Alex's Reviews > The Prince

The Prince by Niccolò Machiavelli
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it was amazing
bookshelves: 2010, reading-through-history, top-100, rth-lifetime

I'm weirdly pleased that The Prince lives up to its reputation: it is indeed Machiavellian. Here's his advice on conquering self-governing states (i.e. democracies): "The only way to hold on to such a state is to reduce it to rubble." Well then.

I'd like to say that any guy whose last name becomes a synonym for evil is a badass, but Machiavelli wasn't; he was a failed minor diplomat who wrote this in a failed attempt to get reemployed. Stupid attempt, too; anyone who hired him would be advertising that he espoused Machiavellian values. This book was published, after all. And as he himself advises, "A leader doesn't have to possess virtuous qualities, but it's imperative that he seem to possess them."

So I'll go with this: anyone whose last name becomes a synonym for evil has written a good book.

I hope to match that effect with my first novel. Working title: "Unicorns are Pretty."

So if Machiavelli was such a loser, how did his book get so famous? It's not because it's great advice; it sortof isn't. I think it's because it's just a ton of fun to read. It's chock full of over-the-top quotes like the ones above. It's really funny.

Which brings up a recurring topic for debate: did he intend for this to be taken seriously, or is it satire? I think it's the former: mixed in with the zany stuff is a fair amount of common-sense advice. He could certainly have included that to make the zany stuff pop more, or to camouflage it a bit, but I prefer to think he meant the whole thing seriously. And it's not like any of it is advice someone hasn't followed at some point. (See my first quote above: yeah, we've tried that.)

Translation review: this is the very latest translation. Parks has gone to great trouble to reduce the crazy complexity of Machiavelli's sentences - I know this from reading his excellent Translator's Note - and I appreciate that. He's also tried hard to make it accessible to modern audiences, and sometimes I think he's tipped a tiny bit overboard on that front. "When a ruler occupies a land that has a different language...then things get rough." "Difficult" would have been perfectly clear; "rough" is too colloquial. We want to be able to read our classics, but we don't need to pretend they were written yesterday.

That's a relatively minor complaint, though; this is a clear and easy translation. Good intro, too. And a glossary of proper names at the back, so you can sort out the various contemporary figures you don't recognize.

I'll close with my favorite quote: "It's better to be impulsive than cautious; fortune is female and if you want to stay on top of her you have to slap and thrust."

Machiavelli: kindof a dick.
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Reading Progress

March 17, 2010 – Started Reading
March 17, 2010 – Shelved
March 19, 2010 – Finished Reading
March 26, 2010 – Shelved as: 2010
July 19, 2011 – Shelved as: reading-through-history
December 29, 2013 – Shelved as: top-100
January 2, 2015 – Shelved as: rth-lifetime

Comments Showing 1-30 of 30 (30 new)

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message 1: by JSou (new)

JSou Wow, didn't you just start this yesterday?

Alex Day before yesterday. It's only 100 pages long, and I "worked from home" this afternoon.

message 3: by Cindy (new)

Cindy Awesome review, Alex! Your favorite quote is the literary equivalent of those ridiculous t-shirts you can buy in touristy beach towns, or Tijuana.

Alex Thanks Cindy!

And good call, you're totally right. I should have a t-shirt made. Ten years later one person will get the joke and it'll be worth all the times I get slapped.

message 5: by JSou (new)

Alex Oh my God, Jessica. It''s breathtaking. You're a genius.

I think I'm actually going to have that made. It's only like $25 on Cafepress to do that sort of thing.

The picture and the tightening of the quote really perfect it. What font did you use? I want it to look exactly like this.

message 7: by Cindy (new)

Cindy My gods, that's brilliant! Crud, I'm laughing so hard over here that my eyes are watering.

So, Alex, what happens when the first stranger approaches you says, "Right on, Machiavelli"?

message 8: by JSou (new)

JSou I can't remember the exact font I used, it was one of the gothic ones though.

