The Prince — Book Review

Today is not a good day, early in the morning and my relatively young blood already boiling, the feeling of being lied to, hurts.

This somehow reminds me of the book by Niccolò Machiavelli, which in my humble view can be seen as a truly controversial book, but makes sense nevertheless. I need to re-read this since I am in dire need to learn politics just not end in hot waters.

After all, I am still a work in progress. The goal is always to be the best version of me. And today, I just refuse to race with dogs.

I simply refused. Just like this particular cheetah.

Just a recap on the book main lessons learn, Machiavelli suggests that:

  • Niccolò Machiavelli’s classic treatise instructs rulers to focus on political reality, not moral ideals. Although moral compass still plays a huge role in my decision making, usually I relate it to reality and practicality of the situation. 
  • Two forms of rule exist free states, such as republics, and principalities, such as autocracies.
  • The ruler must do everything to secure his power, even if he has to use force.
  • He can secure his power either by using foul play or by gaining his subjects’ loyalty through good deeds.
  • As a ruler, it is better to be feared than loved.
  • The prince must make his subjects happy, facilitate trade and, at all costs, avoid becoming hated by the people. Which in my view is hardest of all, a simple at time innocent lie could spark this hatred and ill-feeling.
  • A leader should always appreciate the art of war. And we need to understand that it is okay to lose the battle as long as you win the war.
  • After conquering a region, rulers must assure their power. Retaining power is harder than gaining it.
  • The best methods of securing power are to destroy the captured capital city, establish a residence and set up a loyal local government.
  • A private army recruited from the people is more reliable than mercenary troops. Since it is easier to be sure of their loyalty.

Review of the book (In short, It’s awesome, albeit a bit dark for me)

Machiavelli suggests that the end justifies the means, although Muslim on the other end believe that the means is almost as important as the end. With regards to the book, this simple, pragmatic maxim underpins this Niccolò Machiavelli’s classic work, The Prince.

Written in 1513, when Machiavelli was a former Florentine registry official, this handbook of political power provoked controversy like no other. Its central theme is how Renaissance rulers should act if they want to prevail in gaining and retaining power. According to the author, a strong state requires a leader who is able to defend his power at all costs. Machiavelli maintains that a ruler may opt for deception, trickery, oppression and even murder his opponents, as long as his misdeeds serve the state’s stability.

Without question, this short treatise offers enough material to demonize its author. However, Machiavelli does not actually suggest that we resort to unlimited ruthlessness and violence. Nor does he justify any objectives that seem to warrant violence. However, he also does not try to align his work to any religion’s morals as he examines the practice of statecraft and leadership. As his work is purely from his own view and personal experience. Maybe in the future, we could discuss more on Islamic, Christianity and another major religion view on power.

Back to our topic, the term “Machiavellian” emerged in the 16th century to describe a devious, cruel tyrant, who uses any means to achieve his goals. When 20th-century dictators praised Machiavelli’s masterpiece, it came into disrepute, but in contemporary thought, its literary foresight makes it a classic. Modern readers will be able to understand the book’s significance thanks to the accessible translation and annotations by Peter Bondanella. Kudos to him, for his wonderful effort in preserving such classic.

To put the treatise in context, Maurizio Viroli explains in his introduction, “For Machiavelli, the old way of building and preserving a regime had to be abandoned in order to embrace a new conception based on the principle that no state is a true dominion unless it is sustained by an army composed of citizens or subjects.”

Machiavelli’s The Prince, for all the controversies that it sparks, and all the bad reputation is earned, still, there’s still some lessons in it which we all can learn from, regardless.


The Prince Lesson 1: Forms of Rule

People live under two types of governance: Either they are citizens of

  1. A free state, such as a republic; or
  2. A principality, such as an autocracy.

In both types, a leader can achieve sole rule through inheritance or through obtaining new territories. The leader can be the founder of new entities, as was the case in Milan, or he can conquer existing towns and regions.

A leader who inherits his kingdom will encounter fewer problems in both ruling and retaining it. First, the people accept and respect his power because he comes from a long tradition of leadership in which the term ‘rightful ruler’  could be seen to be used freely. And second, any potential opponents would be at a disadvantage since they would have to turn to cruelty to gain respect, thus losing the support of the people.

