Catherine Fletcher at Literary Review:
Be Like the Fox tells Machiavelli’s life story. Its title refers to his advice that by being like the fox one can avoid snares. In a rather breathless historical present, Benner organises Machiavelli’s own words into dialogue and commentary as her protagonist makes his way through the religious drama of Savonarola’s regime, encounters with Cesare Borgia, torture and exile, and finally his later years of writing. Machiavelli’s wonderful turns of phrase make for a creative, lively and very readable book with more than a little contemporary resonance. ‘Victories are never so clear’, he writes, ‘that the winner does not have to have some respect, especially for justice.’
Benner is a political philosopher whose previous works on Machiavelli have explored his ethics and, most recently, proposed a new reading ofThe Prince. In answer to that favourite question of seminar tutors, ‘Was The Prince a satire?’, she made a clever but controversial case for a third way, an ironic reading of Machiavelli, suggesting that his true views were often hidden for reasons of political caution and that a prince who actually followed The Prince’s advice was doomed to failure. Be Like the Fox continues her argument that (as its subtitle suggests) Machiavelli was a man on a ‘lifelong quest for freedom’, even during those years of work for the Medici, when many of Florence’s citizens were resigning themselves to the unpleasant reality that the dynasty was the only viable alternative to foreign domination.