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Vitual History by Niall Ferguson

Vitual History (original 1997; edition 2009)

by Niall Ferguson (Editor)

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Title:Vitual History
Authors:Niall Ferguson (Editor)
Info:Fall River Press (2009), Hardcover
Collections:Your library
Tags:alternate history

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Virtual History: Alternatives and Counterfactuals by Niall Ferguson (1997)



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Professional Academic Historians prefer to be taken seriously, and thus are very chary of actually exploring "What If" scenarios. Admittedly there is a steady market for Popularization of the "what if the South had won at Gettysburg," school. Mr. Ferguson is of the prim school generally, especially because he strongly favours economic history in his own writings. But even he gives way to speculation on occasion and this is it. "Caution!" , you're not going to find much about battles in this book. Worth the read, though. ( )
  DinadansFriend | Sep 14, 2013 |
This is a controversial area of history, is it worthless speculation, since it never happened, or can these be informative thought experiments? It is up to Ferguson in the seminal introductory, and lengthy, opening essay to convince the reader that this is a worthwhile endeavor. He also closes out the volume tying together the disparate elements of the work.

There are several examples historically that make the thought experiments worthwhile to consider, did England need to go to war in World War I, what if Hitler invaded England, or what would have happened if JFK had lived. In the Kennedy piece, the author excoriates JFK and takes him to task for his weak stance on civil rights.

After a sound consideration of these essays a number of them go to the heart and are well worth considering.
1 vote gmicksmith | Feb 11, 2013 |
A collection of essays considering the "what ifs" of history -- what if there had been no (sucessful) American Revolution, what if Hitler's Germany had defeated Russia, what if John Kennedy had not been assassinated, and so on. The orientation, not surprisingly in a book edited by Niall Ferguson, is heavily Anglo-American. These are serious essays by serious historians, who regard "counterfactualism" as a way of better understanding what actually did happen. Some other serious historians regard it as a waste of time. I find the thought exercise iinteresting, however. Moreover, counterfactualism can help examine widely held assumptions that may not be true (John Kennedy as an American hero, for example). ( )
2 vote annbury | Sep 29, 2010 |
My knowledge of British history was not up to reading this book. The articles are written by historians with expert knowledge of particular periods of British and the alternate histories turn on small scale events, which someone who has only one survey course in general European history will be unlikely to know about. But if you have that kind of detailed knowledge, I think you would find the book fascinating ( )
1 vote aulsmith | Jul 4, 2010 |
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Acted history...is an ever-living, ever-working Chaos of Being, wherein shape after shape bodies itself forth from innumerable elements. And this Chaos...is what the historian will depict, and scientifically gauge!
--Thomas Carlyle
There is no privileged past...There is an infinitude of Pasts, all equally valid...At each and every instant of Time, however brief you suppose it, the line of events forks like the stem of a tree putting forth twin branches.
--Andre Maurois
The enduring achievement of historical study is a historical sense - an intuitive understanding - of how things do not happen.
--Lewis namier
The historian must...constantly put himself at a point in the past at which the known factors will seem to permit different outcomes. If he speaks of Salamis, then it must be as if the Persians might still win; if he speaks of the coup de'etat of Brumaire, then it must remain to be seen if Bonaparte will be ignominiously repulsed.
-- Johan Huizinga
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What if there had been no English Civil War?
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Amazon.com Amazon.com Review (ISBN 0465023231, Paperback)

This meaty, scholarly collection of essays by gifted historian Niall Ferguson tackles the controversial topic of counterfactual questions: What if Hitler had invaded Britain in WWII? What if JFK had survived his assassination? What if there had been no Gorbachev to usher in the collapse of Communism? What if there had been no American Revolution? Ferguson points out that while questions such as these are a vital part of how we learn as individuals ("What if I had observed the speed limit, or refused that last drink?"), there remains a great deal of resistance--even hostility--to such musings among professional historians. "[I]n the dismissive phrase of E.H. Carr, 'counterfactual' history is a mere 'parlour game,' a 'red herring.'" E.P. Thompson is less charitable, calling counterfactual histories "'Geschichtswissenschlopff', unhistorical shit."

But Ferguson and his distinguished collaborators (many of whom are also Oxford fellows) lodge some convincing counterfactuals of their own to counter this arguably blinkered notion, this "idea that events are in some way preprogrammed, so that what was, had to be." In addition to the what-ifs above, Ferguson and his comrades tackle eight questions in all, including "What if Charles I had avoided the Civil War?", "What if Home Rule had been enacted [in Ireland] in 1912?", and "What if Britain had 'stood aside' in August 1914?" Virtual History makes for a stimulating and intellectually rigorous trip, with Ferguson's own delightful afterword as the collection's crowning jewel, a brilliant--and often bitingly clever--timeline tying together all the threads from 1646 to 1996. --Paul Hughes

(retrieved from Amazon Thu, 12 Mar 2015 18:04:53 -0400)

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