From beginner-friendly introductions to classic works by Machiavelli, this page features books to suit any learning style. It’s important to note that there is no single best book on Machiavelli. The best book for you will depend heavily on your preferred learning style and the amount of time/energy you’re willing to spend reading. For example, if you tend to find classic works of philosophy difficult to understand, you might want to start with a short, beginner-friendly introduction. If you prefer more depth, you can choose a more comprehensive introduction or read Machiavelli for yourself.
It’s also worth noting that it is not a list of personal recommendations. Personal book recommendations tend to be highly subjective, idiosyncratic, and unreliable. This list is part of a collection of over 100 philosophy reading lists which aim to provide a central resource for philosophy book recommendations. These lists were created by searching through hundreds of university course syllabi, internet encyclopedia bibliographies, and community recommendations. Links to the syllabi and other sources used to create this list are at the end of the post. Following these links will help you quickly find a broader range of options if the listed books do not fit what you are looking for.
Here are the best books on or by Machiavelli in no particular order.
Machiavelli: A Very Short Introduction – Quentin Skinner
Publisher description: Machiavelli taught that political leaders must be prepared to do evil that good may come of it. Offering the first brief introduction to Machiavelli’s thought to appear in twenty-five years, Skinner focuses on his three major works, The Prince, Discourses, and The History of Florence. He discusses the influence of Roman moral thought on Machiavelli, concentrating on the extent to which Machiavelli’s teachings represent a reaction against this tradition. Placing Machiavelli in the proper social and intellectual context, Skinner reveals the extraordinary originality of his attack on the prevailing moral and political assumptions of his age.
Niccolò Machiavelli: An Intellectual Biography – Corrado Vivanti
Publisher description: This is a colorful, comprehensive, and authoritative introduction to the life and work of the author of The Prince–Florentine statesman, writer, and political philosopher Niccolò Machiavelli (1469-1527). Corrado Vivanti, who was one of the world’s leading Machiavelli scholars, provides an unparalleled intellectual biography that demonstrates the close connections between Machiavelli’s thought and his changing fortunes during the tumultuous Florentine republic and his subsequent exile. Vivanti’s concise account covers not only Machiavelli’s most famous works–The Prince, The Discourses, The Florentine Histories, and The Art of War–but also his letters, poetry, and comic dramas. While setting Machiavelli’s life against a dramatic backdrop of war, crisis, and diplomatic intrigue, the book also paints a vivid human portrait of the man. …
The Cambridge Companion to Machiavelli – John M. Najemy
Publisher description: Niccolo Machiavelli (1469-1527) is the most famous and controversial figure in the history of political thought and one of the iconic names of the Renaissance. The Cambridge Companion to Machiavelli brings together sixteen original essays by leading experts, covering his life, his career in Florentine government, his reaction to the dramatic changes that affected Florence and Italy in his lifetime, and the most prominent themes of his thought, including the founding, evolution, and corruption of republics and principalities, class conflict, liberty, arms, religion, ethics, rhetoric, gender, and the Renaissance dialogue with antiquity. In his own time Machiavelli was recognized as an original thinker who provocatively challenged conventional wisdom. With penetrating analyses of The Prince, Discourses on Livy, Art of War, Florentine Histories, and his plays and poetry, this book offers a vivid portrait of this extraordinary thinker as well as assessments of his place in Western thought since the Renaissance.
The Portable Machiavelli – Niccolò Machiavelli
Publisher description: In the four and a half centuries since Machiavelli’s death, no single and unanimously accepted interpretation of his ideas has succeeded in imposing itself upon the lively debate over the meaning of his works. Yet there has never been any doubt about the fundamental importance of Machiavelli’s contribution to Western political theory.The Portable Machiavelli brings together the complete texts of The Prince, Belfagor, and Castruccio Castracani, newly translated by Peter Bondanella and Mark Musa especially for this volume. In addition, the editors include an abridged version of The Discourses; a play, The Mandrake Root, in its entirety; seven private letters; and selections from The Art of War and The History of Florence.
The Prince – Niccolò Machiavelli
Publisher description: As a young Florentine envoy to the courts of France and the Italian principalities, Niccolò Machiavelli (1469–1527) was able to observe firsthand the lives of people strongly united under one powerful ruler. His fascination with that political rarity and his intense desire to see the Medici family assume a similar role in Italy provided the foundation for his “primer for princes.” In this classic guide to acquiring and maintaining political power, Machiavelli used a rational approach to advise prospective rulers, developing logical arguments and alternatives for a number of potential problems, among them governing hereditary monarchies, dealing with colonies and the treatment of conquered peoples. Refreshing in its directness, yet often disturbing in its cold practicality, The Prince sets down a frighteningly pragmatic formula for political fortune. Starkly relevant to the political upheavals of the 20th century, this calculating prescription for power remains today, nearly 500 years after it was written, a timely and startling lesson in the practice of autocratic rule that continues to be much read and studied by students, scholars and general readers as well.
Discourses on Livy – Niccolò Machiavelli
Publisher description: Discourses on Livy, written in 1531, is as essential to an understanding of Machiavelli as his famous treatise, The Prince. Equally controversial, it reveals his fundamental preference for a republican state. Comparing the practice of the ancient Romans with that of his contemporaries provided Machiavelli with a consistent point of view in all his works. Machiavelli’s close analysis of Livy’s history of Rome led him to advance his most original and outspoken view of politics–the belief that a healthy political body was characterized by social friction and conflict rather than by rigid stability. His discussion of conspiracies in Discourses on Livy is one of the most sophisticated treatments of archetypal political upheaval ever written. In an age of increasing political absolutism, Machiavelli’s theories became a dangerous ideology. This new translation is richly annotated, providing the contemporary reader with sufficient historical, linguistic, and political information to understand and interpret the revolutionary affirmations Machiavelli made, based on the historical evidence he found in Livy.
The following sources were used to build this list:
University Course Syllabi:
- Machiavelli and Interpretation – POLI 561 | McGill University
- The Political Thought of Machiavelli – Political Science 145 | Tufts University
- Major Political Thinkers: Machiavelli – California State University
- Bibliography for the Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy article on Machiavelli
- Bibliography for the Internet Encyclopedia of Philosophy article on Machiavelli
If you want to learn more about Machiavelli, you can find a collection of free articles, videos, and podcasts here.
You might also be interested in the following reading lists:
- The Best Introductory Philosophy Books
- The Best Books on the History of Philosophy
- The Best Introductory Books on Political Philosophy
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A History of Western Philosophy in 500 Essential Quotations – Lennox Johnson
Category: Reference | Length: 145 pages | Published: 2019
Publisher’s Description: A History of Western Philosophy in 500 Essential Quotations is a collection of the greatest thoughts from history’s greatest thinkers. Featuring classic quotations by Aristotle, Epicurus, David Hume, Friedrich Nietzsche, Bertrand Russell, Michel Foucault, and many more, A History of Western Philosophy in 500 Essential Quotations is ideal for anyone looking to quickly understand the fundamental ideas that have shaped the modern world.