Be Like the Fox: Machiavelli In His World by Erica Benner

Be Like the Fox: Machiavelli In His World

Since the publication of The Prince five centuries ago, Machiavelli has been associated with political amorality. But that characterization is unfair. In Be Like the Fox, Erica Benner sets the record straight: far from the ruthless "Machiavellian" henchman that people think he was, Machiavelli emerges here as a profound ethical thinker who fought to uphold high moral stand...

Title:Be Like the Fox: Machiavelli In His World
Author:
Rating:
ISBN:0393609723
Edition Language:English
Format Type:Hardcover
Number of Pages:384 pages

Be Like the Fox: Machiavelli In His World Reviews

  • Laura
    Mar 23, 2017
  • Roman Clodia
    Mar 27, 2017

    This is very much a political biography rather than a personal one, a 'life and times' of Machiavelli rather than a psychological study of the man. Benner builds on a solid scholarly foundation of primary sources and delivers from them a lively, mostly accessible, account of the struggles for power in Florence during Machiavelli's lifetime.

    In some ways, this is another rise and fall of the Medici with interventions from Savonarola and Cesare Borgia at various parts of the history. Machiavelli h

    This is very much a political biography rather than a personal one, a 'life and times' of Machiavelli rather than a psychological study of the man. Benner builds on a solid scholarly foundation of primary sources and delivers from them a lively, mostly accessible, account of the struggles for power in Florence during Machiavelli's lifetime.

    In some ways, this is another rise and fall of the Medici with interventions from Savonarola and Cesare Borgia at various parts of the history. Machiavelli himself, not always as central as Benner might wish, works as a diplomat, helps establish a short-lived citizen army, then falls foul of the ruling powers and comments from the margins via plays, poetry and political discourses.

    Benner is very positive, almost hagiographical, about her subject but it's difficult to get a sense of the 'real' man - not necessarily her fault as the period doesn't lend itself to displays of interiority, but disappointing all the same. We know he marries and has five children, we hear briefly of his infatuation with a courtesan, but the book focuses on his political personality, his politicised friendships such as that with Francesco Vettori.

    It's not new, of course, to read

    as irony but there are contradictory moments such as when Machiavelli asks the advice of his friends as to whether he should present it to Guiliano de'Medici (p.247), odd if it's intended as an exposé of the Medici family's political manipulations?

    Benner has a jaunty style of writing: the narrative is in the present tense with embedded quotations distinguished typographically according to who is 'speaking' (italics for Machiavelli himself, bold for Savonarola's ranting, for example). There are places where the complications of wars and changing alliances between France, the papal powers, Florence and other Italian city states get a little hard to keep hold of and a historical time-line would have been handy for quick look-ups. Overall, though, this is a lively, intelligent and enjoyable re-look at Machiavelli's role in Florentine politics.

    I read a review copy via Amazon Vine.

  • Michael McAllister
    May 20, 2017

    This is a most fascinating and scholarly treatment of the life, writings and travails of a man most defamed by history. He was not understood as the humanistic and pragmatic thinker he undoubtedly was. Many thanks to the author for revealing the true purport of his writing.

  • LoLo
    Jul 03, 2017

    As an afficianodo of political philosophy, I've always held Niccolo Machiavelli's work in high esteem. And any careful examination of his teachings will reveal that he isn't quite the amoral mastermind that his name has become synonymous with. In fact, the thing that stands out most about his work is that he seems to speak from both sides of his mouth, both advising the power-hungry tyrant while also advocating for the merits of a happy and equitable republic. This book delves into the roots of

    As an afficianodo of political philosophy, I've always held Niccolo Machiavelli's work in high esteem. And any careful examination of his teachings will reveal that he isn't quite the amoral mastermind that his name has become synonymous with. In fact, the thing that stands out most about his work is that he seems to speak from both sides of his mouth, both advising the power-hungry tyrant while also advocating for the merits of a happy and equitable republic. This book delves into the roots of this dichotomy, and lays bare the truth of o Machiavelli's subversive intentions and why he wrote the way he did. It provides a very clear understanding of Machiavelli's true political thought, and it's surprising just how fiercely democractic it is.

    His most ardent belief, and his passion project, was that Florence absolutely needed it's own militia, composed of it's own citizenry. Florence was only capapble of employing mercenaries for military protection, and this proved to be ineffective and ripe for corruption, over and over again. Only a citizen, whose entire existence is bound up in the struggle, could defend his own republic with a passion (and therefore effectiveness) that hired guns could never be motivated to achieve. In this concept, Machiavelli highlights the power of patriotic love and it is a central theme that runs through the rest of his philosphy.

