The Ghosts of Cannae

The Ghosts of Cannae

Hannibal and the Darkest Hour of the Roman Republic

Book - 2010
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A stirring account of the most influential battle in history
For millennia, Carthage's triumph over Rome at Cannae in 216 B.C. has inspired reverence and awe. It was the battle that countless armies tried to imitate, most notably in World Wars I and II, the battle that obsessed legendary military minds. Yet no general ever matched Hannibal's most unexpected, innovative, and brutal military victory-the costliest day of combat for any army in history. Robert L. O'Connell, one of the most admired names in military history, now tells the whole story of Cannae for the first time, giving us a stirring account of this apocalyptic battle of the Second Punic War, and its causes and consequences.

O'Connell shows how a restive Rome amassed a giant army to punish Carthage's masterful commander, who had dealt them deadly blows at Trebia and Lake Trasimene, and how Hannibal outwitted enemies that outnumbered him. O'Connell describes Hannibal's strategy of blinding his opponents with sun and dust, enveloping them in a deadly embrace and sealing their escape, before launching a massive knife fight that would kill 48,000 men in close contact. The Ghosts of Cannae then brilliantly conveys how this disastrous pivot point in Rome's history ultimately led to the republic's resurgence and the creation of its empire.

Piecing together decayed shreds of ancient reportage, the author paints powerful portraits of the leading players: Hannibal, resolutely sane and uncannily strategic; Varro, Rome's co-consul who was so scapegoated for the loss; and Scipio Africanus, the surviving (and self-promoting) Roman military tribune who would one day pay back Hannibal at Zama in North Africa. Finally, O'Connell reveals how Cannae's legend has inspired and haunted military leaders ever since, and the lessons it teaches for our own wars.

Superbly researched and written with wit and erudition, The Ghosts of Cannae is the definitive account of a battle whose history continues to resonate.
Publisher: New York : Random House, c2010
Edition: 1st ed
ISBN: 9781400067022
Characteristics: xvii, 310 p. : maps, plans ; 25 cm


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Oct 22, 2012

Remarkably little of this book actually deal with the battle itself but the narrative of the consequences for Rome, short and long term are logical and sound.

Like other offerings by Robert O'Connell, there is some dry humour and irreverence present in a deadly serious topic - he even manages a reference to Bugs Bunny at one point. None of this detracts from sound writing and placing Cannae in the context of cause and effect for the future of the Roman republic.

Those interested in ancient Rome, the Legionary and the over-hyped Cannae mythology that has come to us by way of some historians of the Great War should find much food for thought here.

Oct 18, 2012

a survey, in under 300 pages, of both the First and Second Punic Wars, the causes, the strategies, the battles, the consequences, and of course the several major players, all researched and duly investigated for equitable historical accounting, with lessons of course for our own time, Latin and Carthaginian names replace, with some disorientation, our own more easily retained modern common names, making it hard sometimes to remember who is who in the heat and blur of battles, though these are always thoughtfully recollected for our convenience by the author, who has consistently an easy, chatty, eager, and engaging delivery, however evidently supremely informed and comfortable he might be around his subject, making the journey for us throughout endlessly and utterly fascinating

May 20, 2011

I was disappointed by this book overall; rather than offering stunning new insights, it basically rephrased the known in terms that younger generations of readers can relate too, and the final chapter on Cannae's legacy on military thought and popular notions of victory felt rushed and cursorily researched. On the whole, it was a good survey of the history of the Punic Wars for newcomers to the subject, and does a good job hammering home its overarching theme of the fate of the unlucky survivors of the battle and their long wait for redemption.


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