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Machiavelli: Philosopher of Power Hardcover – May 17 2007


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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 176 pages
  • Publisher: Harper Lives (May 17 2007)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0060817178
  • ISBN-13: 978-0060817176
  • Product Dimensions: 12.7 x 2.4 x 18.1 cm
  • Shipping Weight: 295 g
  • Average Customer Review: 5.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (1 customer review)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: #1,148,180 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Product Description

From Publishers Weekly

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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From Booklist

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, Gilbert

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3 of 3 people found the following review helpful By Robert Morris HALL OF FAMETOP 10 REVIEWER on Jan. 16 2008
Format: Hardcover
This is one of several volumes in the HarperCollins Eminent Lives series. Each offers a concise rather than comprehensive, much less definitive biography. However, just as Al Hirschfeld's illustrations of various celebrities capture their defining physical characteristics, the authors of books in this series focus on the defining influences and developments during the lives and careers of their respective subjects. In this instance, Niccolò di Bernardo dei Machiavelli (1469-1527).

Obviously, this is not a definitive biography nor did Ross King intend it to be. However, for most readers, it provides about all of the information they need to understand the meaning and significance of this excerpt from the final chapter in King's biography: "The key to some of the ambiguities may lie in the nature of the man himself. Machiavelli's numerous undertakings - diplomat, playwright, poet, historian, political theorist, farmer, military engineer, militia captain - make him, like his friend Leonardo, a true Renaissance man. Yet, like Leonardo, who denounced the 'beastly madness' of war while devising ingenious and deadly weapons, Machiavelli is awash in paradoxes and inconsistencies...Probably his greatest contradiction was that he understood better than anyone else in the sixteenth century how to seize and maintain political power - and yet, deprived of power himself in 1512, he spent many long years in the political wilderness, making a series of bungling and fruitless attempts to regain his position."

With remarkable precision, concision, and eloquence, King examines not only Machiavelli's life and career but also the cultural, political, and religious environment in which he was so actively involved more than 500 years ago.
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Most Helpful Customer Reviews on Amazon.com (beta)

Amazon.com: 14 reviews
37 of 38 people found the following review helpful
A rigorous examination of Machiavelli's "numerous antinomies" Nov. 12 2007
By Robert Morris - Published on Amazon.com
Format: Hardcover
This is one of several volumes in the HarperCollins Eminent Lives series. Each offers a concise rather than comprehensive, much less definitive biography. However, just as Al Hirschfeld's illustrations of various celebrities capture their defining physical characteristics, the authors of books in this series focus on the defining influences and developments during the lives and careers of their respective subjects. In this instance, Niccolò di Bernardo dei Machiavelli (1469-1527).

Obviously, this is not a definitive biography nor did Ross King intend it to be. However, for most readers, it provides about all of the information they need to understand the meaning and significance of this excerpt from the final chapter in King's biography: "The key to some of the ambiguities may lie in the nature of the man himself. Machiavelli's numerous undertakings - diplomat, playwright, poet, historian, political theorist, farmer, military engineer, militia captain - make him, like his friend Leonardo, a true Renaissance man. Yet, like Leonardo, who denounced the 'beastly madness' of war while devising ingenious and deadly weapons, Machiavelli is awash in paradoxes and inconsistencies...Probably his greatest contradiction was that he understood better than anyone else in the sixteenth century how to seize and maintain political power - and yet, deprived of power himself in 1512, he spent many long years in the political wilderness, making a series of bungling and fruitless attempts to regain his position."

With remarkable precision, concision, and eloquence, King examines not only Machiavelli's life and career but also the cultural, political, and religious environment in which he was so actively involved more than 500 years ago. The Prince (or The Ruler) is Machiavelli's most famous work but was not published until four years after his death, in 1531, when Pope Clement VII granted that permission to Antonio Blado. It was published together with Machiavelli's Discourses on Livy and The History of Florence. The Art of War (1520) was the only one of Machiavelli's works to be published in his lifetime. King notes that The Prince circulated in manuscript and earned for Machiavelli a certain notoriety. "'Everyone hated him because of The Prince,' one commentator observed around the time of Machiavelli's death. 'The good thought him sinful, the wicked thought him even more wicked or more capable than themselves, so that all hated him.' This was no doubt an exaggeration: Machiavelli was far better known as a popular dramatist and controversial state functionary than as the author of a tract on statecraft. Still, in the decades that followed, the hatred did indeed begin to curdle."

King points out that a well-worn edition accompanied Napoleon Bonaparte to the Battle of Waterloo and Adolph Hitler kept a copy on his bedside table. Today, many people who have never read The Prince and know little (if anything) about its author do not hesitate to invoke his name -- or at least apply it as an adjective -- to describe or repudiate any political maneuvering they perceive to be devious. However, King asserts, rather than having been uniformly demonized or unfairly misunderstood "as a preacher of the straightforward message of evil," Machiavelli has been "conscripted into service" by adherents of all manner of political causes because his thought is strangely malleable to any number of diametrically opposing ideologies and approaches."

As I hope these brief remarks indicate, I learned a great deal about Machiavelli, a man of "numerous antimonies," that I did not know before. I am grateful to Ross King for that but also for all that I learned about the extraordinarily interesting age in which Machiavelli lived, more than 500 years ago. It would be an exaggeration to suggest that King "brings it to life." No one could. But he does present material with the skills and eloquence of a storyteller...and in seamless combination with the skills of a cultural anthropologist.