The Prince Lesson 2: The Correct Form of Conquest

Language plays a large role in the successful annexing of states. When the new, added territory uses the same tongue as the existing territory, the ruler can take over by ousting the former ruling family and keeping the existing laws. I would use the analogy of ruling parties in our modern days, people would expect greener posture under the new leadership of the ruling parties, although in actuality they could be worse. It would be a task for the ruling party to maintain its power thru mass popularity or thru sheer force.

In most such cases, the subjects will pose no problem. However, to assert his authority and make his presence known, ahead of state should always erect an official residence. Creating colonies is a cheap, effective way to increase your power, and it is easier than conquering whole countries. With colonies, a ruler needs to dispossess only a few powerful inhabitants and render them too poor to pose any meaningful threat thereafter. Drive them away and settle your followers on their land.

In general, aim to strip the power of their power and make the less powerful your allies.


The Prince Lesson 3: Retaining Power

There are a few struggles in retaining power due to the difference in geopolitical landscapes. Take kingdoms, such as Turkey, are more difficult to take over since they have a sole, supreme leaders who are hard to depose or eliminate. If you do manage to dethrone a king, leading subsequently will prove relatively easy since the land had only one ruler, so you won’t have to tackle territorial lords pushing their own agendas. In states such as France, seizing power is simple, but holding it is difficult. A number of power-hungry princes and barons surround the king and so forging alliances is easy. Should you defeat the king, but fail to dispossess the other barons, maintaining power will become a miserable, Sisyphean undertaking.

Once you conquer a territory, Machiavelli’s suggest to take three necessary steps to secure your governance:

  1. Destroy the capital city. This is the safest thing to do.
  2. Establish a residence in the region.
  3. Create a government from loyal locals. This way, the state may retain its own laws, but it will still heed your authority.

Examples of this could easily be seen by looking at our history.

The Prince Lesson 4: Conquest Through Ability and Luck: Cesare Borgia

A ruler who takes over an empire by conquest must use his forces to maintain his dominance. However, an individual who rises from citizen to ruler generally has no private army and thus must proceed with caution. If he acquired power with someone else’s help, he must act cleverly, so as not to lose his position too quickly.

For example, to gain power, Cesare Borgia relied too heavily on his father, Rodrigo Borgia, elected in 1492 as Pope Alexander VI. Cesare Borgia saw his chance to take over Romagna, Italy when the pope granted the French king dissolution of his marriage, and the monarch expressed his gratitude by sending troops to the pope. With that might, Borgia soon appointed himself duke. The new ruler used every means to consolidate his rule. He murdered his political opponents and chose a new governor, Remirro Del Orco, a Spaniard known for cruelty. At the time, Romagna was overrun by lawlessness and debauchery, and Del Orco restored order using an iron fist. However, his harsh methods made the new governor hugely unpopular. To distance himself from Del Orco’s actions and to get the public back on his side, Borgia had the governor executed, putting his remains on display to satisfy the masses.

To eliminate the threat of a new pope, who would have been dangerous to him and his father, Borgia ousted the entire ruling family and won over the nobles of Rome and the majority of the College of Cardinals. As an extra measure, he strove to broaden his power with further conquests. However, before he succeeded, his father died and he himself became deathly sick. In the end, he was unable to fight off the attacking Spanish and French armies.


The Prince Lesson 5: Other Forms of Acquisition

A private citizen can become a ruler in two other ways.

First, he can use foul play to gain power. Luck plays no role in exercising this option. The individual secures control independently and ruthlessly and relies on no one for help.

Agathocles of Syracuse used underhandedness to gain command in 300 B.C. The son of a potter, he rose through the military ranks and eventually sought the title of prince. One day, he organized a gathering of the state’s wealthy citizens and Senate members. Once the city’s most powerful inhabitants had assembled, his guards sealed the doors of the meeting room and every attendee soon met a grisly end. After this, no one dared to challenge Agathocles’ rule.

This method of seizing power is cowardly, however, and Agathocles will never count among the greats because of it. Should atrocities be necessary to acquire power, a would-be ruler should carry them out quickly and in bouts. Once he has achieved the desired result, he must rein in his actions. Under no circumstances should he continue using force. Those who expose their subjects to increasing degrees of violence soon lose dominance.

