The Power Play in ‘American Gangster’: A Deep Dive into Robert Greene’s 48 Laws of Power

The Intro:

We have been told we need to start this article by saying the Hustler’s Library team does not condone the sale of drugs for financial gain. If you need funds for your business, instead of looking into the drug trade, just check out our guide to small business funding the legal way.  

With that out of the way, let’s dive into possibly the coolest article series we have put out to date. Two things we can’t get enough of here at Hustler’s Library are Robert Greene books and mobster movies, so why not put them together? One of our favorite things about Robert Greene’s writing is the real world application he puts in every book based on historical characters. While we are far from Robert Greene himself, we did our best to apply his laws of power to the life of Frank Lucas as told in the movie “American Gangster”.

 

SETTING THE SCENE

The complex power dynamics in Ridley Scott’s 2007 film “American Gangster” provide a fascinating stage for the application of Robert Greene’s “48 Laws of Power“. In this analysis, we will delve deeper into how Frank Lucas navigates his rise and fall in the world of organized crime, illustrating the impact of adherence or divergence  from Greene’s laws. For those of you who don’t know, the 48 Laws Of Power by Robert Greene is a guide to understanding and navigating power dynamics in many areas of life. Greene illustrates each of his 48 laws with examples from history, illustrating how they work in practice. Many have said the laws in this book are immoral or unethical, however, Greene is just taking an objective look at what “power” really means and how it has been used historically. 

Law 1: Never Outshine the Master

Frank Lucas begins his journey under the wing of mob boss Bumpy Johnson, understanding the critical importance of this first law. Lucas never attempts to outshine Johnson, instead displaying loyalty and learning from him. This patience and strategic subordination pay off when Lucas inherits Johnson’s operation following his death, allowing him to build his own empire using the knowledge and contacts he acquired while under Johnson’s watch.

Law 3: Conceal Your Intentions

While Lucas is building a criminal empire, he maintains a façade of normalcy. He lives a seemingly ordinary life, operating legitimate businesses as a cover for his illicit activities. His ability to separate his criminal endeavors from his public persona keeps his intentions hidden and allows him to operate undetected for a significant period. This strategy not only keeps law enforcement at bay but also obscures his operations from rival crime syndicates who might pose a threat.

Law 15: Crush Your Enemy Totally

Lucas doesn’t just compete with his rivals—he seeks to dominate them completely. By offering a superior product at a lower price, he decimates his competition, allowing him to dominate the heroin market in Harlem. This ruthless business strategy, while morally questionable, exemplifies this law and demonstrates how Lucas was able to rise to power so quickly. While he succeeded in one sense, he also failed in another. Frank Lucas fails to abide by this law fully. While he does manage to put many of his competitors out of business with his superior product, he does not entirely eliminate them. For instance, when the Crooked Cops from New York tries to intimidate Frank and his wife, he responds by blowing up their car, but does not entirely crush them. If he had adhered to this law more rigorously, he might have faced less opposition.

Law 20: Do Not Commit to Anyone

Frank Lucas maintains a low profile while befriending politicians and celebrities and expanding his operations through other criminal organizations. This non-commitment allows him to maintain control and independence over his operation​1​.

Law 23: Concentrate Your Forces

Frank Lucas consolidates his resources by recruiting his five brothers as his lieutenants, keeping the operation in the family. This adherence to the law allows him to maintain tight control over his operations and minimize potential leaks or betrayals​1​.

However, his adherence to this law also led to his downfall, as when one of his cousins is coerced into becoming an informant, leading to the arrest of Frank and his brothers​1​.

Law 28: Enter Action with Boldness

Frank enters the heroin trade boldly, buying directly from producers in Thailand and smuggling it into the U.S. through returning Vietnam War servicemen. His boldness eliminates much of his competition and establishes him as a dominant figure in the trade​. By taking a risk and flying all the way across the globe to source his product, he was able to offer something that no one else could. 

Law 46: Never Appear Too Perfect

Frank’s violation of this law is related to his violation of Law 40. His apparent wealth, as displayed at the Fight of the Century, draws attention to him and leads to his investigation and eventual downfall​. Based on the racial climate of the day and law enforcement prejudices, Frank was widely overlooked as possibly being the biggest kingpin in the city. However, when Frank positioned himself in such a prominent place of power for anyone, let alone a person on color at the time; it caused unwanted attention. 

CONCLUSION

We must again reiterate that the purpose of this article is not to encourage you to be a power hungry maniac or your town’s kingpin. Rather, the team at Hustler’s Library just wanted to put out some lighthearted content about one of our favorite books “48 Laws of Power” and one of our favorite movies American Gangster. For more great content about entrepreneurship, reading and small businesses, make sure to keep up with Hustler’s Library daily!

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