From Publishers Weekly
Military historian O'Connell (Of Arms and Men: A History of War, Weapons, and Aggression
) has established the new standard for studies of the second conflict between Rome and Carthage. In dramatic and comprehensive fashion, he describes the rivalry, based on temperament and territory, that led to the slaughter at Cannae in 216 B.C.E. and beyond. Focusing chiefly on Hannibal and his Roman nemesis Scipio Africanus, he also awards proper consideration to Fabius Maximus, whose strategy of attrition and delay could have saved countless Roman lives. Differences in Roman and Carthaginian tactics, armament, and philosophy are explained, as is the importance of religious belief to both cultures. O'Connell shatters the popular myth of the invincibility of the Carthaginians' fabled elephants, the panzer pachyderms. The ghosts of the title are the Roman survivors of Cannae, who were unwanted reminders of defeat. They were banished to Sicily until Scipio Africanus incorporated them into the army that achieved the final Roman victory at Zama. Unfortunately, a lack of sources restricts O'Connell's ability to provide much information on the Carthaginian home front, but ample attention is given to the political maneuvers that shaped Roman policy. 6 maps. (July)
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The Second Punic War began over Roman and Carthaginian competing claims in Spain and quickly escalated into a life-and-death struggle for control of the western Mediterranean. At the center of the struggle was Hannibal's invasion and ravaging of Italy over a span of 15 years, during which he inflicted a series of devastating defeats upon successive Roman armies, climaxed by the slaughter of an estimated 50,000 Romans at Cannae in southern Italy in 216 B.C. This outstanding account of the background of the Italian campaign and of the battle itself is primarily a military history, but O'Connell avoids excessive use of military jargon and explains the tactics and strategies in terms nonspecialists can easily comprehend. He also pays ample attention to the political aspects of the war and shows how the ability of the Roman Senate to persevere and change strategy was critical to Rome's survival and eventual triumph. This is a superb chronicle of events that shaped the fate of Western civilization. --Jay Freeman