Second, citizens can rise to power either with the assistance of the public or with the help of the powerful. The latter is difficult because each of these “mighty men” feels that he himself should rule, and as a group, these powerful individuals seek to oppress the public.

However, leaders who are true men of the people bolster their rule by securing the support of their subjects. If the public anticipates that their ruler will be cruel, he can use good deeds to encourage their loyalty.


The Prince Lesson 6: Under Siege

A strong ruler generally needs a private army so that he can compete well on the battlefield. However, if a ruler with no army comes under siege, his only recourse is to retreat to a fortress. For this plan to work, the city must be prepared in advance. The imperial urban areas in Germany are the prototypes of such “free” cities. They are so well protected and own so many supplies that they can withstand siege easily for a year. This long period leaves attackers vulnerable to the changing seasons, and in most cases, they are forced to retreat shamefully.

Another weapon in a ruler’s arsenal is popularity. If the people cherish him, they will remain loyal, and a foreign attacker will have an even harder time penetrating the land’s defences.

Finally, spiritual leadership is a useful tool: If the ruler promotes religion, tradition and God, his citizens will not dare rebel against these powerful forces.

The Prince Lesson 7: Mercenary Forces

Whoever seeks to consolidate his rule needs good laws and good armies. Those who must rely on mercenary soldiers will eventually encounter betrayal and treachery. These soldiers serve their masters out of greed, not honour or duty. They are generally dishonest and steal from the public in times of peace.

In wartime, mercenaries often become cowardly and can even switch sides. Mercenary leaders are especially dangerous: If they are masters of their craft, they seek to draw power to themselves. Amateur mercenary leaders, on the other hand, damage the country through poor management.

Auxiliary troops, which might arrive thanks to a powerful ally, usually do more harm than good. Only those states that possess their own locally recruited forces, such as Switzerland, can really call themselves free. For this reason, it is important that they remain especially well fortified.


The Prince Lesson 8: The Art of War

A ruler should never neglect the art of war since he is expected to excel in warfare and defence above all other things. Many citizens rose to power by perfecting their wartime skills and battle techniques. The opposite is also true: Many rulers have been relieved of their power because they avoided going to war. Even during times of peace, leaders should keep their armies ready for battle. Preparation is the key to victory. A prince must also know his territories inside and out since he does not want to falter in his own marshes when trying to outsmart the enemy. The wise ruler should study the lessons of others who succeeded in battle using guile and skill.

The Prince Lesson 9: Best Behavior

No gain can come to a leader from adhering to ideals. Surrounded by unscrupulous people, the good person inevitably will suffer defeat. If a ruler possesses certain virtues – all the better. If he possesses any bad qualities, he must keep them hidden. People believe what they observe without further investigating the matter. For instance, generosity is by and large a useless characteristic in a head of state. Eventually, he will have to raise taxes and in no time people far and wide will hate him. Whoever has the reputation of a miser should not try to change it. He can fall back on his thriftiness when he needs money to serve the general good, such as when the country is under attack.

A prince should be loved and feared equally. If he must choose only one or the other, he should opt for the fear of his people, but not so much so that it turns to hatred. By being charitable, he feeds anarchy, whereas by using cruelty, he keeps the peace. A kind ruler can rarely rely on his subjects’ gratitude: They are often fickle and will not repay his kindness.

If need be, the head of state may break his word. After all, everybody eventually does. However, he must have a valid reason for this breach of promise. Whoever can create the appearance of absolute virtue will be in a strong position. The populace believes what it sees and is happy to follow.


Employ capable ministers who are committed to the interests of the state. If they are confident and clever, allow them to tell you the truth rather than flatter you when unpleasant matters arise. Their insights will serve you better than their compliments.

Consider these final precautions:

  • Never interfere with citizens’ possessions or their women.
  • Protect their livelihoods and encourage their work.
  • Encourage festivals and celebrations. They increase people’s happiness.

Here is the world’s most famous master plan for seizing and holding power. Astonishing in its candour “The Prince” even today remains a disturbingly realistic and prophetic work on what it takes to be a prince . . . a king . . . a president.

Buy The Book



Author: Muhamad Aarif

A notorious book addict by night and an oil and gas executive by day. As Mark Twain said, "The man who doesn't read good books has no advantage over the man who can't read them." So, read, read, and read some more.

Leave a Reply

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.