Book review: Hannibal and Me

Economist correspondent Andreas Kluth explores ideas about strategy and tactics through figures such as Hannibal and Tiger Woods.


(Photo: Anna Lisa Sang)

HANNIBAL AND ME: What History’s Greatest Military Strategist Can Teach Us about Success and Failure
Andreas Kluth

In each of Carthage’s three greatest victories over Rome during the second Punic War, the Roman legions severely outnumbered their foes. At the Battle of Cannae, a force of more than 80,000 Romans faced an army half its size under the command of the General Hannibal. Yet, by the end of the day, 70,000 Romans lay dead—about one-fifth of Rome’s male population.

Hannibal’s consistent success against overwhelming odds earned him a reputation as one of antiquity’s greatest leaders, and Economist correspondent Kluth makes him the centrepiece of a thoughtful book that also draws on the likes of Eleanor Roosevelt and Tiger Woods to explore ideas about strategy and tactics, success and failure. Hannibal’s skill lay in finding ways to use “the very strength of his opponents to overcome them,” making his enemies effectively defeat themselves. Useful lessons abound, not least from how Hannibal’s campaign against Rome stagnated. In limbo in Italy for 13 years, his army was unable to resupply sufficiently to take the final step of sacking the capital. But as he was widely regarded as victorious, he felt he couldn’t withdraw his forces or design a new strategy. As a result, he found himself captive in “a shrinking prison of success.”