The Prince, by the Italian Niccolò Machiavelli, is a renaissance era political treatise. It is notable for being one of the first works (in the west, after the “dark ages”) to promote political realism. The entire text is available on Project Gutenberg, although I found the Penguin Classic’s translation much more approachable.
What Machiavelli means by “a Prince” is what we would rather call “a King” or “a Tyrant” today, a sovereign who commands absolute power in his state. The book contains advice for how such people should act to acquire and stay in power. It is controversial in that it promotes many ambiguous or clearly unethical behaviours.
Machiavelli is very systematical and fond of making distinct categorizations. These are my notes interpreting some of the more amusing passages.
Although the cynical part of me (which happens to be the larger part) notes that these ideas may well make much sense for your practical tyrant, I don’t suggest that they are “right” (whatever that may mean) or ethical. The way to read this is by trying to understand the circumstances people lived under in the past. Some of the tidbits are still relevant, such as the part on how to deal with sycophants. Most of them are not.