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Niccolo's Smile: A Biography of Machiavelli [Paperback]

Maurizio Viroli , Antony Shugaar
3.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (1 customer review)
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Book Description

Jan. 9 2002 0374528004 978-0374528003 First Edition
A vivid portrayal of the great Italian philosopher - now in paperback

In Niccolò's Smile, Maurizio Viroli brings to life the fascinating writer who was the founder of modern political thought. Niccolò Machiavelli's works on the theory and practice of statecraft are classics, but Viroli sugggests that his greatest accomplishment is his robust philosophy of life -- his deep beliefs about how one should conduct oneself as a modern citizen in a republic, as a responsible family member, as a good person. On these subjects Machiavelli wrote no books: the text of his philosophy is his life itself, a life that was filled with paradox, uncertainty, and tragic drama.

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Machiavellian is a pejorative term suggesting serpentine scheming and use of immoral, ruthless means to achieve desired ends; those ends usually include the maintenance of power at all costs. Inevitably, it is often assumed that Machiavelli himself must have reflected and practiced these methods in his personal and public life. Viroli, a professor of politics at Princeton, effectively refutes that notion in this absorbing and surprising survey of a full, eventful life. Machiavelli was cursed to live in interesting but chaotic and violent times. In Viroli's view, his longing for a powerful ruler was not merely based on a cynical wish to see power exercised; rather, Machiavelli hoped for a strong and, if necessary, devious ruler who could rule effectively but also wisely and justly. In his personal life, he is revealed here as a caring, sensitive man who, contrary to expectations, was frequently ruled by his heart rather than his head. This is a compact and enjoyable look at a man far more interesting than his myth. Jay Freeman
Copyright © American Library Association. All rights reserved --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

Review

"Elegant and accessible ... Viroli provides [a straightforward chronological account of events] in the pellucid Italian original, whose gracefulness has not been lost in Antony Shugaar's excellent translation ... The dramatics events of Italian political life and Machiavelli's participation in them ... determine the rhythm of his story." - Mark Lilla, The Washington Post Book World

"A welcome antidote to the clichéd image of self-interested knavery for which [Machiavelli] has become known ... Viroli succeeds ... in offering a fascinating portrait." - Alexander Stille, The New York Times Book Review

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First Sentence
According to legend, just before his death on 21 June 1527, Niccolo Machiavelli told the faithful friends who had stayed with him to the very end about a dream he had had, a dream that over the centuries became renowned as "Machiavelli's dream." Read the first page
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Front Cover | Copyright | Table of Contents | Excerpt | Index | Back Cover
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3.0 out of 5 stars The man behind the smile May 28 2002
Format:Paperback
"No man has been more misunderstood," some would say. Who truly is the man behind the famous smile of determination and challenge? Why would anyone advise a ruler to be deceitful? Viroli's Niccolo's Smile is one of few biographies on Niccolo Machiavelli which can help lead us to the answers of our most controversial questions about his life. The book starts off by stating Niccolo's date of birth, family life, and means of education. However, if you read closely about his education, the author helps unlink a clue for us behind the mystery of how Machiavelli was launched into his political career. In the middle of the book are the tales of Machiavelli's first and most important missions while he was second chancellor. Viroli also talks about the politician's most famous work which he's known for, The Prince. Here and there the author talks about Machiavelli's love life and hard times in life, including his banishment in 1513. Sadly, the book does have a depressing ending when it starts to unwind when the author tells the details of this poor man's, whose ideas were ahead of his time, last, depressing days.
My favorite part of Niccolo's Smile was the chapter about Niccolo's banishment from Florence. I liked this chapter because it was written with such an amount of detail. To me, it seemed like the author interviewed Machiavelli because he knew Machiavelli's exact feelings during every minute of his expulsion from his native town. It was in this part of the book which made me feel the deepest sympathy for this man. Especially since Machiavelli's banishment was his punishment for committing a crime he was falsely accused for.
Viroli's Niccolo's Smile was a slightly interesting read considering it was a biography. It taught me many new things behind the world of politics.
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Niccolo's Smile Sept. 15 2009
By T. M. Hukins - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Paperback
Ever since I was four years old and first laid eyes upon Machiavelli's portait in an encyclopedia, I have been mystified by him. Throughout my education I had always been taught that Machiavelli was not such a nice guy. However, after reading "Niccolo's Smile" I've learned that the real Machiavelli isn't so Machiavellian at all. Besides the fact that he possessed a great mind, he was not only an extremely observant man, but he was also a patriot. "Niccolo's Smile" gives the reader a real glimpse into the life of Machiavelli contrary to the worn out image of Machiavelli as being a cold, shrewd, calculating politician. "Niccolo's Smile" paints a portrait of the real man with a heart and soul who felt the same joys and sorrows we all experience. Much praise goes out to "Niccolo's Smile".
2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A Good Read and Excellent Intro to "Machia's" Life Aug. 8 2006
By C. Pruett - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Paperback
Every now and then you read a book that brings its subject to life. Having studied Machiavelli from his writings, it helps to now know of his charms. This book contributed to my understanding of his works but more importantly to the background and history of his conversations. A good, quick read... Recommended.
5.0 out of 5 stars An interesting perspective Dec 26 2012
By D. Bryan - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Paperback|Verified Purchase
I love K&N filters and have trusted many expensive and some highly modified cars to them. These work great on my slightly modified 02 Camaro. Many see Machiavelli as a cold hearted bastard that taught people to be liars and dictators. This puts his life and works in a new perspective. Who would have known that Machiavelli was the life of the party at one point? If you want to get to know one of the greatest minds this world has ever seen a little better you need to read this book.
5.0 out of 5 stars A Myth Destroyer of a Book Dec 28 2011
By Ugur Akinci - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Paperback|Verified Purchase
Until I read this fantastic volume I did not realize that Niccolo Machiavelli is a guy who suffers from bad publicity. Mention "Machiavelli" and most people will come back with adjectives like "amoral," "opportunistic," "merciless," "conspiratorial" etc. The implication that goes hand in hand with such a reputation is that the author of the incomparable THE PRINCE was a life-long supporter of dictatorships. That's why in English the term "Macchiavellian" has become the antithesis of "Democrat."

