...[an] erudite and engaging life of Machiavelli ... Be Like the Fox is not detached, archival history but a remarkable work of imaginative engagement backed by scholarly learning. Benner brings Machiavelli alive by weaving his words and those of his contemporaries into the narrative as a playwright might. (His words appear in italics, which takes getting used to.) She does not disguise her admiration for Machiavelli and his ideas as she understands them. Nor does she hide personal flaws and intellectual inconsistencies that point to opposite conclusions, although a less committed writer might have brought them out with more force ... Despite its odd typography, Be Like the Fox can be read with pleasure by anyone interested in the craft of politics and the life of ideas.
...[a] lively, compulsively readable biography ... This is revisionism with a vengeance. Hardly a word of rebuke for this admirer of the bloodstained Cesare Borgia passes Benner’s lips ... Despite her remarkably charitable treatment of 'Niccolo,' Benner does not overdo the fake dialogue and dreamed-up scenarios. There are a few clunky moments in this respect...On the whole, though, the book avoids too much fictional embroidery, not least because 16th-century Florentine history is dramatic enough in its own right. There are some fascinating accounts of conspiracies and intrigues, political trouble-making and diplomatic trouble-shooting, fanatical friars and military disasters ... Demonising Machiavelli does no justice to the complexity of his life and work, though idealising him isn’t the answer either. Even so, Be Like the Fox is a valuable demolition-and-salvage job, fluently written and unshowily erudite.
Benner provides us with a long list of dramatis personae at the start of the book, but it takes a reader with a better memory than mine to keep track of who’s vanquishing who, politically and bloodily. There are heads stuck on spears, rape and pillage even of convents, gruesome torture, sieges to starvation. Some of the worst offenders were popes ... Although Machiavelli received last rites, Benner sees some truth in the apocryphal story that he claimed he’d rather be in hell with Plato, Plutarch and Tacitus than in a heaven that banished them. In her compelling biography, Benner shows why, although Machiavelli was no saint, he deserves to be in their company and spared the flames.