The late Vivanti was a man who knew the works of Machiavelli inside and out. This book is not a biography of the man but an exploration of his writings.
Those who have read The Prince, The Art of War and The Discourses will have a leg up on everyone else reading this book, as Vivanti highlights the writings of this Florentine clerk and connects them to the local history. Some knowledge of local events in the 15th- and 16th-century Italian states is a must, especially regarding the Holy Roman Emperor, the king of France, numerous popes and local politicians, all of whom competed for control. There are those who insist that Machiavelli’s most famous work, The Prince, rather than encouraging harsh, dictatorial government, is really a satiric picture intended to lead readers to republicanism. As he compared the politics and population of Rome to those of Florence, the ability to sustain a republic in this Tuscan city seemed highly improbable. His History of Florence, commissioned by Pope Clement VII, is a good example of his attempt to please his patron while trying to include all the history. Even so, his statement that republics, with their diversity, are much more adaptable and likely to last longer than a princedom indicate his true politics. That he was a republican is without doubt, but the volatility of the area shows how difficult the establishment of such a republic would be. This was an era of Savonarola, the Borgias and Medici, strong leaders who tolerated little opposition.
Readers looking for the story of the Florentine historian’s life will be better served by Miles Unger’s 2011 biography. Students well versed in the classics, the historian’s vast writings and medieval history will most enjoy this academic biography.