Niccolo's Smile A Biography of Machiavelli

Maurizio Viroli; Translated from the Italian by Antony Shugaar

Hill and Wang



Trade Paperback

288 Pages



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In Niccolò's Smile, Maurizio Viroli brings to life the writer who was the founder of modern political thought. Niccolò Machiavelli's works on the theory and practice of statecraft are great classics, but, Viroli suggests, his greatest accomplishment is his robust philosophy of life—his deep beliefs about how one should conduct oneself as the modern citizen of a republic, as a responsible family member, as a good person. On these subjects Machiavelli wrote no books: the text of his philosophy is his life itself, a life that was filled with complexity, uncertainty, and drama.

Here is a man in all his complexity and brilliance—a narrative of Machiavelli's loves and friendships, the perils and rewards of being an adviser to princes, his travels and adventures, the challenges and dangers of both his youth and old age. Machiavelli was a charming and powerful figure, and he is revealed here for the first time, not as an intimidating icon of European political thought, but as the subtle, modern, charming and sagacious man.


Praise for Niccolo's Smile

"Elegant and accessible . . . Viroli provides [a straightforward chronological account of events] in the pellucid Italian original, whose gracefulness has not been lost in Antony Shugaar's excellent translation . . . The dramatic events of Italian political life and Machiavelli's participation in them . . . determine the rhythm of his story."—Mark Lilla, The Washington Post Book World

"A welcome antidote to the clichéd image of self-interested knavery for which [Machiavelli] has become known . . . Viroli succeeds . . . in offering a fascinating portrait."—Alexander Stille, The New York Times Book Review

"In this edifying portrayal of one of history's most misunderstood individuals . . . [Viroli] resurrects a different Machiavelli, whom he says scholars have adamantly refused to acknowledge. He draws an intimate portrait of a charming individual . . . whose smile enthralled princes and disarmed foes . . . In dynamic language, Viroli provides a detailed, historical background for Machiavelli's personal triumphs and woes. But the strength of this work lies in his ceaseless concentration on Machiavelli the man, who comes alive on each page."—Publishers Weekly (starred review)

"Machiavellian is a pejorative term suggesting serpentine scheming and use of immoral, ruthless means to achieve desired ends; those ends usually include the maintenance of power at all costs. Inevitably, it is often assumed that Machiavelli himself must have reflected and practiced these methods in his personal and public life. Viroli, a professor of politics at Princeton, effectively refutes that notion in this absorbing and surprising survey of a full, eventful life. Machiavelli was cursed to live in interesting but chaotic and violent times. In Viroli's view, his longing for a powerful ruler was not merely based on a cynical wish to see power exercised; rather, Machiavelli hoped for a strong and, if necessary, devious ruler who could rule effectively but also wisely and justly. In his personal life, he is revealed here as a caring, sensitive man who, contrary to expectations, was frequently ruled by his heart rather than his head. This is a compact and enjoyable look at a man far more interesting than his myth."—Jay Freeman, Booklist

"The chief appeal of 0Niccolò's Smile is the absence of that cynical, know-it-all tone so common to books supposedly inspired by [Machiavelli] . . . The first accessible profile . . . [marked by] flinty candor."—Carlin Romano, Philadelphia Inquirer

Reviews from Goodreads



  • Maurizio Viroli; Translated from the Italian by Antony Shugaar

  • Maurizio Viroli has written many works on political philosophy, most notably Machiavelli. A professor of politics at Princeton University, he lives in Princeton, New Jersey, and Forli, Italy.