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The Ghosts of Cannae: Hannibal the Darkest Hour of the Roman Republic Hardcover – July 13, 2010

4.4 out of 5 stars 122 customer reviews

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Editorial Reviews

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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From Booklist

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

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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: 6.4 x 1 x 9.5 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.2 pounds
  • Average Customer Review: 4.4 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (122 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #413,042 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

By Connie TOP 500 REVIEWER on May 3, 2010
Format: Hardcover Vine Customer Review of Free Product ( What's this? )
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.
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Format: Hardcover Vine Customer Review of Free Product ( What's this? )
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.
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Format: Hardcover Vine Customer Review of Free Product ( What's this? )
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...
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Format: Hardcover Vine Customer Review of Free Product ( What's this? )
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).
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