The Princessa: Machiavelli for Women

The Princessa: Machiavelli for Women

by Harriet Rubin

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A legacy of leadership for women only.

For centuries men have used the lessons of Machiavelli's The Prince to gain and hold power. Today's women, struggling to succeed in a man's world, must learn a crucial lesson of their own: men and women are not equal—and that is a woman's greatest strength. From the wars of intimacy to battles of


A legacy of leadership for women only.

For centuries men have used the lessons of Machiavelli's The Prince to gain and hold power. Today's women, struggling to succeed in a man's world, must learn a crucial lesson of their own: men and women are not equal—and that is a woman's greatest strength. From the wars of intimacy to battles of public life, whether confronting bosses, competitors, or lovers, the greatest power belongs to the woman who dares to use the subtle weapons that are hers alone.

This provocative work urges women to claim what they want and deserve, offering a bold new battle plan that celebrates a woman's unique gifts: passion and intuition, sensitivity and cunning. It draws from history's legendary female divas and poets, saints and sinners, artists and activists—who, armed with a desire for justice and a spirit of outrageousness, achieved their impossible dreams. Their lasting legacy is codified in The Princessa: act like a woman, fight like a woman, and life will be yours to command.

Editorial Reviews

From the Publisher
"Rubin's insights are brilliant in their simplicity and effectiveness...a book sure to be underlined, dog-eared, and re-read for inspiration and aid."
—USA Today

"A beautiful book, full of wisdom."
—Atlanta Business Chronicle

Publishers Weekly - Publisher's Weekly
Taking her cue from Machiavelli's The Prince, Rubin, founder and publisher of Doubleday's Currency business books imprint, declares that a woman can get what she wants, on the job or in personal relationships, by becoming a "princessa"a commanding presence exuding authority, both as a lover and a fighter, who wins not by copying male tactics of assertiveness and aggression but by drawing on her feminine strengths of wisdom, power-sharing and strategic maneuvering. Hillary Clinton, for example, ran into trouble by fighting like a prince, rather than using such princessa tactics as behaving "as if your enemy is your ally," or becoming "a woman who combines opposites." The advice here makes sense, although Rubin's handbook can be repetitive or can verge on self-parody: "Inanna, a Sumerian princess, was a princessa who became an expert at besting. If she were alive today, she would be the entrepreneur who wants a piece of the action," we are told. The role models provided include Russian "poet and warrior" Anna Akhmatova, George Eliot, Ayn Rand, Rosa Parks and French resister Magda Trocme, who sheltered Jewish refugees from the Nazis. Rubin occasionally falls back on clichs, but given her position in the corporate world, which provides testimony for the efficacy of the techniques she explicates here, women climbing the corporate ladder would do well to heed her guidance. (Apr.)
Library Journal
How can women achieve power? Rubin, founder of Doubleday's imprint Currency, explains the strategies, tactics, and weapons women should use to reach their goals. The main strategy is not to play by the rules but to change the game. Eighteen practical tactics are listed and explained; for example, "reduce the conflict to its bare essentials." Weapons include tears, breasts, and jewels. Rubin's ideas are illustrated using historical figures such as Joan of Arc and Gandhi. She posits that women must go after what they truly want-if they believe they are invincible, others will believe it as well-and concludes that peace is the recognition of what cannot be controlled. Unfortunately, Rubin's work is full of simplistic statements and generalizations without clarification or substantiation, e.g., "men are afraid of women." An optional purchase for large self-help collections.-Janet Clapp, Kingston P.L., Mass.
Kirkus Reviews
Rubin, who heads a business publishing imprint, tackles the subject of powerful women.

Using a couple of numbered lists, a New Age concept or two, and the poetry of Anna Akhmatova, Rubin attempts to explain to women the notion that power struggles are best solved by not struggling. In the business world, she writes, women are better served by appearing to yield to opposition, deferring to others, and subtly taking control of the situation. Much of the advice is common sense: Try to see the issue from the opposition's point of view; don't exact revenge; create a network of support. Rubin also gives many real-life examples of how women, ranging from George Eliot to Golda Meir, gained power by gracefully overcoming their enemies. Ahimsa, a Gandhian principle that advocates returning hate with love, is another technique Rubin recommends for the boardroom. Other tactics are a bit questionable, particularly Rubin's advice to women to cry if they must: It's a rare business person who would say that tears in the office are a sign of strength, and crying hardly engenders respect. A few business scenarios are offered and analyzed for their power structure, but apply mainly to women fairly far up in the corporate hierarchy—there's little here for the receptionist trying to make good.

