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Machiavelli in Context

Meet an extraordinarily thoughtful and sincere student of history and its lessons—the notorious Niccolò Machiavelli—whose public reputation differs drastically from the man’s personal beliefs and political leanings.

Machiavelli in Context is rated 4.6 out of 5 by 91.
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Rated 5 out of 5 by from Excellent study Excellent overview of Machiavelli’s three major works. Makes a listener appreciate Machiavelli's skills as a historian as well as a political theorist. Convincingly demonstrates that Machiavelli’s “Discourses on the First Ten Books of Livy” deserves much more attention than it’s usually afforded. It would be a humorous exercise to imagine his commentary on the current crop of American political leaders.
Date published: 2024-04-12
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Enjoyable and interesting I enjoyed learning that there is so much more to Machiavelli than the expression Machiavellian. The professor is very enthusiastic about his subject. I enjoyed his enthusiasm once you got used to his style. You certainly couldn't sleep through his lectures .
Date published: 2024-01-05
Rated 4 out of 5 by from Power to the Prince or Power to the People? After a lengthy introduction, the meat of this course surveys three works written by Niccolo Machiavelli: The Prince, Discourses on the First Ten Books by Livy, and Florentine Histories. It would help to read these works along with the lectures. It would also help if one has read Early History of Rome by Livy. Dr. Cook teaches that, while Machiavelli has a reputation as a conniving schemer, the real thread throughout his works is the foundation of a popular-based government, that is, a republic. Although Machiavelli addresses what it takes for a prince to be successful, he does so in the expectation that a good prince would lead to a republican form of government. Dr. Cook is an average lecturer by The Great Courses (TGC) standards. He lectures in a conversational style, never stiff or formal. He always seems to be speaking up, not quite shouting. His love for all things Italian is evident and perhaps a little contagious. The course guide below average by TGC standards. It is in a terse outline format with no graphics. It averages less than 4 pages per lecture, which is on the low end. There are appendices for a timeline, a glossary, bibliographical notes, and a bibliography that includes a short note on what one might get out of each reference. I used the audio streaming version. I doubt that any graphics in the DVD version would have made a significant difference. The course was published in 2006.
Date published: 2023-02-27
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Very helpful course This was a quite good comprehensive analysis of his works.
Date published: 2022-10-10
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Take Cook As You Find Him I have followed Professor Cook for a number of years, both in courses he has team taught with Ronald Herzman and when he has taken a solo turn. In the latter cases, I find it distressing that some reviewers, here and elsewhere, are so wide of the mark as to pick nits with his highly animated (the critics simply call him "loud" or "shouting") delivery, his body language (in my view, simply part of his "signature" in the video version), his sartorial choices, or the snarky remarks about his perceived speech impediment. Yes, his volume is at the high end of the dial, and some might say "switch to decaf." However, if you were in a lecture hall and listening to him in person, I suspect most would believe this actually enhances his genuine gifts as a great teacher. He talks to you, not at you, and while he surely has teleprompter assistance, along with his notes, he is a communicator desperate to draw you in; he is not for an instant a mere talking head. Substantively, he brings us past a mere Cliff's Notes treatment of "The Prince," which, after all, is far from the sum total of Machiavelli's corpus. "The Discourses on Livy" and "The Florentine Histories" are, for me, more nuanced. I am sad only that Professor Cook did not address "The Art of War," the only work actually published in the author's lifetime. This, I think, would have given Professor Cook more of an opportunity to reflect on Machiavelli's thought process that he actually knew had already been shared with his fellow Florentines, as well as with the wider world of Renaissance Italian politics.
Date published: 2022-08-09
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Very Good. Somewhat Repetitious. My wife and I viewed the twenty-four lectures during the third month of the Russian Federation’s invasion of Ukraine. It was during Lecture #11 (The Prince, 21-26, Fortune and Foreigners) when Prof. Cook was explaining that, according to Machiavelli, “Princes need the esteem of their people” and “they need to take risks,” that I began to wonder if Machiavelli might have something to say about the current situation of a U.S. president, worried about the forthcoming mid-term elections, and badly in need of a boost to his reputation, might risk leading his republic into an unnecessary proxy war with a major adversary over a third state that that is by no means a vital interest. Machiavelli: “A prince, furthermore, becomes esteemed when he shows himself either a true friend or a real enemy; that is, when, regardless of consequences, he declares himself openly for or against another, which will always be more creditable to him than to remain neutral” (The Prince, XXI, How Princes Should Conduct Themselves to Acquire a Reputation). So, by confronting the Russian Federation and aiding a minor state, the president of the United States commands the stage as a hero of democracy and a foe of an evil authoritarian. With this hoist in his public esteem ratings, he’s all set for the November 2022 elections. Machiavelli would approve. HWF & ISF, Mesa AZ.
Date published: 2022-05-28
Rated 4 out of 5 by from In depth coverage An in depth coverage delivered by an extremely knowledgeable and engaging professor.
Date published: 2021-06-26
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Excellent class This is one of the best classes (of at least 50) I have listened to. Once again, the general knowledge that we have in our society about who some of the great thinkers were is shown to be largely inaccurate. The title is perfect. Machiavelli's insights into government and politics is timeless. As Cook so clearly illustrates, the well know book, The Prince, dealt only with a very specific situation.
Date published: 2021-02-01
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What images does the name Machiavelli conjure up? Political opportunism? Cold-blooded manipulation? The ends that justify the means? But does the Machiavelli most of us think we know bear any resemblance to the Machiavelli who lived, pondered, and wrote? Professor William R. Cook offers the opportunity to meet an extraordinarily thoughtful and sincere student of history and its lessons.


