So how much do you really remember from your high school history classes? Maybe it depends on how long it's been since graduation, but I think my 25th reunion happened last year (if so, they don't know where I live anymore...) so maybe I've got an excuse for remembering very little. One thing I do remember, though, was Hannibal. No, not the creepy guy from the movies, but the Carthaginian general who gave the Romans a hard time. I remember Mr. Skedros talking about Hannibal's unusual tactics, like sailing up close to Roman ships and tossing snakes on board - which must have created quite a scene! He also told us of Hannibal marching his troops over the Alps on elephants! Of course, a teenage boy imagining stories like that conjures more questions than answers.
But while I remembered Hannibal from those long ago history classes I didn't recall the Battle of Cannae - even had to look up the pronunciation which surprisingly turns out to be kan-EE (the emphasis can actually be on either syllable). And Hannibal really was the star of this book for me, and it was kind of slow until it reached his trek into the Alps. Then the book takes off and was almost impossible to put down as O'Connell explains Hannibal's military strategies, and how he adapted and took advantage of situations, like positioning his troops upwind so the dust blew in the Romans faces. While O'Connell does his best to make the book accessible for those without much knowledge of early Roman and ancient military history, some prior exposure might be useful to follow the narrative. Several maps, a 'list of characters,' and a glossary of important terms are helpful. I also appreciated that O'Connell explains the limitations on the record from that early time, and throughout the book he debates on the merits of the various records and why they might or might not be reliable. His writing style is... well, I guess I could say 'interesting' - I thought it sounded like it was written by a twenty-something instead of a seasoned historian - but it works and makes it easier to follow. And it makes me wonder about a lot of other history I've long since forgotten.