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Masters of Command: Alexander, Hannibal, Caesar, and the Genius of Leadership [Kindle Edition]

Barry Strauss
3.9 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (34 customer reviews)

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Book Description

In Masters of Command, Barry Strauss compares the way the three greatest generals of the ancient world—Alexander, Hannibal, and Caesar—waged war and draws lessons from their experiences that apply on and off the battlefield.

Alexander, Hannibal, Caesar—each was a master of war. Each had to look beyond the battlefield to decide whom to fight, when, and why; to know what victory was and when to end the war; to determine how to bring stability to the lands he conquered. Each general had to be a battlefield tactician and more: a statesman, a strategist, a leader.

Tactics change, weapons change, but war itself remains much the same throughout the centuries, and a great warrior must know how to define success. Understanding where each of these three great (but flawed) commanders succeeded and failed can serve anyone who wants to think strategically or has to demonstrate leadership. In Masters of Command, Barry Strauss explains the qualities these great generals shared, the keys to their success, from ambition and judgment to leadership itself.

The result of years of research, Masters of Command is based on surviving written documents and archeological evidence as well as the author’s travels in Italy, France, Greece, Turkey, and Tunisia in the footsteps of Alexander, Hannibal, and Caesar.

Editorial Reviews

From Booklist

Assessing the reputations of Alexander, Hannibal, and Caesar, Strauss analyzes their military leadership and political acumen. Using a scheme of 10 criteria of leadership (ambition, audacity, etc.) and 5 of statecraft (e.g., deciding to start a war or to stop it), Strauss, a notable historian of ancient Greece (The Battle of Salamis, 2004), comparatively applies them to each warlord’s famous campaigns (for Caesar, the civil war, not Gaul). Summaries of their pretexts for war, strategies to win, and inspiration for their soldiers precede Strauss’ detailed accounts of their crucial victories: Alexander’s at Gaugemela in 330 BCE, Caesar’s at Pharsalus in 48 BCE, and Hannibal’s at Cannae in 216 BCE. His opinion about the last exemplifies the weight Strauss gives to converting battlefield success into durable settlements in appraising command ability, and he finds Hannibal wanting for his political failure to make Cannae a war winner. Ditto Alexander, whose empire broke apart immediately after his death. Caesar earns Strauss’ better marks, albeit in the cause of dictatorship. Spirited and well informed, Strauss’ estimates will engage buffs of the big three of ancient military history. --Gilbert Taylor


"Strauss sharpens our image of three brilliant commanders and makes military history great fun." ---Kirkus

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Customer Reviews

Most Helpful Customer Reviews
11 of 12 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Essential Fare for History Buffs and Leaders Alike June 17, 2012
For would-be leaders, for amateur ancient history buffs, and, yes, even for professional scholars of antiquity, Strauss's latest book has much to offer. Countless indeed are the works written about all three of these giants of history, yet in Masters of Command the reader will find important new perspectives and that rarest of things when dealing with the ancient world: lessons relevant to modern life. Without simply eulogizing Alexander, Hannibal, and Caesar, in eloquent and accessible prose Strauss shows us which of their methods worked - and didn't work - in leading armies, acquiring empires, and dealing with pesky politicians. This book offers many insights for today's leaders, both actual and aspiring, all through the medium of a compelling narrative sure to satisfy anyone eager for a good story.

