THE GHOSTS OF CANNAE Hannibal and the Darkest Hour of the Roman Republic by Robert L. O’Connell, read by Alan Sklar. Unabridged.

When Hannibal Barca led his small army of Carthaginians over the Alps and into Italy at the beginning of the Second Punic War, nobody on either side foresaw that he would rampage through Roman territory for nearly a generation. And, if such knowledge had been known beforehand, the seers would have considered it even less likely that the Roman Republic could withstand having an enemy army tearing up its hinterland for almost twenty years. And yet, this is precisely what happened.

This incredibly fine audiobook centers around the pivotal battle of Cannae, where Hannibal dealt Roman a crushing defeat, a defeat so complete, so total and so demoralizing, that it should have won the war for Carthage. Had that happened, history would forever have been changed and the rise of the Roman Empire would have been unlikely. That would have made the ascendancy of the Catholic Church impossible, since it was formed around and then built upon the skeleton of the Empire, and had the Church not been spread throughout the west by the Romans, then the modern western world would not have happened.

But Cannae did not force Rome to the bargaining table, as it should have, and that is the most fascinating part of this narrative. Sweeping and informative, of necessity the author has to use conjecture to figure out many details of the period that are now lost to history, but he does so in a fascinating, entertaining and scholarly manner. This was a terrific book that was very well read. If you have a history buff on this year’s gift list, you could do much worse than buying them this audiobook.