Niccolo Machiavelli’s The Prince: A Controversial but Great Classic

The Prince is a classic from the 15th century written by an Italian diplomat, Niccolo Machiavelli, who is responsible for bringing the word “Machiavellianism”.

Wikipedia defines Machiavellianism as the employment of cunning and duplicity in statecraft or in general conduct; and psychology refers Machiavellianism to a personality trait which sees a person so focused on their own interests that they will manipulate, deceive, and exploit others to achieve their goals.

You may have guessed by now that the book is about unscrupulous politicians and is considered controversial. Some sees it as a work of political philosophy as it places importance on realism over idealism. However, it does contain some valuable advice for modern world leaders, including entrepreneurs — this was the reason I decided to read it.

About the Book

This book advises how Princes are able to gain and retain power. However, Niccolo asks Princes to go far beyond morality, ethics and humanity to achieve his goals, which is where it really becomes controversial. The book is divided into 26 small chapters and is only 105 pages, which makes it a quick read. Each chapter discusses how to gain and retain power in a particular scenario.

The original work is in vernacular Italian and I picked the English translation by Tim Parks. You can buy it online here for $7.50.

You may want to read more about the book here on Wikipedia before buying it.

Who is it For?

This book is definitely not for weak hearted because the world won’t look same after reading this and you may lose faith in humanity as a result. But if you are interested in politics or learning about how people play the game of gaining and retaining power, you may find it very interesting. It does uncover a few interesting rules of the power game and may open your mind towards many of the current political affairs around the world.

My Favourite Pieces

I read this book from an entrepreneur’s point of view and the many challenges we encounter in our journey to build a successful company. Here are my three favourite pieces:

1) Chapter 3 — Mixed Monarchies

You must never fail to respond to trouble just to avoid war, because in the end you won’t avoid it, you’ll just be putting it off to your enemy’s advantage.

2) Chapter 15 — What men and particularly rulers are praised and blamed for

If you always want to play the good man in a world where most people are not good, you’ll end up badly. Hence, if a ruler wants to survive, he’ll have to learn to stop being good, at least when the occasion demands.

3) Chapter 23 — Avoiding flatterers

If you do try to defend yourself from flatterers you run the risk of having people despise you. Because the only way to guard against flattery is to have people understand that you don’t mind them telling you the truth. But when anyone and everyone can tell you the truth, you lose respect.
So, the sensible ruler must find a middle way, choosing intelligent men as ministers and giving them and only them the right to tell him the truth, and only on the issues he asks about, not in general.