The Ghosts of Cannae: Hannibal and the Darkest Hour of the Roman Republic Hardcover – Jul 13 2010
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"The slaughter at Cannae (216 B.C.) has haunted scholars and intrigued generals for over two millennia. Robert O'Connell combines first-rate scholarship, with face-of-battle graphic descriptions, to show us how horrific Hannibal's tactical masterpiece proved for thousands of trapped Romans on a single August afternoon.
A masterpiece of style, imagination, and erudition." —Victor Davis Hanson, author of Ripples of Battle and Carnage and Culture
"In beautifully chiseled prose, Robert O’Connell explains what really happened at bloody Cannae two thousand years ago and why it still matters. O’Connell says in a sentence what takes most of us pages. The Ghosts of Cannae is shrewd, sure, and one good read."—Barry Strauss, author of The Spartacus War
About the Author
Robert L. O’Connell has worked as a senior analyst at the National Ground Intelligence Center, as a contributing editor to MHQ: The Quarterly Journal of Military History, and most recently as a visiting professor at the Naval Postgraduate School. He is the author of Of Arms and Men: A History of War, Weapons, and Aggression; Sacred Vessels: The Cult of the Battleship and the Rise of the U.S. Navy; Ride of the Second Horseman: The Birth and Death of War; Soul of the Sword: An Illustrated History of Weaponry and Warfare from Prehistory to the Present; and the novel Fast Eddie.See all Product Description
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Top Customer Reviews
Ultimately, Scipio Africanus rises as the Roman answer for Hannibal - we follow his career and the twists and turns of the Punic war until finally Hannibal and Scipio meet at the battle of Zama.
O'Connell also fills us in on how Cannae has influenced military history (or not). Cannae has proven unrepeatable but as long as there are armies, there will be people interested in Cannae.
The writing style is authoritative and relatively formal, but also friendly, lively, often quite witty and very captivating. This book can be enjoyed by anyone, especially ancient history buffs and military history enthusiasts.
Most Helpful Customer Reviews on Amazon.com (beta)
History is written by the victors and the losers just fade away. The curious reader will want to understand why Hannibal and his followers took the route they did, why they wanted to attack Rome where they did, and why it all mattered. This is a book not just about Hannibal, but about Hasdrubal, Scipio Africanus and Quintus Fabius Maximus. Maps are included to show the progress made by Hannibal from Spain to Italy. What should have been a vicotry for Hannibal turned out to be a deafening defeat, and O'Connell goes into impressive analysis of why Hannibal's strategy failed. Although I can't verify all facts in this book, this is an easy-to-read and inquisitive narrative of the Second Punic Wars and the aftermath. A non-military-trained historian would be able to understand O'Connell's work.
I just finished a semester of Ancient History and found this book perfect for some citations on the Roman Republic. I enjoyed this book. It is not too heavy into military tactics, nor is it too scholarly for everyman's history fan. But the author also asks the "How" and "Why" of the strategies used by the commanders and why they all failed.
Perhaps more scholared readers may find this book repetitive or perhaps long in the introduction as the Second Punic War and Hannibal's crossing of the Rhone don't happen until half-way into this book, however for someone who just enjoys a good historical read, this book is ideal. Robert O'Connell clearly has a passion for military history and the Ancient Romans. If you want to know more about the Second Punic War and read some analysis, this book is perfect.
This book examines Rome and Carthage, a bit of history of the first Punic war, some excellent coverage of Hannibal and the battle itself, and the subject of the title. The "Ghosts" of Cannae, namely the Roman survivors who were given short shift by the republic..
He does all of this in a prose stile that really works, he turns a phrase with the best of them and approaches the problems with the surviving accounts of both the battle and ancient history without disrespecting them.
He spends a fair amount of time talking about the effects of the battle and how it shaped all the various parties. His suggestion connecting the battle with the eventual fall of the republic is an interesting proposition.
His epilogue about how Cannae has become a fixation of some modern soldiers was the only weakness, not because it is bad but because I wanted more of it. The worst part of this book is the fact that it ended.
I can't recommend this volume enough, buy it.
