Machiavelli (Hubert Prolongeau)

Nicholas machiavelli, from his real name Niccolò di Bernardo dei Macchiavelli (in Italian), has given rise to a number of works, and in particular biographies. His political philosophy has marked the world so much since the 15th century that a concept has taken its name: the " Machiavellianism », Which advocates the conquest and conservation of power by all means, per fas and nefas. Hubert Extension, reporter and independent journalist, collaborating with the Nouvel Observateur, signs here a new biography of this great character who is Machiavelli, at Folio biographies.

A long tradition.

Make the biography of a great man like Machiavelli, it’s not always easy. In particular, we must go after Quentin Skinner, former Regius Chair in Modern History at the University of Cambridge, or after Sandro Landi, professor and member of the Norbert Elias Center at EHESS (School of Advanced Studies in Social Sciences). For a journalist, who is not necessarily a "specialist" or a historian, Hubert Prolongeau is doing pretty well.

Throughout the book, the tone is rather light. However, all of the elements and events presented are very well described. We can truly feel, throughout the reading, that this biography was written by a journalist. But I repeat and hammer it, it's not bad! The Conjuration of the Pazzi, for example, is the subject of a very singular, very precise description which faithfully traces the essence of the events.

A basic work.

And this is, in my opinion, the center of this work: it is a basic biography, which does not want to be at all a scientific work, as could be for example the Machiavelli by Sandro Landi, released in 2008 by Ellipses. Sometimes "popularization" is okay, and it is here. The author defends himself from any thorough historical analysis - which would in any case not be welcome in the context of an introductory biography - and is satisfied, and this is not necessarily easy, I can imagine, to present the events in a raw ... but concise way.

Nevertheless, the construction of the book in great periods is such that we can clearly feel a progression, and this is moreover the whole point of a biography. Anyone who wants to be interested in a great author and philosopher like Machiavelli will not necessarily appreciate a thematic work, where events and periods intermingle; he wants a certain linearity, a historical continuity, a real chronology, which will allow him to better locate himself. In this biography, we really gain clarity and intelligibility. A very good point, then.

What use (s)?

One might therefore think that this work is intended only for a public ignorant of the life of Machiavelli, simply wanting to learn about the global aspects of its existence. Well no: the strength of this biography lies in the possibilities of different reading levels that it offers. Let me explain: the "average" reader will necessarily be interested in the major periods in the character's life, in the major chronological and historical links, which give body and meaning to an existence; but the more informed reader will be largely satisfied with the comments made by the author, Hubert Prolongeau.

Because yes, this biography of Machiavelli, if at first she wants to be somewhat "popularizing", do not forget to expose the life of the character in a very precise way. So, of course, in the context of extensive research (academics, for example), which requires a precise historical analysis, it will quickly prove insufficient; but when it comes to quickly learning about a fact or an event, it is very useful, even for an informed or learned readership. In addition, this type of reader will appreciate both the tingling of details and the synthetic aspect, which offers a very clear overview.

Holding the life of a great character like Machiavelli in such a small book, it was certainly no small task, but Hubert Prolongeau here takes up the challenge brilliantly. For less than eight euros, you can purchase a book that is both synthetic and concise. More than a good initiation into the life of Machiavelli, it is about a biography which proposes a new vision of the character, less scientific, and more "journalistic"; so certainly, with this Machiavelli, forget about any precise historical analysis. But you will have in your possession a book that is proving very useful ... which I myself adopted as part of my research!

H. PROLONGEAU, Machiavelli, Folio biographies, Paris, 2010.

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