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What Ifs? of American History : Eminent…

What Ifs? of American History : Eminent Historians Imagine What Might Have… (2003)

by Robert Cowley (Editor)

Other authors: Antony Beevor (Contributor), Caleb Carr (Contributor), Robert Dallek (Contributor), George Feifer (Contributor), Thomas Fleming (Contributor)13 more, Victor Davis Hanson (Contributor), Cecelia Holland (Contributor), John Lukacs (Contributor), Lawrence Malkin (Contributor), David McCollough (Contributor), James M. McPherson (Contributor), Ted Morgan (Contributor), Robert L. O'Connell (Contributor), Theodore K. Rabb (Contributor), Andrew Roberts (Contributor), John F. Stacks (Contributor), Tom Wicker (Contributor), Jay Winik (Contributor)

Other authors: See the other authors section.

Series: What if (3)

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Showing 4 of 4
Professional historians (of which I'm one), will start telling stories about the past at the drop of a hat. That tendency is on full display in the "What If?" series, where essay after essay spends 80-90% of its length on what *actually* happened, leaving the counter-factual scenario as a brief afterthought. This third volume in the series is no exception: Roughly 2/3 of the essays are more about what was than what might have been.

The real events are often excitingly told (David McCullough in fine form, narrating Washington's desperate nighttime escape after the Battle of Long Island), little known (guerrilla warfare after Appomatox), or unexpectedly significant (the debate over VP John Tyler's right to ascend to the presidency after William Henry Harrison died in office). Fans of alternate history may, however, find themselves wishing that the authors had saved it for a book of straight historical essays, and gotten on with the good bits. I'm with them.

The two best pieces in the book are (no surprise) written from viewpoints within their counter-factual worlds: One on the Anglo-American War of 1895 and one on the nuclear war that resulted from the Cuban Missile Crisis of 1962. They're well worth the time of even a casual alternate history fan . . . or anyone interested in war and diplomacy in the 20th century. ( )
  ABVR | Nov 4, 2008 |
only a couple of good essays and as stated tends to be focused on local American history ( )
  ablueidol | Jan 2, 2008 |

I'd read the two previous volumes in this series, which are more global and less American in scope; loved the first one, less impressed by the second. This one concentrates on US history, and is generally pretty good - the one real dud is an essay on "What if Pearl Harbour hadn't happened?" which concludes that nothing would have been very different except that the Pacific War would have been six months late. The other Second World War essay is a bit more exciting but also concludes that it wouldn't have made much difference if Eisenhower had gone for Berlin.

There are no less than four essays on the Civil War, one of which is James McPherson's reprint from the first volume on "What if the South had won?", but the other three taking interesting tacks: one (by the dubious Victor Davis Hanson) credits Lew Wallace's personal disgrace at the battle of Shiloh with his later creation of the popular epic novel in Ben-Hur; one looking at the potential for insurrection against the Lincoln administration in what we now call the Mid-West, and one speculating (a bit chaotically) about the possibilities for continued insurgency in the context of Andrew Johnson as well as Abraham Lincoln being assassinated.

Two of the pieces are written from the counterfactual perspective first used, I think, by Winston Churchill in his 1931 essay "If Lee had not Won the Battle of Gettysburg". The one on how the Cuban missile crisis turned into a global nuclear war is rather conventional stuff; but Andrew Roberts' piece explaining the origins and course of the 1896 war between the USA and Britain is the pick of the book for me, although I don't quite agree on the likelihood of the US being given Quebec in a peace settlement; much more likely what happened in the 1885 Serbo-Bulgarian War, both sides being returned to the status quo ante.

The other piece that particularly caught my eye was on John Tyler, the first Vice-President to succeed to the Presidency after the death of his running-mate. Tom Wicker points out that Tyler's accession was far from assured by a strict reading of the constitution, and that the policies he pursued in office, in particular on the annexation of Texas, were crucial in their importance to the future of the country and not likely to have been pursued as successfully by any other potential president of the day. Tyler is much more interesting than I had realised, and the story has an exploding cannon as well, which in February 1844 killed numerous senior officials, one of whose grieving daughters found comfort in the arms of the recently widowed President Tyler, who married her four months later. (One of their grandsons is still alive.)

Anyway, a good collection for the history buff. ( )
1 vote nwhyte | Jul 15, 2007 |
Very interesting. ( )
  kuzmatt9 | Mar 27, 2006 |
Showing 4 of 4
This volume is a companion piece to What If? and More What If?.

