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What If? The World's Foremost Historians Imagine What Might Have Been (What If #1)

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3.7 of 5 stars 3.70  ·  rating details  ·  1,693 ratings  ·  108 reviews
Historians and inquisitive laymen alike love to ponder the dramatic what-its of history. In these twenty never-before-published essays, some of the keenest minds of our time ask the big, tantalizing questions: Where might we be if history had not unfolded the way it did? Why, how, and when was our fortune made real? The answers are surprising, sometimes frightening, and al ...more
Paperback, 395 pages
Published September 1st 2000 by Berkley (first published 1999)
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Mauri
Enh. A bit of a disappointment, for all that it took me more than four years to get to it. I skimmed a lot of the essays dealing with earlier history, as there was much moaning about how if such-and-such battle had been lost or so-and-so had died earlier or later then GREEK CIVILIZATION NEVER WOULD HAVE DEVELOPED AND WE'D ALL BE RIDING HORSES OR WEARING VEILS AND LIVING IN POLICE STATES AND SPEAKING ASSYRIAN/PERSIAN/SOME GOD-AWFUL ORIENTAL LANGUAGE OH NOES!!!!11!!

Right, *cough* color me unimpres
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Pspealman
Nov 08, 2007 Pspealman rated it 4 of 5 stars
Recommends it for: Contingency Planners
I'm not one much for military history and yet this is easily one of the best history books I've read.

It isn't that the writing is particularly great - there are no lines that beat you in the face with the sublime till you spout ramblings about Grecian urns. But it is consistently clear with an excitement over the subject matter that is infectious to the general reader. The selection of writers is excellent and the tone, mostly, consistent hovering somewhere between a textbook and a deranged time
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Ensiform
Replace “The World’s” in the subtitle with “American and British,” and you have an accurate description of the book. A series of essays, padded with a dozen or so one-page counterfactual presentations. An endlessly fascinating idea with great potential, unfortunately not fully realized. Through 2700 years of history the authors, with varying amounts of detail, and with varying degrees of success, review some great military turning points in history, and their alternate outcomes.

One great flaw is
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liirogue
A compilation of essays that look at how things might have gone if battles had turned out differently. I found some of the scenarios very interesting. Unfortunately, either my attention span or the quality of the book began to suffer as it continued. Since the later essays were close in time, they seemed to become rather repetitive. There were even occasions when the same battle was written about twice, which really began to push my boredom level.

Overall, an interesting book, but it definitely c
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Sherwood Smith
When I saw the names James M. McPherson and John Keegan, I thought this would be fun, but as I trudged through it, enjoying speculative paragraphs here and there, just to be mired in tangents about tactical and cultural what-ifs, I realized that what these guys are doing is describing fiction without actually telling a story.

I guess this sort of thing is fun for a certain kind of mindset--the distant view of the chess board of history--but it became an exercise in frustration for me, who likes t
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Dale
What if...it were ALL written by top quality writers?

The premise of this book is explained by the title. The "What ifs...?" range in time from the failed Assyrian siege of Jerusalem in 701 B.C. to an extremely tense period in the Cold War in November of 1983. There are 40 different scenarios in all. For me, the most interesting were the scenarios concerning the Spanish conquest of the Aztecs and the American Revolution. Each of these had multiple "What ifs?" and I am now convinced that 2 of the
...more
Josh
Two scriptural passages come to mind while reading this collection of might-have-beens: First, from Alma, "by small and simple things are great things brought to pass" (Alma 36:6-7) and second, paraphrasing Nephi, the rise and fall of nations are in God's hands. (1 Ne. 17:37). In many of these essays, the fates of empires, both ancient and modern, turn on a lieutenant's reflexes or on the sudden vagaries of weather. The quality of writings varies among the selections, as might be expected in any ...more
Sean
"What If? The World's foremost MILITARY Historians Imagine What Might Have Been" is a book with an interesting premise: to ask how certain historical events could have occurred differently. However, the book is wildly inconsistent, with some interesting, thought provoking articles outweighed by poorly conceived, poorly written, myopic ones.

The book is a collection of articles edited by Robert Cowley, editor of "Military History Magazine" which explore various historical scenarios. The scenarios,
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Frank Sanello
"What If?" belongs to a genre called alternate history in which the historian speculates how the past might have been altered if one or more events had or hadn't happened. One example: Britain would have been deprived of Winston Churchill's leadership which prevented the Nazi occupation of his country if the future prime minister had been killed instead of being injured when a taxi cab in New York in 1931 hit him as Churchill was crossing the street.

This nonfiction history contains discrete ite
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Dom Watkins
A fascinating series of essays positing alternative outcomes to some of histories most significant military events.

Using counter-factual scenarios the writers envisage how, what may have appeared at the time, to be small scale occurrences are rendered significant if the outcome is altered.

