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 hoped The Prince would 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.


Pub Date: June 14, 2011

ISBN: 978-1-4165-5628-2

Page Count: 384

Publisher: Simon & Schuster

Review Posted Online: April 18, 2011

Kirkus Reviews Issue: May 1, 2011

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If the authors are serious, this is a silly, distasteful book. If they are not, it’s a brilliant satire.


The authors have created a sort of anti-Book of Virtues in this encyclopedic compendium of the ways and means of power.

Everyone wants power and everyone is in a constant duplicitous game to gain more power at the expense of others, according to Greene, a screenwriter and former editor at Esquire (Elffers, a book packager, designed the volume, with its attractive marginalia). We live today as courtiers once did in royal courts: we must appear civil while attempting to crush all those around us. This power game can be played well or poorly, and in these 48 laws culled from the history and wisdom of the world’s greatest power players are the rules that must be followed to win. These laws boil down to being as ruthless, selfish, manipulative, and deceitful as possible. Each law, however, gets its own chapter: “Conceal Your Intentions,” “Always Say Less Than Necessary,” “Pose as a Friend, Work as a Spy,” and so on. Each chapter is conveniently broken down into sections on what happened to those who transgressed or observed the particular law, the key elements in this law, and ways to defensively reverse this law when it’s used against you. Quotations in the margins amplify the lesson being taught. While compelling in the way an auto accident might be, the book is simply nonsense. Rules often contradict each other. We are told, for instance, to “be conspicuous at all cost,” then told to “behave like others.” More seriously, Greene never really defines “power,” and he merely asserts, rather than offers evidence for, the Hobbesian world of all against all in which he insists we live. The world may be like this at times, but often it isn’t. To ask why this is so would be a far more useful project.

If the authors are serious, this is a silly, distasteful book. If they are not, it’s a brilliant satire.

Pub Date: Sept. 1, 1998

ISBN: 0-670-88146-5

Page Count: 430

Publisher: Viking

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: July 15, 1998

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The author's youthfulness helps to assure the inevitable comparison with the Anne Frank diary although over and above the...


Elie Wiesel spent his early years in a small Transylvanian town as one of four children. 

He was the only one of the family to survive what Francois Maurois, in his introduction, calls the "human holocaust" of the persecution of the Jews, which began with the restrictions, the singularization of the yellow star, the enclosure within the ghetto, and went on to the mass deportations to the ovens of Auschwitz and Buchenwald. There are unforgettable and horrifying scenes here in this spare and sombre memoir of this experience of the hanging of a child, of his first farewell with his father who leaves him an inheritance of a knife and a spoon, and of his last goodbye at Buchenwald his father's corpse is already cold let alone the long months of survival under unconscionable conditions. 

The author's youthfulness helps to assure the inevitable comparison with the Anne Frank diary although over and above the sphere of suffering shared, and in this case extended to the death march itself, there is no spiritual or emotional legacy here to offset any reader reluctance.

Pub Date: Jan. 16, 2006

ISBN: 0374500010

Page Count: 120

Publisher: Hill & Wang

Review Posted Online: Oct. 7, 2011

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Jan. 15, 2006

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