awesome autodidacts!

'How do you stay focused, motivated and maintain enthusiasm when things don't go the way you had hoped?

I think my drive to get it done is somewhat disconnected from hope, enthusiasm or anything else. I just don't care about hope, enthusiasm, motivation I just give it everything I've got irrespective of what the circumstances may be. You just keep going and get it done.'

'You are a rocket scientist but how did you actually learn to build rockets?

'This may sound silly, but I read books and talked to people, I mean that's kind of how you learn anything. There's lots of great books out there and there's lots of smart people... If you just talk to people you can learn a tremendous amount. And then as you iterate through problems you can learn a tremendous amount. It's kinda like almost anything, when you struggle with a problem that's when you understand it. So when you've done that for 11 years in the case of Space X and 10 years in the case of Tesla then you have a pretty good grasp of it. In fact that's one of the ways when you interview someone when they want to work at the company, to ask them tell me about the problems that you worked on. And how they solved them. And if the person that's answering is really the person that solved it they'll be able to answer at multiple levels and be able to go down to the brass tacks. And if they weren't they'll get stuck. And then you can say oh this person was not really the person that solved it because anyone who struggled hard with a problem never forgets it.'

u/aerovistae - tl;dr: How do you learn so much so fast? Lots of people read books and talk to smart people, but you've taken it to a whole new level. It seems like you have an extremely proficient understanding of aerospace engineering, mechanical engineering, electrical engineering, software engineering, all various subdisciplines (avionics, power electronics, structural engineering, propulsion, energy storage, AI) ETC ETC nearly all things technical. I know you've read a lot of books and you hire a lot of smart people and soak up what they know but you have to acknowledge you seem to have found a way to pack more knowledge into your head than nearly anyone else alive. Do you have any advice on learning? How are you so good at it?

u/ElonMuskOfficial - I do kinda feel like my head is full!! My context switching penalty is high and my process isolation is not what it used to be. Frankly, though, I think most people can learn a lot more than they think they can. They sell themselves short without trying. One bit of advice: it is important to view knowledge as sort of a semantic tree -- make sure you understand the fundamental principles ie the trunk and big branches, before you get into the leaves/details or there is nothing for them to hang on to.

Jim Cantrell on Elon 'Once he has a goal, his next step is to learn as much about the topic at hand as possible from as many sources as possible. He is by far the single smartest person that I have ever worked with... period. I can't estimate his IQ but he is very very intelligent. And not the typical egg head kind of smart. He has a real applied mind. He literally sucks the knowledge and experience out of people that he is around. He borrowed all my college texts on rocket propulsion when we first started working together in 2001. 

"I'd never seen anything like it," an employee said. "He was the quickest learner I've ever come across. You had this guy who knew everything from a business point of view, but who was also clearly capable of knowing everything from a technical point of view – and the place he was creating was a blank sheet of paper."

At SpaceX, he had to pick things up on the job. Musk initially relied on textbooks to form the bulk of his rocketry knowledge. But as SpaceX hired one brilliant person after another, Musk realized he could tap into their stores of knowledge. He would trap an engineer in the SpaceX factory and set to work grilling him about a type of valve or specialized material. “I thought at first that he was challenging me to see if I knew my stuff,” said Kevin Brogan, one of the early engineers. “Then I realized he was trying to learn things. He would quiz you until he learned ninety percent of what you know.”

"Work like hell. I mean you just have to put in 80 to 100 hour weeks every week. [This] improves the odds of success. If other people are putting in 40 hour work weeks and you’re putting in 100 hour work weeks, then even if you’re doing the same thing you know that… you will achieve in 4 months what it takes them a year to achieve"

"Constantly seek criticism. A well thought out critique of whatever you are doing is as valuable as gold, and you should seek that from everyone you can, but particularly your friends. Usually your friends know what is wrong but they don't want to tell you because they don't want to hurt you. Yeah I want to encourage my friend so I don't want to tell him what I think is wrong with his product. It doesn't mean your friends are right, but very often they are right. And you at least what to listen very carefully to what they say and to everyone. You should take the approach that you are wrong. That you the entrepreneur are wrong. Your goal is to be less 

