Learn more Download now Shop now Browse your favorite restaurants Shop now Shop now Shop now Shop now Shop now Shop now Shop now Learn More Shop now Learn more Shop Fire Shop Kindle Amazon Music Unlimited for Family Shop now Shop now Learn more

on 3 February 2005
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.
88 Comments| 149 people found this helpful. Was this review helpful to you? Report abuse
In case this automatically gets cross posted on this site I should point out that this review is for the kindle version of the Wisehouse Classics edition. I have read this book many times over the years and have just now re-read it once again as it is the next choice for my local book group. Although I do have a lovely hardback version of this I downloaded this particular book when I came across it whilst browsing, as it was on promo. You do have an active table of contents here, the actual book, and then a couple of extras that you don’t always get in versions of this, these are an account of Duke Valentino and his actions, and a piece on the life of Castruccio Castracani of Lucca. There is also a very good introduction here and notes as well, making this a great book to download and keep.

Over the years Machiavelli’s surname has been used as something rather negative, but to be honest it wasn’t always like that, and if you read this and think about it this does not come across. Machiavelli lived in turbulent times, not only just in Italy but throughout Europe, meaning that he had a lot to draw on when writing this short book of political philosophy. He had an acute eye for detail and an understanding of history, so he could see the same mistakes being made time and time again. He also knew human nature, and let’s face it whatever new technologies and ideas we come up with we as such will never change.

We see and hear politicians going on about ideals and what they are going to do for our betterment, but this will always fall short due to reality, and despite this still going on today Machiavelli made no bones in his discourses as he tells us about the real world, real problems and real ways to go about trying to find an answer. Some have argued that this is a satire, but I don’t think so, it is just one man trying to make sense and bring some sort of order to what was going on around him. You don’t have to agree with what is written here, that is the point that I think a lot of people seem to overlook. Like any philosophical work this is meant to make you think and for you to look around you at problems and see what can be done about them.

This book doesn’t skirt around the issue of war, after all we all know at times it is inevitable, and this does tackle that, and other issues. This is still controversial in many ways with what is discussed here, and some people seem to think it is about self-aggrandizing and becoming the top man, but it isn’t. Machiavelli shows us here the problems of being a real statesman and trying to hold a state together as a cohesive whole through the inevitable thick and thin. This personally I always think is a book that should be read by everyone as it gives you a greater understanding of what is going on around you in the world today, and indeed will still be the same in centuries to come.
0Comment| 3 people found this helpful. Was this review helpful to you? Report abuse
on 14 March 2017
In all honesty, after first finishing this book my first thought was "what was all the big deal about?"

I'd decided to pick up a copy after it had been referenced in numerous political theory books and essays. It was described as "unique", "a revelation", "ahead of it's time", "still read by rulers today". It is short and I figured why not?

And as I said, after finishing the book I just couldn't see what all the fuss was over. It seemed to me to be fairly mundane and obvious advice for surviving in geopolitics very generally speaking.

What I was missing was two-fold.

For one thing; the reason why this seemed liked modern day common sense to me was because I'd been reading all the books on politics for which "The Prince" represents a veritable Genghis Khan of intellectual ancestry. The Prince (amongst others with similar views) informed a great deal of modern geopolitics.

The second thing I was missing was not what present but rather what was not present from this book. I am a fairly secular and don't read many books that advocate from a religious foundation. I also failed to remain cognisant the time in which this book was written. At a time when most were making religious appeals for the legitimacy of the monarchy; Machiavelli never even brings it up. When revisiting the books contents with these sorts of ideas in mind it becomes much clearer why this would have been a controversial book; it is pragmatic and irreligious in a way that would have been completely out of place for it's time.

After my initial reading I might have given this as low as a 1 star. I'd suggest that people, read a little more about the book, the time, and the author (a brief Wikipedia adventure would suffice). It will significantly improve your perception of the book.

I have removed a single star simply because the book is rather cheaply put together (even for only a £2 price tag) and they have printed very close to the edges (including the inner edge making reading difficult), I suspect to try to further save money.