This book concentrates mainly on the history of the US. So we have:-
The Mayflower landing in Virginia instead of Massachusetts and so less religious influence on the US.
Pitt the Elder avoiding the American Revolution.
George Washington being trapped by British troops in Brooklyn before the War of Independence gets fully into stride.
No incorporation of Texas into the Union - and no Vice Presidents automatically succeeding on a President’s death.
No loss of Lee’s cigar-wrapped orders before Antietam and hence a Union defeat in the Civil War.
No (possibly unjust) blaming of a certain Civil War Union general for a near catastrophe. (That circumstance eventually gave us Ben-Hur and all the cultural efflorescences that followed from it.)
A second secession (of Mid-West States) during the Civil War.
Andrew Johnson being assassinated along with Lincoln.
A class war in the 1870s.
A US-Britain war in 1896 (over a border dispute in South America!)
FDR delaying the Pacific War.
Eisenhower taking Berlin before Zhukov and Konev get there.
Joe McCarthy as a Soviet agent. (Not too big a leap for the imagination if you apply the old saying “cui bono” to that Senator’s activities.)
A thawing of the Cold War because Gary Powers’s U-2 mission is cancelled.
The Cuban missile crisis is not resolved safely.
An unassassinated JFK reconciling with Cuba (and resisting embroilment in Vietnam.)
Watergate as only a minor scandal.

All fascinating stuff – if perhaps sometimes the historians assume nothing too much would change thereby.
added by jackdeighton | editA Son Of The Rock, Jack Deghton

» Add other authors (4 possible)

Author nameRoleType of authorWork?Status
Cowley, RobertEditorprimary authorall editionsconfirmed
Beevor, AntonyContributorsecondary authorall editionsconfirmed
Carr, CalebContributorsecondary authorall editionsconfirmed
Dallek, RobertContributorsecondary authorall editionsconfirmed
Feifer, GeorgeContributorsecondary authorall editionsconfirmed
Fleming, ThomasContributorsecondary authorall editionsconfirmed
Hanson, Victor DavisContributorsecondary authorall editionsconfirmed
Holland, CeceliaContributorsecondary authorall editionsconfirmed
Lukacs, JohnContributorsecondary authorall editionsconfirmed
Malkin, LawrenceContributorsecondary authorall editionsconfirmed
McCollough, DavidContributorsecondary authorall editionsconfirmed
McPherson, James M.Contributorsecondary authorall editionsconfirmed
Morgan, TedContributorsecondary authorall editionsconfirmed
O'Connell, Robert L.Contributorsecondary authorall editionsconfirmed
Rabb, Theodore K.Contributorsecondary authorall editionsconfirmed
Roberts, AndrewContributorsecondary authorall editionsconfirmed
Stacks, John F.Contributorsecondary authorall editionsconfirmed
Wicker, TomContributorsecondary authorall editionsconfirmed
Winik, JayContributorsecondary authorall editionsconfirmed
Ho, AndreaCover designersecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Holmberg, DanCover photographersecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
McMillian, MichelleDesignersecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
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America is the subject of this third volume in the What If? series.
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Might the Mayflower not have sailed? / Theodore K. Rabb
William Pitt the Elder and the avoidance of the American revolution / Caleb Carr
What the fog wrought : the Revolution's Dunkirk, August 29, 1776 / David McCullough
"His accidency" John Tyler / Tom Wicker
Lew Wallace and the ghosts of the Shunpike / Victor Davis Hanson
If the lost order hadn't been lost : Robert E. Lee humbles the union, 1862 / James M. McPherson
The Northwest conspiracy / Thomas Fleming
Beyond the wildest dreams of John Wilkes Booth / Jay Winik
The revolution of 1877 / Cecelia Holland
The whale against the wolf : the Anglo-American War of 1896 / Andrew Roberts
No Pearl Harbor : FDR delays the war / John Lukacs
If Eisenhower had gone to Berlin / Antony Beevor
Joe McCarthy's secret life / Ted Morgan
If the U-2 hadn't flown / George Feifer
The Cuban missile crisis : second holocaust / Robert L. O'Connell
JFK lives / Robert Dallek
What if Watergate were still just an upscale address? / Lawrence Malkin and John F. Stacks.
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Amazon.com Product Description (ISBN 0399150919, Hardcover)

An all-American collection of essays on the pivotal moments in our nation's history by award-winning historians, the third in the bestselling series.

The "what if" concept is one of the most original and engaging on the current history bookshelf. The essays are chock-full of provocative ideas; they are as accessible to the general reader as they are to the scholar; and they are the perfect gift for the dedicated history buff on anyone's list.

In this new collection of never-before-published essays, our brightest historians speculate about some of America's more intriguing crossroads. Some irresistible highlights include: Caleb Carr (The Alienist) on America had there been no Revolution; Tom Wicker on the first time a vice president, John Tyler, succeeded a deceased president and its surprising ramifications; Jay Winik (April 1865) on the havoc that might have resulted if Booth had succeeded in his plan to assassinate Johnson and Seward as well as Lincoln; Antony Beevor (The Fall of Berlin 1945) on the possibility of Eisenhower's capture of Berlin before the Soviets' arrival there in 1945; and Robert Dallek (the upcoming An Unfinished Life about John F. Kennedy) on one of the most agonizing American "what if"s of all: what might have happened if JFK hadn't been assassinated.

(retrieved from Amazon Thu, 12 Mar 2015 18:16:45 -0400)

(see all 4 descriptions)

A collection of essays on pivotal moments in American history includes Caleb Carr on America had there been no Revolution, and Robert Dallek on what might have happened if JFK had not been assassinated.

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