Hannibal and Me: The highest endorsement

Patrick Hunt at Stanford University is a leading archaeologist and historian, and arguably the leading living scholar of Hannibal.

He has taken students to the Swiss Alps to figure out which pass Hannibal took. He has given a fantastic lecture series on iTunes U, which is in my bibliography. And he does much, much more, all of it fascinating.

So try to imagine my delight at the glowing review that Patrick has just written about Hannibal and Me.

As all of you know, I have never pretended to be ‘a historian’ — rather, I am (merely but proudly) a journalist and a storyteller who happens to love, and to reflect on, history. So I’m sure that I got some details wrong in the book, and Patrick could easily have pounced. But he looked at the big concept, at the story and the meditation, and he endorsed it. And that means so much to me.

From his review:

… Rarely do books mainly about history make such entertaining reading without diluting the complexities of world events that can turn on a literal moment from impending doom to brilliant success and vice versa. Surely Polybius, our best ancient source about Hannibal, would applaud Kluth’s book for psychological depth that matches its historical accuracy, like Polybius himself whose history is as much about why and how, the deeper analytics, as about what and when. Kluth deserves every kudo for this book that shows his new Hannibal research is not beating a dead horse but rather a startlingly fresh outlook on an old mystery.

Thank you, Patrick Hunt!

And thank you Christopher, for being even quicker than Google Alerts in pointing me to it.

37 thoughts on “Hannibal and Me: The highest endorsement

  1. I like the introductory sentence of Patrick Hunt’s homepage, “Patrick Hunt believes the boundaries between academic subjects are too often arbitrary and artificial, and thus explores junctions between many intersecting areas of interest across the broader Humanities and the arts.” Now I want to read his books as well as yours.

    • Great philosophy and approach, isn’t it, Wayne. Now I want to read his books, too.

      Especially the one on Caravaggio and Rembrandt — you may recall from old posts that those two are among my favorites.

  2. Here’s an endorsement of another kind:

    Polish poet (and Nobel Laureate) Wislawa Szymborska died this week. If you haven’t read her, I like her “Brueghel’s Two Monkeys” for starters; it’s one of those terrific poem-painting pairings. Or “The People on the Bridge,” her reaction to a famous Hiroshige print, is another fun pairing.

    Anyway, as if she were a character in your book, Szymborska (in a humor befitting an East European) spoke of her life as divided into two parts: before and after the Nobel Tragedy. She was in her early 70s when the tragedy befell her, and still, it was a few years before she wrote again.

    • Ah yes, very a propos. (For the rest of you, Jenny is referring to a chapter in my book titled “the Prison of success”).

      I just read Breughel’s Two Monkeys.

      I read it slowly (as you know, poetry intimidates me), and was wondering where the poem might go with so few, and then even fewer, words left.

      And suddenly, the last two lines punched me in the soul.

      Will read more by her.

    • But, surely, we who post on the Hannibal Blog more closely resemble the “six typing monkeys,” than these two chained monkeys.

    • Sometimes the proverbial monkeys will knock out Hamlet.

      Other times he will die from a rapier, “unbated and envenom’d”.

      As you say, it’s all governed by the laws of probability.

  3. Visiting my neighbourhood bookstore (a branch of a prominent national bookstore chain) this afternoon, I was able, after some difficulty, to locate “Hannibal and Me” hidden away just below Alfred P Sloan’s “My Years With General Motors” in the “Business/Leadership” section of the store.

    I dutifully bought a copy (of “Hannibal and Me”, that is) and have begun to read……..

    I had begun my search for your book in the “What’s New – Non Fiction” section of the store, but it wasn’t there. Then I went to the “Books With Buzz” section, but your book wasn’t there either.

    The thing here is that, but for your blog, which I had originally serendipitously stumbled upon, I wouldn’t have known of “Hannibal and Me”, and I would have little chance of knowing about it.

    Absent your bog, most non-business readers like me, would only know of your book if it was reviewed far more widely than it has been, or if bookstores like my neighbourhood one, displayed it more prominently, or otherwise displayed it to bring it to the attention of the general non-business reader.

    In the matter of Alfred P Sloan’s “My Years With General Motors”, I had never heard of it, but I found it sort of interesting after briefly riffling through its pages. I just could buy it and read it after finishing “Hannibal and Me”. If I do, it would be another example of serendipity at work.

    • ironic.

      wasn’t gladwell’s break-out book “the tipping point” about just that – why or how to become less obscure?

      i don’t remember the magazine, but gladwell amused me when claimed that his signature hairstyle had much to do with his success. i have no doubt it was an honest observation.

  4. I read your book, Andreas. Very well written and full of stimulating ideas. I envy your style you being also a terrific storyteller.

    One thing. To make your points you had to stress the importance of individual personalities. But, outside your scheme, I always thought that, as Max Cary put it, the second Punic war was a theatre where individual genius (Hannibal) was overthrown by corporate organization and collective unconquerable will (besides, the core at least of the Italian confederacy remained loyal to Rome, a crucial element).

    Also Hannibal’s will was unconquerable but he didn’t have ‘Rome’ behind, whose network (and character) in this tragic moment appear at their best.

    Yours may be a fresher outlook, as Patrick Hunt put it. The fact that you seem not to like Rome much may have helped 😉

    • Thanks, MoR. You make a great point about individual vs collective.

      I made that decision quite explicitly early on. As you realize now, the book IS ABOUT success and failure in our lives, not “about” the Punic Wars. The Punic Wars just provide the setting for individual life stories to play themselves out.

