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

3.93 of 5 stars 3.93  ·  rating details  ·  788 ratings  ·  102 reviews
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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...more
ebook, 318 pages
Published July 13th 2010 by Random House (NY) (first published July 2010)
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Matt
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...more
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...more
Jim
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
J.
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
Mike
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
Tim
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...more
Jerome
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...more
'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...more
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
Totadigi

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...more
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.

Han...more
Felonious
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...more
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
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.
Jack
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?
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.
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
Justin
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 h...more
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
Sue
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...more
James
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
Bob
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...more
James
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...more
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...more
Liviu
Excellent retelling of the 2nd Punic War with the Cannae legions as a central viewpoint - the Ghosts of the title, though they were augmented with survivors from other lost battles all banished as sort of non-persons to Sicily until Scipio rehabilitated them and in a great twist of history the ones that remained fit after 14 years, annihilated at Zama the survivors of their vanquisher army from Cannae; the story covers the whole Carthaginian Roman conflict, and while less detailed than the Golds...more
John
There were 3 wars between Rome and Carthage in the 3rd Century B.C. (known as the “Punic Wars). This is a book about a battle during the 2nd war which resulted in the slaughter of 41,000 Roman soldiers in one day - the costliest day of battle ever recorded. The battle took place at a location named Cannae and the “ghosts of Cannae” refer to the few Roman soldiers that survived the battle and who were banished for their defeat.

O’Connel writes with wit and insight, interspersing the ancient histo...more
Marks54
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
Richard
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
Bill Snedden
This is a VERY detailed and exhaustive analysis of not only the battle of Cannae, but its repercussions for Rome, Carthage, and the ancient Mediterranean in general. The "Ghosts" of the title refers to the survivors of Cannae, who were considered by Rome to be just short of traitors and banished for life to exile on Sicily. They return close to the end of the book where O'Connell details their "redemption" through their participation in the battles that put an end to Hannibal's threat to Rome an...more
Andy
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
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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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