Italy in Books - The Prince by Niccolò Machiavelli

I've wanted to read this book for a long time. You know how it goes, when a book and an author transcend their medium and become part of the cultural fabric of not just one country, but many countries throughout the world, You want to see what all the fuss is about. Is it a good book? Is it worth it? Did it turn me into a cunning, scheming, and unscrupulous chancer? Read on to find out...

The Prince, or Il Principe in the original Italian, is a political treatise from the 16th Century, and is considered to be the Bible of realpolitik. Written by Niccolò Machiavelli as a gift to  Lorenzo di Piero de' Medici, grandson of "Lorenzo the Magnificent", it is well written, and quite easy to follow. The book is split into 25 short chapters and filled with great soundbites. The first part of the book covers the idea of the state, the different kinds of state there are and how they work, so that one may know how to succeed in them and how to take power. It's staggeringly prosaic in style and piercingly intelligent. The middle part of the book goes on to describe how to rule a state, how to add states together, to create new states and so on. It's so relentless in its pursuit of control and power that sometimes I found myself stopping to draw breath at the audacity and ambition with which the whole book is imbued. 

"Since love and fear can hardly exist together, if we must choose between them, it is far safer to be feared than loved."

The final section of the book details the different sides to a prince, and how he must use them all at different times, often with his subjects perceiving them in a different light. I found the whole book fascinating, but perhaps this final section was the most memorable for me. It's written in a conversational style and, while it was a little too dry and calculating in some parts (this is a guy who really wants power at any cost), I was still intrigued enough to continue. Sounds too much? My version was only 113 pages in length (it was a Penguin book from the UK). While being such a short book, as you can see from what it covers, it has a lot to say.

"One must be a fox in order to recognize traps, and a lion to frighten off wolves"

Overall, it seems to be the guide for how to seize power and hold onto it. I'm sure every politician has read it and simply through reading it myself, I've found myself watching people and how they interact in a slightly different way. It's obvious that Machiavelli was an extremely intelligent man, who understood how both a person and people work. Is it a good book? Is it worth it? Absolutely, even if you aren't into politics. Did it turn me into a cunning, scheming, and unscrupulous chancer? No, but I hope that after reading it I'll have a better chance of spotting one!

The Prince by Niccolò Machiavelli should be available in all good book shops (or can be bought from Amazon here) and is from a variety of publishers (as it is essentially out of copyright).

The other July reviews in the Italy in Books challenge can be found here.


  1. I've heard of this book and I could definitely understand ambition among the royalty since you really had to be tough to survive being in the royal courts be it Italian, French, English or Spanish. I think I read somewhere that Catherine de Medici loved this book.

    This was a fun review to read. Makes me want to pick up the book.

  2. Interesting review with which you might just have tempted me to get hold of a copy sometime.

  3. Thanks for your comments! It's a good book, not too long, and a must read for anyone who wants to understand a little more about the movers and shakers of this world :-)

  4. Such an interesting work, especially for politicians.