Mr. Cowan has written a book that will appeal to many kinds of readers. And I think that every reader will find something in this book that is of interest to him. After all, here are laid the foundations for the unstoppable growth of a small village, later: town, into an enormous Empire spanning the whole Mediterranean world, and then some other stretches of land as well... Anyone who from time to time wonders: 'how was that possible?' should read this book.
It has only one or two minor flaws, none of which are Mr. Cowan's fault. First, the data on this period of Roman history (roughly from 510-275 BC) are for some decades rather sketchy. Most of the sources are of a later date, and are also often inclined to minimalize Roman losses and defeats or gloss them over, or seem to be taking a guess to what happened because the writer couldn't make head or tail from what he read in his sources. Secondly, chronology isn't always too clear. Thirdly, Roman commanders are more than once nameless and therefor faceless. This shows in the first part of Mr. Cowan's book, when he has to make the best of what his sources offer him. As the sources become more numerous and varied, the story takes on pace and turns in an engrossing read.
It literally comes down to: one campaign each year. A Roman farmer just about has time to till his fields, then is called to arms, wanders about Italy for some months, only to return just in time before the Apennines are snowed over, preventing him from reaching his home in a more or less comfortable way. If he survives, that is...
Mr. Cowan tells in a lucid way how Rome gradually made herself master (mistress?) of the peninsula, by conquering, bullying, cheating, rewarding and buying her opponents. Some were not too easily subdued (the Samnites being the most resistent), but in the end Rome could call Italy her own. Not to settle down and take a rest: almost immediately the next wars began, notably those against Carthage and a little later in Greece.
The Roman army was a force that existed to feed itself, and to feed itself it had to fight. Roman noblemen needed war to make a name, and Romans never gave up once they saw a challenging force that just might threaten them. All this combined led to the gruelling story Mr. Cowan tells us.
He quite justly reminds us, in his concluding words, of the numerous people killed in these centuries of warfare, of the endless towns devastated, of the harvests plundered and farmhouses destroyed, depriving inhabitants of their future for many many years. If only just one in every ten visitors of Rome would think of this when standing amazed on the Forum Romanum, it would be a salute to those anonymous victims of Rome's war machine. Mr. Cowan tells us how sophisticated it became in an entertaining way. A pity though about the typo's one encounters every now and then.
A good basic history, but marred by excessively poor editing - "principal/principle" were mischosen more often than not, different versions of the same name on consecutive pages; poor assistance to the author from the publishers. I would have happily awarded four points if the book had been in publishable state, but can give no more than three for such a poor production. Sorry for the author, who put an interesting story together.