The book contains essays ranging from 701 BCE (The siege of Jerusalem by Sennacherib, King of Assyria) up to 1946 (Chiang Kai-shek halts the Nationalist assault on a Communist North China allowing them to re-gr
...more
Bap
This book is a compilation of essays from eminent historians like Seven Sears, john Keegan, David McCullough who imagine what might have been with a difference of the weather or one fact changing. The mongols had swept through Eastern Europe in the 13th century and were poised to sweep through Western Europe when word reached their armies that their ruler, the supreme Kahn had died which required the leaders of the invasion force to return to Mongolia to elect a new leader. The dark ages would h ...more
Bill
Counterfactual history... alternative outcomes at history's key turning points and how things could easily have turned out. Let's face it, it's pulp fiction for history buffs! I love it! Interesting that all the pre-1500 scenarios similarly observe that any slight change along the way would have derailed Christianity and thus changed the course of world history. Testament to the profoundly shaping influence Jesus has (in actual fact) had on the course of history, I guess.
James
Dec 17, 2007 James rated it 5 of 5 stars
Recommends it for: Anyone interested in military history
A very interesting book - a lot of history is taught in a way that makes it seem inevitable that things turned out the way they did, but some events that could have easily gone differently would have led to a world today that might be hard to recognize compared to the one we inhabit. Some great writers here, sharing some deep and careful thinking.
Salma
كتاب تاريخي حربي سياسي، يناقش التاريخ البديل للعالم كما نعرفه الآن، فماذا لو لم ينتحر هتلر ؟ و ماذا لو لم يمت الكسندر الكبير في عمر ال32 ؟.. ماذا سيتغير في عالمنا الحالي!

يتكون الكتاب من 20 واقعه تاريخيه ، تسرد منفصلة كلن في فصل . يبدأ كل فصل بذكر الحاله العامة للشخصية/الدولة التي سيتحدث عنه ثم ذكر الواقعه التي صنعت التاريخ من هناك ، و اخيرا يفرض بعض النظريات و الدراسات التي تبدأ ب * ماذا لو...* و يستمر الحال في كل فصل على نفس المنوال.

احببت ان الكتاب يشغل شرارة التفكير في الذهن و يترك الرأي الأخ
...more
Bill Glover
Christ that took forever to read! I normally don't read military history because it is the study of complete diplomatic failure, and often doesn't concern itself with the social, economic, political pre-context that I find more interesting. It also flies a bit to close to the irresistible light bulb of human glory and valor.
I thought this one would be interesting because of it's seemingly anti-deterministic thesis, but it was kinda meh. Long ago I was discussing Marvel comic's What If title with
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Makomai
L’ucronia e’ esercizio da romanziere, non certo da storico. Eppure questo libro affida perlopiu’ proprio a degli storici il compito di creare storie alternative, con risultati estremamente disuguali. Non sorprendentemente, il capitolo piu’ convincente e’ quello sulle possibili alternative che Napoleone avrebbe potuto scegliere, trattato da un grande storico quale Alistair Horne; il piu’ deludente uno tra i pochi non affidati ad uno storico (Lewis Lapham), che osa affrontare Teutoburgo - battagli ...more
Antoine Fleury-gobert
This is not a fiction book. If you are looking for uchronia, this book is not for you. But if, on the contrary, you want a solid account of some of history weak points, or if you want to write an alternative or parallel history, this is a must-have.

In this book, historians and war specialists try to highlight some of the weakest points in human (mostly western) history, trying to find where and when the current western European then American domination of the world would have been upturned. And
...more
Joseph
I thought it was a solid book throughout. The best word to sum it up is fascinating. It is a collection of essay's by some historical authors from before BC to how China became a communist country. Some of the more important topics include if the Mongols were successful invading Europe there would be no Renaissance Era, the Greek cultural and contributions and Christianity would not exist. There were countless times when the US was never going to become independent during the Revelation. The onl ...more
Kelanth, numquam risit ubi dracones vivunt
Un saggio molto carino e ben fatto che forse non riscuoterà il riscontro dei più che vedono la storia come una cosa noiosa, ma a me è sempre piaciuta e ho trovato questo libro davvero interessante e lo propongo volentieri a tutti per farli avvicinare a questa branchia del sapere che come disse qualcuno è bene ricordarlo ogni tanto "chi non conosce il proprio passato, non ha un presente". Mi riccollego anche ai fumetti americani dove il "What If..." è fonte di innumerevoli storie nell'universo Ma ...more
Wise_owl
I read this book back in university and than it left a larger impression on me than it did this time around. I suspect this is largely the difference in reading a book as a undergraduate and after years of historical education and developing ones own historical perspective.

