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

3.99 of 5 stars 3.99  ·  rating details  ·  1,153 ratings  ·  123 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
ebook, 318 pages
Published July 13th 2010 by Random House (NY) (first published July 2010)
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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
Anastasia Fitzgerald-Beaumont
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
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
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
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
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
Carol Storm
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
Jake Roese
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
Bob H
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
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
'Aussie Rick'

“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
Erik Graff
Apr 20, 2013 Erik Graff rated it 4 of 5 stars  ·  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
Mike W
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.

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
Steven Peterson
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
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
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.
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?
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
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.
Every previous time I've read about Hannibal and his crushing victory at the battle of Cannae (this is the 4th or 5th time), I've almost been able to hope that *this* time he'll go on and conquer Rome. No such luck here. O'Connell makes it clear from the outset that he assumes you know that Hannibal ultimately failed. While other authors approve his cautious decision not to march on Rome immediately after Cannae, O'Connell criticizes him for it. And when years later Hannibal leaves Italy, called ...more
Sean Patrix
Robert L. O’Connell’s nonfiction book on Hannibal versus the Romans and his greatest victory, is an excellent read. I have to admit: I’m all about the Romans — find me a biography of Augustus, Julius, Cicero, or any other of Plutarch’s faves, and I’ll just curl up in an armchair for hours. So I lean toward this material to start with. But O’Connell does a nice job of shining light on not only Romans of the era, from Scipio Africanus on down, but of giving us a glimpse of life in Carthage and of ...more
There is but one half-hearted bit of praise that I can muster for this book: it has an introductory historiographic essay that lay readers will find marginally useful. For the specialist, for anyone who has read Polybius and Livy, or for anyone who has taken the trouble to delve into the rather copious secondary literature on the Second Punic War, this essay will resemble the rest of the book: a complete and utter waste of time.

The Ghosts of Cannae is an insulting, feckless attempt at making
Rob Atkinson
I was sold on "The Ghosts Of Cannae" after seeing the author interviewed on the Daily Show, where he drew some interesting parallels between the Punic Wars and modern day insurgencies. As it happens, the book itself is short on such analogies, sticking to a more straightforward history of the Punic Wars -- particularly the Second, in which Hannibal wreaked havoc throughout Italy, decisively winning battle after battle but ultimately losing the war. This is a well written history, though longer o ...more
Borrowed this book-on-CD from the library.

I don't know much about the Roman Empire and even less about their Republic years, Carthage, the Punic wars, and Hannibal's invasion, so when I saw this on the shelf I decided to give it a shot. I'm very glad that I did.

The book provides a nice balance of historical data and context, quotations from the few contemporary sources available, and narrative of the likely choices facing the major players as well as their motivations. The prose is clear, descri
Apart from Thucydides and Richard Holmes' Redcoat, I think this is the only military history I've read by an actual practitioner. O'Connell was a longtime "member of the Intelligence community" and is an instructor at the Naval Postgraduate School. I found the non-classicist perspective bracing and the writing was, overall, very fluent, but there was a bit of a tendency toward wonkspeak and an inability to resist cutesy mannerisms, e.g. repeatedly calling the Punic war elephants "pachyderm panze ...more
I'm not a big fan of ancient history, as it was not exactly my favorite in college. And I'm not a big military history fan either. Nevertheless, I decided to give this book a shot.

The title refers to the Battle of Cannae, the single most brutal day of warfare ever waged in human history. In one day, on one field in Italy, Carthaginian forces under the command of Hannibal (with help from a lot of mercenaries) killed around 80,000 Roman soldiers. And it wasn't a pretty sight. Warfare in ancient t
Nov 30, 2010 James rated it 4 of 5 stars
Recommends it for: General-interest military history
Fast, interesting read that gives a basic overview of the Second Punic War. Good detail on Roman and Carthaginian military standards of the time, as well as the political situations in both cities before and after the war. His description of the Roman order of battle was very interesting and useful for understanding what happened during the war.

The author does a great job of identifying conflicting accounts in different sources and discussing the pros and cons of each. The pacing is fast and the
Warren Watts
The Ghosts of Cannae: Hannibal & the Darkest Hour of the Roman Republic is a detailed look at the part Hannibal played in the second Punic Wars.

Historical records on events that occurred 2,200 years ago aren't easy to come by and often provide conflicting accounts, but O'Connell does a great job of providing the reader with enough information to make his or her own judgments based on the records available.

I personally found the book a little too "text-booky" to suit my tastes, but the autho
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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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