The 48 Laws of Power (1998) is the first book by American author Robert Greene. The book is a bestseller, selling over 1.2 million copies in the United States, and is popular with prison inmates and celebrities.
Greene initially formulated some of the ideas in The 48 Laws of Power while working as a writer in Hollywood and concluding that today’s power elite shared similar traits with powerful figures throughout history. In 1995, Greene worked as a writer at Fabrica, an art and media school, and met a book packager named Joost Elffers. Greene pitched a book about power to Elffers and six months later, Elffers requested that Greene write a treatment.
Although Greene was unhappy in his current job, he was comfortable and saw the time needed to write a proper book proposal as too risky. However, at the time Greene was rereading his favorite biography about Julius Caesar and took inspiration from Caesar’s decision to cross the Rubicon River and fight Pompey, thus inciting the Great Roman Civil War. Greene wrote the treatment, which later became The 48 Laws of Power. He would note this as the turning point of his life.
The 48 Laws of Power has sold over 1.2 million copies in the United States and has been translated into 24 languages. Fast Company called the book a “mega cult classic,” and The Los Angeles Times noted that The 48 Laws of Power turned Greene into a “cult hero with the hip-hop set, Hollywood elite and prison inmates alike.” The book has been mentioned in various lights in publications like CNN, Forbes, The Los Angeles Times, Entrepreneur magazine, The New York Times, The New Yorker, Newsweek, USA Today, The Guardian, Business Insider, Fast Company, ESPN, and Men’s Health.
The 48 Laws of Power has been reported to be much requested in American prison libraries, and is studied as a first year text in two US colleges. Former drug dealer Curtis Jackson (now better known as rapper 50 Cent) stated that he related to the book “immediately,” and approached Greene with the prospect of a potential collaboration, which would later become The 50th Law, another New York Times bestseller. Busta Rhymes used The 48 Laws of Power to deal with problematic movie producers. DJ Premier has a tattoo inspired from Law #5, “Reputation is the cornerstone of power”, on his arm and DJ Calvin Harris has an “Enter with boldness” arm tattoo based on Law #28. The 48 Laws of Power has also been mentioned in songs by UGK, Jay Z, Kanye West, and Drake. Dov Charney, founder and former CEO of American Apparel, frequently quoted the laws during board meetings, has given friends and employees copies of the book, and appointed Greene to the board of American Apparel. Former Cuban President Fidel Castro is also claimed by the book’s author to have read the book.
- Greene, Robert (2000). The 48 Laws of Power. New York, NY. p. 452. ISBN 0140280197.
- “Business Bestsellers”. New York Times. November 8, 1998.
- Green, Hardy. “Best Selling List”. BusinessWeek.