'But you know if you read books and talk to experts, you can pick it up pretty quickly. In fact, I think people self-limit their ability to learn. It's really pretty straightforward. Just read books and talk to people. Particularly books. The data rate of reading is much greater than when somebody's talking. I mean, what's the output rate of speech? It's like a couple hundred bits per second, maybe a few thousand bits per second, if you're really going full tilt. You can do several times that reading. The main reason I didn't go to lectures in college was because the data rate was too slow. Why are they reading the textbook to me? This is like a bedtime story or something? Ridiculous.


Sergeev: He always picked books to read himself. He looked through and read a huge amount of literature. I never counted exactly how many, but I always seen him reading and writing from dawn to dusk. He would be brought new documents and old ones would be taken away. There was a Commissar of the Artillery Command - Georgi' Savchenko, who even knew Stalins parents, and knew Stalin himself very well. He wrote that Stalin read 500 pages a day. I think that's true.

He always read books with a pencil in his hand, marking something. The majority of his books were philosophical works and our classics. He liked Gogol', Salti'kov-Shedrin, Tolstoy, Leskov, had works of Esenin, Mayakovsky, Pasternak, Bulgakov. In fact Stalin payed special attention to education of Russian language and literature. Knowing who we want to be when we grow up he asked us: "So you will be in the military. And what is the most important subject for a soldier?" We began naming diffrent subjects: mathematics, physics, fitness training. And he told us: "No. Russian Language and Literature. You have to speak so that everyone could understand you and in extreme battle conditions you have to speak brief. And you too have to understand what you are being told. A military must be able to express himself both verbally and in writing. In war you will face such situations, which you have never faced before. You will have to make decisions. And if you read a lot, then in your memory you will find a hint how to act and what to do. Literature will help you."


In my whole life, I have known no wise people who didn’t read all the time — none, zero.

You’re hooked to lifetime learning. And without lifetime learning you people are not going to do very well. You are not going to get very far in life based upon what you already know. You are going to advance in life by what you learn after you leave here. If you take Berkshire Hathaway which is one of the most respected corporations in the world and it may have the best, long-term investment record in the entire history of civilization. The skill that got Berkshire through one decade would not have sufficed to get it through the next decade with the achievements made. Without Warren Buffett being a learning machine, a continuous learning machine the record would have been absolutely impossible. The same is true in lower walks of life. I constantly see people rise in life who are not the smartest, sometimes not even the most diligent but they are learning machines. They go to bed a little wiser then when they got up. And boy does that habit help particularly when you have a long run ahead of you.

‘Learning all the big ideas in all the big disciplines so I wouldn't be a perfect damn fool who was trying to think about one aspect of something that couldn't be removed from the totality of the situation in a constructive fashion. And what I noted as the really big ideas carry 95% of the freight it wasn't at all hard for me to pick up all the big ideas in all the disciplines and to make them a standard part of my mental routines. Once you have the ideas of course they're no good if you don't practice, if you don't practice you lose it. So I went through life constantly practicing this multi-disciplinary approach. Well I can't tell you what that's done for me. It's made life more fun, it's made me more constructive, it's made me more helpful to others, it's made me more enormously rich. You name it that attitude really helps... And by the way when I talk about this multi-disciplinary attitude I'm really following a very key idea of the greatest lawyer of antiquity, Marcus Tullus Cicero. And Cicero is famous for saying 'a man who doesn't know what happened before he was born goes through life like a child.' Well that is a very correct idea of Cicero's and he's right to ridicule somebody so foolish as to not know what happened before he was born. But if you generalise Cicero as I think one should there are all these other things that I think you should know in addition to history. And those other things are all the big ideas in all the other disciplines. And it doesn't help you just to know them enough just so you can prattle them in an exam and get an A. You have to learn these things in such a way that they're in a mental lattice work and you automatically use them for the rest of your life.

