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The Ghosts of Cannae: Hannibal & the Darkest Hour of the Roman Republic

4.02  ·  Rating Details ·  1,379 Ratings  ·  136 Reviews

For millennia, Carthage’s triumph over Rome at Cannae in 216 B.C. has inspired reverence and awe. No general since has matched Hannibal’s most unexpected, innovative, and brutal military victory. Now Robert L. O’Connell, one of the most admired names in military history, tells the whole story of Cannae for the first time, giving us a stirring account of
Paperback, 310 pages
Published September 13th 2011 by Random House (first published July 2010)
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Sep 12, 2014 J.S. rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
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 l ...more
'Aussie Rick'
Jun 18, 2016 'Aussie Rick' rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
The Ghosts of Cannae: Hannibal and the Darkest Hour of the Roman Republic by Robert O’Connell is an engaging and interesting account of Hannibal, the battle of Cannae and the Second Punic War.

This book does not offer an in-depth history of this conflict, for that you should refer to Adrian Goldsworthy’s brilliant account; The Punic Wars. However if you wanted an easy and quick to-read account on this pivotal period in Rome’s and Carthage’s history then this is the book for you.

The author’s sty
Steven Peterson
Aug 06, 2010 Steven Peterson rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
The pivot point of this book is the battle of Cannae, in which Hannibal and his Carthaginian forces defeated a larger Roman army, in the process killing off huge numbers of Roman troops. But the book is about more. It provides the earlier context, the first war between Rome and Carthage, the tensions remaining between the two powers, the factors leading to the second Punic War (Rome versus Carthage), and so on. The book ends by noting how for the past 100 years, a number of generals have express ...more
Mike W
Oct 09, 2010 Mike W rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: history
O'Connell offers a vivid account of the 2nd Punic War. The book begins, surprisingly, with a sort of biological account of the origins of war. It then goes on to recount Hannibal's spectacular invasion into Italy through the Alps and his alliance with the Gauls. The decisive battle comes at Cannae, where a massive Roman army is annihilated, and the Romans who escaped were disgraced and banished from Rome--except for the inept general Varro, who was inexplicably given a warm reception in Rome.

Apr 26, 2016 Matt rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: ancient-history
Think of things that are the “greatest.” And by greatest, I don’t mean objectively; rather, I mean in a word association sense. You hear the phrase “the greatest ____” and what pops into your mind?

Greatest movie: Citizen Kane. Greatest book: War and Peace. Greatest wall: China. Greatest escape: the one perpetrated by Steve McQueen and James Garner in The Great Escape.

Greatest battle?

That would be Cannae.

Cannae is the white whale of battles. Famous generals spent their entire lives trying to
Oct 18, 2010 Jack rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
I have read numerous history of ancient Rome as well as books about Hannibal.
What I liked about this one is the way the author provided an insightful examination of the writings of ancient historians.
He just doesn't quote Livy or Polybius and leave it at that. "This is what Livy wrote - why did he write it like that? What were his motives?" If we have three different accounts of the same event, which one appears to be the most accurate and why?
Nov 19, 2010 Felonious rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: topshelf, historic
This is the book to read if you want to learn about the most brutal and bloodiest day of battle in history. At Cannae Hannibal traps the Roman army (approx. 86,000)and the slaughter begins. The ghosts of Cannae refers to the few Roman soldiers that survived the battle and were banished for their failure/cowardice.

The book starts with what we know and how we know it. Robert L. O'Connell tells the story of the battle and the major players but he also delves into the mind set of Hannibal and the Ro
Nov 20, 2010 Richard rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
In one afternoon 120,000 men met on the field of battle at Cannae. By the end of the day 48,000 Roman soldiers were slaughtered in what amounted to a "mass knife fight." Everyone killed was either slashed, pierced, or bludgeoned by a person standing no more than three feet away. More might have died but the mounds of bodies got in the way. More might have died but the dry August earth had turned into mud from the blood that was shed and it became increasingly hard for a soldier to get his footin ...more
Janis Williams
I pre-read this book as a service to my son who received it for Christmas. It is full of life-giving minutia and also many handy facts about Hannibal and how the Romans set their battle plans. But there was something about this writer's style that tired me out. It was sort of cinematic.
Dec 18, 2011 Andy rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: nonfiction, war, history
A fairly nondescript and dull history of the Second Punic War, with some extra focus given to the Battle of Cannae. This was the war between Rome and Carthage made famous by Hannibal's crossing of the Alps and subsequent ravaging of the Roman countryside for over a decade. Although author Robert O'Connell sounds excited about the topic, his writing style is mediocre, at times turning into a historical laundry list, and he leaves the one most interesting theme of the book woefully underdeveloped. ...more
Erik Graff
Apr 20, 2013 Erik Graff rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: military historians, Roman Republic fans
Recommended to Erik by: Kelly Kingdon
Shelves: history
Robert L. O'Connell teaches at the Naval Postgraduate School. That and his years in intelligence may account for the military slant to his The Ghosts of Cannae. Not all of it, however, is devoted to the archetypal victory of 216 B.C.E. The book as a whole spans the First to the Third Punic Wars (264 to 146), giving enough background as regards Rome and Carthage and their principal leaders to accommodate the general reader. It also serves as a biography of Hannibal (248–183/82), the brilliant vi ...more

