Machiavelli's work came about after the end of his diplomatic career. The contents lay out his reflections on how to rule. He includes such wisdom such as: It is better to be feared than to be loved. He notes two different types of leaders--lions and foxes, and speaks of the implications of each. As he notes in Chapter 18: "A prince must imitate the fox and the lion [and] must be a fox to recognize traps, and a lion to frighten wolves."
There are many interpretations of this work. Is it satire, actually suggesting that a clever, nasty, feared prince is, in fact, likely to fail? Or a handbook for a leader? Or an effort to get in good graces with the powerful so that he could resume his career? Or. . .?
For the era, this is a fascinating work--especially read in juxtaposition with his Discourses. This represents a solid version of this classic work.