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3 of 4 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars A useful introduction, though dense and lacking in structure, 7 Mar 2008
This review is from: Machiavelli: A Very Short Introduction (Very Short Introductions) (Paperback)
The Very Short Introduction series by Oxford University Press has a good reputation for presenting challenging subjects in an easily accessible manner. Quentin Skinner's contribution, "Machiavelli", charts the life, career and major works of one of the most famous figures of Renaissance Italy, a man whose theories have had great influence on modern political thought, but who has been much misrepresented.

On the whole this is a good, straightforward account of Machiavelli's life and works, and even though the material feels very densely presented, Skinner's style and argument are generally clear. He traces the development of Machiavelli's political thought, from both his contemporary exemplars and Roman models (authors such as Livy and Sallust), showing both how drew on these sources and how he diverged from them, at every stage backing up his arguments with examples from the texts. Unfortunately it is difficult to get a sense of perspective on Machiavelli, since we are offered little clue as to how other historians have responded to the man's work in the centuries since his death. It is disappointing, too, that Skinner does not, in the end, come to any real conclusions himself about the man or his ideas, or his continuing relevance in the modern world. As a result the book as a whole feels slightly lacking in structure.

For the casual reader, or someone reading about Machiavelli for the first time, the material may initially feel quite daunting or overly-academic. More space could have been devoted to explaining the world of Machiavelli and the socio-political situation of Renaissance Italy c. 1500, to root the reader in the period first of all. One notable omission is that of a political map of the peninsula, which might have helped in providing some context. Similarly, it would have been useful to have as reference a chronology of Machiavelli's life, together with the main political events of the time. On the other hand, Skinner provides a long list of further reading, so that it is possible to follow up some of his points, although many of these are articles in academic journals, suggesting that it is the student rather than the general reader who is his intended audience.

Everything considered, "Machiavelli" is a highly informative and comprehensive overview of the man's career, although the casual reader may find it quite hard to get to grips with.
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