A pretty long chat about Hannibal and Me

So now at last (with two months to go until launch on January 5th), I can start to open up a bit about what’s actually in the book.

The other day, my publisher and I had a conversation about some of the ideas. I’ve put a transcript of that chat up on this page.

We were just scratching the surface in that conversation. And that is becoming my chief difficulty in this process: Whenever anybody asks me anything about the book (such as: “What is it about?”), I want to answer with the whole book. Can’t do that.

So, if you feel so inclined, you might do me a favor: Tell me which bits of the conversation hit, move, stimulate, enrage or otherwise interest you.

That would be enormously helpful: From your reactions, I will try to figure out what the various “elevator pitches” might be. You know: my 10-second answer when some radio host interviews me about the book. As in:

Host: So, Andrew, you wrote a book about success and Caesar, is that right?

Andreas: Both success and failure, actually, and the main character is Hannibal.

Host: Lecter?

Andreas: No, the other one….

23 thoughts on “A pretty long chat about Hannibal and Me

  1. Fascinating interview (I know you saw it as a “conversation”). The only chance you have of coming close to it in depth and length would be on CSPAN. So the question is how to trim your answers to fit the fast-paced and short interviews you will have to deal with as you “make the rounds”, yes?

    I wish I had some useful advice. You will be at the mercy of your interviewers… who may, or may not, be knowledgeable enough to discuss history in depth with you. You will have to steer them toward topics you think are important (or your agent and publisher thinks will help spur sales) and that may be hard or easy depending upon the interviewer.

    I liked your take on success and failure as capable of being “imposters” in that conversation with your publisher. How we handle setbacks is often a subject of conversation between parent and child, mentor and protege, teacher and student but the subject of how to handle success and not let it be become that prison is rarely considered.

    I will be interested in how you developed that in your book.

    My main interest in your book, other than knowing the author, will likely be the relationship between foes, how they develop, how they are shaped by events.

    And I wish to thank you for recommending “Imperium”, which I enjoyed immensely.

    • “…My main interest in your book, other than knowing the author, will likely be the relationship between foes, how they develop, how they are shaped by events….”

      Interesting. I do have some interesting relationships between foes in the book, and I have even distilled those into one of my explicit “lessons” in the last chapter. Maybe I’ll give you that one in a blog post.

      The relationship between Hannibal and Scipio is fascinating. Eleanor and Franklin. Ludwig Erhard and Konrad Adenauer. Mao and Liu (and their wives). Scipio and Cato the Elder. Truman and MacArthur. Etc etc.

      I could have made the book a study of just those relationships and what they say about us. But do you think opening a short interview with that angle is the way to go?

    • In a word… no. It would appeal to me, as I indicated, but I suspect that I am among a tiny (and probably cheap) minority. I am interested in how people interact and how they influence one another through those interactions. Scipio was changed by his interaction with Hannibal. He learned from his encounters, became familiar with Hannibal’s tactics, and found ways to counter them and to use them against Hannibal’s armies. Which is, I think, a part of that turning failures into victory. Or, as the old admonish goes, turning lemons into lemonade.

      If I were you (why do I hate that use of a singular object with a plural verb?), I would try to use my relationship with the interviewer to my advantage. Find what he/she is interested in, what caught their fancy (assuming they have read more than a synopsis of your book) and feed that. If the interviewer appears engaged, his viewers or listeners will feel a desire to be engaged also.

      Just my amateur psychology at work.

  2. After reading the transcript of your talk, I’m more eager than ever to read “Hannibal and Me”, which would seem……like…..deep, in a way I hadn’t thought it would be. It was no doubt the cover image of the little man in the business suit that had given me the wrong idea!!!

    “……which bits of the conversation hit, move, stimulate, enrage or otherwise interest you……..I will try to figure out what the various ‘elevator pitches’ might be…….”

    I found all of it of interest. On the other hand, I no longer watch television and am otherwise quite removed from the popular culture.

    I was, though, struck by this: “…..Hannibal’s style of winning is…….relevant………..even in erotic seduction…..”.

    Were I a part of the popular culture, and had my finger on the Zeitgeist, and you were speaking on the TV or radio, I think I would want you to speak only about the “erotic seduction” bit.

    Here’s, then, what I suggest: Do some research on the great love affairs of history, and even of today. Choose those that fit the Triumph and Disaster motif, (Burton and Taylor? J Edgar and Clyde?) and trot them all out when next you get a call from Pierce Morgan or Jay Leno.

    • Do you remember a post a wrote three years ago about how I had to drop Casanova and insert Cleopatra?

      That’s when I was researching lives that illustrate just that angle, ie how Hannibal’s style of winning can apply in erotic seduction.

      So you’ve helped me in that I now understand how adding the words “erotic seduction” can hook some readers. Expect me to do that.

  3. Fantastic–makes me want to read the book more than ever. I can see where someone decided to call it a self-help book. But that’s your challenge–it is so much more!

    I’m not too good at elevator pitches but I think the points you want to make are:
    1. It’s not a history book but it shows how historical figures (and therefore history itself) were affected by the same problems that each of us have in our daily lives–namely managing success and failure. How we view and manage those problems determines whether we will be happy and successful or not. (I think you should say that to address the people who might be scared by the idea of a history book)

    2. Hannibal is a good example because although he succeeded wildly from a tactical perspective, he achieved none of his strategic goals. By looking at how and why that happened we can see the pitfalls of misinterpreting our successes and failures. Many other historical figures have turned failure into success or success into failure (I’m overstating here I know) and the book looks at some of the interesting human dramas that are valuable lessons.

    3. If I had to distill the book into a single sentence it would be “don’t believe your own marketing whether it’s positive or negative.”

