What Would Machiavelli Do? Summary & Review

what would machiavelli do book cover

What Would Machiavelli Do is a satire on cut-throat business operations, selfish attitudes, and the pursuit of power with complete, total amorality.


Stanley Bing says that The Prince is great, but it’s aged and you wouldn’t understand it anyway because many examples relate to Machiavelli’s historical circumstances.

So, he takes the most famous political strategist in history and translates his teachings to today’s world of business, power, and intrigue.

What Would Machiavelli Do, In Short

There are a lot of chapters, I will pick some of the best ones:

  1. He would be unpredictable, and thus gain the advantage
  2. He would be, for the most part, a paranoid freak
  3. He would always be at war
  4. He would cultivate a few well-loved enemies
  5. He would have a couple of good friends, too
  6. He would think BIG
  7. He would move forward like a great shark, eating as he goes 
  8. He would fire his own mother, if necessary
  9. He would make a virtue out of his obnoxiousness
  10. He would be satisfied with nobody but himself
  11. He would embrace his own madness
  12. He would do what he feels like doing, you idiot
  13. He would say what he felt like saying
  14. He would delegate all the crummy tasks, except the ones he enjoys
  15. He wouldn’t exactly seek the company of ass-kissers and bimbos, but he wouldn’t reject them out of hand, either
  16. He would respond poorly to criticism
  17. He would carry a grudge until the extinction of the cockroach
  18. He would lie when it was necessary
  19. He would be proud of his cruelty and see it as strength
  20. He would kick ass and take names
  21. He would torture people until they were only too happy to destroy themselves
  22. He would feast on other people’s discord
  23. He would be loyal to the people who could put up with all this
  24. He would screw with people’s weekends, wedding plans, open-heart surgery . . . .
  25. He would realize that loving yourself means never having to say you’re sorry 
  26. He would scream at people a lot
  27. He would establish and maintain a psychotic level of control
  28. He would follow the money, honey
  29. He wouldn’t be afraid to sling that bullshit
  30. He would never retire 

What People Who Refuse Machiavellianism Do

Sure, there are plenty of people who will reject the Machiavellian way of life.
But here is what they do, according to the author:

They try to be decent.
They view other people as free individuals who have a right to live their own lives. They are embarrassed by power and greed and manipulation.
In short, they find their own little cubbyhole and crawl into it.
These are the men and women whom you see on the train or bus or subway every morning in their humdrum designer knockoffs, eating a dry little muffin from a brown paper bag and reading, confused and dejected, about the next Internet millionaire.

LOL, this might be satire, but it’s also scathingly… Sad and true at the same time.

It reminded me of the beginning of Goodfellas:

The other people instead, those who travel business class, own jet or… Don’t move at all when they want, the real movers and shakers, are different. 
Because they ask themselves “What Would Machiavelli Do?”.

On Paranoia

Why not assuming everyone is against you? It’s more rational than believing they’re on your side

On Being At War

Make a list of your enemies.
Says Stanley:

True Machiavellians who are serious about their hatreds as well as their loves, like Mr. Nixon, have a list.

You must keep your list relatively short though. Only 5 top enemies max or you’re in trouble.

Nurture your rage but don’t let it take over.
Business wars should be based on business, not just ego. And when business dictates it, it might be time to wage war against a friend, too.

To win the war, pick the terrain. Location, location, location

Are You Thinking Like Machiavelli?

Here is a quick test to assess your Machiavellianism:

If I had a boat, it would be . . .

  1. A perfect jewel
  2. Very, very big— huge really
  3. The biggest boat in the whole world
  4. I have no idea, but it would be bigger than yours. 

I believe other people . . .

  1. Should do what I want them to do
  2. Should fall down and kiss my feet
  3. Should lie down in my path, so I can walk on them
  4. There are other people?

Cut Expenses In This Order

  1. Consultants: They expensively plug gaps that should be filled by cheap stuff
  2. Very old people: They’re slower, don’t relate to the Internet very well, and can’t drink as much as they should
  3. Very young people: They’re way too speedy and ambitious, won’t shut up about the Internet, and don’t drink as much as they should

Fire On Paper Whenever You Can

Especially if you’re a beginner Machiavellian, you might still have way too much heart, ethics, and values getting in the way.
Fire on paper whenever you can or send someone else to deliver the bad news.

