Saturday 2 May 2009

Machiavelli’s Prince - the jury is in

I still haven’t managed to find the Ionesco books I wanted to read, so I got my teeth into a good old Italian classic, Machiavelli’s Prince, newly translated by Florio Prize and Monselice Prize winner JG Nichols. What I read were actually the proofs of the Oneworld Classics edition to be published in June 2009.

Did I like the book?
I did – I find it a shockingly modern book – I suppose that’s why it’s a classic. But I must admit it was strange to read it in another language. I have read it a few times in Italian in the past, and I’m afraid that the beauty and flavour of Renaissance Italian (Florentine) cannot be rendered in translation, although Nichols’s version is – as usual – lucid, elegant and accurate. I must confess that from time to time I had a peek at the original and reread entire passages in Italian.

What did I like most?
The author's seriousness of intent. His disregard for political correctness. His clever and unbiased analysis of recent and ancient history.

What didn’t work for me?
Machiavelli is not exactly the greatest stylist in our language. And he’s slightly repetitious at times. But his prose is concise and full of soundbites. Sometimes it feels as if you are reading a collection of aphorisms.

Would I publish it?
I am publishing it next month.

What if it came as an unsolicited manuscript?
I think it'd come via the Medici family.

Did it sustain my interest throughout?
Yes. The book is short and to the point. There’s hardly a boring page throughout the piece.

The best bit in the book?
I liked when Machiavelli talks about how fate and fortune affect human destiny.

The best scene in the book?
Chapter 8: Oliverotto’s killing of his uncle and his other dinner guests.

Comments on the package, editing, typesetting?
It’s not printed yet, but I can tell you that it’s going to be printed on Arctic paper, will have flaps, an 8-page plate section – and no orphans and widows. . . although in fact there’s quite a few of them in Machiavelli’s text.

My final verdict?
A great classic. It never bores me, however many times I read it. It’s a revolutionary book, and one of the most influential books ever written. It goes to show that you don’t have to write fifty novels or 800-page books to change the world.

I hope I’ll manage to lay my hands on the Ionesco books in the weeks to come.



  1. I'd like to read it, although the Renaissance Italian is going to be wasted on me. On the other hand, didn't you say that Dante's language wasn't that different from contemporary Italian? Guess it's more to do with the Florentine dialect.

  2. I meant that Dante's poetry is not so full of inversions and not so artificial as, say, Petrarch's poetry. And he is not so obsessed (at least when he wrote the Comedy) with courtly love jargon – a language that has survived for centuries and that you can still find in opera librettos.

    As to prose, Italian has always been far removed from the spoken language, even to this day. And people would find it very difficult to read Machiavelli without notes today.



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