William R. Cook

In some ways, being detached from the world allows you also to be united with the world.


State University of New York, Geneseo
Dr. William R. Cook is the Distinguished Teaching Professor of History at the State University of New York at Geneseo, where he has taught since 1970. He earned his bachelor's degree cum laude from Wabash College and was elected to Phi Beta Kappa there. He was then awarded Woodrow Wilson and Herbert Lehman fellowships to study medieval history at Cornell University, where he earned his Ph.D. Professor Cook teaches courses in ancient and medieval history, the Renaissance and Reformation periods, and the Bible and Christian thought. Since 1983 Professor Cook has directed 11 Seminars for School Teachers for the National Endowment for the Humanities. His books include Images of St. Francis of Assisi and Francis of Assisi: The Way of Poverty and Humility. Dr. Cook contributed to the Cambridge Companion to Giotto and edits and contributes to The Art of the Franciscan Order in Italy. Among his many awards, Professor Cook has received the Chancellor's Award for Excellence in Teaching. In 1992 the Council for the Advancement and Support of Education named him New York State's Professor of the Year. In 2003 he received the first-ever CARA Award for Excellence in the Teaching of Medieval Studies from the Medieval Academy of America.

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Who Is Machiavelli? Why Does He Matter?

01: Who Is Machiavelli? Why Does He Matter?

Place Machiavelli in the context of the history of Western political thought, addressing the debate over the "real" Machiavelli and examining his role as the first "modern" thinker.

32 min
Machiavelli’s Florence

02: Machiavelli’s Florence

What sort of place was Florence in the period we call the Renaissance? The lecture introduces us to an independent entity constantly working to gain advantage over its Italian neighbors as well as deal with the great European monarchies.

30 min
Classical Thought in Renaissance Florence

03: Classical Thought in Renaissance Florence

The Renaissance can best be understood as an educational movement that approached and found value in the classics in new ways. This lecture introduces the principal tenets of Renaissance Humanist thought and practice.

31 min
The Life of Niccolò Machiavelli

04: The Life of Niccolò Machiavelli

During the republican interlude that interrupted the Medici domination, Machiavelli led an active life as a part of Florence's government.

31 min
Why Did Machiavelli Write The Prince?

05: Why Did Machiavelli Write The Prince?

Learn the circumstances in which Machiavelli produced his most famous work, The Prince, as well as the degree to which his ideas are quite original.

31 min
The Prince, 1–5—Republics Old and New

06: The Prince, 1–5—Republics Old and New

The episode begins the in-depth exploration of The Prince, including the view that it was an attempt to win the favor of the Medici.

31 min
The Prince, 6–7—Virtù and Fortuna

07: The Prince, 6–7—Virtù and Fortuna

We look at two terms Machiavelli uses often and what he intends them to mean before moving into the heart of one of the book's most famous chapters, in which Machiavelli introduces Cesare Borgia, often referred to as his role model for a modern prince.

31 min
The Prince, 8–12—The Prince and Power

08: The Prince, 8–12—The Prince and Power

Machiavelli examines civil principalities, leading to a discussion of the prince's relationship with the citizens he governs, including his claim that it is more important for a prince to have the support of the people rather than the nobility.

