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on January 6, 2010
Many people have never read anything by Machiavelli except The Prince, and they assume that's all they need to know about his writings. But The Prince is the equivalent of Marx's Communist Manifesto--Machiavelli's real political treatise is The Discourses, just as Marx's was Das Kapital.

You have to understand that The Prince was a piece he wrote in an effort to get a job with a particular ruler. And while the Prince is much more pithy and quotable than the Discourses, it's in the Discourses that you'll find where his real sympathies lay. Here are some quotes from the Discourses:

"Now in a well-ordered republic it should never be necessary to resort to extra-constitutional measures" (ch. XXXIV, p. 203 in this edition)

"...there can be no worse example in a republic than to make a law and not to observe it" (ch. XLV, p. 229)

"...if we compare the faults of a people with those of princes, we shall find the people vastly superior in all that is good and glorious." (ch. LVIII, p. 264)

The Discourses talks all about politics and governing, and it makes you want to go out and rule a country! Very cool. At times he betrays an attitude that's almost modern, and maybe that's part of why he was vilified in his day. At other times he sounds strangely archaic, but that's hardly surprising for a fifteenth-century Italian.

That said, this translation of the Prince is very mediocre, and for that I give the book four stars instead of five. It talks a lot about calumnies, for instance, which is unsettling if you don't happen to know what a calumny is before picking up the book. And it uses "contemn" as a verb, which is also archaic (we still use the noun--contempt--but not the verb!).

More seriously, it makes the common mistake of translating the Italian word "vertu" as English "virtue". It's partly because of that sort of translation error that Machiavelli has a bad reputation in the English-speaking world. While "vertu" can mean virtue, it also has other meanings that have nothing necessarily to do with virtue, including strength, force of character, etc. So this translation, in a particularly egregious passage, talks about Hannibal's "inhuman cruelty...together with his infinite other virtues" (ch. XVII, p. 62)--which gives an English speaker a jaw-dropping "WTF?" moment.

That said, it's not a BAD translation of the Prince, just a middling one (the translation of the Discourses is good), and this volume is worth picking up to see what Machiavelli had to say about politics and government. This was a guy who understood politics better than most people then or now, and who loved watching and studying the operation of government--almost like an engineer appreciates the functioning of machinery. He wanted to explain what works and what doesn't, and he had an uncanny grasp of how politics fits together.
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on June 13, 1999
"The authentic interpreter of Machiavelli," wrote Lord Acton, "is the whole of later history." Thus, Bill Clinton to his peril, ignored Machiavelli's advice: "Men have less scruple in offending one who makes himself loved than one who makes himself feared." Nearly 500 years ago, Machiavelli set out to teach the lessons of power. And his teachings remain as valid in our day as in his own. Want to size up a ruler's competence? Then "look at the men he has about him." Want help in making hard decisions? Consult your advisors, deliberate privately, and then stick to your decision. It was Machiavelli who first described the fundamental law of public relations: "Everybody sees what you apear to be, few feel what you are." Even those who want nothing to do with executive authority will profit greatly by learning the truth about how such power is actually gained and used. Above all, Machiavelli urges those who must deal with the real world to remain clear-eyed about its dangers: It is necessary for a prince, he warns, to "learn how not to be good," and to sometimes use this knowledge in effective defense against ruthless enemies. This is admittedly strong stuff for many idealistic readers. But those who reject Machiavelli's advice do so either in ignorance of the ways power is actually used, or in a well-intentioned but doomed attempt to create a Utopia populated not by men but angels.
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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.

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.

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.
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on January 10, 2015
Like many people who reviewed, I read this book as required for a Political Science class in college. When you first attempt to read it, it feels intimidating. The style of writing is foreign, it's very dense, the context of different wars and conflicts are unknown. But once I really got into it, I was completely hooked.

Machiavelli was simply a genius and observed and understood more about humanity, civilzation and control than most researchers and academics ever will. Many people when they refer to Machiavelli, imply that he's evil or underhanded. And while I think that Machiavelli was surely manipulative and cunning, he wasn't at all evil. Machiavelli believed in fairness and justice. He believed in the rights of people. But he also understood that in order to get by under authoritative leaders, you had to appease them and make them believe you were on their side. That is what The Prince is all about.

I don't think that Machiavelli ever intended for the advice in The Prince to be used centuries later by almost every warring country. After reading this book, I was astounded to watch the news with fresh eyes and realize that the major governments of the world are following Machiavelli's advice almost to the letter. It feels disenchanting. But - Machiavelli also left behind The Discourses which is written for the people. So I suppose he left behind one set of writing for all the manipulative rulers of the world, and another for the people who search and yearn for freedom. Very smart.
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on January 21, 2013
For any one and every one who can read! Machiavelli wrote for all people who know how to read and are not convinced that Machiavelli wrote only for an special reading group. His attempts to reveal the times of the history of the City of Florence and his experience as the Secretary for the City of Florence to other European countries reveals the complexity of the time. His love for Florence was similar to the love of a parent for a special child.. he always wanted the best for Florence when Florence seemed to more attracted to the display and acquisition of wealth and power.

"The Discourses" uses the history of Livy to illustrate the practices in military and political governance that made Rome and Italy at that time, a World Power. Machiavelli does not totally advocate the practices of early Rome but shows through the first history written about that time and place by Livy, what practices were advisable and which would be doubtful if used in Florence to enhance and improve the plans of Florence in other conquests and protection of the City of Florence from other interests. Again, any one who can read and has the time, then "The Discourses" is a readable book for any and all.
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on March 7, 2008
This book is great for Political Theory classes and a must read for anyone majoring in poli sci. The translation is quite good.
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on April 4, 2015
I wanted to understand Tupac Shakur and the philosopher Machiavelli behind him. Now I know why Tupac always wanted to cover all his basis. The same thing with Machiavelli doing the same thing in politics with using history as a survival guide for the real world. I am on page 251. Love the book! But I have to say Machiavelli is very dark and is a reflection of a mans darkest side. I can be very disturbing reading but it can yield so many insights!!! Favorite passage : Pg. 93: ..."for if one could change ones nature with time and circumstances , fortune would never change"....(One of the wisest things I've ever heard!!!)
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on January 1, 2010
Personally I am an economics person, but the political savvy of Mr. Machiavelli is enlightening to say the least. This book will give you a whole new perspective on public policy and the things that Politicians, and world Leaders spew to the public ear. Highly recommended for all that are interested in the way the world works.
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on April 11, 2014
My book arrived today ahead of schedule. I should have read "The Prince" in 1964, I did not, but kept it on my list of books to read and I am reading it now. The book condition is as described which is great because I only wanted to read both books and pass it along to whoever would like to read it next. THANKS!!!
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on September 27, 2012
I started reading the book the day I received it.It's amazing just how insightful Machiavelli was and so far in time. The writing is more advanced than I thought possible and I am again thankful that amazon had what I was looking for.
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