Machiavelli's "The Prince" is known all over the world for teaching effective tactics for the absolute ruler.
Machiavelli was a citizen of Florence, a city that became very wealthy in the 15th century. In this age it became a centre of humanism and the new, classical style in education and scholarship. However, Italy was a scene of intense political conflict and in the 15th century Florence also experienced a changeful time of wars and different rulers, most important of them the Medici.
When the Medici family regained power in 1512 after a short interrupt, Machiavelli was tortured and removed from public life. For the next 10 years he concentrated on writing history, political philosophy, and even plays. He ultimately was called back to public duty for the last two years of his life.
Machiavelli offers advice in order to retain power. "The Prince" describes the means by which political power is seized and retained, and the circumstances in which it is lost. It is different from other books about creating and controlling principalities because it doesn't tell you what an ideal prince or principality is but explains through examples, which princes are the most successful in obtaining and maintaining power. Machiavelli draws his examples from personal observations he made.
Now in which way is this book also interesting for modern life?
Today "Machiavellian" means using power and violence imprudently. But although many people may say that this book is an instruction that rulers must be prepared to lie, cheat and steal to hang on to their thrones, in my opinion "The Prince" is an astonishingly honest book. Machiavelli wants to persuade the ruler that he could best preserve his power by the careful use of violence, by respecting private property and the traditions of his subjects, and by promoting material prosperity. What is most important is to keep the control of one's subjects and kingdom, be it in a "good" or "evil" way. In some respects "The Prince" is even revolutionary: Machiavelli says that a country cannot be governed by a set of moral or religious principles. If you keep faith in a Christian way and want your subjects to love you instead of fearing you, you will be second.
So this Book shows a picture of the true nature of power, which has not changed over the centuries. It offers a means to analyse the way of thinking of powerful people and of qualities needed to keep in power.
Machiavelli seems to me very modern even in political questions: although he writes for a monarch, he preaches the free life of citizens and a kind of free market-economy. He recommends to award those who are successful and therefore enhance the prosperity of the prince's empire.
A very important argument for a strong ruler is that otherwise there would be chaos and anarchy, in other words the real nature of people would emerge. The ruler must keep law and order, but must not harm his people in a disproportional way. This is what also a successful businessman in my opinion.
The Penguin-Classics-edition of this book is especially interesting because the introduction, which gives an insight into the political and social situation in the 15th century. This is very useful for understanding the content of the book because of the wealth of historical examples Machiavelli gives.
However, you have to be cautious applying the principles tought in "The Prince" uncritically. Sometimes they are too simple to be useful without analysing the particular circumstances diligently.
I think that everyone that reads this book will benefit from it. It is written in a short and simple stile, even if the 15th-century language sounds sometimes a bit strange to us.