There are many battles which could be described as "Rome's Greatest Defeat". I'm not sure that I agree this was it but nevertheless I found Adrian Murdoch's book to be an enjoyable and informative read.
Murdoch's book is the story of the ambush and destruction of three Roman legions in the heart of Germany two thousand years ago. Murdoch structures his account logically taking the reader from a point a few decades before the disaster, to the ambush itself and beyond. The final chapters of the book discuss how the battle has been seen at different points in history right up to the present day.
The introductory chapters are good for both the newcomer to Roman history and also those who already have some knowledge. This is a tricky path to tread for any author as it is difficult to keep the experts interested without baffling the novices. Murdoch succeeds because he does a good job of describing how he sees these historical figures that only come to us partly formed from the past.
Murdoch seems to rely fist and foremost on the ancient sources for his description of the disaster but he does also talk about the archaeology involved. I think he combines the two well to give a good, detailed account of the battle itself and the events leading up to and following it. Murdoch's archaeological sources are not just from Germany. He also uses finds from other parts of the world such as Hadrian's Wall to round out the world he is describing.
Indeed, Murdoch makes a lot of effort to recreate the world at that time and I think in this he is very successful. There is a great description of a Roman fort and he drops in nice details such as a brief explanation of the amber trade. In quite a short book (about 200 pages) he really manages to achieve a lot.
There are some faults with the book. I think it could benefit from more pictures of the finds at the site of the battle. A bust of Germanicus is all very well and good but I'd rather be looking at evidence of the battle itself. Also there is no map of the battle site; in my opinion essential for the description of any battle.
While the final chapters are good, for me they don't quite have the interest of the first two thirds of the book. Consequently I think it tails off somewhat towards the end. This is especially true with the author's philosophical concluding comments on the lessons of war.
The book contains a few minor errors such as saying that Lucius Caedicius was both primus pilus and preafectus castrorum (the two were quite different positions in a Roman legion) but for most people these would not spoil the book at all.
There is another book that I've reviewed which also deals with this battle called The Battle That Stopped Rome by Peter S. Wells. While I do like Wells's book (and I think the title is more accurate) I think Murdoch's book is superior.