Title: The Prince
Author: Niccolò Machiavelli
What I think so far: Essentially, Machiavelli’s most famous work is an examination of power – how to acquire, use and obtain it. As such it reads more as an instruction manual than a story, though this helps to set the ruthless, ambitious tone expressed by the whole book.
The Prince is written as a letter to the Italian Medici clan, and it becomes obvious via the flattering and manipulative tone that it is intended to increase the power of Machiavelli himself. Thus it is the perfect example of realpolitik: political rules which don’t take into account moral or ethical issues. Because of this it is difficult to become emotionally invested in the book, though it certainly provides some interesting notions to consider. One of the most striking points I noticed was the disparity between what people say and what people do; that is, what should be done and what is done. Machiavelli presents rules about how harshness can be effective for rulers, but also how compassion and ‘good’ traits are necessary, if only for preserving public image.
The word ‘Machiavellian’ has become interchangeable with ‘immoral’, ‘corrupt’, and countless other descriptions. Having read this book, it isn’t difficult to see why, though it is evident that a lot more calculation and intelligence are involved than simple evil. Some consider it as satire, some as utter seriousness, and many believe it to be some combination of the two. I fall into the latter category. Amid the manipulative schemes and emotionless language are occasionally droll moments – witty, even. But the overall uninspiring message seems to be that nice guys finish last.
Would I recommend: Probably. In all honesty, it isn’t likely to be shortlisted as one of my all-time favourite books, but the ideas put forward are incredibly interesting and help you to consider modern attitudes to morality – how far social safety and international power are putting ethical rules at risk. So in this aspect, ‘The Prince’ is definitely worth a read.
Words by Annabelle Fuller