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Tuesday, November 24, 2015

“Hannibal: The General from Carthage”, by Ernle Bradford


416 pages, Dorset Press, ISBN-13: 978-0880296670

Hannibal: The General from Carthage is a standard biography of the Carthaginian military leader. The writing is fine and the story line (if one can use that term for a non-fiction book) is interesting: despite an (apparently) unending series of tactical and operational successes, Hannibal loses the war against Rome, due primarily to strategic considerations outside of his control (i.e., Carthage should never have taken on this war unless they had changed their approach substantially). There are lessons here for modern generals (sometimes, despite having the smartest leaders, the best trained and most experienced troops, cutting-edge military technology, the wealthiest society in the known world supporting you, and pretty good luck (to boot), it’s just not enough) – well, I could go on here for a long time, but will refrain from doing so. Although perfectly enjoyable, the book suffers from two major shortcomings: The sources used on Hannibal’s life are only Roman, but this is because there simply are no other sources of information. The author recognizes this explicitly, and tries to balance the Roman accounts with “common sense” interpretations and a modern understanding of the situation. Also, there is an absence of sufficient maps. Repeatedly throughout the book, the author uses phrases such as “Hannibal marched to (this town), then to (that town), while the Romans marched to (someplace else)”; these towns generally don’t appear in modern atlases, and there is no further description in the book (is it on the coast? in the mountains? north? south" east? west?). Without any additional guidance, this is simply useless information. One is tempted to believe that the author has read this information in source materials, but never bothered to discover what it actually meant (could this be true? Nah). It’s more likely that the publisher was unwilling to spring for a couple of pennies per book to provide the maps (or that the author couldn’t be bothered to spend the couple of weeks necessary to get them included). In any case, it’s a shame, and detracts from an otherwise adequate book.

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