Tag Archives: ThePrince

Review: Harriet Rubin Gives Us A Machiavelli For Women With ‘The Princessa’

PRINCESSA: She who takes first place.

There are books that have occupied a large space in the literary scene, in business, and in life, that have been written by men and mostly speak to men. I recently read The Prince by Niccolò Machiavelli and although I could dissect the book, understand what it’s about and the message it communicates, I didn’t feel that it was written with women as its audience. There are so many books like that and it shows how we still have to create space for ourselves if we want to teach and learn from each other.

In my search for books that are as powerful and as influential, I found this gem. Women have been excluded as an audience for literary texts that give advice on power, wealth, war and conflict, as though women are not meant to participate in them or in the conversation. The Princessa brings to attention how women have not had a language for the fight, be it personal, social or work-related and Harriet Rubin gives us a manual on how to face these battles. After reading this book I understood why she says women cannot rely on The Prince because it doesn’t speak to women.

What is so interesting about the book is that it brings to light how fighting men’s war and fighting by their rules don’t get women anywhere. She points out that playing by the rules of the game when the rules were not designed to enhance her strengths, will not bring us to victory.  

The Princessa is divided into three easy-to-read (I read it in one night) sections: the book of Strategy, of Tactics and of Subtle Weapons. Rubin shows us how women often fear conflict and also fear triumph because of the guilt of winning. She then gives advice on how to deal with these fears, how to fight strategically and how to win wars on our own terms.

Rubin also makes a good point when she talks about combining both the terror and the wonder of being female. She advises that women should learn to combine opposites and not use one while ashamed of the other. I absolutely agree with this because of how women are usually made to feel small or weak for things that are naturally built in us. In The Princessa we learn how to use these frowned upon qualities to our advantage when dealing with our enemies.

“Enlarge the space in which you can be strong.”

– Harriet Rubin, The Princessa

Unlike The Prince where ruthlessness and deception are mostly encouraged, The Princessa doesn’t cripple the enemy, she doesn’t fear the enemy’s strength but rather uses it, and she needs proximity to her enemy because an enemy today could be her ally tomorrow.

The last part talks about knowing your weapons and how the right weapons can turn the war in your favour. I found this so important because sometimes we don’t understand where to begin when faced with battles and conflict, and how to overcome those challenges. It could be with a lover, a friend, a boss or a business partner. With the right weapons and knowing how to use them, thriving follows.

There are a number of princessas that she mentions in the book such as Ayn Rand, Joan of Arc, Billie Holiday and Anna Akhmatova.

As a woman, I can tell you that after reading The Prince I was glad to find The Princessa. I could understand the language better. Unlike having to dissect The Prince and take from its male audience directed advice and re-piecing it together to create meaning for a woman, it spoke straight to me and I believe it’s a good manual for other women. It’s definitely for women and certainly offers good tactics and strategies that can be applied to the daily battles that we face.

Finding The Way To Power With Niccolò Machiavelli in ‘The Prince’


MACHIAVELLIAN: “Cunning, scheming, and unscrupulous, especially in politics.” – (Lexico.com/Oxford Dictionary)

The Prince is a pragmatic manual for those who wish to attain power, maintain or expand it. It is set against the backdrop of the Italian Renaissance and was written by Niccolò Machiavelli, who with the aim to make an impression dedicated it to Lorenzo de’ Medici.

Machiavelli begins by describing the different types of states and how they are acquired. He also states the challenges they each represent and how to overcome them. There’s a reason it has been associated with the words in the above definition and why it’s considered by some to be unethical and immoral. It is also debatable whether it can be used for good or bad intentions; to attain power in order to unify and create peace or to feed tyrannical appetites.

The book mostly separates politics from ethics and Machiavelli’s opinion of mankind is not the most positive, as he describes them as ‘fickle’, that people are generally self-interested (which is true to some extent), and how their goodwill can be manipulated. Deception is quite the star in this book. According to Machiavelli, power can be gained by deception instead of force. When it comes to being loved by the people, his advice is that being feared is much more sustainable. The middle part of the book is on preparation for warfare and the last part is about the qualities of a prince or qualities he should pretend to have. He also mentions certain figures to make examples, such as Cesare Borgia who was clearly a big inspiration to him.

This book has been influential in politics and can be seen in the way affairs are run in many states. Politicians are known to overpromise and under deliver, to carry out the deception of making false promises and later make excuses. It is also a book that speaks to the self-interested and power-hungry. However, if used with a careful interpretation, it could be used to gain power to lead with good intentions for the wellbeing of the state and its people.  

It’s a short and clear, simply constructed and without superfluous wording, as he himself says, “…not adorned with long phrases or high sounding words.” For many years, it has had and still has a notable place in the political sphere. Despite its association with cunningness, scheming and ruthlessness its advice can be used to create good strategies in business, leadership and politics. I believe how you use it or what you seek from it can influence how you enjoy it, or not.

“The first method for estimating the intelligence of a ruler is to look at the men he has around him.”
― Niccolò Machiavelli, The Prince