Virtual History: Alternatives and Counterfactuals
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Virtual History: Alternatives and Counterfactuals

3.34 of 5 stars 3.34  ·  rating details  ·  317 ratings  ·  24 reviews

What if there had been no American War of Independence? What if Hitler had invaded Britain? What if Kennedy had lived? What if Russia had won the Cold War? Niall Ferguson, author of the highly acclaimed The Pity of War, leads the charge in this historically rigorous series of separate voyages into “imaginary time” and provides far-reaching answers to these intriguing quest

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Published August 6th 2008 by Basic Books (first published April 18th 1997)
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Aug 25, 2013 Simon marked it as read-enough-of  ·  review of another edition
I will write only about the 90 or so page introduction to this volume by the editor, Niall Ferguson, which I began by reading assiduously and ended by skimming quickly.

Counterfactual history is history written mainly in counterfactuals – sentences of the form “if x had/had not been the case, then y would/would not have been the case.” (Obviously, most sentences in such a history might not actually be counterfactuals, but the main theses will be.) Of such historical endeavors, four questions mus...more
Niall Ferguson at his best can be spell-binding, and his research and ability to tie together disparate facts to weave together his unique tapestry of analysis and historical account can be unsurpassed, but his output is uneven. I haven't even rated some of his lesser works as they were just that boring. Virtual History isn't terrible--and Ferguson is only part-writer, editing together other counter-factual historians to create plausible alternate histories--but he falls prey to the 'transport a...more
Este o tentaţie umană firească să ne întrebăm ce s-ar fi întâmplat dacă un anume eveniment n-ar fi avut loc sau dacă am fi ales alt drum atunci când am fost puşi în faţa unei dileme. Nu este o pornire aplicabilă doar pe plan personal, ci şi extrapolată la un context mai larg, istoric. Aşa-numita istorie contrafactuală, care mizează pe „condiţionalul contrafactual”, dă frâu liber imaginaţiei pentru a dezvolta direcţii pe care trecutul le-a curmat de cele mai multe ori în mod neaşteptat. Volumul c...more
Kym Andrew Robinson
If you enjoy reading alternative history fiction then this book is for you. A nice collection of various periods in time and how things and events could even changed if key moments had of gone in another direction.

A nice deviation and indulgence for any one with a sense of historical appreciation and understanding. Whether you agree or disagree it does not matter as it is all a dance down the path of 'imagine if' and therein lies the creative license of those writing, however 'expert' or not tha...more
John  Bellamy
It's understandable that counterfactual historical speculations have been more popular with fiction writers than historians, as their handling by the latter has all too often lurched toward the simplistic and absurd. Indeed, too many of them--Robert Fogel's tome on what 19th century American development would have been like without railroads--have reminded me of nothing so much as an early "Saturday Night Live" skit which featured a "film" of the Battle of Hastings showing William the Conquerer'...more
Virtual History is a pseudo-academic work that explores "counterfactual" questions. It answers questions such as "What if J.F.K. had not been assasinated?" Which is of interest in a semi-modern setting. It also answers questions like "What if Charles I had not sued for peace with the Scots in the 1640s. The questions are actually quite interesting, but they are "Anglo-American" centric (the book's own term).

There are several annoying things about this book, but happily only one of them permeates...more
Bas Kreuger
Counterfactual history: horror for one historian, blessing for the other. Ferguson (as editor) and others prove to me that careful analysis of facts and figures plus the changing of one or a few variables can make a very believable alternative history. The UK staying out of WWI and thus Imperial Germany creating a sort of European Union 35 years early; Gorbatchev choosing the Chinese path instead of Perestroika and Glasnost and thus cracking down hard on unrest in the Eastern block in 1989 while...more
Historical counterfactuals are fun to ponder: What if John Wilkes Booth had had poor aim? What if Hitler hadn't declared war on the United States after Pearl Harbor? What if Napoleon had escaped to South America in a tiny submarine after Waterloo?

Niall Ferguson wants to go even further. Alternative histories aren't just amusing, he argues in the introduction to this collection of essays. They're actually a useful way to study history. They can help us think through whether certain historical ev...more
Finally finished this book.

This book is made up of a series of essays by different authors dealing with 'counterfactual' history...what could have happened. I am a fan of alternate histories and looked forward to reading this one - the dust jacket has a painting of London's Big Ben draped in Nazi banners.

It read,for the most part, like a college history text book. The authors quoted chapter and verse from real primary source materials. Many of the essays were boring - and I love history.

