For those of you who have come to this review expecting to read about the newest novel featuring The Silence of the Lambs‘ Dr Lecter, oh dear. So sorry to inform you but the book we’re looking at doesn’t have anything to do with cannibalism. (Thinking) Which is rather a shame really as if it had, this Hannibal might have been quite livelier and certainly more memorable than the long, dreary slog that shoved its way into my view and then out the backdoor of my memory the second after I sign off on here. Yes, it’s that good.

You’d think that a biography of the famed Carthaginian general who held Rome in fear for a decade, with his daring battle plans and – oh yes – his elephants too; you’d think it would be an impossibility to turn such a story into something dull. On the other hand, remember your teenage years and the teachers who weren’t lively. Yes, Hannibal is like that.

I have no quarrel with Patrick N. Hunt’s research and I do acknowledge the difficulties in accurately describing events that occurred more than two millennia ago. Hunt chooses the side of caution and locks up his imagination behind a triple-bolted steel door, only revealing the consensus opinion without any embellishment whatsoever.

That would be all well and good if Hannibal were a purely academic work; mustn’t gild the lily where students are concerned. However, this title is being marketed as popular history, the same shelf that the late Barbara Tuchman used to fill with marvelous books about wars and folly and the men who did both. Hunt’s bland, overly-cautious, frankly simplistic writing style just does not do the period (or commas and colons for that matter) any justice.

The shame of it all is that, as Hunt makes clear in the Introduction, he loves his subject-General and has waited his whole life to write this book. What can I tell you? Sadly, it wasn’t worth the wait.

Be seeing you.

Hannibal

Patrick N. Hunt (Simon & Schuster 2017, Hardcover) 362 pages, illustrated, bibliography and index. US$28 cover price

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