When you read this well-researched volume, however, you come to realize that Machiavelli was actually a true lover of liberty who devoted his life to the preservation of the Republic of Florence. Was he always successful in that endeavor? No. Actually, after serving as the Secretary of the Republic before its collapse, Machiavelli could never again rise to any public position of importance until the last years of his life when the Republic was restored if only briefly. However, even though he ached to remain relevant to the political life of his beloved Florence, he never used his deep insight into the power dynamics of his time for any sinister personal agendas. He was first and foremost a defender of the citizens' rights and the right of the citizens to rule themselves. He was perhaps the first professional political consultant in Western history who also happened to be a Republican in the generic sense of the term.

So why did Machiavelli get a "bad rap" for over 400 years? Because, in contrast to Cicero, he did not believe that "being nice" was all a ruler had to do to protect both his power and his people. Sometimes you needed to resort to muscle too. That's why Machiavelli organized the first "people's army" in Italian history since he believed that a Republic had the duty to defend itself against the aggressors and sometimes elected rulers were duty-bound to strike instead of negotiating or paying a ransom. I believe that hard-nosed conviction in the wisdom of self-defense and the occasional need to resort to arms and do "what's necessary" is the main reason why a lot of people still remember Machiavelli as a somewhat unsavory character who advocated cutting corners in politics. When you read this volume, however, a totally different Machiavelli emerges and you understand the injustice done to this sincere, observant, and courageous lover of liberties over the centuries.

Another payoff of this volume is the deep insight it provides into the private life of Machiavelli including his many love affairs, his travels, and the gusto with which he lived his life. Realpolitik never had a proponent who wrote like he'd never die but joked, traveled, ate, and loved like every day was his last. Highly recommended.
0 of 1 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars The Life of a Diplomat and Writer Oct. 20 2009
By Acute Observer - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Paperback
Maurizio Viroli was born in Forli, Italy; he is the author of numerous works in political theory and is a professor at Princeton University. This biography will tell the old stories in a new way. Some of Niccolò's letters contained language that was edited in other books. The Chronology gives the years for these tumultuous times of chronic warfare that influenced Niccolò's thinking. The need was for a ruler who could keep his country from being conquered. Chapter 1 tells of Niccolò's education from books and public life. Florence was magnificent but suffered from warring factions; the city had a precarious existence (pp.11-12). Florence was an imperial republic that was threatened by revolt from its subject peoples. Turmoil continued (pp.13-15). This affected Niccolò's life. In 1489 Savonarola came to Florence and preached against the corruption of the rich and the oppression of the poor (p.16). Are his complaints still true today (p.17)?

The invasion of Italy by Charles VIII of France in 1494 upset the balance of power. Florence surrendered. Piero Medici was overthrown and a republic was formed by its ruling families. In 1498 Savonarola was condemned by Pope Alexander VI; corruption triumphed over unarmed virtue (p.27). Niccolò, age 19, was appointed secretary of the Second Chancery which handled domestic and foreign affairs (p.28). The next chapters tell about the politics of that era. Niccolò understood politics (p.68), the striving for wealth (p.69). These chapters tell of the history of that time and the actions of Niccolò. The defeat of the French by the Holy League led to the end of the Florentine Republic (Chapter 14). While in forced retirement he wrote "The Prince" (Chapter 16). Many saw it as an evil work (p.156). It was based on reality and historical examples as Niccolò viewed them. History is a teacher as long as you don't misjudge past events. He wrote a commentary on Livy's history; what made a ruler good (pp.186-187)? A republic is superior because the people are wiser than any prince (p.188). Only a militia of armed citizens is proper to a republic (p.216). The factions and rivalry prevented a united front to the invaders (Chapter 22). Emperor Charles V invaded Italy and sacked Rome in 1527. Niccolò told how the Romans made peace with arms not money that made their enemies stronger (p.251). The defense of Florence made Rome vulnerable (p.255). The aristocracy overthrew Medici rule again (p.256). Niccolò suffered from a bad reputation: "an evil man, a heretic, and an advisor to tyrants" (p.257).

Over the past five centuries no one has written a book that continues "The Prince" in telling about the rise and fall of rulers and their countries. Europe and the Americas could provide many examples. "The Prince" compared the rulers of countries and tells how they prospered or failed due to their actions and circumstances together with the effects of fate or fortune. No one has written a book that tells about the rise and fall of American corporations in the 20th century, which seems to be an easier task.
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