Ancient Rome's conflict with Carthage up to and including Punic Wars I, II and III, have always fascinated me. History's greatest military genius Hannibal of Carthage nearly destroyed Rome but why he failed has always intrigued me. So enormous was the rivalry and so deep the hatred between the two ancient superpowers that had Carthage succeeded, we would today be living in an African dominated world. Hannibal started his march from his operational base in Spain with 100,000 foot soldiers, caval
Margaret Sankey
My favorite kind of military history--how Carthage produced an army that did not reflect its society and won, Rome produced one that did and lost, and how Rome then put itself on the road to Civil War and Caesarism to turn it around, including Scipio's use of the ""Ghosts of Cannae"", surviving veterans banished to Sicily for fifteen years as deserters and willing to be turned into a commander-dependent, pragmatically deployed force to regain their honor with an act of aristeia.
Feb 08, 2013 Mike rated it really liked it
Shelves: history, military, africa
Those Barcid boys, what a rowdy bunch of troublemakers they were. Mago, Hasdrubal and, especially our favorite, Hannibal (“he who enjoys Baal’s favor”) Barca, raged around the Mediterranean for many years. Of course, we mainly remember Hannibal for crossing the Alps with his elephants and for the battle of Cannae. Ole Hannibal stills hold the world record for most soldiers killed in a day, approx 48,000 give or take. Amazing isn’t it, considering how we have improved and streamlined the killing ...more
May 24, 2012 Marks54 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
This is a book I read in tandem with "Carthage Must Be Destroyed". They both cover similar ground but in different way. The story is that of Hannibal, who at the battle of Cannae, inflicted the greatest single battle military defeat on Rome ever - in fact possibly the largest single day battle defeat anywhere ever. The motivation for the book is clear - how did this spectacular event come about and what were its consequences? The problem that any book about Cannae faces is that much if not all o ...more
Jun 03, 2014 Jerome rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
A great book on the Second Punic War in general and the battle of Cannae in particular, with the right amount of background on Rome, Carthage, and the Punic Wars. O’ Connell does a good job describing the major players and the battle of Cannae and its consequences.

Some parts of the story are probably familiar: Hannibal’s seemingly impossible crossing of the Alps on an army of elephants, and his defeat of a superior force at Cannae. Unfortunately for Carthage, the whole episode turned into a case
Aug 30, 2012 Jim rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: history, ancient-rome
This is nothing short of a superb history of the Second Punic War. It was nothing short of amazing to see Hannibal practically pick Rome apart with virtually no support or even permission from Carthage: His decades-long invasion was conducted mostly as a freebooting warlord who put together his own armies as he went. The Battle of Cannae in 216 B.C. may very well have been the bloodiest battle in history, with tens of thousands of Romans -- two entire merged consular armies -- surrounded on four ...more
Anastasia Fitzgerald-Beaumont
Aug 30, 2012 Anastasia Fitzgerald-Beaumont rated it really liked it
Hannibal’s Ghost

I’m off on a trip to Tunisia at the beginning of October, my first to the North African country. There are various reasons I want to go, among the uppermost is to stand among the stones of Carthage.

Of course this is Roman Carthage, not the Punic city. That was completely obliterated in 146BC in one of the most complete acts of vindictive retribution in all of history. Carthego delenda est – Carthage must be destroyed – Cato the Elder was in the habit of saying to the point of a
John Nelson
Sep 16, 2012 John Nelson rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
A fascinating history of the greatest battle of annihilation and its aftermath. The battle was Cannae, where a Carthaginian army of about 50,000 soldiers defeated a better-equipped Roman army of 80,000, killing over 7/8 of the Romaan soldiers in the process. It was the high-water mark of Carthaginian military might, but turned in to the ultimate Pyhrric victory. The Carthaginian general Hannibal failed to follow up on the triumph by marching on Rome, the Romans raised another army, and Hannibal ...more
Jul 26, 2013 Tim rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: history
I found this book somewhat disappointing.

