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Book Review By Seawriter: A Novel About Niccolò Machiavelli

Niccolò Machiavelli is best known for his work The Prince, written in 1513.  Today, his name is often associated with political deceit and deviousness. To be Machiavellian is to behave unscrupulously.

The actual man was quite different than his modern reputation. He was a staunch believer in republican government, and was viewed as an honest diplomatic broker.

The Diplomat of Florence: A Novel of Machiavelli and the Borgias, by Anthony Robert Wildman is a fictional biography of Machiavelli’s life. It covers the period from the end of Medici rule in Florence until its restoration fifteen years later, a period encompassing the years 1498-1513. This was the era of the Florentine Republic, Savonarola, and the Italian Renaissance.

The novel shows Machiavelli’s development from a minor bureaucrat in home-town Florence’s diplomatic establishment to one of the Republic of Florence’s most senior and respected diplomats. You will follow his battles with his bureaucratic rivals, his progression to the head of his household, and his marriage.

Along the way, Wildman shows Machiavelli encountering a slew of famous individuals from the period. Those he meets in his diplomatic missions include Louis XII of France and Cesare Borgia, Duke of Valentino. He also crosses paths with others such as Leonardo da Vinci and Thomas Cromwell (later an advisor to Henry VIII of England) with whom (at least in this novel) Machiavelli becomes friends. Readers also get feeling he would have liked to become friends with Cesare Borgia.

These friendships are plausible. It is one of the things which make this novel fun. The historical Machiavelli admired Borgia, as is made clear in The Prince. The Diplomat of Florence has the touch of a bildungsroman, focusing on the lessons Machiavelli learns over the course of his career. You see how the events in his life contribute to his later writings

The result is a first-rate depiction of the events of the period in France and Italy. It also provides an amusing look at life inside a government bureaucracy. The machinations within the government of Renaissance Florence and that of today’s Washington DC seem almost interchangeable. Equally fascinating is the depiction of the Republic of Florence trying to balance Pope against France, as it tries to maintain its independence as a small, mercantile state among competing sovereignties.

The Diplomat of Florence offers an entertaining introduction to Renaissance Italy. Wildman makes Machiavelli a sympathetic protagonist, one with whom readers would enjoy sitting down with and having a glass.

The Diplomat of Florence: A Novel of Machiavelli and the Borgias, by Anthony Robert Wildman, Plutus Publishing Australia, 2020, 406 pages, $14.99 (paperback), $5.99 (ebook)

*Mark Lardas is an engineer, freelance writer, historian and model-maker living in Texas.  Mark posts on Ricochet as “Seawriter,” and is well-known for his regular and much appreciated reviews of books on all subjects.  Of his reviews, he says “I have an unusual approach to reviewing books. I review books I feel merit a review. Each review is an opportunity to recommend a book. If I do not think a book is worth reading, I find another book to review.”  His website is marklardas.com

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