This is a fairly interesting idea turned into a trifle of a book; the examples are uniformly vague, though Rubin's advice is well-meaning. Women truly interested in the pursuit and acquisition of power will want to seek the original Prince.

Product Details

Random House Publishing Group
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5.04(w) x 7.45(h) x 0.42(d)

Read an Excerpt

A prince is a man among men, a canny fighter, a steely sovereign who takes what he wants out of life.  The term has been one of honor, but the feminine corollary—princess—has been a term of derision, until now.

Katherine Anne Porter said it best: "What a man did only for God, a woman did always for a man."  But now a princessa may do for herself.  I offer you this parable: Two sisters embarked on a journey.  After a long day, they finally arrived at their hotel room.  The room was adequate but not comfortable.  The younger sister was satisfied, but the older insisted they move immediately. "Each night in my life is as important as any other night," she explained to her weary sister.

A princessa, like Machiavelli's prince, is a woman among women, a canny fighter, a steely sovereign.  Take what you want out of life, and remember: Each night is as important as every other night; each day is yours for the taking.

Letter from the Machiavella I Have Become to the Reader, the Princessa of a Troubled, Embattled Domain

I have written this book for you, princessa.  Like Machiavelli's prince, you may be sitting alone somewhere safe, wanting to take control of your life, your loves, your problems—the way the young Florentine prince was desperate to take control of a kingdom run amok.  At that moment, Machiavelli appeared on the Medici palace scene to tell the prince stories and lessons of how the great Caesars and Spaniards and Popes triumphed over similar woes by fighting.

This book is about war, not the bloody kind, not the kind provoked by Caesar's hatreds or Sun Tzu's deceits or Napoleon's egomania.  It's about the wars of intimacy, where the enemy is close enough to hurt you, betray you, oppose you, whether it be a spouse, boss, client, parent, child.  It is about war as the route to power. By war, I mean conflict.  By conflict, I mean a particular kind of relationship with others, with yourself, and with the world.  Conflict is contact.  It requires power; it builds power.

In every encounter, one person always has more command over the situation than the other—and may contest you for the things you want.  If you lose, you lose your struggle to have a better, fairer, nobler, and sweeter life.  Most of us have had no way to express the fight that we keep locked up inside—all those unreached desires—except through tears of frustration or grief, anger, depression, silence, and submission—all of which can mean instant and irrecoverable losses.

I have found a way for a woman to become the artist of her anger and her desire.

The need for these skills dawned on me one night when I was sitting in the Palace Bar in San Francisco.  It was 2 a.m. The piano player had long since fled.  But my friends Nora and Judith and I weren't going anywhere, even though Nora was on deadline and Judith was trying not to think about where her lover would end up that night—with her or with someone else.  I'd promised to call D. when I got back to my hotel, but the sound of his voice was a cold shower I didn't want to feel, the voice of a man who had walked out on me the times I needed him most.  What was wrong with us, three women who trotted success around on a leash like a prizewinning dog?  Why were we scared of facing our own lives?  Why were we warriors nothing, really, but wimps?

Here we were, three formidable women, all capable of negotiating multimillion-dollar deals, but not our own raises.  Control freaks though we are, we consistently get involved in relationships where we relinquish control and end up playing the game our lovers' way.  Strong though we are, we ask for so little, and then are surprised when we get it.  Days when I walk to work in Times Square, I see sign after sign promoting LIVE GIRLS ON STAGE!  I may hate what the signs represent but can still appreciate the irony: live girls deserve to be stars; on the street, I pass droves of deadened women, their eyes blank, their expressions passive, their egos reduced by their own negative expectations.

Until now, women have had no language for the fight.  We have not been able to express our desire for power.  I knew that I wanted power, but I didn't know how to acquire it.  When I became a book editor, I found myself working with CEOs to help them craft the books that assured them of an intellectual legacy. I taught myself how to be their publisher, the businesswoman they trusted to do well by their deals and their words.  When I became their intellectual confidante, I came closer and closer to the center of what made them tick.

One highly reclusive CEO invited me into his inner chamber and asked me to analyze its passageways and corners as if I were analyzing his mind.  From their boardrooms to their emotions, I got to study a variety of business leaders and management gurus, trend setters and strategists up close.  I became the repository of their confessions, their ambitions, their fears, and so much else.  They told me how they made their fortunes.  They showed me how to take command of underlings and lieges.  Everything I learned from them taught me how to rise in the corporation.  How to thrive in a relationship. How to take what I wanted from the world.

