this is the highly subjective way I read and interpret literature
(the emphasis lies on literature, so you'll only find a couply of trashy readings here and there)
Machiavelli was definitely smart. Considering that he wrote Il Principe in the early 16th century, I am truly amazed about how insightful he was and how good he was in seeing through and analysing politics as well as power structures.
Basically, he takes a good, honest look at mankind and their historical behaviour. Based on that, he advises his reader on how to gain and secure power, providing numerous examples of wins and fails of previous sovereigns next to a realistic description of how home and foreign affairs work in European reality. Honestly, they worked very much in the same way as ours do today.
After having read the classic utopian novels written by Morus, Campanella and Bacon at more or less the same time as Il Principe, I actually enjoyed Machiavellis pragmatic and non-preachy way of looking at politics as objectively as possible in contrast to the utopian wishful thinking and all those mirrors for princes in which the authors painted this unrealistic ideal monarch with infallible morals and ethics.
In spite of our notion of a Machiavellian character/politician to be ruthless and to do everything it takes to rule, I don’t think, that Machiavelli actually considered man to be inherently evil, I think he simply distrusted everyone.
I can also see why the church hated this book so much, but from a contemporary point of view, Il Principe is by far not as relevant any more, as a lot of people claim it to be, because (luckily) most of it is public knowledge by now.