While I enjoyed the detailed history of the Punic wars, I found both the style of the book and the style of the reading to be somewhat grating at times. The attempts to be hip and casual were dated the moment they were written. Furthermore, the argument that Cannae and the treatment of its veterans had a role in re-shaping the Roman Republic seems a bit thin. Scipio Africanus may have been the template for later charismatic generals who took their outsize
Kyla Squires
Thoroughly entertaining read, and one I will probably read again. This is the type of book that made me wish I had a War Room to set up tiny soldiers in to fully visualize the action. Along with writing a very detailed account of events, O'Connell does an impressive job of humanizing the nameless faceless 2200 year old soldiers who fought and died in the second Punic war.

Alan Sklar did a great job on the audio version, though the lack of print did lead to a glorious couple of hours of me thinkin
Jake Roese
Dec 16, 2014 Jake Roese rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: history, warfare
This book was a great introduction to the Punic wars and Republican Rome. The reason I really enjoyed this book, other than the subject matter, is the fact that the author pays due reverence to fighting men. Rather than condemning the ancients for their barbarity and war mongering O'Connell tries to understand the reasons behind the constant warfare that raged in the Mediterranean basin.

He has some interesting insights into the societal and psychological forces that drive men to make war. By ac
Carol Storm
Sep 21, 2014 Carol Storm rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
This is an amazing work of military history, full of blazing combat and fascinating insight into tactics, strategy, and weaponry in the ancient world. Most of the book is about the battle of Cannae, a defeat so terrible it seemed to spell the end of Rome in 216 BC. But the Romans came back, and this book explains why.

The author really makes Hannibal's invasion of Rome come to life, and he also brings to life the brilliant Roman general Scipio Africanus, who finally defeated Hannibal at Zama in
Bob H
Dec 04, 2014 Bob H rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: military-history
A well-told and well-researched account of one of the most famous, and most horrific, battles of the ancient world: Cannae. To tell it, Mr. O'Connell tells of Hannibal's invasion of Italy and the campaign leading up to the battle, and of the death struggle between Carthage and Rome. Indeed, given Hannibal's rampage through Italy, and his extermination of the main Roman army (and many of its Senators) at Cannae, it's amazing to read on and see why Roman history did not end in the summer of 216 BC ...more
May 08, 2015 Heep rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
The zeal over Cannae is predominantly a male affliction. It is like arguments over which expensive wine is better or which superhero is more powerful. The passion is out if proportion with its relevance or the available evidence.

There is almost no contemporaneous and reliable sources about Cannae. This lengthy book adds to a compendious literature that is essentially founded on conjecture. I would have thought there might be some population studies based on genetic research - after all, a marau
Larry Hostetler
Oct 09, 2015 Larry Hostetler rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: 2015
Sometimes it's the person who chooses the title that is responsible for dissatisfaction with the book. Had the title not been The Ghosts of Cannae but just the rest of the title it still would have been misleading.

The book covers the second Punic War. It is well-written, with many references to the research on the subject, particularly Roman historians. Where there is no extant explanation of actual occurrences the author makes informed conjectures and identifies them as such, a practice I appre
Myke Cole
Oct 14, 2015 Myke Cole rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
I singled out Cornwell's Waterloo for praise based on its accessibility. It's rare to find a straight-up military history that's designed to explain the basic concepts of maneuver warfare, order-of-battle, troop organization and accoutrement, and the details of military life to the lay reader. To do so in a manner that is at once engaging and dramatic is practically singular.

What Cornwell does for Napoleonic warfare, O'Connell does for Ancient warfare, and readers who know nothing about how peo
Oct 03, 2016 Shawn rated it it was amazing
This book came recommended by one of my favorite classical western history historians, Victor Davis Hanson. As I thumbed through the pages and saw that the author also quoted frequently from my favorite Roman historian, Adrian Goldsworthy, how could I not read it.

I knew some of the remarkable story of Hannibal of Carthage and the Second Punic War but most of what I knew came from reading "Pride of Carthage", a work of historical fiction. I wish I had read this book first. O'Connell has a number
Daniel Kukwa
Oct 02, 2016 Daniel Kukwa rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: non-fiction
It gets a bit trying to get through the transcriptions of battles and military tactics...but such is the way with most military histories. That aside, this is a very satisfying, one-stop-primer on Hannibal & the Punic Wars. Useful, entertaining, and concisely written.
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“In other words, what we know for sure is entirely limited, and all the rest is basically opinion.” 2 likes
“Rome, on the other hand, lost—suffering on that one day more battle deaths than the United States during the entire course of the war in Vietnam, suffering more dead soldiers than any other army on any single day of combat in the entire course of Western military history.” 1 likes
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