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The Prince: A Book Review

Written by Niccolo Machiavelli for Lorenzo De Medici, The Prince stands as one of the most widely read, concise yet comprehensive references about political theory. Though written in the sixteenth century, the arguments presented in the book still surprisingly apply to political and social situations of today. In fact, Machiavelli’s ideas has so much impact and influence on modern politics even to this day, enough for any serious, conscientious and aspiring leader to thoroughly study the concepts in the book.

In this brief treatise, Machiavelli carefully describes what it takes to become a strong, powerful, and successful political leader. The word “prince” used in the title of the book doesn’t necessarily mean that the ideas found inside the volume are literally meant for princes only. Rather, it applies to any leader of a state. In our modern time, the word “prince” described by Machiavelli could very well apply to kings, presidents or prime ministers. One of his basic ideas is that leaders should be practical, not idealistic.

For many centuries, the standard stereotype of leadership involves fixed moral and ethical values on the part of the ruler. In Machiavelli’s view, however, a ruler must do everything that needs to be done in order to preserve his empire. To accomplish this, at times he needs to be willing to engage in political practices which may not be deemed “moral and ethical” in the ordinary sense of the word. A ruler must know when to act like a lamb, or when to be a lion. He must have the heart of man in order to win the affection of his people, yet he must be a merciless beast when it comes to devouring the enemies of the state.

Machiavelli states, “In reviewing the lives and deaths of certain emperors…seeing that some of them led thoroughly honorable lives, showed great courage, and yet lost the empire or were conspired against and murdered by their subjects” (73). Thus, for a leader to stay in power, he needs to be wise and ferocious against those who endeavor to dethrone him. At the same time, he must not be fickle, frivolous, effeminate, cowardly and indecisive, in order to avoid contempt and hatred from the people.

The in-depth study, presentation and application of historical facts is one of the strongest points of The Prince. Reading through the pages of the book, one would quickly recognize Machiavelli’s extensive knowledge of history. By having a superior grasp on the strengths, weaknesses, attitudes, characteristics, good deeds and mistakes of ancient rulers, the author was able to set down a standard blueprint and reference for future leaders. History is full of great leaders who either failed and succeeded, and if we simply study what they did, we can learn from them.

That’s what Machiavelli did, and that’s what he expected his readers to do. On the other hand, a keen reader may detect a slight weakness in The Prince. This weakness lies in two major factors. First is the author’s limited experience on the realm of governance on a national and international scale. While he speaks of the art of ruling empires, capturing cities and conquering lands, his very own self has not risen any higher than a Secretary to the Second Chancery of Signoria. Second, his motive in presenting this book is somewhat questionable.

He wrote this treatise and gave it as a gift to Lorenzo De Medici in order to gain favor, and perhaps, regain his career in the kingdom of Florence. Machiavelli indirectly admits these two weaknesses in his letter to Medici. Having knowledge of these weaknesses will surely help any reader thoroughly weigh the ideas set forth by its author. Still, the fact remains that The Prince is a unique work in its own right, and worthy considered as one of the best books ever written of its kind. Works Cited: Machiavelli, Niccolo. The Prince. Trans. Daniel Donno. New York: Bantam Books, 2003.

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