Alexander set the pattern for his two followers. Self defense wasn't the justification for his or their wars. Alexander's greed for Persian wealth led him eastward, but he told the Greeks it was all retaliation for the Persian Wars. Hannibal wouldn't stand down when Rome challenged the Carthaginians for attacking the Spanish city of Saguntum. Strauss describes the crossing of the Rubicon as Caesar's chief act of unjustified, if understandable, aggression. The swathe of land Alexander cut through was larger than the land grabs of the others, but they all shared in greatness. Hannibal, who marveled at the skill of Alexander, cut an impressive path from Spain through the Alps and down the Italian peninsula. Julius Caesar compared himself unfavorably to Alexander because the young Macedonian had done it all so early. They all got right in there with their men, gambled with their own lives against enormous odds, including substantially larger armies. All three were also alike, at least in Strauss' estimation, in being inadequate statesmen; none succeeding in tamping in the new world order their conquests required.
While there are many comparisons among the three military prodigies, two were victors, one was not; the same two were memorably saved by their followers; and the same two were national leaders. Hannibal not only lost, but wasn't the ruler in Carthage. Strauss explains that his family had political capital in Spain and that somewhat after losing the second Punic War, Hannibal won a civilian office in Carthage, but he wasn't the king or the dictator for life that Caesar became, and, in the end, Hannibal lived far longer past his conquering years than the two others. The Macedonian and the Roman were fittingly mourned after their lives were suddenly cut short. The Carthaginian took his own life when his luck had completely run out.
Making sure each parallel works perfectly for all three men is not Strauss' concern. What he does want us to see is how the three men shared ten keys to the successes they had: ambition, capable judgment, leadership skills, audacity, agility in combat -- including speed and multitasking, a finely honed infrastructure, an instinct for strategy, willingness to terrorize, branding, and divine providence or sheer dumb luck. He wants us to see these three men as neither all good nor all evil, but all great.
Masters of Command is divided into a set of six basic chapters. The first is the "Ten Basic Qualities of Successful Commanders," summarized above. The remaining five titled appropriately for successful military strategists as "The Attack," "Resistance," "Clash," "Closing the Net," and "When to Stop." There are also notes, a timeline, a glossary of key names, notes on sources, limited notes on the material (the quantity in keeping with a fast-paced book), and, according to the contents, but nor my advance copy, an index. There is also a set of maps showing the diminishing territory covered by Hannibal and Caesar compared with Alexander.
Other recent books about Caesar and Alexander explain the wars and battles in a way that allows a non-military person like myself to follow along reasonably well. Strauss goes further. He explains the capable preparations made for battle, often on both sides, but since chance played the largest part in the struggles, he emphasizes the improvisational ability of the three men.
In all, Strauss weaves a glorious tapestry with many vignettes featuring each of the three commanders. While not forcing the point when it doesn't quite work, he compares the three in ways that are not all immediately obvious, drawing on a fully stocked supply of anecdotes and details.
If there is one area the book failed in for me, it's in convincing me that Julius Caesar failed as a statesman. That, however, may not be humanly possible.Disclosure: A review copy was provided by the publisher. For more information, please see our Ethics Policy.