of politics and I wanted to understand politicians (themselves) better and to have an insight into their interesting mindset. Therefore I feel under the curious people who wanted to understand people who believe in the philosophy of power over all other things. There will always definitely be people who are already looking to become powerful or others who want to learn to defend themselves who will choose to pick up and read this book and that is why the blurb is important.
The presentation of the book is very unique in the sense that it is very bold, simple and ‘in your face’. This is important because whenever anyone walks past and sees the book cover of the book they will see the word ‘POWER’ in huge letters on the front page and ‘the 48 laws of power gently above. I think this is crafty and cunning because nearly everyone is seeking more authority and control over their lives and seeing what they are looking for (namely power) in huge capitals on the front of the page will always attract people to the book. Furthermore, the book is simple and complex at the same time, readers will assume that once they quickly read whatever these 48 laws of power are that there lives will change dramatically over night and that they will become learned people. This couldn’t be further from the truth because we all know that the situation is a lot more complex then that.
Other Factors That Drove Me To Read The Book
There definitely are other factors that drove me to read the book. As I mentioned before, I was (at the time) very curious about politics and power. Therefore, I wanted to find out more about the way politicians think and that was something that I was very curious about. Furthermore, before reading this book I read many biographies about famous politicians of the past. People like Yazeed, Mamun, Marwan Ibn Hakam as well as other people and I always thought that men like him were just very interesting. It always felt like to me that politicians were playing some sort of game of power that they would be completely absorbed in and as a result they enjoyed life a lot more. This is of course, true for a small amount of politicians but not for all of them and I wanted to read this book so that I could discover the way politicians think and imagine the world that they would operate in.
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Reviewing this book is definitely very difficult because on the one hand I did accomplish my main objective from my reading of the book which was that I understood the mindset of many people who were operating in the political arena. However, on the other hand, the book did contain many ideas about obtaining which I thought were morally bankrupt and these ideas did greatly disturb me. Throughout the entire book, the author regularly quotes Machiavelli and it is evident to the readers that the author has been greatly influenced by the famous philosopher Machiavelli. For this reason, I really view the book as a philosophical book more than a non-fiction self help book that I initially thought it would be as the author of the book is trying to persuade you to his ideas about power and happiness as well as how to attain them.
For example, at the beginning of the book, the author explains life as the game of power and that the people who get involved in this game tend to enjoy life and benefit and that the people who ‘disdain the game’ end up living miserable lives. The author doesn’t stop there. He goes on to explain the 48 laws of power (which I will list below this chapter) as well as a chapter explaining each law. The author lists examples (observances) where certain men and women from the past have successfully used a certain law of power and have benefitted afterwards and the author will also list examples where some person from the past has failed to observe the law and suffered consequences as a result. The author will also conclude at the end of each chapter giving his sincere advise and will also sometimes mention using the reverse of the law if that law had a reverse anyway.
- 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 Costs.
- 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 the 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 the Self-interests of Others, 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, Keep Others in Suspended Terror: Cultivate an Air of Unpredictability.
- Law 18, Do Not Build Fortresses to Protect Yourself – Isolation is Dangerous.
- Law 19, Know Who You’re Dealing With – Don’t Offend the Wrong Person.
- Law 20, Don’t Commit to Anyone.
- Law 21, Play a Sucker to Catch a Sucker – Appear 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, Recreate Yourself.
- Law 26, Keep Your Hands Clean.
- Law 27, Create a Cult-like Following by Playing on People’s Need to Believe.
- Law 28, Enter Action With Boldness.
- Law 29, Plan 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 Into People’s Fantasies.
- Law 33, Discover Each Man’s Thumbscrew.
- Law 34, Be Royal in Your Own Fashion: Act Like a King to Be Treated Like One.
- 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, Don’t Go Past the Mark You Aimed For: In Victory, Learn When to Stop.
- Law 48, Assume Formlessness.
From what I can see, there are three types of laws in my eyes. Laws that are genuinely beneficial, wise and good to know in your life. These types of laws will help you better navigate around people and it is good to know them in your head. The second type is just laws that are sort of like proverbs. The type of laws that make you go “ah” when you read them. These types of laws are nuggets of wisdom that your parents, teachers and mentors have told you in your life. The third type are laws that are morally bankrupt reprehensible type of laws. The sort of laws that make you feel horrible inside, especially at the thought of you implementing these laws yourself. I’ll briefly go through these three breakdowns with examples.
A few examples of the laws that fall into this bracket would be ‘never outshine the master’, ‘win through actions and never through arguments’, ‘enter action with boldness’, ‘never appear to perfect’. These laws are actually good laws to follow through with your life and when I read these laws I thought to myself, I’m definitely going to go through with this. For example, if you enter a new job and you have a prideful boss, its probably better not to outshine him/her too much out of fear that they will grow to secretly resent you. If you are going to do something anyway, its probably best to be bold and do it in a happy exciting way. Furthermore in life it is better not to appear too perfect. Yes, most people do love being admired and to have people singing praises their way but quite a lot of people disdain perfection because they can’t attain it and will love to drag down a perfect person if they come across one.
