Book cover for 'Publishing the Prince'
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Publishing the Prince

History, Reading, and the Birth of Political Criticism
Jacob Soll
An in-depth look at how Renaissance reading practices set the basis for Enlightenment political criticism


As new ideas arose during the Enlightenment, many political thinkers published their own versions of popular early modern "absolutist" texts and transformed them into manuals of political resistance. As a result, these works never achieved a fixed and stable edition. Publishing The Prince illustrates how Abraham-Nicolas Amelot de La Houssaye created the most popular late seventeenth- and eighteenth-century version of Machiavelli's masterpiece. In the process of translating, Amelot also transformed the work, altering its form and meaning, and his ideas spread through later editions.

Revising the orthodox schema of the public sphere in which political authority shifted away from the crown with the rise of bourgeois civil society in the eighteenth century, Soll uses the example of Amelot to show for the first time how the public sphere in fact grew out of the learned and even royal libraries of erudite scholars and the bookshops of subversive, not-so-polite publicists of the republic of letters.

Cover art courtesy of Annenberg Rare Book Room and Manuscript Library, University of Pennsylvania.

Jacket Design: Stephanie Milanowski

Jacob Soll is Professor of History and Accounting at the University of Southern California and the author of The Information Master: Jean-Baptiste Colbert's Secret State Intelligence System. He is a 2011 MacArthur Foundation Fellow, and a 2009 winner of a Guggenheim Memorial Foundation Fellowship. He is also co-editor of the series Cultures of Knowledge in the Early Modern World, together with Ann Blair and Anthony Grafton.

Praise / Awards

  • "Brilliant. How the printed page changed political philosophy into investigative reporting, and reason of state into the unmasking of power."
    —J.G.A. Pocock

  • "Jacob Soll traces the origins of Enlightenment criticism to the practices of learned humanists and hard-pressed literary entrepreneurs. This learned and lively book is also a tour de force of historical research and interpretation."
    —Anthony Grafton, author of Cardano's Cosmos and Bring Out Your Dead

  • "Soll's path-breaking study is a 'must read' for all those interested in the history of political thought and early modern intellectual history."
    —Barbara Shapiro, University of California Berkeley

  • "Soll's book is about more than its title would suggest. He wants us to rethink the social history of the early Enlightenment by relocating it in the works of late seventeenth-century [sic] critical humanists—like the one-time courtier Amelot—who gave the French reading public tools by which they could critically interpret the actions of their kings. . . . This is no small achievement in a first book written by someone who is clearly passionate about books, their history and their meaning. Soll has done [Amelot] and his context justice, writing as he does with a clear, singular, and welcome voice."
    —Margaret C. Jacobs, American Historical Review

  • "Jacob Soll makes an ambitious argument for the historical significance of Amelot de La Houssaye, a seventeenth-century French author, printer, and editor . . . . Soll is attempting to revise the canonical periodization of Western history that sees, at least in the history of ideas, a primarily fifteenth- and sixteenth-century Renaissance leading to a primarily eighteenth-century Enlightenment, leaving the seventeenth century primarily notable, in terms of political culture, for the bloated and arrogant claims of absolutism and the obsequious court cultures that accompanied it. Soll argues that a crucial precondition for the eighteenth century critique of absolutism was established by Amelot."
    Renaissance Quarterly

  • "Readers of Publishing The Prince will emerge from the experience intellectually challenged, better informed and thoroughly rewarded."
    —Donna Rosenthal, News Review

  • Winner of the 2005 Jacques Barzun Prize in Cultural History from the American Philosophical Society

Look Inside

Copyright © 2005, University of Michigan. All rights reserved.

Product Details

  • 216 pages.
Available for sale worldwide

  • Ebook
  • 2010
  • Available
  • 978-0-472-02528-2

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