A chronicle of how Machiavelli’s unforgiving and complex view towards politics and leadership coexisted with an unusual generosity of spirit.
Born into a humble family during a time when Florence was ruled by the Medicis and among the richest of Italian principalities, Machiavelli read deeply and became enamored of the ancient Roman historians and philosophers. After the fall of the Medicis, the execution of Savonarola, and the establishment of a Republic, Machiavelli secured a diplomatic appointment. He was called upon to travel widely in service to the Florentine government, and he developed a strong reputation for his diplomatic and rhetorical skills. When the Medicis later returned to power and dismantled the Republic, Machiavelli lost his position. He wrote The Prince—a series of short treatises on statecraft—both as a display of his diplomatic virtuosity and in an attempt to ingratiate himself with the new rulers. Viroli (Political Science/Princeton Univ.) asserts that while Machiavelli is best known for advocating deception and manipulation in political matters, he had a robust appreciation for friendship and love in his personal life. In fact, the philosopher is most openly revealed to be both an ambitious and fallible man through his evolving relationships with women—including his wife, female heads of state, and a variety of lovers—rather than in his capacity as a politician. His love affairs are recounted in unedited, scatological detail, and the author also offers small selections from Machiavelli’s lesser-known works—thereby offering an unusual glimpse into the private life of a very public man. Throughout, Viroli struggles to establish a symbol of Machiavelli’s “smile” as a stand-in for his overall personality—and something he would like us to see as multifaceted, elastic, and enigmatic as that of Leonardo’s Mona Lisa—but it is a labored and unnecessary literary trope.
Intriguing, but best for those with a particular interest in Machiavelli or 16th-century Italian politics.