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Greensburg Central Catholic grad takes novel approach to Machiavelli

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Joseph Markulin, who holds a doctorate in the Italian Renaissance, has written “Machiavelli: A Renaissance Life.”


Mary F. Burns of the Historical Novel Society had this to say about “Machiavelli: A Renaissance Life,” a novel written by Joseph Markulin:

“Styled a 'nonfiction novel,' Machiavelli is a doorstop of a book about the famous (and infamous) Florentine civil servant and philosopher who managed to survive through the tempestuous, cyclical regimes of various Medicis, Borgias, Sforzas and other ill-assorted, decadent, nasty and downright evil princes of both the Church and the State. Florence tried hard to maintain its independent status, as did many Italian city-states starting from the fall of the Roman Empire, and was perhaps more successful at it than many others. In a time and place where loyalties were changed more quickly (and definitely more often!) than one's clothing, Niccolo Machiavelli held steadfast in his allegiance to 'the rule of the people and justice' in Florence, and hoped that one day that would be the norm in Italy.

Through the playful but insightful use of dialogue and story-telling, mixed with outright history, Markulin presents a very entertaining and reasonably clear overview of a very complex, tangled and turbulent period.”

By Michele Stewardson
Thursday, March 6, 2014, 8:55 p.m.

Writers are encouraged to write what they know, and Greensburg native Joe Markulin knows the Italian Renaissance.

Markulin's novel, “Machiavelli: A Renaissance Life” is complete with violence, treachery, heroism, betrayal, sex, bad popes and noble outlaws.

The 1969 graduate of Greensburg Central Catholic High School, who holds a doctoral degree in Italian, is considered a specialist in the Italian Renaissance. “Machiavelli means something to a lot of people,” said Markulin, who now resides in Roxbury, N.Y. “And I knew a lot about him.”

Often called the father of modern political theory, Niccolo Machiavelli (1469-1527) was a historian, politician, diplomat, philosopher, humanist and writer based in Florence during the Renaissance. He authored “The Prince,” a political treatise.

Markulin's is among the few novels written about Machiavelli, although there are more than 500 biographies about him.

“For me, it was an easy topic,” said Markulin. “The challenge is taking history and turning it into fiction. I kept the history as straight as I could and then made up things about his personal life to fill in the blanks because I think that's what historical novelists do.”

Mary Dearborn, a Massachusetts writer of biographies who has known Markulin since they were both professors, believes he captured the essence of that century perfectly.

“I think it's brilliant. You can imagine yourself in Florence at that time ... the smells in the air, what you'd wear, what you'd eat ... all of it is of that time,” she said. “I don't know what the real Machiavelli was like, but that's where Joe's inventiveness comes in. His Machiavelli is an unforgettable character.”

Markulin's former graduate school professor in the doctoral program at Indiana University, Peter Bondanella, couldn't agree more. Bondanella, who says Markulin was one of the smartest students he ever had, taught a course on Machiavelli.

“Joe shows complexity of thought and character,” said Bondanella, who has retired and lives in St. George, Utah. “Of all the people I'd like to meet, Machiavelli would be one of them.”

He believes the novel sets up a very complex character who is different from what most people think.

Markulin, a former professor of Italian and comparative literature with a specialization in medieval and Renaissance studies, also worked in public relations in New York City.

Today, in addition to writing, Markulin hosts an accordion music radio show, “In Heaven There is No Beer,” on WIOX 91.3 FM.

He is already working on his second book, “The Crusades.”

Exposed to accordion music as a child through his Italian/Croatian upbringing, Markulin says he wanted to do a radio show that no one else was doing. Although he plays a bit himself, he joked that he's not very musically inclined.

Markulin spent six months writing his first novel.

“It's a well-written book, he worked very hard at it,” said Bondanella. “Some people may think he made up a lot, but he didn't. He's put it into a historical framework. He's sticking more to the truth of the character. Everything about Machiavelli is true, just maybe embellished a little.”

“Machiavelli: A Renaissance Life,” (Prometheus, 720 pages) costs $21.95 in paperback. It is available as an eBook for $12.95 at

Michele Stewardson is a contributing writer for Trib Total Media.

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