Machiavelli: A Renaissance life

Written by Joseph Markulin
Review by Mary F. Burns

Styled a “nonfiction novel,” Machiavelli is a doorstop of a book about the famous (and infamous) Florentine civil servant and philosopher who managed to survive through the tempestuous, cyclical regimes of various Medicis, Borgias, Sforzas and other ill-assorted, decadent, nasty and downright evil princes of both the Church and the State. Florence tried hard to maintain its independent status, as did many Italian city-states starting from the fall of the Roman Empire, and was perhaps more successful at it than many others. In a time and place where loyalties were changed more quickly (and definitely more often!) than one’s clothing, Niccolo Machiavelli held steadfast in his allegiance to “the rule of the people and justice” in Florence, and hoped that one day that would be the norm in Italy.

Through the playful but insightful use of dialogue and story-telling, mixed with outright history, Markulin presents a very entertaining and reasonably clear overview of a very complex, tangled and turbulent period. Machiavelli rose from humble origins to become the Secretary to the Gonfaloniere or governor of Florence, and was sent on delicate, protracted ambassadorial missions to negotiate with the likes of the prophet-priest Savanarola and the brilliant but evil Caesar Borgia. But the Wheel of Fortune turned full circle more than once in his life, and he found himself at the bottom more often than at the top. The only thing missing from this book is the bibliographical foundation for the “nonfiction” part; there are no footnotes or references for the historical assertions and events. However, the “novel” part is certainly interesting and entertaining.