- Paperback: 150 pages
- Publisher: University of Pennsylvania Press (January 1, 1972)
- Language: English
- ISBN-10: 0812210379
- ISBN-13: 978-0812210378
- Product Dimensions: 5.5 x 0.4 x 8.5 inches
- Shipping Weight: 7.2 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
- Average Customer Review: 6 customer reviews
- Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #915,692 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)
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Maxims and Reflections (Ricordi)
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"In the history of Renaissance thought, Guicciardini's Ricordi occupy a place of singular importance. Few works of the sixteenth century allow us so penetrating an insight into the views and sentiments of its author as these reflections of the great Italian historian. . . . Like Machiavelli's Prince, the Ricordi form one of the outstanding documents of a time of crisis and transition; but unlike the Prince, they range over a wide field of private as well as public life. In doing so, they revel the man as well as the political theorist."—Nicolai Rubenstein, from the Introduction
"Unlike Machiavelli—inveterate dreamer and cynic—Guicciardini's mind is remarkable for the balance and masterly coolness of its judgment."—Federico Chabod
About the Author
Francesco Guicciardini. Translated by Mario Domandi
Top customer reviews
It is worth noting that the book itself is very short, and the aphorisms are collected from three notebooks of different eras. As such, many of them are repeated. You're not getting a 140 page book of aphorisms; it is more like a 50 page book of such. If that annoys you, you probably shouldn't buy this book.
That said, I find Guicciardini to be perhaps the most wise of all the Aphorists in matters of business. Other Aphorists offer profound commentary into the human condition, or good advice for living within bureaucracies, or truths which ... everyone knows are true ... but nobody talks about for fear of sounding the pessimist. Guicciardini offers profound business/political insight. Imagine condensing the knowledge in "The Prince" into aphorisms, and mixing with plenty of earthy peasant wisdom, and that gives you a good idea of the nature of Guicciardini's writing.
I met a descendant of his at a conference at The Huntington Library in California and he was kind enough to sign my copy of this book.
Many of Guicciardini's ideas match parts of, or most, of the ideas of Machiavelli's. They were close contemporaries of each other.
As a result, these scraps of advice and counsel come across as representing two different personalities. One, the statesman and man of honor, says, "Do not strive harder to gain favor than to keep your good reputation ... [t]he man who maintains reputation will never lack for friends, favor, and good will." Here and elsewhere, FG makes clear that how others know you affects every aspect of one's success among them. But, just a moment before, he also says "Always deny what you don't want to be known." FG's honor and honesty come across as situational at best, or perhaps just one more tool for manipulating his listeners to his will.
Many of his wiles and observations still ring true, for better or for worse. A few, however draw sharp contrast between his time and our own. In one, he says "Never argue against religion or against things that seem to depend on God. These matters are too strongly rooted in the minds of fools." Whether you share his anti-religious bias or not, faith-based arguments are notoriously fruitless even today. FG's maxim, however, must be reviewed now that fundamentalists of many kinds, in many countries, attempt to or do control education, science, rule of law, and basic human rights using partial or total theocracy. From Taliban bombings of girls' schools to the religious anti-science in the US, these movements must be resisted, even if (or because) they are "strongly rooted in the minds of fools."
FG says that, "If you want to know the thoughts of tyrants, read Cornelius Tacitus, where he cites the last conversations of Augustus with Tiberius." Perhaps that's true. You could start with this book, too.
Other books of this kind are Machiavelli's 'The Prince,' Balthasar Gracian's 'The Art of Worldly Wisdom,' and the 'Maxims of La Rochefoucauld.' Although the first of these may be a little too specialized to suit the needs of the ordinary person today, anyone who doesn't know one or two of the others, unless they happen to be exceptionally astute, is asking for trouble.
These books are both highly realistic and extremely practical, for they show us, not man as he is supposed to be and as we would like him to be, but man as he is with all his selfishness, stupidity, ambition, arrogance, malice, laziness and other imperfections, and they teach the art of how, not merely to survive, but even to thrive in the midst of our far from perfect fellow men and women.
'Crooked Wisdom,' then, should not be understood as the product of a crooked mind, but as the clear-sighted wisdom one needs to survive in a world teeming with such minds, a world involved in "the sordid struggle of self-interests, and in the scramble for power, position, and influence."
Another way of looking at 'Crooked Wisdom' is to see it as the art of avoiding dumb mistakes, an art based on a deep insight into human nature and into the quirks and foibles of our fellow men and women.
I first read Guicciardini many years ago, and on re-reading him was surprised to realize how many of his maxims had lodged themselves firmly in my mind, how I continued to act on them, and how they had served me very well indeed. I just wish I had remembered many more.
Here are a few brief examples of Guiccardini's counsel: "Small beginnings, hardly worthy of notice, are often the cause of great misfortune or success." "It is easy to ruin a good position, but very hard to acquire it." "It is prudent not to talk about one's own affairs except when necessary." "If you have offended a man, do not trust or confide in him...." "The weakest always get it in the neck." "Be careful in your conversations never to say anything which, if repeated, might displease others." "A ducat in your purse does you more credit than ten you have spent." "Deception is very useful, whereas your frankness tends to profit others rather than you."
Taken out of context, these fragments hardly do justice to Guiccardini, and suggest little of the importance he will come to have for anyone who takes the trouble to read his fascinating book. It was written to help his contemporaries survive their version of the rat-race and even come out on top, and since human nature hasn't changed it still has the power to do the same thing for us. All we need do is read it.