The review in Strategy + Business

A huge Thank You to David Hurst, who reviewed Hannibal and Me in strategy + business, a management magazine published Booz & Company. It’s in the fall edition of the print magazine, but the web link is already up. An excerpt:

… The effect of this meticulously crafted structure on the reader is sometimes revelatory. You are riding along, enjoying the stories, when suddenly, in the shock of recognition that the ancient Greeks called anagnorisis, you realize that the story is about you and your organization, and a meaningful pattern emerges in what seemed like a series of inexplicable actions and random events. …

The Globe and Mail reviews Hannibal and Me

The reviews are still trickling in. The latest is in The Globe and Mail, one of the big Canadian newspapers. Reviewer Harvey Schachter concludes:

The book is a fascinating, illuminating look at careers through the prism of Hannibal’s life and the other people Mr. Kluth weaves in. His writing is seamless, the ideas provocative, and the book may offer you insights about your own career and life journey so far, as well as what lies ahead.

Thank you, Harvey!

Michael Stürmer’s review

Michael Stürmer, a high-profile German columnist and historian, has written a great review of Hannibal and Me in Die Welt.

It’s in German, but I’ll translate a few bits. (Those of you who can may fact-check me. ;))

… It’s a brilliant hybrid-study, in the genre of the moral biographies of older times…

What was — this is the recurring question — the secret of success within both triumph and disaster?

… After 300 pages, conclusions are drawn. These are politically incorrect in that they extrapolate from the art of war to life. The most important: Remain calm when others flounder. Never confuse ends and means, strategy and tactics. Whether young or old, have young ideas. But cultivate, even while young, old (and old-fashioned) discipline.

When misfortune comes, react at first as Fabius Cunctator did, and then as Scipio did…. Success depends on how you define it. See the best in people but protect yourself against the worst in them. Success means becoming a mensch. Do what you must do with equanimity.

But enough propaganda. I was just going through some old files and found something amusing. Let me tell you in another post….

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.

LA Magazine’s “Best of the West”

Jason Kehe at Los Angeles Magazine  has chosen his four Critic’s Picks for January, and Hannibal and Me is “Best of the West”.

He’s also captured the same issue with “genre bending” that Andres Martinez noted the other day. Kehe calls it a “shelving” challenge. How true. I plan to reflect on this in due course.

Here is Kehe:

[…] Kluth, the West Coast correspondent for The Economist, mines a veritable who’s who of history’s winners and losers for life lessons, from Einstein to Steve Jobs, Cleopatra to Eleanor Roosevelt. Booksellers will have an interesting time shelving this one. What is it? Memoir? Bio? Self-help? Pop psych? Here’s a better question: Who cares? It’s fascinating.

Thank you, Jason Kehe!

The review in the Washington Post

Well, it’s a busy day for reviews of Hannibal and Me.

After the Wall Street Journal’s review, also today, the Washington Post has now weighed in, with a very short but sweet take.

That’s now the 8th or 9th review, depending on how you count. (As a reminder, I’m keeping a list of everything here.)

Like the Journal, the Post also “grouped” me with two other books, but in this case two “self-improvement” books.

Here goes:

The author, a longtime correspondent for the Economist, will surely elicit comparisons to the work of Malcolm Gladwell and others with his new book, which deals with pressure, resilience and why some people (and companies) thrive while others don’t. Kluth’s originality lies in examining the successes and failures of the legendary Carthaginian general Hannibal in order to illuminate our own. One of Kluth’s tenets is that “part of success is adjusting your idea of what it is.” That can be true for failure, as well, he reasons, and it’s important to know the difference. For example, Hannibal’s miraculous crossing of the Alps was a triumph in the short run, but in the end his enemies, the Romans, endured.

OK, OK. Compared to … Gladwell, called “original”, …. I guess I’ll take it. 😉

The review in the Wall Street Journal

The review in the Wall Street Journal is now out, and it is the 7th or 8th review by my count. (I try to keep the list current here.)

Philip Delves Broughton is the reviewer, and he has grouped my book, Hannibal and Me, with two others:

  • Julius Caesar: Lessons in Leadership From the Great Conqueror, by Bill Yenne; and
  • Atatürk: Lessons in Leadership From the Greatest General of the Ottoman Empire, by Austin Bay.

You can see why Delves Broughton would do that: All three books take a great figure from the past, and promise lessons for us today. The other two have the word “lessons” in the subtitle; mine has “lessons” in the title of the last chapter, and the word “teach” in the subtitle.

I’ve long been fascinated by both Caesar (Of course! He even appears in my book) and Ataturk. So I’ll be adding the other two books to my queue.

Delves Broughton begins his triple review with an extended anecdote about Hannibal (the Alpine prisoners fighting one another to the death, which I use to open Chapter 5, “The Art of Winning”). But he doesn’t explicitly mention my book until the end, after he has discussed the other two:

Andreas Kluth’s “Hannibal and Me: What History’s Greatest Military Leader Can Teach Us About Success and Failure” is something quite different, a wide-ranging reflection in which the author takes that lonely figure high up in the Alps, surrounded by elephants, as a prism for understanding his own life….