Unless we learn to take for ourselves, we are doomed to be princessas-in-hiding forever, not governing a palace but trapped in the Palace Bar, protected by our failure.

You are going to read here about women who have won the rule of their domain. You will learn about strategies to win the wars of intimacy.  I will not let you turn away from this quest.  The cost of that would be your life, your happiness.  "If I'd known how to fight," a friend's mother once said, "I would have lived a better life."

"Learn not to be careful," the photographer Diane Arbus insisted with her students.  Careful is safe, peaceful, and on the sidelines of the action.

That night I decided to step into Machiavelli's shoes, to apply all that I had learned finally to my own benefit.

I will teach you war.

What People are saying about this

Harriet Rubin
From a e-nnouncement

Harriet Rubin, 46, has been a publisher, an editor, an author, and all three simultaneously. Now Rubin, the author of THE PRINCESSA: MACHIAVELLI FOR WOMEN and the former publisher of Doubleday's Currency book imprint, is taking on her most challenging role to date: going solo. Rubin is even chronicling her entrepreneurial pursuits in a forthcoming book, SOLOING: REACHING YOUR LIFE'S AMBITION, due to hit stores in November 1999.

Out of the Chorus Line...into the Spotlight, Solo by Harriet Rubin

When I was an editor/publisher, I always looked for the core sentence in a manuscript to pull out as the line that could become the book's foundation or even its title. "The Fifth Discipline," I know (I was the editor), was buried in Peter Senge's messy manuscript. "You're looking for 'the phrase that pays,'" an advertising executive said. "No, I'm looking for the chord, the one sentence which, when you strike it, lets you hear the whole book in a single sound." A Buddhist friend said, "Ah, you mean the Jain chord. The Jainists believe that if you combine the first phrase of a book and the last phrase, together they tell the entire theme or story -- as if every word of the book hung between these two points, like a line of fresh wash by one long thread."

That was it. Ten years into editing, my job seemed a bit small. I wanted a new adventure. So I wrote a book, THE PRINCESSA: MACHIAVELLI FOR WOMEN, and throughout the process, I looked high and low for the chord. Near the end of the writing, something started ringing in my ears. THE PRINCESSA contains over 200 pages of advice for women on how to take power in their lives, strategically. But it all comes down to a single line: "Ask for everything."

Deceptively simple, but try it. Spend two weeks asking people for everything and your life will change. Ask for everything, of yourself, others, the world. People love to be asked for big favors; it ennobles them; it reminds them that they are capable of delivering on something important. Too often our organizations ask us for so little that we become deflated. Lovers ask us for so little -- bring home a pizza, or come with me to a party -- when we could ask for, and get, a big favor like: teach me to be independent and strong. If we don't ask for everything, we shrink down to the smallest doll in the large nest of dolls that we are. As soon as I heard that chord, the sound got louder...

Eighteen months, three days, and fourteen hours ago, it shattered glass. I asked Doubleday for permission to break free, to leave my job to go solo. I didn't want to start a new company; I wanted to restart my life. This was asking for everything. I walked out of a job friends said was the best in publishing. A job that made authors like Intel's Andy Grove or business guru Peter Senge or futurist Faith Popcorn stop what they were doing and listen to me! Suddenly that job seemed like asking for very little. I wanted to see if I could do for myself what I had done for countless authors: guide them to a new understanding of their gifts.

Working solo is great and terrible and some days I can't tell one state of existence from the other. I keep in mind Thoreau's recipe for happiness. I had come to publishing because I always believed that books would change the world. Thoreau left his miserable civil service job and lit out for Walden Pond on July 4, 1845 (Independence Day!) with one mission in mind: "I want to be sure the world doesn't change me."

People with jobs inevitably cut themselves down to fit a corporate culture, and we lose ourselves in the process. SOLOING: REACHING YOUR LIFE'S AMBITION talks about how to -- as an anonymous poet wrote -- work as if you don't need the money, dance as if nobody's watching, and love as if you've never been hurt. That's the kind of strong self-belief soloing brings out in a person. The book grows out of a series of diary entries that I kept for "Inc." magazine. "Inc."'s editor-in-chief tells me these articles generated more response than anything he's published in twenty-five years.

What's the Jain chord in going solo? I haven't found it yet, but as I write, I'm looking.

Meet the Author

Harriet Rubin has worked in publishing for twenty years. In 1989 she founded Currency, where she has published the works of leading executives, economists, management gurus, and CEOs. She has written for The New York Times, The Wall Street Journal, Publishers Weekly, and women's magazines. She lives in New York City.

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