Machiavelli was a Florentine politician in an era of political instability throughout Italy. In 1512 he found himself on the losing side, and he was tortured and exiled from Florence. Disillusioned and cynical, Machiavelli thought that existing theories about the ethics of leadership were too idealistic: they did not match up to the cold reality of the struggle for power.
His radical and controversial conclusions led him to write The Prince in 1513. In this treatise, he argued that a ruler can only be successful if they know how to consolidate power – and that sometimes, this will require deception and cruelty. Machiavelli’s endorsement of brutal methods to maintain power was shocking at the time and ever since, and The Prince has been controversial for five hundred years. But Machiavelli intended his work to be a force for good – giving pragmatic advice to princes so that they could defeat their enemies and benefit their subjects.