Friday, April 20, 2012


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Niccolo’s Smile A Biography of Machiavelli is written by Maurizio Viroli. Maurizio Viroli, a native born Italian, received a PhD in Social and Political Sciences at the European University Institute in Florence, Italy, and a degree in Philosophy at the University of Bologna, Italy. He has written two other books, A Dialogue on Republican Values (001), and Republicanism (1). Of the three books, Niccolo’s Smile has been reviewed as the greatest of the three, and the most outstanding of novels about Macchiavelli. After reaserching what other books Maurizio Viroli wrote, I discovered that many people call Viroli ‘One of Italy’s finest writers on the History of Ideas.’

In Niccolo’s Smile, Maurizio Viroli aimed to recount the same stories that Roberto Ridolfi wrote, but to write them in a new way. Viroli tried to focus on aspects that were previously overlooked and wanted to revise accepted views of Machiavelli. Viroli mentions how fascinated he was by Machiavelli - by his political thinking and writing, but especially by the way in which he laughed about light and other people. Moreover, he wrote this book to try to understand the meaning of Machiavalli’s endless smile, a smile that emerged from his letters, his works, and from certain portraits of him. Viroli’s main objective in the book is to interpret in detail how Machiavelli’s smile represented a great understanding of life, even deeper than his political thought. In addition to defining Machiavelli’s smile, Viroli also works to anazlye the overall life of Machiavelli.

Predominately, Viroli articulates how Machiavelli’s smile can be used to characterize Machiavelli himself, and his life as a whole. Viroli begins the story by describing Machiavelli’s upbringing. Machiavelli was born into “poverty” (6), which did not help usher him into a good job in society. Although he was poor, this background guided him, along with teachers, to form “a distincly personal conception of life - a rich blend of generosity, enthusiasm for great deeds, intense passions, comprehension of

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the fagility of life, and a love of beauty that sprang in part from a deep understanding of life’s harshness and human malice” (10). Viroli contines through the book giving brief histories of Florence, Machiavelli’s personal life and family, Machiavelli’s tragedies, and of course, politics. In general, the book is a concise and lively account of Machiavelli’s life which provides the average reader with historical context and background to understand most of Machiavelli’s works. It is almost like Viroli is writing more of an argument of a misunderstood legend than a plain, simple biography. Although the book is informative, at times Viroli’s admiration for his charismatic subject begins to overwhelm his argument. Also, on occasions, Viroli will lose his focus of the topic, or overly comment on Machiavelli’s smile. Aside from these few bothersome qualities of the book. Viroli adequately covered the material of his theme, and at times he over wrote about it. The book was written in a very scholarly manner.

The strengths of the book are rely on how Viroli compiled the book. Viroli’s writing, unlike others’, presents the full Machiavelli, not just the cynical philosopher of politics as excerpts in the Viroli’s book contained. In the book he included enough information the give the reader a sense of awareness of early Europe and Machiavelli, which this knowledge in turn could be used to understand many of Machiavelli’s own works. The story also does have an undeniable charm and wit to itThese are the only strengths of the book. There are quite a few weaknesses, including all of the annoyances that were described above; how Viroli overwhelmed his argument because of his zeal for the subject, or how he over-explained Machiavelli’s smile. I would review the book as flat, unemotional and strangely hard to follow. Italian names are hard to procounce in the English language and the story does not flow well. The story jumps around making parts unclear. It would have been very helpful if there were a glossary of prodominent characters and events. All in all, I think it was an informative book, but

the smile business was overdone, and I would have preferred to hear more about Machiavelli’s frown. The book was a frustrating read, but I expected that. I loved Machiavelli’s motto “It is better to act and repent than not to act and regret” that he repeated to his friends.

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