If you do get it made you have to let us know how it turns out.

message 9: by Wendy (new)

Wendy That is breathtakingly awesome :-D You must buy this t-shirt and then take a picture of yourself in it to use as your profile picture. We all await w/ baited breath and anticipation.

message 10: by Jayme (new) - added it

Jayme Awesome review, Alex. Awesome t-shirt, Jessica!

message 11: by Alex (new) - rated it 5 stars

Alex Will do. Probably.

message 12: by Lisa (new) - rated it 5 stars

Lisa Hagan Webb If you write a book titled Unicorns are Pretty, I'll definitely buy and read it!

message 13: by Lynn (new) - rated it 4 stars

Lynn I'm sad you left out more funny comments from his book. You couldve squeezed one or two more in :)

message 14: by Christopher (new) - added it

Christopher Jackson Excellent review. Been trying to find time to read The Prince, and I probably will (eventually), but this is a great source of background information and a clear-cut opinion.

message 15: by Alex (new) - rated it 5 stars

Alex Thanks man! Hope you get to it. It's fun stuff.

Mohit haha
best review of the book, the quote made me buy the book!

Anthony Machiavelli was a die hard republican. The book is not so much what should be done its what works. To better understand Machiavelli, read "The Discourses."

message 18: by Alex (last edited May 19, 2013 09:08AM) (new) - rated it 5 stars

Alex Thanks! I was worried for a minute there because my monthly quota of pedantic dorks trying to look intellectual on my reviews hadn't been met yet, but then here you are! WHEW.

message 19: by Baba (new)

Baba Fett Lol... good critique.

message 20: by Alex (new) - rated it 5 stars

Alex Thanks!

message 21: by [deleted user] (new)

I disagree with the belief that machiavelli was machiavellian, he was a man who watched political activities around him for he was an ambassador. He only wrote about what he saw, therefore these are not his evil ideas bit are actions that he saw were working for power and he of course shared his knowledge.

Source: my course in political philosophy

message 22: by Alex (new) - added it

Alex Livingston Alex, you give the translator's name as Parks. That doesn't correspond with the name of the translator of the edition this review is attached to, which is Russell Price, as you'll discover in the Editors' note on page vii. Which edition was translated by Parks?

message 23: by Alex (new) - rated it 5 stars

Alex It's a Goodreads thing; they mix up the editions. You should see a note somewhere that mentions this review is of a different edition and provides a link.

message 24: by Alex (new) - added it

Alex Livingston OK, thanks Alex. I've found Goodreads' record of the edition you read.

message 25: by Saad (new) - rated it 5 stars

Saad Yousaf I don't think it's, to a discernible extent, satire. The book has no markers that show it as being anything satirical at all. His admiration for Cesare Borgia, his recurrent advice to not upset the people by damaging their wealth and honor, his open contempt for weak leaders, the fact that this work ties in with his other works to build a comprehensive view of leadership and many more things all points to this being a serious (not that satire is not serious) work of political philosophy. Your claim that the book is satire is weak and unfounded. All the advice in this book is pragmatic for rulers and is backed with precedent set by other leaders.

message 26: by Alex (new) - rated it 5 stars

Alex I agree with you, Saad. I wrote:
did he intend for this to be taken seriously, or is it satire? I think it's the former: mixed in with the zany stuff is a fair amount of common-sense advice. He could certainly have included that to make the zany stuff pop more, or to camouflage it a bit, but I prefer to think he meant the whole thing seriously. And it's not like any of it is advice someone hasn't followed at some point.

message 27: by Saad (new) - rated it 5 stars

Saad Yousaf Sorry for the mix up. I musnt have read the review properly

Morgan Love your review to this. Currently reading the Parks edition too (mainly for the fact I like Penguin Deluxe covers). I'm not really into politics at all, so reading this because of the Borgias and historical value. Not sure what I think of it overall.

Pierre Blanchet Un livre toujours aussi passionnant même plus de 500 ans après son écriture !

message 30: by Alex (new) - rated it 5 stars

Alex A book everyone's still passionate about, more than 500 years after it was written!

(Did I get that right?)

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