Hannibal and Me: The press release

Ahem. How many press releases have I, as a journalist, been subjected to? It must be millions. In my circles, we use that term as a pejorative, as in: ‘Tell me what happened, don’t give me the press release.

But now there is one about my book. It might be the first press release I read all the way through. And I discovered that it is … well written.

The author is Jynne Martin, a great publishing talent recently arrived at Riverhead/Penguin.

One new twist for regular readers of this blog may be the list of six lessons in my final chapter which she paraphrased and included at the bottom.



Jynne Dilling Martin, Director of Publicity

212-366-2947 / Jynne.Martin@us.penguingroup.com

“Kluth, the West Coast correspondent for the Economist, brings a contemporary slant to Hannibal’s military successes…Kluth does superior work in spelling out the elusive values of success and failure… Realistic and timely, Kluth’s book uses historic truths to move us past the frequent traps of success and failure to mold practical, productive lives.” —PUBLISHERS WEEKLY

“Hannibal and Me is a rare blend of military strategy and emotional intelligence that offers a more mature solution for winning life’s battles.” —KIRKUS REVIEWS

“Andreas Kluth’s absorbing exploration of the life of the great military commander Hannibal will inspire you to look beyond simplistic notions of success toward a deeper understanding of what it is to live the good life. This is a book full of lessons both profound and practical.” —DANIEL H. PINK, AUTHOR OF DRIVE


What History’s Greatest Military Strategist Can Teach Us About Success and Failure



Andreas Kluth, a correspondent for The Economist, presents a fascinating new way to think about winning and losing, and draws powerful life lessons from the story of one of the ancient world’s most famous and enduring figures in HANNIBAL AND ME: What History’s Greatest Military Strategist Can Teach Us About Success and Failure (Riverhead Books; On sale January 5, 2012; ISBN: 978-1-59448-812-2).

Hannibal’s story is one of action, suspense, and romance. After crossing the ice-bound Alps with 50,000 men and 30 elephants, Hannibal decimated Rome’s armies in a series of brilliant battles and seemed poised to dethrone the world’s leading power. Yet at the heart of Hannibal’s tale lies a great mystery. How was it possible, Kluth asks, that this apparently invincible hero ultimately lost everything and, trapped by his enemies, committed suicide?

Kluth plumbs the mystery of this tragic reversal of fortune, providing readers with thought-provoking and useful insights about the seeds of success and failure from the lives of Hannibal and other notable people from the past and present.

A key part of Kluth’s explanation comes from a poem by Rudyard Kipling, which says to “meet with triumph and disaster and treat those two impostors just the same.” Using Hannibal as his central example, Kluth shines a light on each aspect of the lifelong journey that we take with these “impostors,” which we often mistake for one another. He explores youth, when parents influence how we view success and failure; young adulthood, when we pursue our dreams, when we dare, win, or lose; middle age, when we need to reexamine our dreams and identities and our successes and failures; and old age, when success and failure take on altogether different meanings.

As Kluth investigated the paradox of the great general’s life, he discovered an important, and lesser known, piece of Hannibal’s story: two Roman leaders emerged who were his major opponents. Fabius was the cautious elder statesman who enabled the Romans to accept the disaster that had befallen them, to overcome their paralyzing fear of Hannibal, and to wait him out for fourteen long years until they could determine how to fight him effectively. Scipio was the dashing young military genius who studied Hannibal from afar with the appreciative mind of a disciple, felt strangely liberated by Hannibal’s crushing of the Roman army, and ultimately turned it into a dazzling triumph. Taken together, the stories of these men provide valuable lessons about success and failure.

Throughout Hannibal’s narrative, Kluth interweaves the stories of other famous figures, from Pablo Picasso to Tiger Woods to Carl Jung to Steve Jobs to Cleopatra. To help readers draw lessons from the lives of his historical subjects, Kluth presents nine overarching principles that have served men and women well since ancient times:

