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10 of 10 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars The Prince
This is a book which has been on my "must read" for ages. I only wish I had read it before. I think I can already pick out the people who live by its rules. A true classic.
Published on 22 Jun. 2009 by D. E. Turner

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3.0 out of 5 stars The pragmatic politician's handbook
Niccolo Machiavelli may represent the epitome of a politician born in the wrong age. Nowadays anyone as politically astute and accomplished as Machiavelli undoubtedly was would make sure that they had a slick PR team in place, ready to put a positive spin on their every utterance. Even then, things can come adrift. In recent years even as experienced a political operator...
Published 4 days ago by James Brydon


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10 of 10 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars The Prince, 22 Jun. 2009
By 
D. E. Turner (London, UK) - See all my reviews
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This review is from: The Prince (Penguin Classics) (Paperback)
This is a book which has been on my "must read" for ages. I only wish I had read it before. I think I can already pick out the people who live by its rules. A true classic.
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125 of 136 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars The virtues of Machiavelli, 3 Feb. 2005
By 
Kurt Messick "FrKurt Messick" (London, SW1) - See all my reviews
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This review is from: The Prince (Penguin Classics) (Paperback)
In the course of my political science training, I studied at great length the modern idea of realpolitik. In that study I came to realise that it was somewhat incomplete, without the companionship of The Prince, by Niccolo Machiavelli, a Florentine governmental official in the late fifteenth and early sixteenth centuries. The Prince is an oft quoted, oft mis-quoted work, used as the philosophical underpinning for much of what is considered both pragmatic and wrong in politics today. To describe someone as being Machiavellian is to attribute to the person ruthless ambition, craftiness and merciless political tactics. Being believed to be Machiavellian is generally politically incorrect. Being Machiavellian, alas, can often be politically expedient.
Machiavelli based his work in The Prince upon his basic understanding of human nature. He held that people are motivated by fear and envy, by novelty, by desire for wealth, power and security, and by a hatred of restriction. In the Italy in which he was writing, democracy was an un-implemented Greek philosophical idea, not a political structure with a history of success; thus, one person's power usually involved the limitation of another person's power in an autocratic way.
Machiavelli did not see this as a permanent or natural state of being -- in fact, he felt that, during his age, human nature had been corrupted and reduced from a loftier nobility achieved during the golden ages of Greece and Rome. He decided that it was the corrupting influence of Christianity that had reduced human nature, by its exaltation of meekness, humility, and otherworldliness.
Machiavelli has a great admiration for the possible and potential, but finds himself inexorably drawn to the practical, dealing with situations as they are, thus becoming an early champion of realpolitik carried forward into this century by the likes of Kissinger, Thatcher, Nixon, and countless others. One of the innovations of Machiavelli's thought was the recognition that the prince, the leader of the city/state/empire/etc., was nonetheless a human being, and subject to all the human limitations and desires with which all contend.
Because the average prince (like the average person) is likely to be focussed upon his own interests, a prince's private interests are generally in opposition to those of his subjects. Fortunate is the kingdom ruled by a virtuous prince, virtue here not defined by Christian or religious tenets, but rather the civic virtue of being able to pursue his own interests without conflicting those of his subjects.
Virtue is that which increases power; vice is that which decreases power. These follow Machiavelli's assumptions about human nature. Machiavelli rejected the Platonic idea of a division between what a prince does and what a prince ought to do. The two principle instruments of the prince are force and propaganda, and the prince, in order to increase power (virtue) ought to employ force completely and ruthlessly, and propaganda wisely, backed up by force. Of course, for Machiavelli, the chief propaganda vehicle is that of religion.
Whoever reads Roman history attentively will see in how great a degree religion served in the command of the armies, in uniting the people and keeping them well conducted, and in covering the wicked with shame.
Machiavelli has been credited with giving ruthless strategies (the example of a new political ruler killing the deposed ruler and the ruler's family to prevent usurpation and plotting is well known) -- it is hard to enact many in current politics in a literal way, but many of his strategies can still be seen in electioneering at every level, in national and international relations, and even in corporate and family internal 'politics'. In fact, I have found fewer more Machiavellian types than in church politics!
Of course, these people would be considered 'virtuous' in Machiavellian terms -- doing what is necessary to increase power and authority.
The title of this piece -- the virtues of Machiavelli, must be considered in this frame; certainly in no way virtuous by current standards, but then, it shows, not all have the same standards. Be careful of the words you use -- they may have differing definitions.
Perhaps if Machiavelli had lived a bit later, and been informed by the general rise of science as a rational underpinning to the world, he might have been able to accept less of a degree of randomness in the universe. Perhaps he would have modified his views. Perhaps not -- after all, the realpolitikers of this age are aware of the scientific framework of the universe, and still pursue their courses.
This is an important work, intriguing in many respects. Far shorter than the average classical or medieval philosophical tome, and more accessible by current readers because of a greater familiarity with politics than, say, metaphysics or epistemology, this work yields benefits and insights to all who read, mark, inwardly digest, and critically examine the precepts.
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3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars The Bible for the Power-Hungry, 8 Nov. 2013
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This review is from: The Prince (Penguin Classics) (Paperback)
The infamous Niccolo and his famous work. I purchased this book for my Politics course at University and Machiavelli was the first thinker we studied this year, with this book being the focus.