When I want to read something I tune everything else down. I don’t know a wise person who doesn’t read a lot. I think that people who multitask pay a huge price –they can’t think of anything deeply, giving the world an advantage, which they shouldn’t give. I wouldn’t succeed doing it. I did not succeed in life by intelligence –I succeeded because I have a long attention span.

'You gotta remember that it's not real brilliance. In other words, you talk about prodigy, what it takes to extend the boundaries of physics, neither of has that. We have learned how to out perform people who are a lot smarter. (Buffett: 'Yeah we can't play top notch chess') 'No we can't. But the other great secret, is we're good at life long learning. Warren is so much better in his 70s and 80s than when he was younger that it is almost awesome. If you keep learning all the time you have a huge advantage. And we both just like it.' (Buffett: 'And we have a wonderful group of friends'.) 'From whom we can l


Nothing has served me better in my long life than continuous learning. And if you take Warren Buffett, if you watched him with a time clock I would say half of all the time that he spends is just sitting on his ass and reading. And a big chunk of the rest of the time is spent talking one on one, either on the telephone or personally with highly gifted people who he trusts and they trust him

“I insist on a lot of time being spent, almost every day, to just sit and think. That is very uncommon in American business. I read and think. So I do more reading and thinking, and make less impulse decisions than most people in business. I do it because I like this kind of life.”

'Read 500 pages like this every day. That's how knowledge works. It builds up, like compound interest. All of you can do it, but I guarantee that not many of you will do it.'

'I should mention one thing about reading. It was the library here at Columbia, where I probably spent more time than any other student. I lived there practically. But I pulled a book out there, it happened to be Who's Who in America and it told me something about my Professor Benjamin Graham. And then I went to the library, and I said I want to learn more about this because I learned this over here. That changed my whole life. We own Geico now because of that librarian directing me to some other book, and following through on that. I read about one fifth the path that Bill does, but I still spend five or six hours a day reading. You can learn so much. I particularly love biographies. To be able to live the lives of this people who are so extraordinary, and the lessons, the discouragements they faced, just everything about it.  You can't get enough of reading.'


In the winter of 1896 as he approached his 22nd birthday he resolved to read history, philosophy, economics and things like that and I wrote to my mother for such books as I had heard of on such topics. He began with Gibbons eight volume Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire... All through the glistening middle hours of the Indian day when we had quitted stables until the evening shadows proclaimed the hour of polo I devoured Gibbon. I rode triumphantly through it and enjoyed it all. I scribbled all my opinions on the margins of the pages. On January 14th 1897 we find him writing Jenny. 'The eight volume of Gibbon is still unread because I've been lured by Winwood Reed's the Martyrdom of Man and a fine translation of the Republic of Plato. Both of which are fascinating. Then remembering Womb's brother-in-law by the fire at Bentnoor he tackled 12 volumes of Macaulay. On March the 17th he wrote I've completed Macaulay's history and very nearly finished his essays... He was covering 50 pages of Macaulay and 25 of Gibbon everyday, there are only a 100 of the latter's 4000-odd left now. The scope of his explorations was broadening. I read 3 or 4 books at a time to avoid tedium and he was pouring over Schopenhauer, Malthus, Darwin, Aristotle (on politics only), Henry Faucett's Political Economy, William Lecky's European Morals and Rise of Influence of Rationalisim, Pascal's Provincial Letters, Adam Smith's Wealth of Nations, Bartylett's 'Familiar quotations', Lang's Modern Science and Modern Thought, Victor Henry Rocheford's Memoirs, The Memoirs of the Duc de San Simon and Henry Hallam's Constitutional History. Incredibly he asked his mother to send him all 100 volumes of the annual register, the record of British Public events founded by Birk. He explained that he wanted to know the detailed parliamentary history: debates, divisions, parties, cliques and caves of the last 100 years... In using them he first set down his opinion an issue and then studied the debate. By this practice he hoped to build up a scaffolding of logical and consistent views which will perhaps tend to the creation of a logical and consistent mind. Of course the Annual Register is valuable only in its facts. A good knowledge of this will arm me with a sharp sword. Macaulay, Gibbon, Plato etc must train the muscles to wield that sword to the greatest effect. 