In the words of the author:

But as long as you have other people to deliver the bad news to those who have to hear it in person, this part of being a first-class prince is no big whoop. Relax. You’ll live longer.

Gender Inequalities

The author says that many women are still lagging behind men in business because they’ve had more trouble embracing the Machiavellian spirit.

He says:

Too many are like Sherry Lansing of Paramount, who has the reputation of being “the nicest No in Hollywood.”
Who needs that kind of reputation? How many men would be proud of it? The Dalai Lama, maybe. But maybe not. I hear he can get really cranky when they screw up his reservation at Spago.

On Smart Women Using Sex

She was lousy at her job, but her job wasn’t her job. Her job was Larry.

The Traits of a True Machiavelli

  • Narcissism: Until you learn to view other people solely as a function of your needs, you will be a short hitter
  • Business Narcissism: So what if they have a vacation? You need them here. Unless you’re determined to be a second-rate wimp, you’re going to need to insist your needs are met before theirs are. They won’t like it. But who says they have to like it?
  • Greed: A limited desire is a cap on your personal power. You don’t have to want everything, but you have to want all
  • Lies: You can separate the amateurs from the big boys when they get caught. Serious players who are busted for what other people might consider a lie feel no shame. They were just doing what Machiavelli would do
  • Self-Justification: “Chain Saw” Dunlap still feels great about himself, even though he’s probably the only one who does.
    Until you can muster this level of self-justification, you will remain the subservient stooge you are.

Pit People Against Each Other

There are two techniques to pit people against each other:

  1. Drop projects and support by making it clear that someone else’s priority has killed their chances
  2. Praise people publicly in a way that hurts others 

Find Your Selfish Inner Infant

Do you know all those self-help books telling you to find the curiosity and spirit of your infancy?
Well, that’s the real infant that a Machiavellian needs to rediscover.

The real Machiavellian, like the infant, believes there is nothing bigger or more important than him or herself. To succeed, you will need to achieve that view, to return to the liberating egocentrism of the selfish, amoral child.

Sling That BS

Trump almost got away with earning huge brownie points at the NY town hall and naming a new convention center after his father for free.

He did it by sending a letter and saying he would forego his millions in credit if the town hall was just so nice to name that convention center after Trump.

Luckily somebody went through the papers and realized that.. Trump wasn’t owed anywhere near what he claimed.

What About Moderation?

Finally, in the last chapter, the author takes a different twist which partially underlines that much of the work was satire.

For example, most people thought Rudolph Giuliani was doing a great job, but all New Yorkers didn’t want him anymore.

But it’s not a full recant of the Machiavellian method. In the words of the author:

Good may often be its own—and only—reward in this competitive, malevolent, and unfair world. This may be most true in business, where the unsympathetic aspects of the human character are compensated most lavishly. But evil does have its limitations, ones that even the biggest, baddest Machiavellis around should keep in mind. That may be the very best—and most useful— lesson of all.

Machiavellian Mindsets

On personal excesses:

Personal excess: You have bad habits. Some are harmful to yourself, and should still be avoided. But the ones that are harmful to other people can now be celebrated!

On giving freely:

Good expense accounts loosen the connections to non-business life most people enjoy. When they’re spending your money, you own them. So be liberal.

what would machiavelli do book cover


What Would Machiavelli Do received some low ratings on Amazon.

Maybe some readers could loosen up or lighten up a bit?
Or maybe some readers could wise up because this is how many businessmen operate.

Or, even better, let them stay the way they are so that you can reap the advantages of being one of the few who takes power dynamics seriously :).
Now that’s some good Machiavelli mindset, my friends :).

Jokes aside though, I really enjoyed the book. It’s funny and humorous. But it might also help some people to open their eyes to the reality of human nature.
And that, sometimes (or often?) putting your conscience aside will be handsomely rewarded in business (see: “when psychopathy beats empathy“).

In short, “What Would Machiavelli Do” is a satire, yes, but it’s a satire based on reality.
And you can also use this book as a tool to get rid of your rose-tinted glasses.

Also see:

Or get the book on Amazon

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