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Starred Review. It was easy to find oneself on the wrong side of the ruler-du-jour in 16th-century Italy, which was controlled by corrupt families and defended by contract soldiers whose loyalties were readily purchased. Machiavelli ventured into this world with his diplomatic acumen, then, when he fell out of favor, turned his ambitious mind to brutal political writings, satirical plays and the occasional courtesan. A theoretician of conspiracy and duplicity, he was also a brilliant observer of his times. Sympathizing with Machiavelli, King provides a convincing portrait of one of the most misunderstood thinkers of all time. Machiavelli's writings shed a dark light on the man, but less so when set against the tapestry of Florence's Palazzo della Signoria. King's book is everything a short biography should be and more, due to King's sharp wit and zesty anecdotes: As the document was being signed, a dove came through the window and flew over the heads of the Ten. The dove then crashed into a wall and fell dead at the feet of the Ten, but its appearance was still considered a good omen. It provides a strong sense of the history of both the man and his times and a nice introduction to Machiavelli's writings. Moreover, like one of Machiavelli's bawdy plays, it is a riveting and exhilarating read, full of salacious details and brisk prose. (June)
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Popular art historian King (Brunelleschi's Dome, 2000) here puts the ace diplomat of the Republic of Florence through the short-biography paces. Machiavelli was in office from 1498 to 1512, which forms the chronological backbone for King's profile. It supports the author's development of Machiavelli's personality, which will enlighten readers for whom his name is only the byword for political cynicism. He was certainly a Florentine patriot with imaginative ideas for the republic's foreign policy in the predatory arena of Renaissance Italy. But King's apt quotations from Machiavelli's correspondents indicate he possessed a tactlessness that created personal enemies, an indifference toward his wife but concern for his sons, and a zest for life and intellectual discussion that attracted many friends. King brings out these aspects of Machiavelli's character through discussion of his missions to heavy hitters such as the French king and the papacy, and through Machiavelli's life after the Medici pitched him into a torturer's dungeon. He survived to reflect about his experience of political power, and his historical footprints become a fascinating story in their own right in King's highly readable portrait. Taylor, GilbertSee all Product Description