Hannibal and Me – A book Review

 Interviewing Andreas Kluth, author of Hannibal and Me, The Economist U.S. West Coast correspondent

Meet with Triumph and Disaster and treat those two impostors just the same.” from Rudyard Kipling‘s poem “If –“, first read in “Hannibal and Me

Andreas Kluth is The Economist‘s US West Coast correspondent and author of a new book “Hannibal and Me: What History’s Greatest Military Strategist Can Teach Us About Success and Failure“. I’ve been reading Andrea’s blog for some time, so I knew I would like his book but I ended up loving Hannibal and Me!

The following is my review of the book, video interview clips, plus some additional bonus materials about characters trimmed from the book.

*** Book Review ***

I love biographies in general and reading Hannibal and Me to me was like reading the crucial slices of lives of many interesting people’s stories of “successes“, “failures“, and sometimes “impostors” (successes that actually lead to failures, or failures that become foundation of future successes) all in one book woven into many cohesive lessons.

To give you an idea of the “who’s who” in the book, take a look of this partial list of characters featured in the book: HannibalAndreas (the author himself), Barack ObamaEleanor RooseveltSteve JobsAmy TanMeriwether Lewis (and Thomas JeffersonWilliam Clark), Douglas MacArthur and Harry TrumanLudwig ErhardPablo PicassoPaul CézanneTiger WoodsCleopatraLance ArmstrongLiu Shaoqi (and Mao Zedong), plus Albert Einstein.

In Andreas’ throughly researched and eloquently written Hannibal and Me, the lives of modern day people like Steve JobsTiger WoodsAmy TanEleanor Roosevelt, Douglas MacArthur and Harry Truman were woven into the spectacular venture tale of Hannibal, bring every characters to live.

Don’t let words like “history“, “military strategist“, “Hannibal” in the title deter you from reading the book. I had to study history for six years and pretty much hated every minute of it. Andreas’ Hannibal and Me managed to bring all these characters to life to teach me, Kempton, teach us, readers of the book, important life-changing lessons. I originally thought I would have to skip a few pages so I can get to the interesting/fascinating modern real life stories sooner. To my pleasant surprise, I ended up reading every page over a few days. I find the lives, decisions and actions of the charters in the book absolutely fascinating and illuminating.

Ultimately, each reader will learn different lessons from the book depending on our own life experiences and life stages. Hannibal and Me is one of the best books I have read for years. To me, the book crystallized some of the life decisions I have made over the last few years and will be making in the future. I know I will be re-reading Hannibal and Me again and again over time as I grow older and gain more experiences. I hope you will enjoy the book as much as I did.

*** Video interviews with Andreas ***

Here is the main video interview clip. (My previous post about my multiple interview video clips with Andreas.)

Andreas on Eleanor Roosevelt

Andreas on Liu Shaoqi (劉少奇) in Cultural Revolution (文化大革命)

Andreas on Harry S. Truman

*** Praises about the book research ***

Patrick Hunt (Ph.D. in Archaeology, Institute of Archaeology, UCL, University of London) has been studying Hannibal for over 20 years and teaches Hannibal at Stanford University. Hunt praises Hannibal and Me this way in his book review (emphasis added),

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.

And Andreas considers Hunt’s words as the highest endorsement.

Eleanor & FDR - 唐英年太太郭妤淺應向羅斯福總統第一夫人Eleanor學習面對凱旋及厄難【短片】

*** About the reference materials and special notes ***

The reference materials used in Hannibal and Me have been so intriguing to me, I ended up looking up many referenced materials online to read and watch. I even borrowed “The New Emperors: China in the Era of Mao and Deng” from the library to learn more. Watch the following video and have a read of the following materials.

1) The Steve Jobs ’95 [Smithsonian] Interview, unabridged

2) Amy Tan Biography at Academy of Achievement

3) After a heated discussion with my father, I was inspired to borrow “The New Emperors” (a book Andreas reference) to do some fact checking of my own! Which I am happy to report the quoted facts checked out and I even gained some additional insight.

4) As I read Hannibal and his men’s existential choice of victory or death and were told when “come face to face with the enemy, you must conquer or die”, I had the Chinese idiom “破斧沉舟” in my mind which went further but basically achieve similar goal. Here is a reference from The Battle of Julu (emphasis added),

“Xiang Yu ordered his men to carry only three days worth of supplies and destroy the rest, along with their cauldrons and cooking utensils, and sink the boats they used to cross the river. In doing so, Xiang Yu was sending a clear signal to his troops that they had no chance of survival unless they defeat the enemy and seize their supplies.”

*** Bonus material re “edited out” characters ***

I asked Andreas if he can share with me and the public some of what he wrote about the “edited out” characters. Andreas was very kind in linking me to his 2009 post “Writing a great draft (by crucifying my darlings)” which listed  Aleksandr SolzhenitsynJohn McCainJ.K. RowlingHerculesBertrand Russell and the Dalai Lama. And then I asked Andreas to send me some additional info about J.K. RowlingBertrand Russell and the Dalai Lama from an earlier draft. (Additional links added.)

Excerpted from Andreas’ email re J.K. RowlingBertrand Russell and the Dalai Lama:

J.K. Rowling and the Dalai Lama were, like the other characters, strewn throughout the chapters, so it’s hard to paste the passages here. But Rowling was in there for her views on failure, which she described memorably in a commencement address.

The Dalai Lama was there in the later chapters, originally as a contrast to Solzhenitsyn. Whereas the latter overcame suffering and injustice but became bitter in later life, the Dalai Lama overcame suffering and injustice by becoming gentler, more compassionate. So S really “failed”, whereas the DL really “triumphed”, in a larger sense.

Bertrand Russell was originally in the chapter about midlife crises, because he had an epic one. I found this passage from my first draft:

Or as Bertrand Russell, a great philosopher and mathematician, did in 1910 when he was thirty-eight and published a monumental work called Principia Mathematica, which remains a cornerstone of logic to this day. It catapulted him to fame and earned him a Nobel Prize. But Russell suddenly and paradoxically perceived his life as an utter failure. His marriage during all the years in which he had worked on the Principia Mathematica had been emotionally and sexually cold and really a social shell that was intended to leave him free to concentrate totally on the ideas crowding his brain. His existence had been entirely intellectual and cerebral. He experienced companionship with his mentor, Alfred North Whitehead, also a great philosopher, but not with his wife. Russell’s life was one of thinking, not feeling. And this now struck him as a personal Disaster.

And so Russell embarked on his passage, understanding that one reason he had focused so exclusively on mathematics was “because it is not human,” which gave him a psychological excuse to deny that other important things were missing in his life. He pondered the meaning of his mathematical Triumphs and saw the emotional destruction in his old lifestyle. He had hurt himself and his wife, and others as well.

As he was reappraising his apparent success and perceived failure, the meaning of his old goals and ambitions, he met Ottoline Morell, a freewheeling lady who promised to set the balance right. Russell had an intense love affair with her. With her help, he made contact with his own sexual fantasies, discovered new interests in aesthetic and sensual matters and developed social concerns. He became softer and warmer, less mathematical and more “human”. He took up activist causes and became a pacifist. In his forties, as he became “less of a logic machine”, he felt “rejuvenated” and began living a “fuller, more diverse life” until his death at the age of ninety-seven.[i]

[i] Levinson, p. 31 – 32.

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