The one...more
Mark Singer
Feb 21, 2011 Mark Singer rated it 4 of 5 stars  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: anyone interested in counterfactuals
Recommended to Mark by: no one
This is one the more interesting books I have read on counterfactuals, or alternative history, as they are better known. Edited by Scottish historian Niall Ferguson, the collection is focused on British and European history, and features a number of historians fleshing out their what-ifs. Three of the books nine essays are on World War II, which seems to be the main focus of alternate history these days. But the book also explores paths not often encountered, such as an English Civil War or Amer...more
Carlos Dourado
Há livros que parecem ser feitos para nos sentir ignorantes e dizer "Caro leitor: você acabou de ultrapassar o seu limite cultural; por favor volte para trás e devolva o livro se puder". Este foi o primeiro livro que li que me deixou com essa sensação.

Comprei-o, pensando que iria ler algo sobre temas simples como "E se... [inserir desfecho histórico diferente do que aconteceu]", e fui surpreendo por uma análise que mais parece adequada para uma tese de doutoramento: complexo, e com uma necessida...more
Not a huge fan of this book, but it's an interesting project for academic historians, and worth looking at just for that reason. Ferguson starts with making the argument for why counterfactual history is actually important for understanding history and, more importantly, the philosophy of history - for instance, not accepting historical events as inevitable and looking for deterministic processes behind them. It also allows one to grasp the importance of various decisions and the alternatives th...more
Chris Bull
Tried to get through this book, but most of it read like an academic paper. Ugghh.
This is not alternative history of which I am found of. This was heavy going.
I wonder what if I hadn't spent any time on reading this....
Chris Passingham
I am afraid this book was written with the premise that every one in the world is obsessed with U.S. and not world, history. This made what should have been an interesting book into one that was slightly dull.
Steven Williams
I don't think it's as good a collection of alternative histories as Cowley's What If? books. However, Ferguson does provide a good defense of the value of doing such histories.
This is an interesting idea with a great introduction as to why counterfactuals are worth considering. The method, in which primary source documents are used as the basis of drawing counterfactuals (No "How would Lincoln have reacted to an alien invasion in 1862?" kinds of questions) illustrates how history did not have to happen as it did. Ferguson's final essay, in which he combines all the counterfactuals into a single compelling narrative, is very entertaining. To borrow to Woody Allen, the...more
Arjun Narayan
This one is just straight up awful. By this book Niall Ferguson's descent into ridiculousness is complete (although it is only edited by him). It's extremely arrogant and far reaching in its attempt. I will be honest in saying that that is what attracted me to picking this book up from the shelves. However it spectacularly fails to deliver on its premise in ways far too hilarious for me to document here - see Amazon for some good takes. Pankaj Mishra's LRB review of "Civilization" also comes to...more
I love Ferguson and how he focuses on the fact that history was not pre-ordained and that many possible solutions were possible at the time. In this book he outlines a plausible "virtual history" in an enjoyable way. I thought this was a little dense in places, and expected a lot of historical knowledge of the reader, but as a Ferguson fan I liked it a lot.
History seems full of things that had to have happened. But before historical events happened they didn't seem inevitable. Historians describing how things could've happened else-wise remind the reader of how historical events felt to the participants. It also gives us fresh eyes with which to appreciate our weird, unexpected, historical period.
a fun read of what if's in history--Ferguson's first book, I believe--what would have happened if Kennedy did not get shot, or if Hitler won the Battle of Britain
Mike F
Advocates use of of counterfactuals in historical scholarship. Wants to advocate for a "Chaostory".
Neil Novesky
Intro 90 pages are easily most interesting section of book. Rest is ,though not Ferguson, sort of fun read.
A very thought-provoking book.
The introduction is over a hundred pages on counterfactuals and their value. What if? An interesting exercise in the narrowest sorts of change, but counterfactuals soon get out of hand and lose all applicability. I didn't buy his argument. This is the book to read about the idea, though.
Joseph marked it as to-read
Aug 19, 2014
Nimalan Mahendran
Nimalan Mahendran marked it as to-read
Aug 18, 2014
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Aug 16, 2014
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Niall Ferguson (born April 18, 1964, in Glasgow) is a British (Scottish) historian who specialises in financial and economic history as well as the history of empire. He is the Laurence A. Tisch Professor of History at Harvard University and the William Ziegler Professor of Business Administration at Harvard Business School. He was educated at the private Glasgow Academy in Scotland, and at Magdal...more
More about Niall Ferguson...
The Ascent of Money: A Financial History of the World Empire: How Britain Made The Modern World Civilization: The Six Ways the West Beat the Rest The War of the World: Twentieth-Century Conflict and the Descent of the West The Pity of War: Explaining World War I

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