Some advise exercise, and others, repose. Some counsel travel, and others, retreat. Some praise solitude, and others, gaiety. No doubt all these may play their part according to the individual temperament. But the element which is constant and common in all of them is Change. Change is the master key. A man can wear out a particular part of his mind by continually using it and tiring it, just in the same way he can wear out the elbows of his coat. There is, however, this difference between the living cells of the brain and inanimate articles:… the tired parts of the mind can be rested and strengthened, not merely by rest, but by using other parts. It is not enough merely to switch off the lights which play upon the main and ordinary field of interest; a new field of interest must be illuminated. It is no use saying to the tired ‘mental muscles’… ‘I will lie down and think of nothing.’ The mind keeps busy just the same. If it has been weighing and measuring, it goes on weighing and measuring. If it has been worrying, it goes on worrying. It is only when new cells are called into activity, when new starts become the lord of the ascendant, that relief, repose, refreshment are afforded.'


'Why then did he go? The simplest answer seems the best. He went because of his desire to learn. The visit to western Europe was the final stage of Peter's education. The culmination of all he had learned from foreigners since boyhood. They had taught him all that they could in Russia but there was more and LeForte was constantly urging him to go. Peter's overriding interest was on in ships for his embryo navy and he was well aware that in Holland and England was the greatest shipbuilders in the world. He wanted to go to those countries where dockyards turned out the prominent navies and merchant fleets of the world and to Venice which was supreme in the building of multi-oared galleys used in inland seas. The best authority on his motive is Peter himself. Before his departure he had a seal engraved for himself which bore the inscription 'I am a pupil and need to be taught.'


Michael Specter, a New Yorker writer who profiled Gates for the magazine, has said that the Microsoft founder 'is one of these autodidacts who reads, reads, reads. He reads hundreds of books about immunology and biochemistry and biology, and asks a lot of questions, and because he's Bill gates he can get to talk to whoever he wants.'

'This is one of the things I love about reading. Each book opens up new avenues of knowledge to explore... These days, I also get to visit interesting places, meet with scientists, and watch a lot of lectures online. But reading is still the main way that I both learn new things and test my understanding. For example, this year I enjoyed Richard Dawkin's 'The Magic of Reality', which explains various scientific ideas and is aimed at teenagers. Although I already understood all the concepts, Dawkins helped me think about the topics in new ways. If you can't explain something simply, you don't really understand it. 

'I really had a lot of dreams when I was a kid. And I think a great deal of that grew out of the fact that I had a chance to read a lot.'

'Whether I'm at the office, at home, or on the road, I always have a stack of books I'm looking forward to reading.'

'I try to make time fore reading each night. In addition to the usual newspapers and magazines, I make it a priority to read at least one newsweekly from cover to cover. If I were to read what intrigues me - say the science and business sections - then I would finish the magazine the same person I was when I started. So I read it all.'


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By late May 1788 Napoleon was stationed at the School of Artillery at Auxonne in eastern France, not far from Dijon. Here, as when he was stationed with his regiment at Valence, he ate only once a day, at 3pm, thereby saving enough money from his officer's salary to send some home to his mother; the rest he spent on books. he changed his clothes once every eight days. He was determined to continue his exhaustive autodidactic reading programme and his voluminous notebooks from Auxonne are full of the history, geography, religion and customs of all the most prominent peoples of the ancient world, including the Athenians, Spartans, Persians, Egyptians and Carthaginians. They cover modern artillery improvements and regimental discipline, but also mention Plato's Republic, Achilles and (inevitably) Alexander the Great and Julius Caesar.

'Do you know how I managed?'Napoleon later recalled of this period of his life. 'By never entering a cafe or going into society; by eating dry bread, and brushing my own clothes so that they might last the longer. I lived like a bear, in a little room, with books for my only friends... These were the joys and debaucharies of my youth'. He might have been exaggerating slightly, but not much. There was nothing he valued so much as books and a good education.

