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Almost America : From the Colonists to…
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Almost America : From the Colonists to Clinton : A "What If" History of… (2000)

by Steve Tally

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Counter-factual history is a growing stream of history writing, where authors posit "what-if" questions at momentous times in history. Historians have long played this game at cocktail parties and in their classrooms. What if Lee hadn't attacked at Gettysburg? What if Jefferson's administration hadn't bought the Louisiana Territory?

In the past several years, authors have begun putting some of their answers to these questions in print. Perhaps the best-selling counter-factual history is a novel called "Fatherland" by Robert Harris, which poses this question: What would the world look like if the D-Day invasion had failed? Most counter-factual history is not full-length, but short-story or chapter form. Steve Tally adds another collection to the stack with "Almost America: From the Colonists to Clinton: a "WHAT IF" History of the U.S."

Tally has done lots of homework. He surrounds his alternative histories, which take place throughout American history, with plenty of context. Indeed, his attention to contextual detail is better than many other counter-factual histories. Perhaps some of his scenarios are a little fanciful, but mostly they are grounded in historical situations and a fairly good understanding of the actors involved in key decisions.

Unfortunately, Tally has a significant problem -- he consistently lacks imagination, a problem that is magnified by the high quality of his historical understanding otherwise. He suggests an alternative decision, even going through the details of how that different decision could have been reached, but then rarely changes subsequent decisions of other actors due to that decision. (An exception of this is the intriguing chapter on Robert E. Lee deciding to accept the offer to command the Union armies.)

This is to suggest that excellent counter-factual history, as demonstrated by Harris, requires the attention to detail of a first-class historian and the dramatic creativity of a novelist. Tally usually only has the former, and his proposed counter-histories suffer because of it.

Still, there is value for the student of history to critically engage such potential historical decisions in order to better understand why key decisions have been made over the decades. Tally's book provides excellent context for many such key decisions, and has value for the way it poses the questions, if it sometimes disappoints with the answers given. ( )
  ALincolnNut | Jan 10, 2011 |
Steve Tally presents a collection of counterfactual history essays in this collection spanning United States history from the founding to the Clinton era. The chapters are short and to the point, great reading for when you have a few minutes or want to pass a chapter before bed. Each topic is introduced with a summary of the point of divergence event, an introduction to how actual history unfolded, and a short what if scenario of what might have happened differently. Refreshingly, few topics have to do with twists and turns in warfare as many alternative history novels have quite well charted those waters. Also, few have to do with the Civil War. The one that did speculated on the Booth conspiracy, what would have happened if the Vice President Andrew Johnson was murdered as well, which was a rather fresh angle. I liked the fact that a lot of the topics had to do with relatively mundane facets of American life, such as Teddy Roosevelt wanting to ban college football, or what Bill Gates might have done if IBM took the intellectual property of MS-DOS away from Microsoft.

My only complaint is that as a fan of alternate history novels the “what if” portions of the essays were far too short. Mere sketches really. I love it when a historian takes one of these divergent paths and takes it out years and decades, but Tally was finished with each topic in a page or so. What would have been the long-term consequences of the U2 project cancellation 100 years down the road? In his discussion of the Carnegie-Era Robber Barons and the decision to sell U.S. Steel in particular, he was just getting into the meat of America’s divergent path when he passed on to the next chapter. You could make a whole series of that.

What made reading this book really enjoyable was that I read it in the waning moths of 2008 and so many of the essays have to do with presidential elections and succession. It was fun to dive into the really juicy election years such as 1824 and the corruption surrounding the electoral counts, and Dewey Defeats Truman, a cautionary tale of why you shouldn’t call a campaign successful until election night. Certainly it was a timely read.

I feel that he takes a far more scholarly path than most anthologies of this sort (the background reading certainly taught me a lot about history that had been glossed over in school) but in trying to please both the historians and the alt-history fiction fans he produces a book that only kind of satisfies both tastes. It is certainly worth reading and I give points for the treading of new ground, but it only whet my appitite. ( )
  cleverusername2 | Feb 18, 2009 |
An interesting foray into the field of alternate history. I found it fascinating how so many things would, in Tally's view, stay the same or occur anyway. An enjoyable bit of escapism while also being informative on actual American history. Just be warned -- it's heavy on the political side, with only a few non-political situations discussed. ( )
  juliayoung | Nov 19, 2008 |
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In the late summer of 1775, American commander Benedict Arnold and his small ragtag army of rebels prepared for battle by following a bizarre ritual.
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Amazon.com Product Description (ISBN 0380800918, Paperback)

American history is full of difficult choices that could have gone the other way. Now Steve Tally sends you back to the most important moments in our nation's history -- and takes the other fork in the road.
What if the President Nixon had refused to resign and instead faced impeachment. What if George Bush had dropped Dan Quayle from the 1992 Republican ticket? What if Teddy Roosevelt had outlawed the new American sport of football as he threatened to do in 1906. What if IBM hadn't asked Bill Gates and Microsoft to write computer code for its first personal computer?

Decisions were made. The rules were set. The battles were won. But there was always the possibility of another outcome. Almost America unravels the threads of our nations history -- from the Puritan preachers of the 1970's to the impeachment trial of Bill Clinton -- and takes you to America ( or Americas) that might have been.

(retrieved from Amazon Thu, 12 Mar 2015 18:09:45 -0400)

American history is full of difficult choices that could have gone the other way. Now Steve Tally sends you back to the most important moments in our nation's history -- and takes the other fork in the road. What if the President Nixon had refused to resign and instead faced impeachment. What if George Bush had dropped Dan Quale from the 1992 Republican ticket? What if Teddy Roosevelt had outlawed the new American sport of football as he threatened to do in 1906. What if IBM hadn't asked Bill Gates and Microsoft to write computer code for its first personal computer? Decisions were made. The rules were set. The battles were won. But there was always the possibility of another outcome. Almost America unravels the threads of our nations history -- from the Puritan preachers of the 1970's to the impeachment trial of Bill Clinton -- and takes you to America ( or Americas) that might have been.

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