    You might want to put more of a business/leadership spin on the message but that’s my two cents. The best line in the interview in my opinion is: . “If your success takes your imagination and creativity captive like a prisoner – and it has a strange way of doing that, as I describe by looking at Hannibal and Einstein, for instance – then it is really disaster. If your failure liberates you from staying on the wrong path – as it did for Hannibal’s enemy Scipio, for Steve Jobs or for Eleanor Roosevelt – then it is really a blessing.”

    When you consider how rich this book seems to be in terms if history, culture, military history and everything else, it seems a shame to distill it down to a few points that may not really even be the essence. But you asked!

    • “It’s not a history book but it shows how historical figures … were affected by the same problems that [we all] have in our daily lives–namely managing success and failure.”

      I like that! I might try that on for size.

      And thanks for letting me know which line worked. I’ll keep that one. Ie:

      “If your success takes your imagination and creativity captive like a prisoner – and it has a strange way of doing that, as I describe by looking at Hannibal and Einstein, for instance – then it is really disaster. If your failure liberates you from staying on the wrong path – as it did for Hannibal’s enemy Scipio, for Steve Jobs or for Eleanor Roosevelt – then it is really a blessing.”

      Regarding the one about “marketing”: Yikes. I really tried to keep that stuff out of the book. I was hoping that OTHERS (ie, reviewers) would emphasize the leadership and business relevance, so that I don’t have to. The style is supposed to remind you of myth or historical fiction, and Homer’s dudes never did marketing. Well, Hector may have done a bit of it…

  4. Tell me, Andreas, have you also turned failure to success? Have you been imprisoned by your own success? Have you been a successful erotic seducer? After all, the title is “Hannibal and Me.”

    Or do we have to buy the book to find out?

    5th January, you say?

    • Can I not have been a FAILED erotic seducer, who turned that Disaster into a Triumph by drawing wisdom from it? 😉

      Anyway, the answer is: Yup, you’ll have to read the book to find that out. But I’m not making it a selling point now. Nobody is interested whether I, Andreas, went through this.

      The “me” in Hannibal and Me is, yes, me, but quickly morphs into you, the reader, as you turn the pages….

  5. Andreas,

    Here you are at your best:

    “The iPod, iPhone, iPad, and so forth. Jobs later said that he needed that disaster in his early career to liberate his imagination so that he could have the real successes he was meant to have.”

    People WANT to think like Jobs.

    And here you are at your worst:

    “Why, if he [Hannibal] was practically invincible, do we speak Latinate languages, not Punic?”

    Not high on people’s list of concerns you’ll agree.

    The part about Liu ending up humiliated in prison I’m not too sure about. Perhaps for interviews in angst-ridden spots: North Korea, Syria, Wall Street.

    • Good to know.

      BTW, it’s been interesting for me this past month, after Jobs died. I wrote those things three years ago, after getting the idea from his Stanford commencement speech. Now, the whole world has been passing that speech around and Isaacson’s book has suddenly told us so much we didn’t know.

      That’s ANOTHER reminder (the previous ones having involved Tiger Woods, Eliot Spitzer and Lance Armstrong) that dead people make much better subjects for books like this than living or expiring ones.

  6. For your elevator pitch, just say that Hannibal’s style of winning makes him relevant in erotic seduction.

    In your reference to “political death,” you listed Kiwis and Aussies, followed by Scandinavians and Americans. Had you included Germans in that list, would you have referred to them as Germans or as Kraut?

  7. I like your joke about “Andrew” and “Lecter”.

    What I think could work well about the conversation is:

    (1) open with the story of Hannibal: what he actually did and how stupendous it is. Put yourself in his shoes to open the story …eg, “It’s the year xx, it’s mid-winter and the elephants are …”

    (2) segue into his successes

    (3) segue into the intriguing question, eg, “so how come the army he defeated, over and over again, the Romans, ended up ruling the world … etc”; make it crystal clear there are two foes: Romans and Carthaginians and who is on either side. Make it clear enough so a small child can get it.

    Create the situation, then offer the complication.

    • You’ve just written the outline — and I mean, with precision — of my opening chapter. Kudos, Solid Gold!!!

      But here’s the problem: I can’t give my first chapter if I have just, say, 20 words to do it. And if the first phrase is about Hannibal, then some people will think “history” or “biography” and tune out. Or so I find.

      That’s the needle I’m threading.

    • “Hannibal, like Steve Jobs, Albert Einstein, Tiger Woods, and Eleanor Roosevelt, led a tumultuous life …”

  8. Fascinating interview and i definitely think the conversation flow nicely from past to present.

    Generally when I watching interviews of authors whether its during book tours or in programs like CSPAN’s in depth I am just as interested in the author, his or her background and personal or professional circumstances that led to genesis of the book. I am not sure if everybody are looking for it but I think you do a great job in the interview of providing that and I feel more that won’t hurt.

    I was also looking for similar anecdotal stories in your conversation especially if it links the book to contemporary problems or issue du jour. Thomas Friedman is a master of such anecdotal stories and always gets me when he weaves his book to contemporary contexts. I am not saying you use the same trick but I think some of it may help some readers mistaking this as a history book. Here is a link to one of his talk during the launch of his latest book “That used to be us” on cspan.


    All in all i think the interview was great and definitely kindled my interest in the book from all aspects historical, social and political angles.

    Congratulations and looking fwd to the book.

    • Thanks, Suresh.

      A good link. Several people have been mentioning CSPAN feeds lately — I was unaware how big they seem to have become.

      As to getting the “me” into these conversations: That’s the hardest part for me. I consider my own side too boring to discuss it, except tangentially.

      But I must copy Friedmann as best I can in hooking “news” onto my narrative. Let me do some thinking there….

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