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Publisher's Summary

Should leaders be feared or loved? Can dictators give rise to democracy? Should rulers have morals or wear them like a mask? Niccolò Machiavelli's The Prince puts forth unsettling questions like these, whose answers redefined centuries of political wisdom. But what does it really mean to be Machiavellian?

These 24 lectures are more than just a close reading of one of the great books of Western history. They're a revealing investigation of the historical context of Machiavelli's philosophical views, his tumultuous relationship with Florentine politics, his reception by his contemporaries and by 20th-century scholars, and his lasting influence on everyone from William Shakespeare to Joseph Stalin.

Throughout the lectures, you'll dive deeply into the work's most important chapters to survey their main insights; read between the lines to uncover hidden meanings, inspirations, and ironies; learn how scholars have debated their historical inspiration and importance; and discover the author's startling imagery and sometimes beautiful language. Going beyond the commonly held vision of Renaissance Italy as a place of creative genius, Professor Landon reveals the drama and terror of Machiavelli's life and world, including his relationships to the city of Florence, the powerful Medici family, and the villainous Cesare Borgia (Machiavelli's ideal prince).

For those who have already heard The Prince, prepare to engage with the text on a deeper level than ever before. And for those who've always wanted to listen to this important book, this is your introduction to one man's revolutionary beliefs about achieving - and maintaining - power.

PLEASE NOTE: When you purchase this title, the accompanying reference material will be available in your Library section along with the audio.
©2016 The Great Courses (P)2016 The Teaching Company, LLC

What members say

Average Customer Ratings

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Dazzling

Professor Landon is a dazzling lecturer. He effectively weaves the life and story of Nicolo Machiavelli, the person, and his book, The Prince, with the broader geopolitical events of the Italian peninsula and the burgeoning religious wars in Europe, which ensconced his thought and work.

Professor Landon is not an apologist for The Prince. I would call him an intimate biographer of Nicolo, while drawing on the discipline of historiography to measure the ever evolving influence. He also draws on the work of others to bring greater depth and a broader lense to his subject matter.

3 of 4 people found this review helpful

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  • Pandora
  • Victoria, British Columbia, Canada
  • 09-27-16

A Fascinating Primer for the Curious Reader

Machiavelli's name, when dropped, never fails to intimidate, impressing upon all listening that the speaker must really know their stuff. Nodding, feigning understanding, each then scuttles away, making a mental memo to google the aforementioned historical character and gain this super power for themselves. But the enjoyment of Machiavelli's trademark adjective was overshadowed by that of his life and story within the first few minutes of this book. In truth, the very fact that no one really seems to know too much about Machiavelli, which I had expected to lend me such conversational auctoritas (if you will), is now a torture, as this series left me eager to talk about him. It's made me, I suppose you could say, a fan! The lecturer clearly has a strong affection for the man, which adds to the pleasure of listening. I have yet to read the Prince itself, hoping first to find a primer for the material before making the attempt. This book is exactly what I had hoped, and comes highly recommended! My one regret is not looking into this fascinating and important thinker sooner.

9 of 14 people found this review helpful

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excellent

this is the best narrator I've had yet. the subject matter is also great if you want to learn more about pre unified Italy

5 of 9 people found this review helpful

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Excellent Context

Professor Landon does an excellent job at providing context on when, why and to who The Prince was written.

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Cold Blooded Perfection

The perfect companion to Machiavelli's masterpiece. Great background and context to help build ruthless leaders.

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A MetaOpinion

This Great Course falls far short of the first word of that descriptive name. Having listened to only about two hours of this course, I have terminated my torture on the basis of boredom. Prof. Landon chooses to comment on the most common (mis) understandings of The Prince; that Machiavelli wrote The Prince as his own evil advice to national leaders. Historians now widely believe that Machiavelli wrote The Prince as his personally observed history of the highly effective methods used by his contemporary, Cesare Borgia, son of Pope Alexander VI. The harsh and often cruel methods of Cesare Borgia in attempting to unite the Italian peninsula often succeeded where others had failed. Also, Borgia's leadership style did not differ greatly from many of his contemporaries except that he employed many styles in new and effective ways.

We can compare Prof. Landon's focus to that of a modern medical school professor teaching the fine craft of blood-letting.

  • Overall

Too much other stuff

This exhaustively researched title covers essentially the life of Niccolo Machiavelli, the 16th century Florentine philosopher whose infamous book The Prince has been revered for centuries. It's practical advice which ignores conventional morality has been a guide for tyrants throughout history for its advice for fooling your subjects into loving you. Without getting into the various arguments of this book, my reason for giving only three stars is what I said in the first paragraph applies. The content of the book is too short for talking about for 24 lectures so a large amount of lecture time is spent on background and Machiavelli's motivation. This title would be better as 16 lectures. Be warned.