'In the nine days between receiving the appointment and leaving for his headquarters in Nice on March 11, Napoleon asked for every book, map and atlas on Italy that the war ministry could provide. He read biographies of commanders who had fought there and had the courage to admit his ignorance when he didn't know something. 'I happened to be at the office of the General Staff in the rue Neuve des Capucines when General Bonaparte came in,' recalled a fellow officer years later: '...Flinging his hat on a large table in the middle of the room, he went up to an old general named Krieg, a man with a wonderful knowledge of detail and the author of a very good soldiers' manual. He made him take a seat beside him at the table, and began questioning him, pen in hand about a host of facts connected with the service and discipline. Some of his questions showed such a complete ignorance of the most ordinary things that several of my comrades smiled. I was myself struck by the number of his questions, their order and their rapidity, no less than the way the by which the answers were caught up, and often found to resolve into other questions which he deduced in consequence from them. But what struck me still more was the sight of a commander-in-chief perfectly indifferent about showing his subordinates how completely ignorant he was of various points of business which the youngest of them was supposed to know perfectly, and this raised him a thousand cubits in my opinion.'

'Napoleon also took 125 books of history, geography, philosophy and Greek mythology in a specially constructed library, including Captain Cook's three-volume Voyages, Montesquieu's The Spirit of the Laws, Goethe's Sorrow of Young Werther and books by Livy, Thucydides, Plutarch, Tacitus and, of course, Julius Caesar. He also brought biographies of Turenne, Conde, Saxe, Marlborough, Eugene of Savoy, Charles XII of Sweden and Bertrand du Guesclin, the notable French commander in the Hundred Years War. Poetry and drama had their place too, in the works of Ossian, Tasso, Ariosto, Homer, Virgil, Racine and Moliere. With the Bible guiding him about faith of the Druze and Armenians, the Koran about Muslims, and the Vedas about the Hindus, he would be well supplied with suitable quotations for his proclamations to the local populations virtually wherever this campaign was finally tp take him.'

'Napoleon had collected all available almanacs and charts on the Russian winter which told him sub-zero temperatures weren't to be expected until November. No information was neglected about that subject. No calculation and all probabilities' were reassuring recalled Faenne. 'It is usually only in December and January that the Russian winter is very vigorous during November the thermometer  doesn't go much below 6 degrees. Observations made from the past twenty years confirmed that the Mosckva winter didn't freeze until November and Napoleon believed this gave him plenty of time to return to Smolensk. It has taken his army less than three weeks to get from Smolensk to Moscow including the three days at Borodeno. Voltaire's 'History of Charles XII' which Napoleon read while in Moscow described the Russian winter as so cold that birds froze in mid-air falling from the skies as if shot. The Emperor also read the three volume 'Military History of Charles XII' by the King's chamberlain Gustafus Omblefelt published in 1741 which concludes with the disaster of Poltava. Omblefelt attributed the King of Sweden's defeat to stubborn Russian resistance and the very piercing cold of the winter. ''In one of these marches 2000 men fell down dead with the cold', reads a passage in the third volume. And in other Swedish troopers were reduced to warm themselves with the skins of beasts as well they could. They often wanted even bread and were obliged to sink almost all their cannon in morasses and rivers for want of horses to draw them. This army once so flourishing was ready to die with hunger. Omblefelt wrote of how the nights were extremely cold, many died of the excessive rigour of the cold and a great number lost the use of their limbs and their feet and hands. From this if nothing else Napoleon would have keenly understood the severity of the Russian winter.'

