The Prince by Niccolò Machiavelli

I wrote this review in 2007. It seems relevant at the moment for a number of reasons and so I am sharing it.

A young colleague of mine recently said ‘management is easy’. I smiled enigmatically and considered buying him a copy of ‘The Prince’ but I fear it would be wasted. I am now on my third copy of this book which, alas, I can only read in English. The George Bull translation (as reprinted in 1995) is the version I currently refer to.

I first read this book when studying economic history at high school in the second half of the last century. I was intrigued by Machiavelli’s advice even though I had little understanding of the Florentine Republic. I next read the book when looking more generally at political models and at Renaissance history. Since then, I’ve always had a copy: it is as relevant to understanding the art and practice of management as it is to a broader understanding of the models and processes of governance. It also provides some valuable contextual setting for those interested in the Medici.

So why is ‘The Prince’ still relevant? What can we learn from a treatise that was dedicated to Lorenzo de Medici (1492 – 1519) but not published until 1532, some five years after Machiavelli himself was dead?

Specific settings and circumstances may change: general human psychology and motivation does not. There is politics involved in all management. The chasm between management theory and practice is occupied by politics (in all senses) and complicated by the affairs, aspirations and expedient alliances of people.

Jennifer Cameron-Smith