I'm weirdly pleased that The Prince lives up to its reputation: it is indeed Machiavellian. Here's his advice on conquering self-governing states (i.e. democracies): "The only way to hold on to such a state is to reduce it to rubble." Well then.
I'd like to say that any guy whose last name becomes a synonym for evil is a badass, but Machiavelli wasn't; he was a failed minor diplomat who wrote this in a failed attempt to get reemployed. Stupid attempt, too; anyone who hired him would be advertising that he espoused Machiavellian values. This book was published, after all. And as he himself advises, "A leader doesn't have to possess virtuous qualities, but it's imperative that he seem to possess them."
So I'll go with this: anyone whose last name becomes a synonym for evil has written a good book.
I hope to match that effect with my first novel. Working title: "Unicorns are Pretty."
So if Machiavelli was such a loser, how did his book get so famous? It's not because it's great advice; it sortof isn't. I think it's because it's just a ton of fun to read. It's chock full of over-the-top quotes like the ones above. It's really funny.
Which brings up a recurring topic for debate: did he intend for this to be taken seriously, or is it satire? I think it's the former: mixed in with the zany stuff is a fair amount of common-sense advice. He could certainly have included that to make the zany stuff pop more, or to camouflage it a bit, but I prefer to think he meant the whole thing seriously. And it's not like any of it is advice someone hasn't followed at some point. (See my first quote above: yeah, we've tried that.)
Translation review: this is the very latest translation. Parks has gone to great trouble to reduce the crazy complexity of Machiavelli's sentences - I know this from reading his excellent Translator's Note - and I appreciate that. He's also tried hard to make it accessible to modern audiences, and sometimes I think he's tipped a tiny bit overboard on that front. "When a ruler occupies a land that has a different language...then things get rough." "Difficult" would have been perfectly clear; "rough" is too colloquial. We want to be able to read our classics, but we don't need to pretend they were written yesterday.
That's a relatively minor complaint, though; this is a clear and easy translation. Good intro, too. And a glossary of proper names at the back, so you can sort out the various contemporary figures you don't recognize.
I'll close with my favorite quote: "It's better to be impulsive than cautious; fortune is female and if you want to stay on top of her you have to slap and thrust."
Machiavelli: kindof a dick.