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Book Review: "The Prince", by Niccolo Machiavelli

Real power is, I don’t even want to use the word: Fear.

Donald Trump

I’ve been reading “Introductions to Algorithms, Third Edition”, and given how it’s about 1200 pages long it’s going to take quite a while. Since Thanksgiving break is this week, I decided to start interweaving some other books into my reading routine as I have more time. I picked up “The Prince” as it was a cheaper reprint on Amazon, and started reading it on the plane ride home to Michigan.

“The Prince” is a surprisingly and delightfully short read, and I think a lot of what’s been written about it is quite true. Machiavelli detailed to his lord what he would need to do in order to ensure his Princedom prospers, and it’s not things a nice man would do. What did seem rather surprising to me was how similar “The Prince” was to other books I have read, such as “The 48 Laws of Power”, by Robert Greene, “From Third World to First”, by Lee Kwan Yew, and even “The Federalist Papers” by Alexander Hamilton, James Madison, and John Jay (I started reading them and haven’t finished so there is no review). Machiavelli does not do soporifics and he does not do hysterics. He creates arguments based on evidence and reasoning. He appreciates the limitations of the Princedom model of governance and mentions, with Machiavellian jealousy, some benefits of the Republic model of governance, such as the arming of citizens, the sense of national identity, and the distributed nature of political power.

Hard times make hard men. Italy in Machiavelli’s time was a combustible mixture of fiefdoms, made more combustible by foreign interference. I see the potential usefulness of Machiavelli’s thinking, but it does strike me as a tad desperate. Those who are blessed with plenty (such as us living in republics today) may have the benefits of thinking bigger. Those who live in our time and don’t, such as the character in the above quote, will come across as small-minded.