Friday, 6 January 2017

The Prince by Niccolò Machiavelli – Book Review



Publisher’s write-up:

‘As a diplomat in turbulent fifteenth-century Florence, Niccolò Machiavelli (1469 – 1527) knew how quickly political fortunes could rise and fall. The Prince, his tough-minded, pragmatic handbook on how power really works, made his name notorious and has remained controversial ever since. How can a leader be strong and decisive, yet still inspire loyalty in his followers? When is it necessary to break the rules? Is it better to be feared than loved? Examining regimes and their rulers the world over and throughout history, from Roman emperors to renaissance popes, from Hannibal to Cesare di Borgia, Machiavelli answers all these questions in a work of realpolitik that still has shrewd political lessons for today.’

I have enjoyed Machiavelli’s quotes for a long time but I had never read a full-fledged work of his and thus, it was time I picked up his most well-known work. The Prince is a guide on how to manage and hold on to power presented by Machiavelli to his master, the ruler of Florence, Lorenzo de’ Medici.

The Prince touches upon various subjects, the modes of power in various types of governments, monarchies governed through hereditary barons or those with appointed administrators, republics, church states and the challenges of holding power in each one of them. He also talks about how to consolidate power under various circumstances when you take over; such as by inheritance or by treachery or situations where it was acquired by pure luck. He also addresses certain questions as to whether it is advisable to be generous all the time, is neutrality during a conflict is a viable option and other very important questions which are very important even in today’s political circumstances.

I liked how the author was absolutely indiscreet and managed to stay focused on the main objective, that is, how to hold on to power, regardless of whether it is ethical or not; explaining how generosity is not effective in the long run and people would tend to accept a mean ruler so long as the ruler is able to ensure stability and security of the realm. I also appreciated how the author substantiated each of his claims with popular examples, such as how Alexander of Macedonia held on to such a large empire, why the Ottoman Sultan was more secure than the French king and of course, his repeated praise of the controversial figure Cesare Borgia (son of Pope Alexander VI) as to how he effectively used his circumstances to muster power. There was also a personal element to the book, where Machiavelli makes a rallying call for some leader to arrive who could unify the highly divided peninsula; alas, it could happen only 350 years after his death. The book is also very relevant to the extent that one of the most critical abilities even in present day, is the ability to exert influence on the people around you and what Machiavelli talks about could be employed by anyone regardless of whether they are engaged in politics or not.

The only issue some readers might face with the book is that the author’s focus is always on the ends and never the means, regardless of how brutal or unethical the means were. Some of the concepts mentioned in the book may even be redundant today (such as a fortified city). Additionally, I personally didn’t agree with the author on the futility of neutrality, where the author opined that you could even pick the losing side for you would at least have their sympathy and support after defeat but a neutral is distrusted by neither which evidently doesn’t seem to be the scenario during modern times where the neutrality of Switzerland or Sweden during both World Wars (even though the latter is debatable) has not affected either of the countries post war.

On the whole, I feel this is an excellent book, regardless of whether you’re interested in politics or not, as what the author talks about is applicable for most people in some way or the other. On the whole, I would rate the book an eight on ten.

Rating – 8/10

Have a nice day,

Andy

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