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The Ghosts of Cannae: Hannibal and the Darkest Hour of the Roman Republic Hardcover – Jul 13 2010


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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 336 pages
  • Publisher: Random House; 1 edition (July 13 2010)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 1400067022
  • ISBN-13: 978-1400067022
  • Product Dimensions: 24.1 x 16.4 x 2.5 cm
  • Shipping Weight: 590 g
  • Average Customer Review: 5.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (2 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: #366,109 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Product Description

Review

 

"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.

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5 of 6 people found the following review helpful By G. Poirier TOP 50 REVIEWER on Aug. 18 2010
Format: Hardcover
The Second Punic War is arguably the best known of the Punic wars and the battle at Cannae is surely its most salient feature. In this fascinating book, the author starts off, in the earlier chapters, by discussing the ancient sources for the events about to be described. He then outlines the political, social, economic and military characteristics of both sides - Rome and Carthage; the main personalities are introduced as well. Then, as Hannibal gets under way, the story gathers steam, culminating at Cannae but continuing in gripping prose into the battle's aftermath and on to the end of the Second Punic War. Thus, beyond the earlier chapters, the rollercoaster ride never stops. Also, the author pulls no punches in his battle scene depictions - some of which are very graphic and not recommended for the squeamish. Throughout the book, where the ancient sources are unclear or in disagreement about certain events, the author offers what are the most likely scenarios based on the best available current scholarship.

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.
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful By Rodge TOP 50 REVIEWER on Jan. 9 2012
Format: Hardcover
This work is a good example of how history should be written. Nothing is lost in terms of credibility and research, but this story flows. O'Connell centres things with the disastrous (for the Romans) Battle of Cannae where 40,000+ soldiers were killed by Hannibal's army in a single day. We are filled in on the events leading up to and following the battle while receiving excellent analysis on Carthaginian and Roman government and decision-making motivations. Obviously, we know that Rome ultimately defeated Hannibal in spite of Cannae and other defeats. O'Connell gives us a number of reasons why.

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.
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Most Helpful Customer Reviews on Amazon.com (beta)

Amazon.com: 105 reviews
146 of 153 people found the following review helpful
It makes you go "Hmmm..." May 3 2010
By CGScammell - Published on Amazon.com
Format: Hardcover Vine Customer Review of Free Product
This is an interesting and easy-to-read narrative for the beginner history fan of Ancient Rome's military tactics and battles during the Punic Wars. Robert O'Connell presents an introduction to Rome's early Republic years before delving into the Second Punic War. Ancient Roman historians such as Polybius and Livy are often quoted (not that historians have a lot to go on, either) but credit must go to O'Connell for also wanting to present the Carthaginian point of view, of which many pages are dedicated. He uses his own vast knowledge to add his analysis of why certain tactics failed and others were successful.

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.
70 of 74 people found the following review helpful
First rate May 16 2010
By Peter Ingemi - Published on Amazon.com
Format: Hardcover Vine Customer Review of Free Product
There are two extremes when reviewing pre-release books. One of them is a book that is so boring that you find yourself not finishing it before the release date exemplified by [ASIN:0345505352 Never Tell Our Business to Strangers: A Memoir]]. The other extreme is exemplified by The Ghosts of Cannae a book SO good that I finished it in two days and put it down wanting more.

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.
32 of 37 people found the following review helpful
Hannibal was pretty cool! May 25 2010
By J. Green - Published on Amazon.com
Format: Hardcover Vine Customer Review of Free Product
Author Robert O'Connell acknowledges up front that a lack of contemporary sources from the time period limit what we know, but he makes exceptionally good use of what information is available. He explains that the Battle of Cannae during the Second Punic War was a turning point for Republican Rome (216 BC). Rome was beaten badly by Hannibal, the Carthaginian general who led his troops over the Alps in a daring and highly successful raid. But for all Hannibal's military genius and victories, he lost the war and Rome went on to become a great power. The "Ghosts" in the title refer to Roman soldiers who lost at Cannae and were exiled in shame, but later played a pivotal role when Scipio Africanus (gotta love the names!) recruited them and finally defeated Carthage.

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...).
63 of 79 people found the following review helpful
Interesting Thesis Marred by Lackluster Writing July 2 2010
By Patrick Odaniel - Published on Amazon.com
Format: Hardcover Vine Customer Review of Free Product
Robert L. O'Connell in The Ghosts of Cannae puts forth the intriguing notion that the defeated, scorned and exiled Roman soldiers following Rome's disastrous battle with Hannibal at Cannae became the harbingers of an ominous turn in Roman civic life. In short, these "ghosts" of the Roman army wound up transferring their loyalty from the Republic of Rome to a particular Roman general (a benign transfer in this instance to Scipio, but later to lead to the fatal--at least fatal to Republican Rome--transfer of loyalty to Julius Caesar). O'Connell also does a good job explains the basics of Roman military and civic life (a la Michael Grant).

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).
7 of 8 people found the following review helpful
Better than anything Elmer Fudd ever wrote Oct. 10 2010
By Florentius - Published on Amazon.com
Format: Hardcover Vine Customer Review of Free Product
Roman history is an interest of mine, though normally I prefer to read it "from the horse's mouth" -- that is, from the primary sources. That said, I also enjoy a good modern retelling of Roman history, so when I saw Robert O'Connell's The Ghosts of Cannae, I snapped it up. I'm glad that I did.

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.

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