Machiavelli's The Prince

Machiavelli's The Prince

A guide to managing power

What are the most influential books of all time? I’m sure that the Bible, the Koran, and other religious tomes would top out the list. A case could be made for the Communist Manifesto by Marx and Engles, Darwin’s Origin of the Species, and more prosaic texts like How to Win Friends and Influence People.

But what about a book that has influenced heads of state, Mafia bosses, even Tupac Shakur? Tupac read it while he was in prison, and the book so moved him that he used the alias Machiavelli for what turned out to be his last album, The Don Killuminati.

The Prince by Niccolo Machiavelli was published in 1532, but it was originally written as a gift for an aspiring ruler of Florence. It is a guide for managing and maximizing power. The focus here is on the individual, the ruler himself, not what is best for the state or the population at large.

At 113 pages (at least in my edition), it’s a quick read, a mix of short lessons about power and historical examples of the successes and failures of rulers.

Because of The Prince’s realistic outlook, which embraces deceit and treachery as practical methods available to rulers, the term Machiavellian has come to describe anything that is deceptive, crafty, or unethical. Among other assertions, Machiavelli gives his reasons why it is better to be feared than loved and why a wise ruler must be careful with his generosity. Honesty must be doled out with care, along with compassion. His logic is sound, if amoral. It rightly deserves to be considered a classic and is full of good advice for anyone in a position of authority.