I remember Hannibal from history classes long ago but didn't recall the Battle of Cannae - even had to look up the pronunciation which surprisingly turns out to be kan-EE (the emphasis can actually be on either syllable). Hannibal really was the star of this book for me, and I found it rather boring (almost stopping for something else) until it reached his trek into the Alps. Then the book takes off and was almost impossible to put down as he explains Hannibal's military strategies, and how he adapted and took advantage of situations (like positioning his troops upwind so the dust blew in the Romans faces). While I think O'Connell tries to make the book accessible for those without much knowledge of early Roman history, some prior exposure might be useful to follow the narrative. I also appreciated that O'Connell explains the limitations on the record from that early time, and throughout debates on the merits of various records and why or why they might not be reliable. His writing style is... well, I guess I could say 'interesting' - I thought it sounded like it was written by a twenty-something instead of a seasoned historian - but it works and makes it very readable. Maps, a 'list of characters,' and glossary of important terms are also helpful for those of us not familiar with ancient military history. In the end, a very enjoyable book (now I'll have to find something on Archimedes and the battle of Syracuse, which sounded very interesting...).
Unfortunately, O'Connell's writing is tinctured with corrosive cliches whereby one must always "drive home" a point, Roman officials are trapped in a "rat race" and certain types of Roman soldiers are "one-trick ponies." Indeed, there are jarring uses of modern idioms which O'Connell no doubt thought would help to make his book more accessible and relevant to the casual reader--a creature, I fear, that has been exterminated through the toxic carpet bombing of television and video games--at the expense of alienating more serious readers of history. So, Roman officials serve just one year thereby allowing rapid turnover with the result that everyone may have Warhol's 15 minutes of fame (alluded to here with the clunky phrase, "the Warholian rubric")while, elsewhere, Roman patriotism is contrasted with drinking the "proverbial Kool-Aid." In other words, to use yet another tired phrase, O'Connell has fallen between two stools (one of which does not exist).
The book is an enjoyable read, easily approachable for someone who has never heard of the Punic Wars but still satisfying for someone starting out with a good knowledge base. O'Connell makes excellent use of his ancient sources and marshals his information into a coherent and compelling narrative.
The writing flows well and is easily followed, making the book a fairly quick read. I found some of O'Connell's turns of phrase a bit bizarre, though. At one point, he says that republican Romans followed the "Warholian rubric" when it came to turn-over of their government officials. He also describes Hasdrubal Barca's escape from C. Claudius Nero as "a vanishing act worthy of Bugs Bunny," though he goes on to assure us that Nero was no Elmer Fudd! While I assume many folks reading this book will understand what O'Connell is talking about, I somehow doubt references to Andy Warhol will make much sense to someone reading Ghosts of Cannae fifty years from now. Admittedly, I suspect readers even 100 years from now will be familiar with Bugs and Elmer. As 20th century cultural artifacts, Looney Tunes are worlds more potent and long-lived than anything Andy Warhol ever did.
While I am no scholar of republican Rome, I felt that O'Connell's treatment of the history was detailed, well informed, and fair. In only one place did I quibble with one of his claims--that annoying modern assumption that the speeches made by the ancients and recorded in histories were mere whole-cloth fabrications created by ancient historians to make a moral point. Referring specifically to Livy, O'Connell says:
"Ancient history is replete with such speechifying, useful in delineating issues, dramatic, and at times elevating rhetorically, but it is not to be taken literally. There were no voice recorders or stenographers. Most speeches were extemporaneous."
While it may be true that most ancient speeches were extemporaneous, the idea that there were no stenographers is debatable. For example, in later Roman days, there were often reporters who followed around the great homilists (like Saint Augustine and Saint John Chrysostum) writing down what they said--in shorthand. I have trouble faulting O'Connell for this overmuch as he is only reflecting the conventional wisdom among scholars. It is certainly conceivable that Livy's speeches were all fabrications. But I think more caution should be used when making this assumption.
In summary, Ghosts of Cannae is a useful popular history of the Punic Wars. If you have a passing interest in this subject, you will do well to read it.