  1. Stay balanced when others lose their balance. Outnumbered by the Romans, Hannibal knew that the most immediate kind of success—winning—is not about being stronger than others but about being more balanced and calm, and then letting opponents defeat themselves.
  2. Never confuse means with ends, tactics with strategy. Hannibal’s most subtle lessons teach us how to think simultaneously large and small so that we can align life tactics with life strategy.
  3. Have “young” ideas when you’re young and when you’re old. For many people, freshness wilts with age, as it did for Hannibal, Picasso, and Einstein. But it is possible to stay or become fresh in later years, as Carl Jung did after a major crisis led to his greatest successes.
  4. Start maintaining an “old” self-discipline even while you’re young. To avoid the loss of self-control that young heroes like Meriwether Lewis and Tiger Woods experienced, seek the company and counsel of older mentors, study those who came before you, and take the long view of your success.
  5. When disaster strikes, try to do nothing at first until you see that the situation has changed and renewed action makes sense. When that occurs, you may, like Scipio, feel a paradoxical and energizing sense of liberation that leads to new heights of achievement.
  6. Part of success is adjusting your idea of what it is. Over the course of a life, success and failure will mean different things at different times, and it may become necessary to update, refine, or even scrap old definitions.
  7. See the best in people but protect yourself against the worst in them. Both Hannibal and Scipio were noble personalities who never felt personal animosity toward one another and generally saw the best in others, but each was harassed and damaged by petty and vindictive personalities, whose threat they did not adequately guard against.
  8. Success means becoming a mensch—a whole, integrated, self-actualizing human being. People who do so, like Eleanor Roosevelt, are the most likely to transcend conventional success and failure by achieving a separate peace with themselves and their world.
  9. Do your duty with equanimity—the fear of failure will seem less overwhelming and the yearning for success less consuming. You will know it is your duty not by how large or small it is, but by perceiving it to be bigger than you, and beyond you.

Kluth’s unifying insight in HANNIBAL AND ME is that triumph and disaster, success and failure, are not necessarily what they seem—whether in the lives of the great figures of history or in the lives of ordinary people. Thus they show up in their disguises, the ups and downs of life, the turns of good and bad fortune, the whims of the goddess the Romans called Fortuna. “Perhaps they disguise themselves,” Kluth writes, “to bring something out of us and that something is character, our true self, who we really are. This book is about those moments of impact, when triumph or disaster strikes, and about the aftermath, when the shock fades and lives change forever and character reveals itself.”


Andreas Kluth has been writing for The Economist since 1997. He is currently the magazine’s U.S. West Coast correspondent, covering politics, society, and the economy in California and the western states. A graduate of Williams College and the London School of Economics, he is a dual citizen of the United States and Germany. He lives in Los Angeles with his family. HANNIBAL AND ME is his first book. His website is http://www.AndreasKluth.org.

HANNIBAL AND ME RIVERHEAD BOOKS ISBN 9781594488122 ON SALE 1/5/12 ISBN: 978-1-59448-812-2 $26.95

20 thoughts on “Hannibal and Me: The press release

  1. Thus they show up in their disguises, the ups and downs of life, the turns of good and bad fortune, the whims of the goddess the Romans called Fortuna.

    I like to think of these as the “unintended consequences” of life.

    While reading the second paragraph under your name (and as a (poor) student of the 30’s and 40’s), I found myself thinking about Adolph’s attempt to conquer Europe and Russia, especially Russia, as a parallel to Hannibal. Think of Panzers and the Luftwaffe instead of elephants.

    • That second para could indeed remind you of Adolf — or of Napoleon, or Charlemagne, or Caesar, or Genghis Khan, or ….

      So the para did what Jynne wanted it (ie, this paragraph) to do.

      But men’s lives have more than one para, and therein the mystery first shrouds, then reveals, itself.

    • A truly Ricardian haiku. 😉

      But I shall describe lives at great length in the book to show you that success, too, can be an impostor. And anyhow, Kipling gave them to us as a pair.

    • It is the only way to resolve the underlying contradiction if, in addition, being a man is a success.

      I have a most marvellous proof but there is insufficient room in the margin.

      Moreover, it serves as as a general comment upon this post 🙂

      All that’s required is an erratum slip, Cyberquill.

    • Thank you, Chrissy.

      Glad it works for you.

      For me, stripped as they are from their native context in the final chapter, with paragraphs to flesh them out, they sound banal. But if they draw in people who’d like to see them arise out of actual lives and stories (ie, in the book), then the list works.

    • Not the goal, not the objective, as you know by now. (Big lesson from Hannibal: If you “succeed” in pursuit of the wrong objective, you’re actually failing.)

      No, the objective is to get you, Philippe, to see yourself in the stories in the book, and to ponder the parallels.

  2. Just reading this post in its entirety now.

    Detailed and energetic reviews, sure to encourage those basking in their successes and those struggling with failure, to hightail it to the book store.

    Interesting that being a mensch is on your list.

    I’m writing a paper due in a week that attempts to answer the question: what would a “real” life look like?

    At the end of my eight criteria, which are cumulative, is becoming a mensch.

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