Remember, the "Prince" is someone who holds a position of power, or is destined to or wishes to hold a position of power, and the book is the manifesto that that individual must adhere to in order to attain and sustain power.

You can understand why The Prince continues to take people by surprise, but with an open mind you can understand where Machiavelli is coming from, although most people would disagree with the slightly barbaric tone that runs throughout.

A vital book to own for any political thinker, student or someone who simply holds an interest in political theory and history or even the history of Italy.
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3.0 out of 5 stars The pragmatic politician's handbook, 26 Mar. 2015
This review is from: The Prince (Penguin Classics) (Paperback)
Niccolo Machiavelli may represent the epitome of a politician born in the wrong age. Nowadays anyone as politically astute and accomplished as Machiavelli undoubtedly was would make sure that they had a slick PR team in place, ready to put a positive spin on their every utterance. Even then, things can come adrift. In recent years even as experienced a political operator as Peter, now Lord, Mandleson, New Labour spin doctor extraordinaire, though having a whole team of press consultants and PR men at his behest, found his ceaseless machinations earned him a reputation for duplicity and divisiveness, rendering him a hissing and a byword within his own party, let alone among his Conservative opponents. Yet even Lord Mandelson didn't suffer the vilification and revulsion that have attached themselves to Machiavelli over the last six centuries.

The very word 'machiavellian' carries with it a heavy semantic weighting, with connotations of intricate and decidedly underhand plotting; shameful manoeuvres best left in the shadows, hidden from view. There is even a solid body of belief that ascribes the origin of the Devil's cognomen 'Old Nick' as a reference to Machiavelli's practice of the dark arts of political persuasion, and to this work in particular.

Florence in the late fifteenth and early sixteenth centuries may have been at the centre of the Renaissance, but it was also a hub of political and military activity. Machiavelli had held public office during the brief history of the Republic of Florence before the Medici dynasty reasserted itself. As so often befalls senior in times of violent regime change, Machiavelli found himself imprisoned and even tortured in 1512. It was in the years shortly after this that he wrote this work, an observation on the practical application of political rule. He is careful not to become bogged down in moral considerations. He is, instead, principally concerned with the establishment of a strong administration that can defend and maintain its borders and protect its people. The implication is that if military security can be established, the populace will benefit in the long run. His advice is, therefore, essentially dispassionate. He has studied politics in action during disturbed time, and synthesis his experience into a handbook for the ambitious ruler.

He was clearly a scholar and shows great familiarity with the classics. His chapter on the impact of ruler who achieve their position as a consequence of crime is a distillation of Herodotus's life of Agathocles of Syracuse. Born the son of a potter, Agathocles combined courage and ambition with criminal intent, allying himself with the Carthaginians to establish himself as King of the Syracuse throne. Having stolen the throne, he established himself as a pragmatic and successful leader who protected his realm and people, and this reigned for several years in relative stability.

His taste for pragmatism does occasionally lead him into blunt and even reckless assertions. Comments of the nature of, 'I say it would be splendid if one had a reputation for generosity; nonetheless, if you do earn a reputation for generosity then you will come to grief' can never constitute a popular manifesto!