Napoleon after the retreat from Moscow, 'Whereas in my own case it has taken me years to cultivate self-control to prevent my emotions from betraying themselves. Only a short-time ago I was the conqueror of the world commanding the largest and finest army of modern times. That's all gone now. To think I kept all my composure, I might even say preserved my unvarying high spirits. Yet don't think that my heart is less sensitive than those of other men. I'm a very kind men, but since my earliest youth I have devoted myself to silencing that chord within me that never yields a sound now. If anyone told me before a battle that my mistress who I loved to distraction was breathing her last, it would leave me cold. Yet my grief would be just as great as if I had given way to it. And after the battle I would mourn my mistress if I have the time. Without all this self-control do you think I could have done all I've done?


A member of the group, a chemist in a lab, opened a Subway franchise as a means of raising money. “Since Tom was a genius at numbers,” another member of the group told me, “he was invited to help him.” Zhang kept the books. “Sometimes, if it was busy at the store, I helped with the cash register,” Zhang told me recently. “Even I knew how to make the sandwiches, but I didn’t do it so much.” When Zhang wasn’t working, he would go to the library at the University of Kentucky and read journals in algebraic geometry and number theory. “For years, I didn’t really keep up my dream in mathematics,” he said.

As a small boy, he began “trying to know everything in mathematics,” he said. “I became very thirsty for math.” His parents moved to Beijing for work, and Zhang remained in Shanghai with his grandmother. The revolution had closed the schools. He spent most of his time reading math books that he ordered from a bookstore for less than a dollar. He was fond of a series whose title he translates as “A Hundred Thousand Questions Why.” There were volumes for physics, chemistry, biology, and math. When he didn’t understand something, he said, “I tried to solve the problem myself, because no one could help me.”

Zhang moved to Beijing when he was thirteen, and when he was fifteen he was sent with his mother to the countryside, to a farm, where they grew vegetables. His father was sent to a farm in another part of the country. If Zhang was seen reading books on the farm, he was told to stop. “People did not think that math was important to the class struggle,” he said. After a few years, he returned to Beijing, where he got a job in a factory making locks. He began studying to take the entrance exam for Peking University, China’s most respected school: “I spent several months to learn all the high-school physics and chemistry, and several to learn history. It was a little hurried.” He was admitted when he was twenty-three. “The first year, we studied calculus and linear algebra—it was very exciting,”

Is there a talent a mathematician should have?”

“Concentration,” Zhang said. We were walking across the campus in a light rain. “Also, you should never give up in your personality,” he continued. “Maybe something in front of you is very complicated, it’s lengthy, but you should be able to pick up the major points by your intuition.”

When we reached Zhang’s office, I asked how he had found the door into the problem. On a whiteboard, he wrote, “Goldston-Pintz-Yıldırım”and “Bombieri-Friedlander-Iwaniec.” He said, “The first paper is on bound gaps, and the second is on the distribution of primes in arithmetic progressions. I compare these two together, plus my own innovations, based on the years of reading in the library.”


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'whenever he got the chance he would pull out a book and do some reading or some studying for his night school.'

'Kissinger had always been scholarly. Now his rather strong suspicion he was a cut above everybody else was reinforced. Even among the brains plucked out of the army he was considered brainy. He was called upon to tutor the other students in a variety of subjects especially calculus and physics. The process of learning began to enthral him, even obsess him. He would skip meals to devour his books staying in his messy room eating crackers, drinking coke and muttering to himself as he read. Often Kissinger would argue with the books according to his roommate Charles Coyle, 'he didn't read books. He ate them with his eyes, his fingers, his squirming in the chair and with his mumbling criticism he'd be slouching in his chair and suddenly explode with his indignant German accented bullshit blasting the author's reasoning. 


'Leonardo da Vinci liked to boast that, because he was not formally educated, he had to learn from his own experiences instead...'Though I have no power to quote from authors as they have', he proclaimed almost proudly, "I shall rely on a far more worthy thing - on experience.' Throughout his life, he would repeat this claim to prefer experience over received scholarsihp. 'He who has access to the fountain does not go to the water-jar' he wrote... The education that Leonardo was soaking up in Milan, however, began to soften his disdain for handed-down wisdom.

