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Wednesday, 8 August 2012

The Prince by Niccolo Machiavelli

The Prince was one of those books that I would have eventually gotten around to reading, but thanks to the intervention of my boyfriend I decided to give it a read now, seeing as he seemed to like it so much. Am I glad that I bumped it up the list then?

Seeing as this is more an instruction manual of sorts, I have no real synopsis for this. For those of you who don't know, this is essentially a guide on politics, written with prospective rulers in mind. It has also forever linked Machiavelli's name with the archetypes of the intriguer and, in some cases, the agent of the Devil. And that's kind of sad, because pretty much everything that he wrote down here makes a lot of sense. For instance, when discussing whether it is better for a leader to be loved than feared, a lot of criticism seems to be targeted at his answer of:
"One would like to be both one and the other; but because it is difficult to combine them, it is far better to be feared than loved if you cannot be both." 
The only part of that line that I knew of before reading this was the "better to be feared than loved", which seems a lot harsher without the context; it's pretty clear that a combination of the two qualities is the ideal here, but from a pragmatic stance it's good to know which quality you can get away with not having should that ideal be out of your reach. Weirdly enough, it actually reminded me of some of my favourite teachers when I was younger; while they were fun and interesting, the thing that made me respect them and listen to them in the first place was the knowledge that they would not put up with any bad behaviour from me. The whole book is kind of like that. While I can see where the whole "ends justifies the means" perspective can be derived, I would say that the book is more an instruction manual focusing on lessons regarding pragmatism and learning to rely on your own wisdom/judgement/skills instead of the wisdom/judgement/skills of everyone around you.

So yeah, my review of this is pretty short and actually more of a defence for Machiavelli's less-than-stellar reputation. Really, I would recommend this to anyone who is interested in politics, anyone who wants to work with people one day and anyone who is trying to write anything like epic fantasy or other fiction genres involving politics. If you're interested in the context or history of the writing of The Prince, I would recommend the Penguin Classics version, or any version with annotations, as they are very interesting. 4/5

Next review: Gillespie and I by Jane Harris

Signing off,

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