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"The Prince" shocked Europe on publication with its ruthless tactics for gaining absolute power and its abandonment of conventional morality. Niccolo Machiavelli (1469-1527) came to be regarded as some by an agent of the Devil and his name taken for the intriguer 'Machevill' of Jacobean tragedy. For his treatise on statecraft Machiavelli drew upon his own experience of office under the turbulent Florentine republic, rejecting traditional values of political theory and recognizing the complicated, transient nature of political life. Concerned not with lofty ideals, but with a regime that would last, "The Prince" has become the Bible of realpolitik, and still retains its power to alarm and to instruct.
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"[Machiavelli] can still engage our attention with remarkable immediacy, and this cannot be explained solely by the appeal of his ironic observations on human behaviour. Perhaps the most important thing is the way he can compel us to reflect on our own priorities and the reasoning behind them; it is this intrusion into our own defenses that makes reading him an intriguing experience. As a scientific exponent of the political art Machiavelli may have had few followers; it is as a provocative rhetorician that he has had his real impact on history." -from the Introduction by Dominic Baker-Smith