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What Ifs? of American History: Eminent Historians Imagine What Might Have Been
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What Ifs? of American History: Eminent Historians Imagine What Might Have Been

3.57  ·  Rating Details ·  439 Ratings  ·  41 Reviews
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 histori
Published (first published 2003)
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Peter Mcloughlin
I read this book many years ago and reread it just now. It isn't bad as the parlor game of what ifs go. It tends to see the alternate timelines as more negative than actual history but as anyone knows from the 2016 election things in history could also have turned out a hell of a lot better than they did. The presentations are interesting and put a focus on critical turning points in US history. Always a good reminder that much of what accept as inevitable is in actuality highly contingent.
Paul Lunger
The 3rd book in the "What Ifs?" series, "What Ifs? of American History" is perhaps the weakest of the 3 books so far. The essays cover topics ranging from the Mayflower to the American Revolution to John Tyler to the Civil War to WWII & Watergate. Each of the 17 essays in this book examine various events in American history & cite simple facts of what could've been had they not happened. Where the majority of the essays fail is that they don't provide details of how significantly America ...more
Feb 13, 2008 Steve rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Pretty good stuff. Really opened my eyes on a lot of historical events and how they unfolded. What if is always a dangerous question to ask especially in context of American History. The book is part of a series and consists of short stories and essays of what would have happened to this nation if small changes were made in the course of article "what the fog wrought, the revolution's dunkirk, August 29, 1776" by David McCullough. Be careful when reading some stories drift into fi ...more
Susanna - Censored by GoodReads
May 09, 2008 Susanna - Censored by GoodReads rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: american history fans
Recommended to Susanna - Censored by GoodReads by: my father
This was the first book I read after the stroke.

I couldn't concentrate on any very long writing at the time, so the short essay format was perfect.

I liked some essays better than others - a particular favorite was the one on the Cuban Missile Crisis, in which the Cold War "got hot."
Mar 21, 2014 Jack rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Good series of 'what if...' essays - especially chilling was the one about the Oct 1962 Cuban missile crisis in which things quickly got out of hand (I was a freshman in high school when that occurred)

Very entertaining - especially if you know the 'real' history
Alan Chen
May 22, 2012 Alan Chen rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
My goodness, has it really been 10 months since I last finished a book? In truth, I largely finished this off in August and have only now read it cover-to-cover.

Catnip. That's what this book was for me.

I do science, but history and politics have always been my first loves. Perhaps it's something about relative immutability of events, that though interpretations of actions and motivations may change with time, the Admiral "Bull" Halsey will always be drawn off the landing beaches in the Philippi
Joe Johnson
I enjoy reading alternative history fiction, it's one of my favorite genres. So this collection of "What if?" stories focusing on the United States seemed like a good fit for me. The book is a good read and some of the essays are quite thought provoking, such as the one concerning Senator Joseph McCarthy. But these are really essays on what could have happened at various points in the history of the United States and not truly stories set in an alternative history.

I do recommend this book if yo
Dec 28, 2012 Socraticgadfly rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: history
Good book with one, possibly two, exceptions

That omission would be a highly plausible counterfactual of us not entering World War I.

First, in the real world, WWI, as opposed to WWII, had no moral dimension to it, except as Wilson tried to impose it. So, another president could have gone in a different direction, especially one insisting that Britain's blockade by extension (not directly blockading Germany, but instead shipping to neutral countries, and interdicting supplies shipped in excess of
Nicholas Whyte[return][return]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 ...more
Feb 20, 2013 Don rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: own
It's interesting, and fun in lots of places, but not really very solid. I mean... James McPherson suggesting that if Bobby Lee's lost orders had remained unfound, then not only would have Antietam been a great Southern victory, but the Army of Northern Virginia would be entrenched in (yes) a fishhook defensive strategy in the hills around Gettysburg in the Autumn of 1862. How convenient.

Yet, the notion that Lincoln would not have been able to issue the Emancipation Proclamation, and then sustain
Oct 02, 2015 Josh rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: sf-f
I have a complaint.
When I am reading a book by respected historians, even if their essays are in the less well respected realm of "counter-factual history," I expect the facts that are not relevant to the changes in the story line to remain the same, or to be explained so we know where the chance came from.

I was reading What ifs? of American History, and finished an essay that explained why Senator Joe McCarthy did what he did, but with a twist. So it was that apparently (view spoiler)
Jun 01, 2012 P rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
As an amateur historian, I found these imaginative essays quite interesting. Especially fascinating was the "Archive Report" on the nuclear war that happens when the Cuban Missile Crisis goes sour, the Union defeat at Gettysburg in 1862 (quickly ending the Civil War) and Eisenhower making it to Berlin before the Soviets. I'm sure the latter would have dramatically changed German history in the second half of the 20th Century--or spelled disaster as the Allies could have began battling each other ...more
Oct 10, 2011 Tommie rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
This book, one of the first I read on my Nook, was bought because I read the first two in the series collected by Cowley in the 1990s when they first came out.

As expected, there were some great Might Have Been scenarios involving the Civil War, and the Revolution, and I was glad I'd bought it.