Luckily the book is public domain and I simply picked up a cheap copy to have a physical one lying around.
0Comment|Was this review helpful to you? Report abuse
TOP 1000 REVIEWERon 26 March 2015
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!
0Comment| One person found this helpful. Was this review helpful to you? Report abuse
on 5 June 2016
I bought this because I like Listening to 2pac haha, should be a good book and I can't wait to get started, had a quick look through it and its full of big words I'm not familiar with, so it could take me longer to read this ,than I expected, Machiavelli lives on, I'm sure his still alive , I mean he did fake his own death right? and maybe 2pac copied him? who really knows the truth?
22 Comments| 2 people found this helpful. Was this review helpful to you? Report abuse
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.
0Comment| 4 people found this helpful. Was this review helpful to you? Report abuse
TOP 1000 REVIEWERon 4 December 2017
Many translations actually aren’t, they are interpretations according to the views of the author and many are thus almost novels. This is a very good translation of archaic Italian [a language most Italians can’t even read –much like Chaucer is to English]. Originally written as ‘On Principalities’, this was intended as a gift that was meant to ingratiate Niccolo with the dominate family [whoever they ended up being, for its recipient was not the original it was intended for].
The first 38 pages are a useful authors introduction, but it is the 16 pages of the Translators note that are of most benefit. Both explain how Machiavelli has been much maligned and misinterpreted in the past –I agree. Most conceptions of Machiavelli stem from ‘anti-Catholic’ sentiment as in Gentillet’ ‘Discours contre Machiavel’ and the numerous renaissance plays that were becoming popular entertainment. The translator tries to get an understanding of the period and attempts to translate words according to their ‘olde worlde’ meaning; rather than their modern usage.
Machiavelli’ uses large amounts of punctuation and a fractured writing style that modern writers often cannot or do not understand. It’s a style that I was brought up with and doesn’t cause me much of a problem. This version uses a more flowing style that is easy to read whilst still maintaining the message that Niccolo was trying to convey and also picks up on the ribald ’language’ of the day.
Essentially this is a modern easy read that maintains, IMHO, one of the best attempted translations or modern renderings of a much misunderstood work.
0Comment| 7 people found this helpful. Was this review helpful to you? Report abuse
TOP 500 REVIEWERon 19 June 2012
Those who have read one or more of the volumes that comprise Tom Butler-Bowdon's "50 Classics" series already know that he possesses superior reasoning and writing skills as well as a relentless curiosity when conducting research on history's greatest thinkers and their major works. For these and other reasons, I cannot think of another person better qualified to provide the introductions to the volumes that comprise a new series, "Capstone Classics."

Unlike so many others, he provides more, much more than a flimsy "briefing" to the given work. As Butler-Bowdon points out, "recent research has focused on [Machiavelli's] ethics and the fact that he was a genuine moral philosopher and well-rounded Renaissance man whose over riding wish was to be useful." This obviously challenges the mistaken but durable perception of Machiavelli as being "evil" by those who have never read The Prince and know even less about the age in which it was written.

Indeed, as Yale's Erica Benner suggests in Machiavelli's Ethics (published by Princeton University Press, 2009), The Prince is "best seen not as a guide on how to be ruthless or self-serving, but rather as a lens to see objectively the prevailing views of the day, and to open the eyes of the reader to the motives of others."

For this volume, Butler-Bowdon poses and then addresses key issues such as these in order to create a context, a frame-of-reference, for Niccolò Machiavelli's insights:

o The defining characteristics of the social and political forces of the period during which he lived and worked
o The extent to which The Prince accurately reflects that period
o The dominant influences (for better or worse) on Machiavelli's career
o Their impact on his efforts to advance that career amidst deadly perils and equally perilous opportunities
o The unique contributions and heritage of The Prince within the development of western literature
o Machiavelli's articles of religious faith and perspectives political realities (e.g. his "success laws")
o His definition of "power" and how best to gain and then apply it
o Girolamo Savonarola's significance
o The role of image and charisma in effective leadership
o Machiavelli's "final, powerful message" to our own times

There were so many passages in The Prince that caught my eye while re-reading it prior to writing this brief review. One was cited in its title (i.e. a leader needs to be both "a fox to discern snares, and a lion to drive off wolves") and Butler-Bowdon cites another when concluding the Introduction to this volume: Reflecting Machiavelli's basic philosophy regarding the division of causal power between and chance and merit, he states that, "What remains to be done must be done by you," as ultimately "God will not do everything Himself." To which Butler-Bowdon responds, "The Prince ultimately is a book of [begin italics] action [end italics], and demands of you the reader, to act without fear to achieve noble things, acquiring distinction and perhaps a certain glory in your own lifetime."

As indicated earlier, Tom Butler-Bowdon's purpose in this introduction is to create a context, a frame-of-reference, for Machiavelli's insights. He does so brilliantly and also in each of the other volumes in the "Capstone Classics" series that have been published thus far.
0Comment| 2 people found this helpful. Was this review helpful to you? Report abuse
on 11 November 2015
I don't know who this Machiavelli guy is but he knows nothing about politics. There was nothing in the book about online advertising for instance.
22 Comments| 3 people found this helpful. Was this review helpful to you? Report abuse
on 25 August 2007
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.
11 Comment| 6 people found this helpful. Was this review helpful to you? Report abuse

Need customer service? Click here

Sponsored Links

  (What is this?)