"The Prince" is a political essay, written by Machiavelli, in which he lays down his views on how a prince should gain power and keep it at all costs. His views are quite shocking at times but you have to bear in mind the unstable and violent circumstances in which he was writing it - the Italy he was living in is not the Italy we know today. So to survive in that age, you had to watch your back at all times, recognise your enemies, court your friends and build up your armies.
Machiavelli does not attempt to hide his contempt for mercenaries whom he describes as lazy, unreliable and without morals. He also believes that you should gain the love and respect of the people but at the same time you should also be feared by them. But if you have to choose between love and fear, fear is the better of the two.
He also espouses strong laws and strong military forces, stating that in order to stay in power, you must have the ability to meet your enemy on the battlefield and defeat them. Failing that, you must be able to fortify your city and hold it against a siege.
Another major point that he makes is that it is better to gain power from ordinary people rather than be taken to power from nobles. Ordinary people will then be content if you provide them with peace, stability and prosperity. Nobles on the other hand will have shifting allegiences, powerful interests and other people they will want to see at the top.
"The Prince" is considered to be a handbook for politicians everywhere and a masterpiece for how to gain power and keep it. The name "Machiavelli" is practically a verb for something underhanded and sly which goes to show how famous the author has become.