And then, towards the end, I came to the story that posed the question What If The Cuban Missile Crisis Had Become The Second Holocaust? The nightmare it details, presented in the form of a government repor
So I've discovered I do not like counterfactual history. I suppose it's a thin line between speculating on what could have happened had certain events developed differently, and constructing alternative scenarios. This collection focuses on military and political situations and circumstances, and had I realized that I might have stayed away (my bad for not paying more attention to the dust jacket!). I find history (and in particular American history) fascinating, but to really concentrate on bat ...more
This is a collection of theoretical essays written by prominent historians about pivotal moments in American history that could have had a different result. As is often the case in compilation work, the tone and readability of the different essays varies quite significantly. There are a couple of stand-outs that really make the reader think, two or three that are quite forgettable, and the rest are at the very least intriguing, if not quite beguiling. If you like history and often wonder about w ...more
Michael Durant
A bit idealistic, especially in the JFK Lives essay. No credit is given to LBJ's mastery of leverage in Congress. It's unlikely that JFK's civil rights agenda would have been as successful.

On the flip side, I really enjoyed the Pitt essay, which committed to counterfactual history and painted a historic golden age of British global hegemony. It was quite mad and fun. Also see Joe McCarthy, Soviet Spy.

I recommend it. From a serious-minded perspective, the Civil War section (the largest grouping o
Mar 31, 2008 Jen rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
I really like the premise of this series -- how would history be different if . . . (JFK had lived, Japan hadn't attacked Pearl Harbor, etc.). Some of these essays were better than others. I preferred the essays that:
1. Weren't focused on military history. Not my thing.
2. Were clear about what facts were part of reality and what was counterfactual.
3. Didn't stray too far into the future. The further away from the event the author got, the less likely their counterfactual world was -- there wou
Adam Yoshida
May 31, 2016 Adam Yoshida rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
A Fun Diversion

This series of counterfactual essays from a series of eminent historians is mostly interesting and fun. A particular highlight is the story of how a lopsided defeat of the Soviet Union in a war arising out of the Cuban Missile Crisis might have led to global condemnation of the United States by weak-kneed and cowardly nations around the world. Admittedly, I don't think that is the lesson that the author means for one to take away from his work, but I recommend this nonetheless.
I really love counter factual what if books because it shows how easily the course of history could have been different for better of worse. However, this third installment in the What Ifs? series is the weakest one. Each essay is really interesting, but some of them are a bit dry. Also some of the essays did not do a really good job at differentiating fact from counter factual what ifs so I got confused a couple times.
Apr 11, 2009 Brianna rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Recommended to Brianna by: Dr.P
This book wasn't as enjoyable as I thought it would be (too many technicalities, and it wasn't imaginative enough .. although that was apparently by design).

My favourite "What Ifs" were the ones around the Civil War (what if the South had never been united with the North again?) and the Revolutionary War (particularly the fact that the essay's author seemed to wish we would have remained British)
This review has been hidden because it contains spoilers. To view it, click here.
Chris Bull
The fact that many of writers in this collection have written for the popular press means that this book is READABLE.
The writing and ideas presented waiver somewhat. Some of the essays can hold 10-25 pages, some only a few paragraphs.The piece on the Cuban Missile Crisis has plenty to say about Soviet capabilities
Sep 14, 2016 Bill rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
This book is a collection of essays on hypothetical alternative history. The quality and format vary significantly. That makes the book a bit difficult to read. Some essays are excellent (on Lew Wallace, Cuban Missile Crisis, etc.). Others are boring speculation.
Ruru Ghoshal
Jan 14, 2014 Ruru Ghoshal rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
The analyses are far too hurried and lacking in detail. And the chapter on the possible scenario of FDR's delay in entering the War is disappointing, to be honest, especially if one consider's John Lukacs' other works.
Sep 14, 2009 Michael rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: history, fiction
It's not history when historians write an essay on what if the factual history turned out another way. These essays were what if Lincoln hadn't been killed, what if the South - Democrats had won the civil war, etc.
Apr 12, 2013 Eric rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
A foray in 'alternative history'. A friend is into this kind of stuff, so I borrowed a book of his and read it out of curiosity. 'What if' scenarios can be so open ended, it is no more interesting than any other fiction book. It's well written, but didn't hold my attention.
Rob Knuth
Dec 29, 2011 Rob Knuth rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Interesting thoughts on how the world would be changed had certain circumstances either ended differently or never happened at all. I like taking my mind on road trips of what might have been. I'd recommend for people into history and asking what might have been had such and such happened or not.
May 08, 2015 Lois rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Picked up on my son's recommendation. Enjoyed some of the essays much more than others, so variable, I would say in imagining the 'what if's' in American history. Sometimes the condescension of some of the essayists was a bit too much for me.
I learned a lot about *real* history by reading these alternative history shorts. There's some really good stories in this book, and some fascinating insights into how small perturbations could have radically changed the 'now' we live in.
Yosef Shapiro
Mar 03, 2012 Yosef Shapiro rated it did not like it  ·  review of another edition
A good idea. But, it was poorly executed. The stories were not written in an enjoyable manner. They made me feel like I was in class.
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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
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