Tuesday, May 13, 2014

What Would Machiavelli Do?

by Stanley Bing

Thoughts: I'm not quite sure of the point of this book. If it was to make fun of our celebrities, "ruling class", and own egos in an amusing way, then it succeeded, for the most part. If it were trying, as seemed to me, to bring Machiavelli's thoughts and ideas to a modern audience, then it definitely failed. The theme of this book was basically "be mean and do whatever you feel like doing, and you'll be successful". According to this book, what Machiavelli would do was "[B]e satisfied with nobody but himself" (pg. 45), "[D]o what he feels like doing" (pg. 64), "[R]espond poorly to criticism" (pg. 73), "[C]arry a grudge until the extinction of the cockroach" (pg. 74), and "[E]stablish and maintain a psychotic level of control" (pg. 123), among many others. Many of these are in direct contradiction to what Machiavelli actually wrote in The Prince, such as, "each of [these councillors] should know that, the more freely he shall speak, the more he shall be preferred" (pg. 111). Elsewhere (I can't find at the specific spots) he talks about the times a prince should delegate, should forgive, and practically the whole book is about a prince can't just do what he feels like doing. Machiavelli is so much more practical and rational and amoral rather than immoral than the Machiavelli portrayed in this book. I think people get caught up in the "better to be feared than loved" thing, and forget all the rest.

To summarize, it was funny (although not that funny), but not at all what Machiavelli would do.

Grade: 2 stars

Saturday, May 10, 2014


by Lois McMaster Bujold

Story summary: Miles finally reaches a bit too far, and one of his clever, seemingly-impossible schemes ends as expected for once: badly. He is stripped of what he holds most dear, and his life (as he sees it) is pretty much over. And then on top of this utter misery, things start to go subtly wrong on Barrayar.
See the others in this series: Shards of HonorBarrayarThe Warrior's ApprenticeThe Vor GameCetagandaBrothers in Arms, and Mirror Dance.

Thoughts: Most of my reviews for these books end up seeming rather similar. I exclaim that the book is marvellous, and then gush over the characters for a while. But one of the amazing things about this series is actually how different they are. Their excellent writing and fascinating characters are some of the few things that remain consistent (ignoring the similarities that obviously occur from taking place in the same world and focusing on pretty much the same set of characters). This one was more a psychological study/mystery story with some romance, as opposed to the adventure of the first few books, or the psychological study/adventure of Mirror Dance, or the more straight romance that I gather some of the future books are.
But I am not good enough to analyze it properly (you can see some really good analysis at Tor.com, though). So here goes the standard gushing:

This one had a lot of focus on Simon Illyan, which I was extremely pleased about. Illyan has been one of my favourites since he was first introduced in Shards of Honor, but there's been less about him than all my other favourite secondary characters (Cordelia, Ivan, and Gregor, mostly). But the main plot of this book centres around him, so he gets lots of character development. Also, Gregor's part in this book was absolutely lovely, and rather hilarious.

I was worried that I wouldn't like the later books in this series as much as the first few, with the emphasis on society and romance as opposed to adventure and frantic cleverness. But I should have trusted. Because, man, I love these books. They are just so good. They have depth and keen insights into human nature as well as lots of humour and adventure. I love almost every character that comes along, and I always finish feeling glowing and satisfied. They are everything I could want in a series. I'm sure they will remain among my favourite books for the rest of my life.

Grade: 5 stars

Sunday, May 4, 2014

The Prince

by Niccolo Machiavelli

Thoughts: Well, I feel completely unable to offer up any insight on this. It did make me wish I'd been able to study English and Literature in university (as well as computer science). Then I would have had a firmer grasp on this, perhaps. It also would have been considerably more interesting if I were familiar with Italian history, as there was quite a lot of it present here.

I can tell that Machiavelli is definitely insightful on human nature, though. I have two small examples. Firstly: "For it is the nature of men to be bound by the benefits they confer as much as by those they receive." (pg. 55) I have noticed this myself, and it is very true. I believe there have also been studies giving much evidence to this. And secondly, he discusses how important it is for princes to appear religious and upright, "but with a mind so framed that should you require not to be so, you may be able and know how to change to the opposite." (pg. 85) It reminded me of today's politicians, who are always very careful to seem religious, but in reality, often are not much at all.

Also, as a side note, Lord Vetinari (from Terry Pratchett's Discworld series) is decidedly Machiavellian. Some people seem to think that means "cruel" or "self-absorbed and egotistical", but it really doesn't. (See also my review for What Would Machiavelli Do?.)

Grade: 2 stars for my personal enjoyment. More objectively, I have no idea, but considering it's so well-known, probably some very high number like 4 1/2 or 5 stars.