This energetic little book started out as a series of talks for French public radio in 2016, and it offers a knowing guide to Machiavelli’s life and work. The tone, in Willard Wood’s translation, is playfully conspiratorial. Boucheron invites us to think through how Machiavelli became synonymous with unscrupulous despotism when the real man suffered for his republican allegiances ... Boucheron’s breezy use of the first-person plural keeps his argument humming amiably along, though some English-language readers might feel buffeted by the occasional gusts of cultural presumption ... Boucheron thinks the United States is currently grappling with what the historian J.G.A. Pocock called the 'Machiavellian moment,' when instability puts the future of a republic at stake. A resurgence of Machiavelli suggests something has gone awfully awry. 'If we’re reading him today,' Boucheron writes, 'it means we should be worried.' ... But just as his subject had a 'taste for paradox,' Boucheron refuses to leave it at that. If we’re reading Machiavelli today, we might also learn something from his 'lucidity, the weapon of the despairing.' In other words, there’s still some hope.
To reframe our understanding of Machiavelli, Mr. Boucheron asks, Who was he writing for? If you believe his audience was tyrants, then his negative reputation is justified. But what if he was writing for the rest of us? If The Prince was meant to help ordinary people understand what their leaders were up to, then it is not a handbook for the power-crazed but a means of stopping them, or at least catching them in the act ... He is still keenly read nearly 500 years after his death, Mr. Boucheron writes, because unlike the many dreamers and idealists in his field, Machiavelli offers useful advice for the darkest times. 'If we’re reading him today,' the author concludes, 'it means we should be worried. He’s back: wake up.'
In a slim, beautifully illustrated volume, French historian Boucheron...distills the life and works of Renaissance writer Niccolò Machiavelli...with the goal of restoring 'the face of Machiavelli that lies hidden behind the mask of Machiavellianism' ... A penetrating portrait of a complex political thinker.