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.