Proverb Esc Laws
These types of laws are like the advises that your mother will give you when she is worried about you. These types of laws are like advises that you have come across in your life multiple times. I doubt the first time you would have come across these advices would have been in this book. A few examples of these laws are ‘ So Much Depends on Reputation – Guard It With Your Life‘, ‘Plan All the Way to the End‘. These are good proverbs and nuggets of wisdom. It is good to have a good reputation because people’s thoughts of you definitely does have some sort of effect on the way you view yourself as well as the way society views you. It is also a good idea to plan all the way until the end whenever you are making a new life plan. Why wouldn’t it be? This is definitely something you might have come across before in your life.
Arguably Evil Laws
These are laws that I honestly felt sick when I was reading. These are the type of laws that make you view the world in a certain limited way. A limited way that is honestly rigid, extremely unimaginative and somewhat toxic. Examples of these laws are ‘Never Put Too Much Trust in Friends, Learn How to Use Enemies‘, ‘Conceal Your Intentions‘, ‘When Asking for Help, Appeal to the Self-interests of Others, Never to Their Mercy or Gratitude‘, ‘Despise the Free Lunch‘, ‘Learn to Keep People Dependent on You‘, ‘ Use Selective Honesty and Generosity to Disarm Your Victim‘, ‘Don’t Commit To Anyone’, ‘Create a Cult-like Following by Playing on People’s Need to Believe‘ etc. You can imagine why these laws are dangerous to follow in your life as they will cloud your mind with negative thoughts, create toxic relationships and make you a manipulative and evil character.
There are also other laws which really only apply to people who are in high positions of power. These types of laws will really only apply to a king or a president and reading them as a university student is funny because I can’t imagine a moment where I would be implementing such laws. These types of laws have been used by rulers from the past. Examples of these laws would be ‘Strike the Shepherd, and the Sheep Will Scatter‘, ‘Preach the Need for Change, but Never Reform Too Much at Once‘ etc. It is really useless for someone who isn’t currently established in a position of power to be reading these laws. It is useful if they read and remember these laws of course but they are still ethically debatable laws. Suffice to say that if you are not established in a powerful position then reading this won’t help you in the present moment.
My Concluding Thoughts
Whilst the author is doing his conclusion at the end, he will tend to say “in your quest for power” which is another reason why I see this book as a philosophical book. The truth is many people (including myself) don’t view life as one big game where the purpose of it is to gain power that is because life is so much more complicated and beautiful then that. Not everyone on the planet wants to be someone who has power because of the fact that if you have to do immoral things to gain power and it takes so much effort to maintain power then not a lot people are interested in that. Nobody wants to be a slave to power. There are many people who are living free and happy lives doing what they love on a day to day basis whilst they are free of the worries and stresses of power.
Those people aren’t miserable. They didn’t ‘disdain’ a game and lived lives where they suffered the consequences. They merely ignored the game because they found something better. Happiness or whatever else they were passionate about in their lives. Machiavelli is also a philosopher that has been critiqued throughout history. Scholars have accused him of being immoral many times in their lives. In short, Machiavelli (and the author by extension) are promoting ‘the ends justify the means’ type of policies. Policies which clash with many people’s ethical values. Sometimes doing an action just to gain power is the wrong thing to do.
Furthermore, what exactly is the end goal of the quest to gain power? Power itself? Is power something that is guaranteed to make you happy? Even if it is, is it something that everyone can attain at the same time? I highly doubt it. Many people don’t believe that power is something that will make them happy in their lives and actively choose not to get involved in the political arena. Furthermore, there are many people who did reach the height of political power and success only to realise that this isn’t what they wanted at all. There are numerous examples of this and I won’t go through every person in history who felt this way. A clear example would be Caliph Muawiyah I who was the first king of one of the most powerful dynasties in the history of human kind. The Umayyad dynasty.
When the burden of power was too much he wished that he would have just been a hungry poor person living happily in the desert. Alexander the Great as well. He accomplished so much in terms of conquest at such a young age and yet towards the end of his life hw was giving away so much money to charity and treasure as well. He was visibly depressed and wished he could have taken a different course during his life. Another would be Caliph Abdal-Malik of the Umayyad dynasty. He was someone who Ibn Khaldun called one of the great kings. Yet at the end of his life he didn’t appear to happy with himself as he constantly lamented over his decisions and spent much time begging God for forgiveness. Power isn’t the end all be all. And as I do think that this book is an excellent read (I rated it as 5/5) I do believe that the philosophical ideas that the author is bringing forward are ones that I disagree with.
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