The Prince by Niccolò Machiavelli, 4/5
This is not the tedious treatise on pure evil that I had been led, from Machiavelli’s diabolical reputation, to expect. Rather, it is a compact, logical description of what it takes to succeed as leader of a 16th-century domain. Though Machiavelli’s own political career does not really inspire confidence, he does support all his points with relevant anecdotes from both ancient history and then-current events. I also appreciate how he anticipates and addresses his critics’ objections, which is, to me, the hallmark of a well-formed argument.
Encountering the context surrounding much-quoted nuggets of apparent amorality, I am left with an impression, not of a mind of cunning evil, but one of keen observation. For the purposes of his academic study on political leadership, the proprietor of such an unflatteringly adjectivised surname is not concerned with what is right or wrong, but what is successful (success in this case being carefully defined, not as actions that will end you up in heaven, but actions that will enable you to retain control of a thriving domain). This is not because morality is unimportant to him (it is clear from the text that this is not the case), but because morality is simply not the focus of this particular study.
While I would fear to encounter a Machiavellian leader as a rival, I would not be unhappy to follow one, if only because it seems that those in power who do not appear Machiavellian are simply at a more advanced stage of deception.
[Why I read it: another of those oft-quoted, little-read classics.]