Fortunately, the book quickly recovers [from a “bathetic” moment in the first chapter] and becomes a charming and fascinating inquiry into triumph, failure and that gnarliest of head-scratchers: What makes for a successful life? Mr. Kluth has the riveting Hannibal at the heart of his book, but there is nearly as much about other famous figures raised and dropped by fate: Eleanor Roosevelt, Meriwether Lewis, Albert Einstein and the author’s own great uncle, Ludwig Erhard, the chancellor of West Germany from 1963 to 1966.

With each of these lives, Mr. Kluth forces us to ask what we admire and what we would rather do without. He offers reflections rather than prescriptions. …

“Your struggles are likely to be less violent and to involve smaller stakes than Hannibal’s,” Mr. Kluth justly notes. But the themes will remain consistent. The good life, Mr. Kluth suggests, is not to be found by trying to imitate those we consider leaders and successes, who are rarely all they seem. It consists of doing what we must, as well as we are able, perceptions and consequences be damned.

Jack Covert likes my storytelling

Jack Covert

Jack Covert, the founder of 800-CEO-READ (America’s leading direct supplier of business literature to companies and organizations) and a sort of bestseller-prophet, has “selected” (ie, recommended) Hannibal and Me. Thank you, Jack!

(The rest of you, remember: My book can be a business book, but need not be. It’s a life book.)

He says that I do

a fine job turning this adventure book into a personal development guide of sorts

and concludes:

[W]hat makes or breaks a book like this, with its uncommon structure and sometimes lofty subject matter, is the storytelling, and this book is one of the best in that regard that I have read in a long time.

Storytelling! One of my favorite subjects and highest aspirations. Great note to end on. Thanks again.

The 4th review: New York Journal of Books

Wow. Just wow. What can I possibly say?

The New York Journal of Books has now reviewed Hannibal and Me.

(Remember, the previous reviews were by Publishers Weekly, Kirkus Reviews and Booklist)

I will quote some bits and then shut up.

Fight any urge to dismiss Hannibal and Me as boys-only self help. True, the book comes complete with warriors, military strategies, elephants, golf, and a seductress, but this book is a serious and fascinating exploration of issues many of us grapple with on a daily basis. Highly recommended.

When was the last time reading a book left you with a burning desire to read more books? Hannibal and Me: What History’s Greatest Military Strategist Can Teach Us About Success and Failure affects the reader in just this way. Having hung on to Mr. Kluth’s every word, this reviewer closed the book determined to read Jung again, revisit Maslow, and reacquaint herself with Eleanor Roosevelt….

And true to his word, he proceeds to beguile his readers with a series of charmingly rendered anecdotes, keeping us spellbound, and gently nudging us toward a deeper understanding of the triumphs and disasters of Hannibal (the Carthaginian general who crossed the Alps with his army in 218 BCE), Meriwether Lewis, Cleopatra, Tiger Woods, author Kluth’s own uncle (a key figure in postwar Germany), and ourselves.

Mr. Kluth tackles taboos, boldly reintroducing ideas banished from Western intellectual discourse since the 1960s. He dares, for example, to raise notions like duty—not the tired old just-say-no-back-to-basics-family-values platitudes The Right warms over each election cycle. This is something deeper…

In some ways Hannibal and Me is a synthesis of many the intellectual and spiritual movements since the sixties. As such it risks veering into the banal, or skirting New Age nonsense, but whenever Mr. Kluth approaches this precipice, he retreats in time, turning back to the stories of real heroes. …

I was surprised by the last bit, which we might find time here on this blog at some point to discuss:

Despite applying his considerable insight, charm and intellect to so many weighty questions, Mr. Kluth deftly avoids deep analysis of why male crisis so often involves betraying wife and family. … Mr. Kluth seems to hand cheating husbands and deadbeat dads the perfect justification for their behavior. One can almost hear everyday cheating husbands quoting Hannibal and Me to justify their bad behavior.

Hmmm. Really?

That’s for another time. For now: Jillian Abbott, Thank You!!

The third review (in Booklist)

The third review is now out, and also very good. The previous two (the one in Publishers Weekly  and the one in Kirkus Reviews) were perhaps a bit more gushy.

It appears in Booklist, which, as my publisher tells me, is a publication for the American Library Association — in other words, something that influences what librarians buy and stock. That makes it, like the other two, a “pre-pub” review. (I am learning a lot of jargon in this process. Pre-pub reviews when I lived in London meant checking your breath and hair before heading out to the … pub.)

Unfortunately, you need a subscription, and I don’t have one, to get the link. But I was sent a transcript, and here are excerpts (emphasis mine):

Here’s an intriguing premise: show, through the life and career of the Carthaginian military genius Hannibal (and other history-makers), how the line between success and failure can sometimes be blurry, not to mention how success can turn into failure when least expected, and vice versa. … Kluth’s main thesis seems to be that triumph and tragedy, success and failure, are merely points on a line, and that we make our way in life by cultivating the ability to turn failure into success and recognizing that success can breed failure, if we’re not careful. This isn’t the first book to tackle this subject, but its historical perspective, drawing on the life of a warrior who lived more than two millennia ago, gives it fresh appeal.

“Points on a line”. I don’t believe I used that metaphor anywhere in the book. I like it!

See? I’m already learning from my reviewers.