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Extreme disappointment

This book wasn’t for you, but who do you think might enjoy it more?

Fundamentalist Christian moralists and other uncritical idealists and hypocrites.

What was most disappointing about The Great Courses’s story?

I was expecting a deep academical analysis of the book, its author, historical period and impact on the world, a la Quentin Skinner and Norberto Bobbio. Instead, it turned into a moralist critique of the worst sort that totally misses the point of the Prince.

How could the performance have been better?

The reading itself was quite good, but reducing the readers moralist and sentimental intonations would make it better.

Any additional comments?

Very disappointing for a "great courses" book. I hope there will be another title in the series that deals with the subject matter in a more objective and scientific manner.

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Enlightening

This lecture was full of information and I beleive myself to have become a much mire informed person after having consumed the knowledge in this course.

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The history is destroyed by moralizing and biases.

What disappointed you about Books that Matter: The Prince?

I selected this course because I was interested in the history of the time of Machiavelli. It is an interesting and complex era. Some of the greatest artists and thinkers, for example Da Vinci, were contemporizes of Machiavelli in Renaissance Florence. It was also a time when the Christian Church wielded a great deal of power and was not above war and murder to accomplish it's ends. I had heard of The Prince and knew the definition of "Machiavellian". So who was this man? What did he write that earned him a infamous place in history?

The course contains interesting facts about the time an place and the man himself. There is an attempt to present a balanced, factual view of Machiavelli. Why then to I give the course a 1?

The gross flaw in the course was not apparent at first. In retrospect the first hints were in apology for the facts being violent and offensive. I assumed that the professor is used to teaching college age students who recently have demonstrated a great sensitivity to things that offend them and let it go. As the course progresses, more and more adjectives such a "evil" and "immoral" are used the describe the historic individuals in the course. The moral judgments increased through the course to the point that I was no longer able to filter them out and concentrate on the historical facts being presented.

By way of background, I teach at the graduate level in a different field for a program associated with George Washington University. As an instructor I have an obligation to present facts such as research findings and experiential information just as they are without inserting my own opinions and biases. I leave it to the students to make their own judgments. One of the subjects I teach is business ethics and I must confess it is sometimes a challenge to remain neutral in my presentation. A question ask is this: Is there a difference between personal and business ethics? I leave it to the students to evaluate there and others answer. Further, I have spent seven decades living, learning and observing contemporary history.

By putting so much moralizing in the course, it is my opinion, that Landon has given up his role as a dispassionate observe and reporter of history. This disqualifies him in my as a reliable source. Further, the actions of historic figures must, and can only be interpreted in the context of the culture and associated ethical values of the time. To do otherwise can lead to a society where history is rewritten and artifacts and writings from the period destroyed. The Christian church did such things following the "Romafacation" of the church. More recently the Taliban did the same in Afghanistan destroying ancient Buddhist monuments and violently repressing the people.

What is more distressing to me is watching folks in the USA in the present moment, many of whom may have received and education from such an Langdon, full of judgments and moralizing about history, destroying statues of Confederates because they are offended by slavery. Slavery is a fact of history in most cultures until the past couple of centuries. Landon does no service to history by his constant moralizing and may do a disservice to his country by interpreting history with contemporary values. I do not think I am being extreme by stating educating impressionable young people with courses full of judgments and moralizing contributes to the desire to destroy "offensive" history. This destruction can lead eventually to a culture that is repressive of individual thought and freedom as did the Christian church of the middle ages, the Chinese cultural revolution under Mao, the Taliban to name a few. The final irony is the offended left wing extremists are using Machiavellian amoral tactics to achieve "good" ends. At least I got that much out of the course.

What three words best describe Professor William Landon’s performance?

clear logical biased

If you could play editor, what scene or scenes would you have cut from Books that Matter: The Prince?

All of the moralizing.

Any additional comments?

Sadness for the state of our educational system overall. Disappointed that I could not finish the course.

1 of 2 people found this review helpful

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  • Robert Sciberras
  • 11-30-16

excellent overview of the Prince.

The lecture series supports understanding and gives context to The Prince, which is mostly impenetrable when read raw.

The delivery is pleasant.

The organisation of ideas flows logically and is very engaging.

2 of 2 people found this review helpful

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  • Steve
  • 01-20-17

Didn't get it

I get Machiavelli try to see the world as it is and do what he thought was necessary to get what he wanted, but how does that make him a genius? The author tells that Machiavelli is such a genius but does not show it.