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This engaging summary presents an analysis of The Prince by Niccolò Machiavelli, a treatise on politics and statecraft in Renaissance Italy, in which the author sets out his observations on the most effective means of creating a state and consolidating political power. The book proved highly controversial because of its descriptions of ‘immoral’ behaviour and challenging of conventional religion, and gave rise to the term ‘Machiavellian’ to refer to political deceit and duplicity. It is at the same time an important humanist work, and foreshadowed some of the political and philosophical ideas of the Enlightenment in Europe. Niccolò Machiavelli was a politician, diplomat and writer, and authored numerous political treatises, as well as plays, poetry and historical works. His ideas had and continue to have a direct impact on many Western political leaders.
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Niccolò Machiavelli (1469-1527) was a privileged witness to the wars which affected Italy and his home city of Florence, and he embarked on a political career in 1498. He became head of the second chancery of the Republic of Florence, which placed him in charge of foreign and home affairs, as well as the war. He later visited the King of France, the Pope and the Emperor on diplomatic business. He wrote a number of political works, including The Prince (1513, published in 1532), Discourses on the First Ten Books of Titus Livy (1513-1519) and The Art of War (1521), but he also wrote an official history of his city, the Florentine Histories (1521-1525), and plays, including The Mandrake (1513).
Machiavelli wrote The Prince in 1513 as a way of getting closer to the powerful Medici family of Florence, who had recently returned to power. However, the work was not a success and was not published until 1532. The original title, De principatibus (On Principalities), is derived from the term princeps (the first, the head, the one who governs) and evokes all forms of government.
In this philosophical treatise on Italian and international politics in the early 16th century, Machiavelli analyses what has existed already and looks for a practical solution to the political instability in Italy, based on his experiences. The book received many criticisms, as can be seen in the negative meaning of the word ‘Machiavellian’, derived from the author’s name.
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