    He stresses the importance of a well-ordered political economy because ensuring a decent living for all citizens is one of the main foundations of a state's military power. He emphasizes how popular sentiment can make or break a head of state: "if the people hold you in hatred, fortresses do not save you." He advocates, with the health and longevity of the replublic in mind, for the rule of just laws over the rule of a single man. He argues that a rich public, funded by taxes and sumptuary laws, makes for a safer and freer society. He expounds, with impressive feverency, the degree to which people will fight against their oppressors. And he does all this while appearing to compliment the (naked) emperor's clothes.

    I love this shit. This is why I hold a degree in poly-sci. Also, as a hilarious aside, I learned that Machiavelli's greatest fear was to be shunted off to some godforsaken countryside and forced to teach children how to read. It conjured up a hilrious mental image of this great strategist banging hsi head on the wall as he's stuck in a room full of little Ralph Wiggams.

  • Amanda
    Jul 17, 2017

    This book is perfect for history lovers who what to know more about machiavelli and his world. It explains in detail his life and the people that surrounded him and influenced his most notable work. Be like the Fox shows how the age machiavelli lived in was a perilous time where one wrong word could get you killed. This work explains how the prince is more if a saterical work rather than straight. It is what tyrant rulers want to hear on how they should rule rather than how they should rule.

  • Marks54
    Jun 30, 2017

    This is a thoughtful and readable political biography of Machiavelli by a top political theorist with ties to Yale, Oxford, and the London School of Economics. Her intent is to provide a rich introduction to the life of Machiavelli that brings his core issues to light in ways that are relevant for both the time of Renaissance Florence and today. She succeeds in this admirably and I will make a point to find more of her books.

    Why is a biography of Machiavelli a challenge? To start with, he is lik

    This is a thoughtful and readable political biography of Machiavelli by a top political theorist with ties to Yale, Oxford, and the London School of Economics. Her intent is to provide a rich introduction to the life of Machiavelli that brings his core issues to light in ways that are relevant for both the time of Renaissance Florence and today. She succeeds in this admirably and I will make a point to find more of her books.

    Why is a biography of Machiavelli a challenge? To start with, he is likely the most read and commented on political theorist of the past 500 years. Saying something new might not be so easy. Second, Machiavelli is one of the most misunderstood and vilified writers ever, whose name is synonymous with amoral power seeking and whose works were on the Vatican's Index of forbidden books well into the 19th century. Third, Machiavelli's work has been the subject of controversey among careful analysts due to the rich textures of his writing and the the irony inherent in many of his works. There are multiple levels of meaning in the Prince and the Discourses and it is not surprising that scholars have divided between good and bad interpretations of Machiavelli's work.

    Benner is clearly in the camp of the "good" Machiavelli who sought to promote republican values over those of tyranny but who was also prudent about publishing his writings in an environment that was often harsh to political or theological criticisms. Benner tells the story of Machiavelli's life by focusing on the critical political events he was involved with and then judiciously moving from the facts of Machiavelli's life to what he and others wrote about that life and its political challenges as he was working through it or reminiscing about it later in life. I am well of the arguments for studying books like the Prince or the Discourses by sticking to the text. Benner's point, however, is to study Machiavelli's life, and in doing so I can only see value in situating his work into the broader political context within which he lived and was employed. The result is a masterful and convincing picture of the author of the Prince that is believable and highly informative. The political logic of Machiavelli is also compelling, especially in our contemporary age of brutally partisan politics, confusions in understanding the world, and rising stakes of apparently unending political conflict. It is not at all surprising to me that Machiavelli is relevant and Benner has done a great service to those interest in learning about him.

    This is a very good book.

  • Ginny
    Jul 08, 2017

    Wow! This is an awesome book. A NYT book review finally paid off for me!! The writing is captivating. All in the present tense, which was obvious and distracting four or so times. But overwhelmingly, the writing style made this an easy to read and very enjoyable book.

    Sometimes italics were used for quotes. Sometimes actual quotes. Sometimes more paraphrasing. It left me a little unsure of attribution. But I wasn't reading this for a book report. The style worked and got me inter dyed in Machiav

    Wow! This is an awesome book. A NYT book review finally paid off for me!! The writing is captivating. All in the present tense, which was obvious and distracting four or so times. But overwhelmingly, the writing style made this an easy to read and very enjoyable book.

    Sometimes italics were used for quotes. Sometimes actual quotes. Sometimes more paraphrasing. It left me a little unsure of attribution. But I wasn't reading this for a book report. The style worked and got me inter dyed in Machiavelli. I'm already reading his Discourses and I bought The Prince as a follow up.

  • Ross Nelson
    Jul 13, 2017

    Not always the easiest read, mainly due to the welter of names (princes, politicians, and popes) that pop up during the six decades the book covers; the writer does a good job of supporting her thesis, which is that Machiavelli is not the amoral cynic he's usually portrayed as, and that "The Prince" is a much more subtle book than it appears.

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