In the end, the question of whether he was evil and manipulative, or merely pragmatic, is really somewhat irrelevant. His book has survived for centuries, and offers a fascinating observation of the political life in a turbulent city state, caught between the Scylla of impending military intervention by the French and the Charybdys of an omnipresent Church that dominated everyday life.

The translation that I read (which I bought more than thirty years ago while still at school) was that by George Bull, published by the Penguin Classics series in 1961, and it did seem rather dated in parts. The introduction offered lots of fascinating information about Machiavelli's life and the prevailing context against which he wrote, though I have seldom seen a scholarly tract that was so poorly written. Bull obviously poured all his efforts into the translation and just dashed the introduction off against a too tight deadline!
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5.0 out of 5 stars your kingdom - an owner's manual, 3 Sept. 2012
This review is from: The Prince (Penguin Classics) (Paperback)
"Welcome to your new kingdom. We hope you will enjoy a long and productive ownership, and to facilitate this please read the following instructions carefully. Firstly please study the art of war carefully and personally take charge of your citizen army. Do NOT use forces from other suppliers as that would invalidate your warranty. In diplomacy avoid alliances with stronger powers if at all possible, but protect and support weaker powers without permitting them to increase territory. Treat your subordinates well but make sure you always delegate the unpopular tasks to those not closely identified with your Personage. It is vital to have a sound economy and a reputation for generosity would hinder you in this. It is however important that you are regarded as a pious, honourable and religious man but you must be able to lie and break promises without getting caught.

Your eternal servant, Nick 'Oldie' M."

These are some of Machiavelli's key recommendations. A first reading is striking and shocking for the abscence of moral value judgements - as if he aspired to be a pure political scientist indifferent to how the knowledge might be used. A careful reading suggests a harsh utilitarian morality: it is better to kill people now if it firmly establishes your rule and allows your subjects to live peacefully and safely in the long term, than that in attempting to be good now you should promise more than you can deliver, leading to dissatisfcation and disorder.

Like any brutal honesty Machiavelli's words are hard to listen to - even if we disagree with him. However they are well worth the effort. For a start they are a wake up call as to what the world of politics is really like and we can test our moral convictions against his understanding of the world.
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4.0 out of 5 stars When a name becomes a pejorative adjective..., 13 Mar. 2011
By 
John P. Jones III (Albuquerque, NM, USA) - See all my reviews
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This review is from: The Prince (Penguin Classics) (Paperback)
"Machiavellian" - not normally considered a term of approbation. There are numerous editions of this classic book on the use of political power, written in the 16th Century. In my edition, which I first purchased and read over 40 years ago, there is an introduction by Christian Gauss. In it, he says: "On the strength of a famous essay of Macaulay's, the notion had become fairly widespread that the devil himself had become familiarly known as the Old Nick only because Niccolo had been Machiavelli's first name." Machiavelli based his book on what seems to be an eminently sensible proposition: instead of describing an ideal world or society, why not describe political power in the context of the real world, shorn of moral considerations. He best formulated this premise in chapter 15, on "Of the Things for which Men, and Especially Princes, are Praised or Blamed," when he says: "Therefore it is necessary for a prince who wishes to maintain himself, to learn how not to be good, and to use this knowledge and not use it, according to the necessity of the case."

Machiavelli was a contemporary of Leonardo da Vinci, and lived at a time when the Popes, like Alexander VI, openly fathered children, despite that much tattered vow of chastity. On my recent re-read, the classic and timeless nature of Machiavelli's insights was confirmed. Various passages could have tumbled out of today's headlines: "Thus it came about that King Charles of France was allowed to take Italy without the slightest trouble, and those who said that it was owing to our sins..." Sounds like Pat Robertson pontificating about the reasons for 9-11, or the Haiti earthquake - it was God's wrath at our sins! There are substantial passages dedicated to the quality and type of soldiers that fight on behalf of your country. Consider: "The mercenaries and auxiliaries are useless and dangerous, and if any one supports his state by the arms of mercenaries, he will never stand firm or sure..." And now America, due to the repeal of the draft, has an increasing chasm between the few that fight its wars, and the many who rest comfortably at home; and there is also an increasing reliance on foreigners in our military, serving in the hopes of obtaining citizenship, as well as a large number of mercenaries, epitomized by the infamous Blackwater Group. And how does this sound for a description of the "nobility" of Wall Street utilizing the political system, regardless of political party: "for when the nobility see that they are unable to resist the people they unite in exalting one of their number and creating him prince, so as to be able to carry out their own designs under the shadow of his authority."