      If it had been a straight-up history book, I would certainly have paid much more attention to, for instance, logistics and recruitment (the Romans being able to recruit new troops every year, whereas Hannibal’s army got reinforcements only once in 16 years), et cetera. But I felt I had to keep the focus on the individuals in the story, so that we would see lessons for us.

      But on one point you’re wrong: I looooove Rome. Everything about it. Hannibal is part of Roman history. Part of why I chose Hannibal and Scipio as main characters is that we today are so far removed from them that we will not “root for” either one, so that we can see both as individuals like us.

      But Rome, Rome, oh in my imagination, I walk the streets of ancient Rome every day….

  5. Sorry – most people sensibly wait till they have read the book before commenting. But my copy has just arrived in bonnie Scotland the post today and I am excited…having leapt into Buddhism big time to cope with my own karmic pattern of being fatally and repeatedly bound to fail…I put into practice some useful steps in skilful living. I have a feeling there maybe some more to be learned in this book so happy reading ahead. Thank you. Neat elephant on the front cover!

  6. Very inspiring book. I thought the stories of Meriwether Lewis and Ernest Shackleton were the most intriguing, because the “prison of success” really massacred their potential. In a way, they lost their essence and character.

    Einstein and Hannibal were prisoners of success but somehow remained strong and respected in glory and defeat.

    Lewis and Schackleton sank into alcoholism and completely lost their focus. What makes successful and ambitious individuals “lose it all”? In the case of Schackleton, it seems to haven been his refusal to let go of the explorer/hero idealism of his youth. In the case of Lewis, the book is less clear about the reasons.

    • Thank you, Olympio. I’m delighted that you found it inspiring.

      You’ve totally got Shackleton. I also found his story one of the more moving. I was almost surprised by that as I researched him. That, by the way, is a general discovery I made: often what is most interesting about people is not what they are known for (surviving the Antarctic ice) but what happened before or after. Who knows how Shackleton died, for example? But there are as many lessons in that as in his two years of heroism on the ice.

      Meriwether Lewis: You’re right that I did not give his story as much space as the others. In a way, I wanted his shocking decline, self-destruction and end to come with a certain abruptness, to punctuate that chapter on how young heroes can plunge from their triumphant heights into disaster. How would you interpret the ultimate reasons of his tragic story?

  7. I don´t know much about Lewis´ life so any attempt to answer your question would be mere speculation. Perhaps after his impressive success at a very young age, an excessive urge to continue to live up to the expectations of his peers and, above all, of his friend and mentor, Thomas Jefferson, might have stood in his way. The fact that he didn´t have a family life was probably also a factor that favored moments of solitude, the use of alcohol and illusions of even greater feats.

    Perhaps he may have been better off just being in the woods and exploring, which seems to be what the really loved. But at the same time I imagine it would have been very hard to simply walk away from what he was being offered and what people expected of him.

    • Yes, I think that explains a lot of it.

      Frankly, when I was researching him, I thought he might have been manic-depressive. But then he would have had to be manic-depressive during his continental crossing too, and during that time he was at his peak for several continuous years. So to me it really was a case of triumph being an impostor: It destroyed him. Nothing afterward could meet his expectations of glory, it was all downhill in his mind, he was depressed and megalomaniacal at the same time. Had he been a decade older, he might have taken it in stride. But being young, he couldn’t let go of the hero identity (like Shackleton) and sulked, then drank, himself to death.

      For positive psychologists reading this: His partner, Clark, might be a great subject for some research. He triumphed WITH Lewis, but then he did NOT fall apart. He settled into a new life context, of family and more mundane duties, and seems to have lived happily and “successfully”.

  8. I just finished the book and totally agree with Hunt’s review. Its very readable while at the same time being pretty deep. This is a classic.

    I also found interesting his comments about your research into Hannibal not beating a dead horse. I saw that Barry Strauss is releasing a book in May on the successes and failures of Hannibal, Caesar, and Alexander the Great. You started a trend. But again congratulations on a fabulous book

    • Thanks, Kevin! Delighted that the book worked for you.

      And this is the first I hear of that book by Barry Strauss. Fascinating serendipity. Must ponder what this may or may not mean for H&Me. 😉

    • No worries. Tell me about it, I’ve been working 7 days a week now and my blogging has suffered – most of my free time goes to family and friends. Still trying to fit time in for new posts, but i don’t want to just post for the sake of it.

  9. I finally finished Hannibal and Me a few weeks ago. I really enjoyed it and as others have mentioned it was really interesting to learn about life after the momentous achievements of the characters in the book. I particularly liked the parts about Shackleton as my wife has been reading many of the accounts of his journey so I had a pretty good idea about what he went through during the trip on the Endurance. I didn’t however have a clear picture about what happened to him after he returned.

    It is interesting to ponder how the definition of “success” in life has to change as I am approching my 30s very quickly. I am left with many ideas to mull over which is exactly what I ask for in a good read!

    • Thank you, spi!

      So I gather that you are now at the age at which:
      – Hannibal crossed the Alps
      – Meriwether Lewis crossed the continent
      – Einstein had his miracle year
      – Picasso painted Les Demoiselles d’Avignon
      – etc

      And that’s just where it started getting interesting in the book. 😉

  10. Along with all the good qualities, Titus Livius in about 29 B.C., described Hannibal as inhumanly cruel, treacherous, having a total disregard of truth, honor, and religion, of the sanctity of an oath and of all that other men held sacred.

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