Military historian Strauss (The Spartacus War, 2009, etc.) cleverly exposes the characters of three legendary leaders through the five stages of war: attack, resistance, clash, closing the net and knowing when to stop.
The author effortlessly compares their histories side by side, describing battles with both comprehensiveness and simplicity. Their core armies were seasoned professionals who knew their commanders were the best and devoted themselves to serving them. Even so, Alexander and Caesar suffered multiple mutinies, ruthlessly crushed; Hannibal’s men stuck with him without a whimper for nearly two decades. Fortune was with them as well. They controlled the battlefield with the ability to read their enemy’s tactics, and while they were often outnumbered, their opponents’ armies consisted of raw recruits who had to face battle-hardened troops. The men who opposed them did not hold absolute authority over their armies, but had to answer to higher powers. Alexander’s dismissal of his fleet was almost his undoing, but he was saved by the sudden death of the Persian general and Darius ending his naval offensive. Fabius’ scorched-earth policy effectively put off Hannibal’s attacks until the Senate replaced him, and the generals who opposed Hannibal at Cannae had to alternate days of authority. Pompey believed he could conquer Caesar by wearing his army out with lack of food and fodder. The Senate thought otherwise, and Pompey finally acquiesced to their demands for a final battle at Pharsalus. All three of these men had colossal egos; each thrived in war and made it look easy. They were military geniuses who swept dramatically into enemy territory, but they succumbed to vanity, didn’t know when to quit and occasionally overreached—but they were conquerors, and conquerors are not known for moderation.
Strauss sharpens our image of three brilliant commanders and makes military history great fun.