"The Prince" is a short book, barely a hundred pages, in my edition, without the introduction. It is not a particularly easy read, for it is often a string of aphorisms that need to be considered and digested, all placed against a background of historical examples that most Americans are not familiar with, like the internecine struggles of Italy at the time, the various sieges of Syracuse (and we're not talking New York!), and the rule of Darius. In general though, Machiavelli's judgments have withstood the test of time. And the book is "choppy," as the author jumps from one topic to the other. Some of his assessments are questionable. Consider: "A prince is further esteemed when he is a true friend or a true enemy, when, that is, he declares himself without reserve in favor of some one or against another. This policy is always more useful than remaining neutral." Yet we have witnessed the enormous power and influence certain politicians have achieved by remaining in that seeming "neutral" position, as the "swing vote", as recently exemplified in the effort to pass comprehensive health care reform. Machiavelli concludes his book with a polemic of exhortation, urging that Italy be "liberated from the barbarians." The chapter is so anomalous with the rest of the work that some have proposed that it was added by others after his death.

Finally, I liked the balance that he struck between fortune (a/k/a dumb blind luck) and our ability to affect our fate: "Nevertheless, that our free will may not be altogether extinguished, I think it may be true that fortune is the ruler of half our actions, but that she allows the other half or thereabouts to be governed by us."

Overall, on the re-read, 4-stars.

(Note: Review first published at Amazon, USA, on March 26, 2010)
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4 of 5 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Machiavelli's important guide to the psychology of successful leadership and the maintenance of power, 14 July 2013
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The Guardian (UK) - See all my reviews
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This review is from: The Prince (Penguin Classics) (Paperback)
This often misquoted and misunderstood guide (generally by those who have never read or studied it) for those who aspire to political or organizational power is still relevant almost 500 years after its original 1532 publication. Machiavelli's name is now undeservedly a synonym for scheming, cynicism and ruthlessness: in fact `The Prince' is the work of a far-sighted and experienced realist which predicts in detail the outcome of any course of action undertaken by a ruler/leader/monarch/president/CEO (i.e. "Prince") who aspires to run any organization/state/conquered territory and clearly explains in plain language the way to succeed and maintain position.

In 26 succinct chapters each with a themed focus, the author outlines the consequences of a range of any would-be leader's actions with an impressive directness and brevity of language, making the book a concise but deep and information-packed `How to do it and avoid mistakes' guide to leadership. On the use of cruelty (despotism/tyranny in modern jargon) for example:

"Cruelty can be called `well-used' if executed at a single stroke out of necessity to secure one's power, and is then not continued but converted into the greatest possible benefit to one's subjects. Badly used cruelty...even if initially limited, increases with time...those who follow the first path can maintain their position ...the others cannot possibly survive" (Ch8)

From musing on generosity (Machiavelli details why it is much better for a political leader in the long-run to be thought mean-minded than generous), to the occasional necessity for war (war should not be delayed or postponed nor aggressors appeased, but ought to be carried out quickly to devastating effect, as to delay will only make the situation worse) and "He who has good arms will always have good friends" (Ch19) virtually every page is replete with often surprisingly counter-intuitive wisdom. The author always backs up his points with contemporary and historical examples perhaps less obvious to the modern-day reader not steeped in classical or mediaeval European history, but the more you re-read and think about what he writes, the more profound and realistic you realise are his insights.

