Machiavelli: A Biography

By Capponi, Niccolo | The Historian, Summer 2013 | Go to article overview

Machiavelli: A Biography


Capponi, Niccolo, The Historian


Machiavelli: A Biography. By Miles J. Unger. (New York, NY: Simon & Schuster, 2011. Pp. xvi, 400. $28.00.)

If one wanted to be kind when reading this biography on Niccolo Machiavelli, the literary comparison that comes to mind is Candide. Both Miles J. Unger and the protagonist of Voltaire's novel appear to share the same wide-eyed approach to factual reality, usually proving to be incapable of understanding it. Unger, indeed, is often out of his depth when dealing with the past, ending up stranded on the beach of history. Though it would certainly be unkind to suspect him of picking and choosing the suitable evidence to fit a preconceived thesis, at the same time the lingering feeling remains that the book under review is more an apologia a la carte than a biography. Besides, in the effort to defend Machiavelli from his detractors, Unger falls into the trap of creating yet another anachronistic and in vitro image of him.

At a superficial glance, the list of sources included in the volume seems impressive, but on a closer look it is hardly telling. For one, there is no mention of Oreste Tommasini's monumental study on Machiavelli (available online, by the way), and absent also are a number of other important works on Machiavelli, for example, those by Cecil Clough and William Connell--not to mention John Najemy's book Between Friends, dealing with the Machiavelli-Vettori correspondence of 1513-1515. Unger's maladroit handling of the historical material hardly helps to improve the situation. One may forgive him, perhaps, for confusing our Niccolo with his grandson and namesake; after all, other illustrious historians have made the same mistake (14-15). Yet, Pasquale Villari had already put that part of the record straight more than a century ago, as Unger should have known, as he employs Villari's work extensively.

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