Strauss brings to the study of warfare his idea of the five stages of war: attack, resistance, clash, closing the net, and knowing when to stop. Deftly he shows how the three generals respectively fared at each stage, offering his own expert opinion as to who managed the best. For instance, while Alexander and Hannibal were past-masters at the "clash" stage, performing feats at Gaugamela and Cannae hardly equaled in all of history, Caesar pursued the soundest strategy while "closing the net" around the supporters of Pompey after the Battle of Pharsalus. Where each general failed the most was in knowing when to stop. As Strauss argues, all three were military conquerors, in thrall to the sound of the war trumpet. None - except perhaps Caesar in his most prescient moments - was a true statesman, capable of ruling what had been won through so much hard fighting.
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11 of 12 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Barry Strauss is the Master Of Command! June 11, 2012
Format:Hardcover|Verified Purchase
Once again, a hearty thank you to Irene Hahn, and her august group, Roman History Reading Group on their recommendation of Barry Strauss' Master of Command. Absolutely loved it. He writes in a way that even a 'laymen', like myself, can easily understand and enjoy. I found the accounts of each of his Commanders, Alexander, Hannibal, and Caesar to be exhilarating, extremely well thought out, and his assessment and comparison of each, profound! Not having a 'Classical Education', did not prevent me from devouring, comprehending, and enjoying this masterpiece! And proves once again, that the stories and events of antiquity, are far more entertaining and interesting than anything coming out of Hollywood. And he justifies my admiration of the Divine One, by claiming in conclusion, that Caesar was the best Commander and Leader. But not by much. Thank you, Barry!
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19 of 23 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Masters of Command May 9, 2012
Barry Strauss has written a superb assessment of three of the greatest commanders in history: Alexander the Great, Hannibal, and Julius Caesar. He makes ancient history come alive, describing the battles--both military and political--that these leaders faced. But the qualities needed for success then still apply today: ambition, judgment, leadership, audacity, strategy, Divine Providence, and others.
Today's business people and politicians would be well served by reading this wonderfully written book to see how and why great leaders succeed and fail. I thoroughly enjoyed Masters of Command: Alexander, Hannibal, Caesar, and the Genius of Leadership!
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5 of 5 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Who's Da Man? November 14, 2012
Format:Hardcover|Verified Purchase
Barry Strauss has given us a concise overview and comparison of ancient history's three greatest captains. As a field artilleryman who served for 30 years with 12 years overseas including a combat tour in Vietnam followed by 12 years as a high school history teacher, I thoroughly enjoyed "Masters of Command." I applaud Barry's efforts in producing this slim, yet informative, volume.
In my Military History classes, we spent quite a lot of time on Alexander, Hannibal, and Caesar during our study of ancient warfare. As a culminating "Who's Da Man" exercise, I would divide the class into three groups and instruct them to convince the rest of the class that their general was the greatest. Their presentations were quite lively, always humorous, and often insightful. I was thus glad to see that Barry shared with us his view as to who was the "fairest of them all." My personal choice is Hannibal because he did so much with so little for so long with virtually no support from home.
My only criticism is with his organization and the chapter headings he used for comparisons. I just felt uncomfortable with his five stages. I feel that he should have included "preparation" as a stage before "attack" and he should have used different terminology for "closing the net" and "knowing when to stop."
Anyone interested in ancient military history should include "Masters of Command" in their reading program.
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4 of 4 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Not what it claimed to be... January 2, 2013
As I have read in some other reviews, the book itself is not bad [though it *does* get a tad repetitive], however it is not so much an analysis of leadership as it is a historical record. Sure, Strauss outlines the qualities he believes create a great leader, but he never really explains how those elements transition to success or what modern readers can really learn from them--how they can be applied to modern lives [yes, the reader can do this however it is implied early on that he will give his 2 cents as well]].

What he does do exceptionally well is give an introduction to the three generals in the book. As a huge Alexander history buff, I admit that [and the failed promise of a discussion about leadership] is the primary reason I picked this up, but after reading the book I find myself looking more into Hannibal (and, to a lesser extent, Caesar). At the end of the book Strauss also does the reader a tremendous favor by listing about 10 pages of other recommended reading that includes commentary on what each book entails (it's an extension of dialog--not a list; historical writers should take note!).

Overall I did enjoy the book though I felt it did not live up to its promise; if Strauss wanted to focus on battles and historical record he really should have made this much more clear in the beginning and he should have taken the time to fully delve into the material (240 pages is just barely scratching the surface). You should read this book if you enjoy military history or if you are interested in one of the 3 figures, but if you are looking for something that relates ancient lessons to modern times this is not the book for you.
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Most Recent Customer Reviews
5.0 out of 5 stars Five Stars
Fantastic book....great info on 3 great military minds!
Published 1 month ago by carl grimes
5.0 out of 5 stars Five Stars
A great tale of epic leadership in history.
Published 2 months ago by DC
4.0 out of 5 stars I used it as part of my fact finding to ...
I used it as part of my fact finding to write an essay on the leadership traits of Hannibal Barca. It was very helpful.
Published 3 months ago by Andrew Haygood
4.0 out of 5 stars A good overview of these "Great Captains"
A good overview of these "Great Captains". The writing is at times a bit florid, but these guys are his heroes...
Published 5 months ago by Charles Abraham
5.0 out of 5 stars A romping good read!
Great, great, great book! Details many of the leadership skills needed to be a real General. A romping good read, and you feel the blows as Caesar is killed, Alex dies, and... Read more
Published 6 months ago by Charlie Hart
2.0 out of 5 stars Strauss has written better books out there....
If you are an avid reader of historical biography and more advanced books based on ancient history, then this book will not be for you. Read more
Published 8 months ago by Andrew England
4.0 out of 5 stars Who was the greatest?
This book seeks to answer the question, who was the greatest general of the ancient world. It provides a great summary for the layman, but the expert probably won't find anything... Read more
Published 8 months ago by Jason D. Sands
4.0 out of 5 stars starts out enjoyable, percise, and brisk, but ends up plodding along...
This is a very interesting read. The author is taking on the dual challenge of presenting three very familiar historical characters in a fresh way and detailing what he believes... Read more
Published 10 months ago by derrick
5.0 out of 5 stars Lessons in Command
Another MP3 audio book - good to listen to while traveling. I've read the book but the audio is even more enjoyable. Wish there were more MP3 history available
Published 18 months ago by Ann Hilburn
3.0 out of 5 stars Good Historical Study
It was a great read but a little to specific for me regarding particular battles. The general ties between the three masters was very good.
Published 18 months ago by Kenneth L. Avery
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