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Hannibal’s Oath: The Life and Wars of Rome’s Greatest Enemy, by John Prevas, Da Capo Press, Boston, Mass., 2017, $28

In the preface of Hannibal’s Oath author John Prevas explains that his intent in writing this volume was to produce a readable and engaging biography of Hannibal for the lay person. “Mine is not a book for scholars, it is a book for general readers interested in history and adventure,” he writes. “It is something to be read and enjoyed, not studied.” Fair enough, for he has produced a well-written, adventurous account of Hannibal’s life that will certainly entertain general readers. The book offers a list of dramatis personae to help such readers follow the plot, the chapters are short and the bibliography is adequate, though neither comprehensive nor up to date.

The author lectures on the classics and as such relies heavily on the “original sources” of Livy and Polybius to construct his narrative. Alas, too much so. Almost none of the bibliographic entries that could have helped the author render a more accurate account of events appear in the footnotes. Thus he repeats errors and gaps found in those original texts. That said, the audience Prevas seeks to reach will likely be forgiving.

As Aristotle reportedly once cautioned, “Do not ask of a thing what it cannot give.” The stated purpose of Hannibal’s Oath is to interest general readers in the life story of one of military history’s most important commanders, as well as to entertain them. Prevas keeps his promise.

—Richard A. Gabriel