Laying modern-day political correctness to one side, consider Machiavelli's refreshingly frank and deeply poetic insight into how "fortune" (i.e. "luck", "fate", being "in accord with the `Zeitgeist" or whatever you want to call it) should be managed:

"...when fortune changes and men rigidly continue in their ways, they will flourish as long as fortune and their ways are in accord, but they will come to ruin the moment these are in discord...it is better to be impetuous than cautions, because Fortune is a woman, and if you wish to dominate her you must beat and batter her. It is clear that she will let herself be won by men who are impetuous rather than by those who step cautiously. Therefore like a woman, she is more partial to young men, because they are less cautious, wilder and command her with greater audacity" (Ch25)

The text of `The Prince' only extends to around 90 pages (depending on the translation and page layout) but packs a lot in: what is lacking in quantity is amply compensated by quality and profundity. It's often said that if you don't know `The Prince' and its lessons for power then you're not really politically educated: certainly the principles and insights offered by Machiavelli's text 500 years ago can still be seen to operate on the contemporary political landscape.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars The essential guide to real politics, 9 Jan. 2011
This review is from: The Prince (Penguin Classics) (Paperback)
An absolute classic that everyone should read at least once.

It is a clearly written dissection of the reality of politics in its widest sense, applicable across all times and walks of life and with an enduring impact (eg for a surprising contemporary example see the thriller Heavy Duty People - link below)

Heavy Duty People
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5.0 out of 5 stars Core reading for anyone having any interaction with anyone in my mind., 21 April 2013
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My god this is good. One might think it's a touch sceptical about the world but once you're actually living it you do realise that there are a lot of thugs about, here he describes how to get your way as opposed to someone else having theirs over you. It is not an abuse of power book, it assumes responsibility and describes some techniques to maintain that responsibility and authority safely and for a reasonable cost. It is not a book to tell one how to get one over on colleagues necessarily, or how to rise to be a captain of this or that. A touch more subtle, it might just prepare one for some of the excesses of human behaviour, when to recognise when someone is being a touch selfish, how and why they might be doing it.
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6 of 8 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars One of THE most important works ever written, 25 Aug. 2007
This review is from: The Prince (Penguin Classics) (Paperback)
This masterpiece of reasoning and good practical handbook on how to get ahead in real life if you happen to be already a man of some means, was a work of great humanity in an age when humanity was still considered disgusting and subserviant to the Lord above and his chosen servants on Earth. What a shot across the bows to all those religious hypocrites and Bible following automatons this must have been, then. Two elements surrounding this work's brave publication are crucial, I feel: One being that this was Italy, (as it became) and at its advanced stage of the great Renaissance, as we now know it, and the second being that it was written at a time which was just right to be publishing order challenging controversial works. After seeing the liberal benefits to man that the use of the printing press had brought, and the world of possibilities it offered, Machiavelli struck the first blow against the stifling and corrupt order of the age.

His publication of political thought and theory which was refreshingly devoid of religious dogma or even quotations, preceded the publication of that other world changing document by three or four years: Luther's pinning of the ninety five thesis to a Church door a few hundred miles north in an area still ruled by edicts pumped out by prelates living closer to Machiavelli. This was exactly the right time to be reaching the learned men of the world with anything revolutionary in tone, and well presented and researched contradictions of established thought were very lible to strike a chord with many. In other words, many people by this time had clearly had all they could stomach of the seething hypocrisy they witnessed being displayed by the Lord's own servants, in the church and consequently in the monarchy led governments of the age. To be spouting their harsh godfearing edicts out to the uneducated masses when the vast majority of them enjoyed the sins they were loudly proscribing the common populace from having, was all a bit rich for certain educated but strong minded men like Machiavelli and Luther. The time was very ripe for a wind of change, and even the corrupt but mighty church of Rome knew it, and feared it.

Machievelli simply took a different line to Luther, perhaps not least because he was far more used to living with these ruler's inconsistencies than the more morally outraged teutonic man of God was. Where Luther got all spiritual and quoted the many edicts from scripture that the church of Rome was blatantly abusing, Machiavelli simply plotted the practical lines for a prostective leader of state to follow, quoting the works of historians and statesmen who had written about both the world's most successful leaders and its least successful leaders, as a practical handbook on how to be a successful head of state. Both of their actions though were brave, and both of them catastrophic to the cosy order of things and to the power of the once mighty Catholic Church. Humanity owes both of these great men an enormous debt, for their brave and insightful works helped breathe a real wind of change to the way the human race had been living.
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