Book Review: The Prince

This month, I’m reading a collection of explicitly political works. Hopefully each of them will touch on different political treatises, so if you don’t like one of them, click around and you’ll find something more up your alley.

The Book

The Prince reading 2021

The Prince
Author: Niccolo Macchiavelli (translator: W.K. Marriott)
1532
Project Gutenberg Link

The edition on Project Gutenberg is a much older translation than the one shown to the right or the one presented on Goodreads as the primary source of reviews for Macchiavelli’s most well-known work. If you read it, you may get a different experience than me due to which version you select.

3/5 Discoball Snowcones

3 Discoball Snowcones

Review: As Reading Material

I read an English translation made in the 1800’s, which left the book in a strange realm where I couldn’t be sure how many of the odd bits were due to the original language or the translation. Sentences were long, rambling, and often difficult to parse. Even though the book was very short (more a pamphlet or booklet), it took a while to read because of the density and strange structure.

Overall, I did not find it entertaining in the least. There were short discourses on different historical events, but many were so briefly visited that it would require one sitting by a computer and looking up Italian politics of the era in order to truly understand it.

Review: As a Political Treatise

A modern reader probably looks at this and thinks “No way. This is garbage.” But that’s because we love our freedom (FREEDOM!) and don’t want it taken away. Macchiavelli acknowledges the importance of a semblance of freedom, however, which was interesting.

I personally hope that the day of monarchy is past. I personally hope that the elements of leadership described in The Prince never come to pass – because daaaang, they’re evil. The book prescribes cruelty as a method of combating disorder, of violence to end disunity. Macchiavelli’s research into successful leaders of the past was, as far as I can tell, pretty well done for a man of his time, but it cannot hold smoke in today’s world. It should be read more as an interesting look into human nature than a political premise, or as a lens with which to examine dictators.

And not examine them in a good light.

Review: Cultural Importance

The Prince is probably essential reading for those studying history, politics, or (in my case) world-building in fiction. The importance of The Prince on social sciences and history can’t really be overstated, and its influence on writings and politics since its creation is probably immeasurable. Though Macchiavelli’s broken Italy has long ago been unified, and though democratic institutions have grown more powerful since the age of enlightenment, despots still arise, and human nature has not changed.

Next week:

We’re finally done with politics month! And WHEW – after Atlas Shrugged, I needed those last two to go quick. See you next month with a new set of books!

16 thoughts on “Book Review: The Prince

  1. Pink Roses says:

    I tried to read this book many years ago, but I got bored and didn’t finish it. Of course it’s different when you have a purpose, and I often read books for my further education. You can’t discuss these thoughts and ideas unless you have read the books for yourself.

    • H.R.R. Gorman says:

      I can get that. After having finished it, I do think it would be interesting to try a more modern translation – but at the same time, I think it’s probably not worth the effort, haha.

  2. Peter Martuneac says:

    It’s definitely not something you’d proclaim as your guiding principle if running for office haha. Though I’ve heard some interpretations that Machiavelli wrote this as a means of trapping the Prince for whom it was written, like reverse psychology to get him ousted.

    • H.R.R. Gorman says:

      From what I can tell, there’s so many theories as to why he wrote it. It seems so over the top to me right now that it’s hard to imbibe it as anything other than satire. At the same time, things were different back then, and monarchy was the rule rather than the exception. I’ll just hope in my little FREEDOM HEART that it was satire, haha!

  3. trentpmcd says:

    It has been ages since I read it, but at the time, I thought it was satire. For one thing, he dedicated it to a person who had him imprisoned and tortured (the Medici prince). And then his main subject was someone so horrendous, it made the Medici’s look like saints in comparison. Not just that, but Cesare Borgia was the most hated person in Medici Florence, so to tell the Medici’s to emulate the Borgias seems odd, unless it was meant as satire. But I’m with you that I am against things “Machiavellian”!

  4. memadtwo says:

    I read it in high school so I don’t really remember anything except not “getting” it. So to see it as a satire makes sense to me. Politics is a nasty business, as we are reminded every day. (K)

    • H.R.R. Gorman says:

      Gah, reading things in high school so often leads to not getting it. I think this book would be hard for someone with less life experience just because you haven’t seen as much of what the book means – and exactly why politics is such a nasty business.

  5. joanne the geek says:

    I studied Machiavelli at University. The Prince doesn’t really embody his own views, but he was trying to get a job as an adviser to the Medici family who were now ruling Florence again. The Discourses reflect more his actual political beliefs. as someone who did several courses of political philosophy I always found Machiavelli’s style quite readable compared to Hobbes, Locke, etc. maybe I read a better translation…

    • H.R.R. Gorman says:

      Your comment’s one of the wisest sounding analyses I’ve seen. Money’s so alluring, and I guess I’d write almost anything if that stood in the way of employment.

      And yeah, I think a later translation would probably help a lot. The one I had wasn’t *terrible*, but it definitely had that almost Dickensian long-sentence-for-no-reason element to it.

  6. AK says:

    In college we read both this and the Discourses on Livy, where Machiavelli talks about how great republics are. It was a long time ago, but I remember thinking it was like the two works were written by different people considering the different ideals they seemed to express. I’d guess this guy was pretty complicated, but I don’t really know.

    I agree that The Prince is great reading for people who want to understand how dictators operate — maybe you can even get some understanding of manipulative people in general by reading it. I liked it for that reason, but it does rely a whole lot on the reader being familiar with all the stuff Machiavelli’s talking about given how casually he just throws out “yeah, remember in Pisa back in 1335 when this thing happened” and you have to look it up.

    • H.R.R. Gorman says:

      Gah, all of this makes sense. Joanne talked about how in her class when they read The Prince, they talked about how Machiavelli was writing this stuff because he wanted to impress the Medici’s and get sweet, sweet $$$. I thought that comment was insightful, and I wanted to bring it to your attention because I hadn’t thought about it when I wrote the review.

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