Bravo!
10 of 10 people found the following review helpful
Machiavelli Light Oct. 11 2008
By J. Moran - Published on Amazon.com
Format: Hardcover
Whether you should read this book depends on what kind of information you're looking for. The book is part of the "Eminent Lives" series, which is designed to allow well-known writers to relate the basic facts of an eminent person's life briefly together with the author's take on the eminent person's life and work. The publishers tout the series as consisting of "succinct" essay-like books intended to be "short biographies for an age short on time." No book in the series (that I have seen) has any significant scholarly apparatus. The series is aimed at readers who are new to the subjects covered. The books are similar to the serious essays you can find in magazines like the "New Yorker" but longer. This book fits the series's pattern.

Author King briskly and briefly narrates the basic facts of Machiavelli's varied life as politician, official of the Florentine Republic, diplomat, playwright, poet, political theorist and writer, husband, father, and inveterate womanizer. He also makes very basic comments regarding Machiavelli's most prominent writings (such as The Prince, The Discourses, The Art of War and others). King's narrative is brisk, engaging and informative and contains a number of insights concerning Machiavelli's character and his career. King gives the reader some context by briefly outlining the violent and troubled politics of late Renaissance Italy.

The book, however, has no index, few notes and a bibliography consisting of only seven titles (three of which are three volume sets). The book appears to contain little or no new research. King makes no effort at deeper analysis of Machiavelli's thought, its reception then or later or the endless wars, invasions, plots, upheavals, religious controversies and other miseries of the early 16th century. There is little guidance for further inquiry.

If what you want are the basic facts of Machiavelli's life and career as related in a short and engaging narrative, this book could be a good choice. If you seek a deeper analysis of Machiavelli's significant thought or of a complex and seminal historical period this is probably not for you.
9 of 9 people found the following review helpful
A fine work for what it is Nov. 15 2008
By Steven A. Peterson - Published on Amazon.com
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
If you want a detailed analysis of Machiavelli and his work, this is not the book for you. If you want a brief, accessible introduction to the man and his life, then this will be a nice addition to your library. Personally, I tend to like detailed biographies that place the person in his or her context. But I also appreciate works such as this.

The narrative begins with Niccolo Machiavelli, age only 29 (young for the role he would play), becoming a player in Florence's political apparatus. He was a humanist, and had a good education when young. He came from a good family, albeit one that was not wealthy. Shortly after his accession to a good post, he became Second Chancellor. As a part of his position, he also was assigned diplomatic tasks.

He maintained this position until Florence was taken under the authority of the Medici family. In the process, Machiavelli lost his position (and may have been tortured in the process). The book portrays well the frustration Machiavelli felt, as he did many things to ingratiate himself with the powerful Medici family. Indeed, his famous "The Prince" was dedicated to a Medici. After, essentially, realizing that he would not soon regain his position, he began writing, whether histories, political analyses, or plays. Ironically, one of his plays was performed for the Pope (a Medici) and well appreciated by him.

The book continues by depicting his life, including a last moment opportunity to play the role of diplomat--with the backing of, you guessed it, the Medici family. One thing the book does nicely, even though it is rather superficial, is to demonstrate the crazy quilt pattern of shifting alliances. On his personal life, he was quite a pain to his wife (fidelity was not an attribute he displayed) and family, being gone, while a diplomat, a great deal of the time.

The last chapter does a serviceable job of putting Machiavelli in a larger context. The book is well written and well serves the purpose of an accessible, non-academic view of this famous philosopher, writer, and diplomat.
7 of 9 people found the following review helpful
What's Good Enough for Tupac Shakur Is Good Enough for Me Aug. 14 2007
By Bart King - Published on Amazon.com
Format: Hardcover
I was pleased to see that the redoubtable Ross King (of Brunelleschi's Dome fame) was recruited for this book. For readers unfamiliar with the "Eminent Lives" series, the idea is to pair distinguished authors with interesting subjects, the result being "short biographies perfect for an age short on time."

How very 21st century.

King does an excellent job of putting Niccolo Machiavelli's life and times into perspective. Machiavelli was much more of a man of action than I had realized; he interspersed his peripatetic diplomacy for Florence with an obsession with raising and training a citizen militia. And Machiavelli was hardly the black-hearted villain so often characterized. His greatest character fault may have been obsequiousness, as epitomized by his dedicating The Prince to Lorenzo Medici (a syphilitic lout who apparently never read the book at all.)

If I had any cavil about Ross King's book, it is that The Prince is not analyzed in the kind of detail that I hoped it would be. (One supposes a short biography designed for an age short on time has its limitations.) I intend to now follow the example of rapper Tupac Shakur, who read The Prince while imprisoned in 1995, and subsequently gave himself the moniker "Makaveli." (How much cooler than "Puffy" is that?)

Also recommended: Thomas Jefferson: Author of America (Eminent Lives)
1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
A fun and interesting way to understand the classics July 6 2009
By Tomas Bilbao - Published on Amazon.com
Format: Hardcover
Ross King does it again. Machiavelli is another masterful work by the King of renaissance history. In usual King fashion, this book gives you all the angels: from vatican politics and provincial italian disputes, to Machiavelli's personal and family life. King accomplishes in a few hundred pages what a college courses and political science books fail to do: get to the root of Machiavelli's ideas, way he wrote them and what they really mean. Unlike the impeccable page-turners Michelangelo and the Pope's Ceiling and Brunelleschi's Dome, Machiavelli gets a little dry in content toward the end with an academic analysis of the Prince and other writings, but still manages to keep you engaged and close on a strong note. The master of renaissance history proves he can sell more than just art.


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