30 min
The Prince, 13–16—The Art of Being a Prince

09: The Prince, 13–16—The Art of Being a Prince

Machiavelli denounces the common practice of his day for Italian city-states to rely on auxiliary soldiers, and lays out part of what is new in his political thought, pointing out that human weakness lessens the value of those in the past who have written of ideal, imaginary republics.

30 min
The Prince, 17–21—The Lion and the Fox

10: The Prince, 17–21—The Lion and the Fox

Should a prince be loved or feared, if he cannot be both? Traditional thinkers would have chosen the former, while Machiavelli argues for the latter. Similarly, Machiavelli asks if it is necessary or wise for a prince always to keep his word.

31 min
The Prince, 21–26—Fortune and Foreigners

11: The Prince, 21–26—Fortune and Foreigners

Machiavelli states that a prince must gain the esteem of his people and then addresses several important issues regarding a prince's court (including advisors and how to use them and the problem of flattery) before focusing once again on contemporary Italy and its problems.

31 min
Livy, the Roman Republic, and Machiavelli

12: Livy, the Roman Republic, and Machiavelli

We turn to Machiavelli's most carefully thought out and longest book on political thought, "Discourses on the First Ten Books of Livy," beginning with a description of the Roman Republic and a broad view of how Livy understood Rome's republican past.

31 min
Discourses—Why Machiavelli Is a Republican

13: Discourses—Why Machiavelli Is a Republican

Machiavelli argues that it was conflict between patricians and plebians that led to the full development of Rome's republican constitution. Hence, conflict can be either destructive or positive in a nation. While it was good for Rome, it was bad for Florence.

31 min
Discourses—The Workings of a Good Republic

14: Discourses—The Workings of a Good Republic

Machiavelli holds that a Republic requires a strong man who is unafraid to act boldly (citing Numa's establishment of a moral structure for citizens) and looks forward, as well, asking what happens if the citizenry becomes corrupted.

31 min
Discourses—Lessons from Rome

15: Discourses—Lessons from Rome

Machiavelli examines several questions relating to the governance and reform of a republic including the roles played by merit, tradition, initiative, and punishment before making a case for the freedom that comes with knowledge of the past.

31 min
Discourses—A Principality or a Republic?

16: Discourses—A Principality or a Republic?

After contrasting a virtuous republic with a city without virtue, Machiavelli writes about his beliefs in signs and prophecies, a reminder to us that Machiavelli is both a man of his time and a modern man.

30 min
Discourses—The Qualities of a Good Republic

17: Discourses—The Qualities of a Good Republic

Although Machiavelli dealt with the role of fortune in "The Prince," he takes up the issue again at the beginning of his second discourse, considering claims that Rome was more lucky than skilled or virtuous in its stability and growth during several republican centuries.

31 min
Discourses—A Republic at War

18: Discourses—A Republic at War

Machiavelli discusses the organization and practice of warfare in ancient Rome, offering us the opportunity to draw lessons that override the details of the kind of warfare no longer waged in our time.

30 min
Discourses—Can Republics Last?

19: Discourses—Can Republics Last?

Concerned for war-torn Italy, Machiavelli takes up several issues that Livy dealt with in his "History of Rome," ultimately worrying about how nations, and especially republics, can survive in a dangerous and unpredictable world.

31 min
Discourses—Conspiracies and Other Dangers

20: Discourses—Conspiracies and Other Dangers

With famous historical examples to emphasize the importance of taking action against opposition when a change of government occurs, Machiavelli writes about the nature of conspiracies and the qualities different historical circumstances demand of a leader, then reiterates several of his major themes.

31 min
Florentine Histories—The Growth of Florence

21: Florentine Histories—The Growth of Florence

Writing his most important work of history "Florentine Histories" as a commission from the Medici, Machiavelli applies many of the ideas set forth in "The Prince" and "Discourses."

31 min
Florentine Histories—The Age of the Medici

22: Florentine Histories—The Age of the Medici

The Pazzi conspiracy of 1478 is an attempt to overthrow Medici rule by assassinating Lorenzo de Medici and his brother Giuliano. It becomes for Machiavelli a case study that illuminates the particular issue of conspiracies and how we learn from history.

31 min
The Fate of Machiavelli’s Works

23: The Fate of Machiavelli’s Works

Machiavelli's major works fail to find publication in his lifetime, but his republican thought, at least indirectly, contributes to the development of an American republican tradition.

31 min
Was Machiavelli a Machiavellian?

24: Was Machiavelli a Machiavellian?

The final lecture addresses the most important questions we need to ask about Machiavelli, including the fairness of the judgment brought on him by history, and why he remains such a vital model, even after five centuries.

31 min