If you could require the president to read one book, what would it be?
It would be Niccolò Machiavelli, “The Prince.” Machiavelli is frequently dismissed today as an amoral cynic who supposedly considered the end to justify the means. In fact, Machiavelli is a crystal-clear realist who understands the limits and uses of power. Fundamental to his thinking is the distinction he draws between the concepts expressed in Italian as
virtù and fortuna. These don’t mean “virtue” and “fortune.” Instead,
virtù refers to the sphere in which a statesman can influence his world by his own actions, contrasted with
fortuna, meaning the role of chance beyond a statesman’s control. But Machiavelli makes clear, in a wonderful metaphor contrasting an uncontrollable flood with protective measures that can be taken in anticipation of a flood, that we are not helpless at the hands of bad luck. Among a statesman’s tasks is to anticipate what might go wrong, and to plan for it. Every president (and all of us nonpoliticians as well) should read Machiavelli and incorporate his thinking.
-- Jared Diamond