Machiavelli: A Biography

Machiavelli: A Biography

by Miles J. Unger

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He is the most infamous and influential political writer of all time. His name has become synonymous with cynical scheming and the selfish pursuit of power.

Niccolò Machiavelli, Florentine diplomat and civil servant, is the father of political science. His most notorious work, The Prince, is a primer on how to acquire and retain power without regard to scruple or conscience. His other masterpiece, The Discourses, offers a profound analysis of the workings of the civil state and a hardheaded assessment of human nature.

Machiavelli’s philosophy was shaped by the tumultuous age in which he lived, an age of towering geniuses and brutal tyrants. He was on intimate terms with Leonardo and Michelangelo. His first political mission was to spy on the fire-and-brimstone preacher Savonarola. As a diplomat, he matched wits with the corrupt and carnal Pope Alexander VI and his son, the notorious Cesare Borgia, whose violent career served as a model for The Prince. His insights were gleaned by closely studying men like Julius II, the “Warrior Pope,” and his successor, the vacillating Clement VII, as well as two kings of France and the Holy Roman Emperor. Analyzing their successes and failures, Machiavelli developed his revolutionary approach to power politics.

Machiavelli was, above all, a student of human nature. In The Prince he wrote a practical guide to the aspiring politician that is based on the world as it is, not as it should be. He has been called cold and calculating, cynical and immoral. In reality, argues biographer Miles Unger, he was a deeply humane writer whose controversial theories were a response to the violence and corruption he saw around him. He was a psychologist with acute insight into human nature centuries before Freud. A brilliant and witty writer, he was not only a political theorist but also a poet and the author of La Mandragola, the finest comedy of the Italian Renaissance. He has been called the first modern man, unafraid to contemplate a world without God. Rising from modest beginnings on the strength of his own talents, he was able to see through the pious hypocrisy of the age in which he lived.

Miles Unger has relied on original Italian sources as well as his own deep knowledge of Florence in writing this fascinating and authoritative account of a genius whose work remains as relevant today as when he wrote it.

Editorial Reviews

From the Publisher

"This is a superb biography, of interest to anybody — not just management consultants — trying to get along in the contemporary world. . . . Unger is superb at providing context, so readers grasp how Machiavelli's thinking was received during his lifetime, how it has been interpreted/misinterpreted through the centuries, and how it offers meaning in the 21st century."
—Steve Weinberg, USA Today

"A thoughtful and well-informed study of the life of the Florentine diplomat and government bureaucrat. . . . Unger presents a side of the cynical and jaded diplomat rarely known by even those who had read Machiavelli’s notorious collection of practical and often amoral advice to the prospective ruler."
—Karl Rove

"Unger skillfully narrates the details of a life led during one of the greatest periods of artistic, political, and literary activity in Western history. . . . [He] does a wonderful job of bringing Machiavelli to life."
—Alan Wolfe, The New Republic

"A captivating biography of Italian philosopher and playwright Niccolò Machiavelli. . . . Lively, well-researched portrait of a master political strategist."
Kirkus Reviews

"An excellent analysis of the influential thinker and his renowned writings."

"Excellent. . . . wonderfully readable."
—Jessica Warner, National Post

"For most people, 'Machiavellian' means ruthless, the application of power without remorse. Thanks to a fascinating portrait by Miles J. Unger, the real Machiavelli comes across the centuries as something more: a man with whom many of us might like to spend a few hours in rich conversation."
—Repps Hudson, St. Louis Post-Disptach

"A wonderful biography. . . . Unger includes details you didn't hear in World History 101, details that make fascinating reading and should put the book on the list of any history buff."
—John Monaghan, The Providence Journal-Bulletin

Library Journal

Unger's (Magnifico: The Brilliant Life and Violent Times of Lorenzo de' Medici) portrait of the world's most notorious political philosopher strives to be a definitive biography. Like Maurizio Viroli (Niccolò's Smile), Unger utilizes Machiavelli's correspondence to present a complex portrait, showing his subject in the varied public roles he played: civil servant, diplomat, political philosopher, and playwright. All of Machiavelli's writings are discussed and analyzed here. An astonishing number of people thread their way in and out of the narrative; Unger considerately offers a "Select Cast of Characters," although he regrettably fails to include a time line of key events. VERDICT Unger succeeds in presenting Machiavelli as a true Renaissance man. Both he and Viroli ponder Machiavelli's inner life, although Unger pays greater attention to The Prince. Those who have Viroli's book may consider Unger's an optional addition. It will appeal to readers of biography, history, and political science. [See Prepub Alert, 12/20/10.]—Sharon E. Reidt, Marlboro Coll. Lib., VT

Kirkus Reviews

The story of the obscure civil servant who became the world's most famous cynic.

Art historian and New York Times contributor Unger (Magnifico: The Brilliant Life and Violent Times of Lorenzo de' Medici, 2008) offers a captivating biography of Italian philosopher and playwright Niccolò Machiavelli (1469–1527), whose classic book,The Prince, remains a definitive handbook for practicing politicians. Born into an old, down-on-its-luck family, Machiavelli grew up in the small, independent Republic of Florence at a time of peace and prosperity. The fabulously rich Medici family ruled; great artists like Sandro Botticelli and Leonardo da Vinci flourished; and bright young Machiavelli, with little money or influence, came of age aimlessly, devoting his free time to reading, whores and gambling. Yet he was ambitious. At 29, he became Second Chancellor, serving as a diplomat and handling state correspondence for 14 years. Prickly and abrasive, he was dismissed in 1513 over policy decisions leading to the fall of the republic. With no means of supporting his wife and children, Machiavelli began writing his small book on the secrets of statecraft based on his own observations during government service. He hopedThe Princewould lead to a new government job; instead, the book propelled him into political and literary history. Against the background of war and rivalries between Italian states, Unger traces the development of Machiavelli's cynical, secular, anti-clerical views, and examines the blunt precepts of his masterpiece that announced "the coming of the modern world." Shattering cherished assumptions about God-centered government, Machiavelli declared that rulers must rule by whatever means necessary. Now commonplace, his original, pragmatic insights simply stated what he called "the actual truth of things." Ironically, writes Unger, despite his disdain of honesty, he was actually "the most honest" and least Machiavellian of men.

Lively, well-researched portrait of a master political strategist.

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9781439193891
Publisher: Simon & Schuster
Publication date: 06/14/2011
Format: NOOK Book
Pages: 416
Sales rank: 1,068,836
Lexile: 1400L (what's this?)
File size: 36 MB
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