'His notebooks are filled with lists of books he acquired and passages he copied. In the late 1480s he itemized five books he owned: the Pliny, a Latin grammar book, a text on minerals and precious stones, an arithmetic text and a humorous epic poem, Luigi Pulci's Morgante, about the adventures of a knight and the giant he converted to Christianity, which was often performed at the Medici court. By 1492 leonardo had close to forty volumes. A testament to his universal interests, they included books on military machinery, agriculture, music, surgery, health, Aristotelian science, Arabian physics, palmistry, and the lives of famous philosophers, as well as the poetry of Ovid and Petrarch, the fables of Aesop, some collections of bawdy doggerels and burlesques, and a fourteenth-century operetta from which he drew part of his bestiary. By 1504 he would be able to list seventy more books, including forty works of science, close to fifty of poetry and literature, ten on art and architecture, eight on religion, three on math. He also recorded at various times the books that he hoped to borrow or find. 'Maestro Stefano Caponi, a physician, lives at the Piscina, and has Euclid,' he noted. 'The heirs of Maestro Giovanni Ghiringallo have the works of Pelacano.' 'Vespucci will give me a book of Geometry.'And on a to-do list: 'An algebra, which the Marliani have, written by their father... A book, treating of Milan and its churches, which is to be had at the last stationers on the way to Corduso.' Once he discovered the University of Pavia, near Milan, he used it as a resource: 'Try to get Vitolone, which is in the library at Pavia and deals with mathematics.' On the same to-do list: 'A grandson of Gian Angelo's, the painter, has a book on water which was his father's... Get the Friar di Brera to show you de Ponderibus.' His appetite for soaking up information from books was voracious and wide-ranging. In addition, he liked to pick people's brains. He was constantly peppering acquaintances with the type of questions we should all learn to pose more often. 'Ask Benedetto Portinari how they walk on ice in Flanders,' reads one memorable and vivid entry on a to-do list. Over the years there were scores of others: 'Ask Maestro Antonio how mortars are positioned on bastions by day or night... Find a master of hydraulics and get him to tell you how to repair a lock, canal and mill in the Lombard manner... Ask Maestro Giovannino how the tower of Ferrara is walled without loopholes.'


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I am living on my farm, and since my latest disasters, I have not spent a total of twenty days in Florence... I get up in the morning with the sun and go into one of my woods that I am having cut down; there I spend a couple of hours inspecting the work of the previous day and kill some time with the woodsmen who always have some dispute on their hands either among themselves or with their neighbours... Upon leaving the woods, I go to a spring; from there, to one of the places where I hang my lime-traps for thrushes. I have a book under my arm: Dante, Petrarch, or one of the minor poets like Tibullus, or Ovid. I read about their amorous passions and their loves, I remember my own, and these reflections make me happy for a while. Then I make my way along the road towards the inn, I chat with passers-by, I ask new of their regions, I learn about various matters, I observe mankind: the variety of its thoughts, the diversity of its tastes and dreams. By then it is time to eat; with my household I eat what food this poor farm and my modest patrimony yield. When I have finished eating, I return to the inn, where there usually are the innkeeper, a butcher, a miller and a couple of kilnworkers. I chat with them for the rest of the day, playing cricca and backgammon, and these games lead to a thousand squabbles and endless abuses and vituperations... When evening comes, I return home and enter my study; on the threshold I take off my workday clothes, covered with mud and dirt and put on the garments of court and palace. Now clothed appropriately, I step inside the venerable courts of the ancients, where, graciously received by them, I nourish myself on that food that alone is mine and for which I was born; where I am unashamed to converse with them and to question them about the ends they sought by their actions, and they, out of human kindness, answer me. And for four hours at a time I feel no boredom, I forget all my troubles, I do not dread poverty, and I am not terrified by death. I absorb myself into them completely. And because Dante says that no one understand anything unless he retains what he has understood, I have jotted down what I have profited from in their conversation and composed a short study, De principatibus, in which I delve as deeply as I can into the ideas concerning this topic, discussing the definition of a princedom, the categories of princedoms, how they are acquired, how they are retained, and why they are lost'.