Was he a realist? A cynic? A communist or a proto-fascist? Lee’s is a long, dense account of a fascinating man and a complex period, and for devotees only. Nevertheless, it will surely be the definitive book on Machiavelli for some years, and provides tough yet nourishing food for thought.
As Alexander Lee’s weighty, impressively detailed biography makes clear, Machiavelli’s belief that realism trumps idealism was formed the hard way. He lived at a time when statesmanship and power politics were in a state of permanent flux, providing a stream of brutal real-life examples by which he could stress-test his theories.