Regardless, this book is about one of my favourite things; Uchronia. Taking history and examining the 'What ifs' of History. In this case mostly military History. What if Hitler had Invaded Great Britain. What if the Lost Orde
...more
Heather Palmer
May 30, 2009 Heather Palmer is currently reading it
'Marvellously entertaining as well as thought-provoking - the finest intellectual parlour-game around.' - Noel Malcolm, "Sunday Telegraph". "More What If?", the sequel to the acclaimed "What If?" examines history's most fascinating what-might have-beens. More of the world's leading historians, including Geoffrey Parker, Theodore K Rabb, Cecilia Holland and Caleb Carr postulate on what might so easily have been. Concentrating on the crucial and the seemingly insignificant, "What If? 2" is an ente ...more
Fred
I read this a few years ago and it was amazing. I would read it again if I ever came across it and that is saying a lot from me because I never read anything more than once (except for LOTR but that doesn't count). This is a series of essays written by world class historians where the goal is for them to make the smallest change in history possible and explore the huge impacts that the change would have. We're talking coin toss type changes that could have had catestrophic consequences to billio ...more
Champagr
I enjoyed this book greatly. In some parts the book was a recap of history I had already read, with a very nice emphasis on pivotal points. In other parts it was an introduction to key historical events that I was not as familiar with. Some of the what-if scenarios were hard to handle in a kind of emotional way. As a modern American it is literally painful to imagine suffering damaging losses at the hands of the Germans or Japanese in WWII, or losing to the South in the Civil War, or even worse, ...more
Jen
I really like the concept of this book -- if an event in the past had happened differently, how would that change history? For example, what would have happened if the D-Day invasion had failed? However, I found these essays, written by prominent historians, to be very uneven. I felt that the authors needed a bit more direction. Here would be my rules, were I to edit a second series (the examples I give are not from the book):

1. You must provide enough background knowledge so that a reader unfam
...more
Paul
An interesting proposition at first, even for someone like me who usually has a strong aversion to "military history", looking at how the world may have turned out if a battle or war had taken a different turn. It is somewhat let down by the very mixed quality of each contributor's efforts.

Some of the essays are fascinating and riveting, though rather a lot of them barely even bother to embrace the counterfactual aspect and just regurgitate what did happen rather than what might have happened, k
...more
Myridian
The premise of this book sparked my interest; the primary thing that kept me from enjoying it more is my own lack of knowledge. I never studied ancient history, so the scenarios based on those battles were difficult for me to fully appreciate. I'm fairly familiar with more modern history, but those scenarios were often too detailed for my taste. Spending 30 pages discussing every aspect of the revolutionary war or civil war or whatever war that could have gone differently quickly lost its spice. ...more
Clinton
I finally finished reading What If?, a collection of alternate history essays. Each essay takes a single event in history and analyzes how things might look differently today had that event occurred in a different way. One of the more intriguing essays was about Cortez and his conquest of what is today Mexico. This still stands as one of the most lopsided wars in history, and had Cortez not pulled it off North America would be a very different place today.

One author brought up another what-if qu
...more
Bill
Some fascinating chapters but the quality varied widely. Much of that was dependent on how far the contributing historian was willing to speculate on how things might have turned out differently.

Still, everyone with even a casual interest in history is bound to find something in this book they'll want to read. I was intriqued by several sections, including:

1. Prime Minister Halifax - if he'd become Prime Minister instead of Winston Churchill (which would have happened if Halifax hadn't taken hi
...more
Gary Braham
Pretty interesting view of important historical events. For the most part, it focused on how easily things could have taken a different path. With some attention given to what things would look like once we got there. They try not to speculate too much on what the world would look like with different outcomes to the events chronicled, but they do list some possibilities. As a rule, they try to imagine the smallest possible change, that could have led to vastly different results. Such as a leader ...more
Alexander Rossino
Not a bad collection of essays by any means. I read selectively through the subjects. There's no need to read lineally given that each is self-contained. Some of the scenarios posed stretched credulity, like McPherson's assertion that had Lee's order not been lost in September 1862 the armies would have wandered their way to Gettysburg in October and fought the battle in the same location, but with the positions reversed. Still, there was enough thought provoking in the book to be worth the time ...more
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86949
Robert Cowley is an American military historian, who writes on topics in American and European military history ranging from the Civil War through World War II. He has held several senior positions in book and magazine publishing and is the founding editor of the award-winning MHQ: The Quarterly Journal of Military History; Cowley has also written extensively and edited three collections of essays ...more
More about Robert Cowley...

Other Books in the Series

What If (2 books)
  • What If? 2: Eminent Historians Imagine What Might Have Been (What If, #2)
What If? 2: Eminent Historians Imagine What Might Have Been (What If, #2) The Collected What If? Eminent Historians Imagine What Might Have Been (What If, #1-2) What Ifs? of American History: Eminent Historians Imagine What Might Have Been No End Save Victory: Perspectives on World War II The Cold War: A Military History

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