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Watch Great Books online: Episode 2 Machiavelli's The Prince

Dear Mr. President, I am deeply honored to have been asked for my advice as you assume the awesome burdens of your new office. I can offer several rules of thumb, which I believe time and experience has proven sound. Act boldly in the beginning. The public has a short attention span and it will make them forget the accomplishments of your predecessor and impress them with your vigor. Make your first priority the protection of your power. Without it you are useless. Appear steadfast but be flexible. Remember, some of God's greatest gifts are broken campaign promises. Let me close with a few additional words of caution. Choose the most brilliant advisers. Tell them to speak to you candidly and then be wary of their advice. When decision time comes, keep your own counsel and never ever forget that you are in show business. That leadership is nine-tenths acting a role. Never step out of it in public. Don't, for God's sake, carry your own bags. Welcome to the top of the heap and lots of luck. Your humble and admiring servant, Niccolo Machiavelli. P.S. don't look to heaven for your reward. This is a playful paraphrase of words written in the year 1513 by a cashiered civil servant in Florence, Italy. What he actually wrote became one of the most hotly debated, deeply disturbing and important books of western civilization. To some it was a veritable guidebook for tyrants and totalitarians. Mussolini loved it. Marxists recognized a fellow revolutionary. To others, alternately, it paved the way for ethnic and religious toleration, individual rights, the advancement and restoration of republics, of modern democracies. But, fairly or unfairly, it has caused his name, Machiavelli, to ring through the centuries as a synonym for evil, though this would certainly be a misunderstanding of the man.

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