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For Want of a Nail: If Burgoyne had won at Saratoga

3.85  ·  Rating Details  ·  166 Ratings  ·  20 Reviews
For Want of a Nail is an alternate history classic. The outcome of one battle in the American Revolution diverges from reality, and sparks an unstoppable chain of events which affects the history of the whole North American continent. In reality, the British general John Burgoyne, heavily outnumbered by American troops, surrendered his army to General Horatio Gates at the ...more
Paperback, 442 pages
Published February 19th 2006 by Greenhill Books (first published February 19th 1997)
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Rob Roy
May 13, 2012 Rob Roy rated it it was amazing
The concept of this book is staggering. I've read many alternate histories, and they are basically novels, where history takes a different line, but the same people appear, and event are similar. This alternate history is rather a history than a novel. It is written as a classic survey history. The premise is that Burgoyne wins at the Battle of Saratoga, and thus the American Revolution collapses. As the history moves, it becomes more and more divergent from what really happened. If you are a lo ...more
Oct 01, 2014 Nick rated it liked it
Most (in fact, all the ones I can think of off the top of my head) alternate history books are novels; This book instead reads like a history textbook, complete with copious fake footnotes. I found this approach to be quite refreshing. (It helps that Sobel is very committed to this format, going so far as to include a very critical essay from a fake historian at the end and pages and pages of made-up books in the bibliography.)

The departure point is (checks title) if Burgoyne had won at Saratoga
Bernard Watkins
Jul 27, 2010 Bernard Watkins rated it it was amazing
For Want of a Nail is a singular work in published alternate history. Unlike the masses of fictional works set in alternate worlds, and the occasional description of an alternate history for the purposes of overt what-if questions and roleplaying sourcebooks, its format is of a nonfiction book from an alternate world. Specifically, a history book written just like a real history book, but detailing the history of an alternate timeline. The writer, Robert Sobel, is a business historian and he has ...more
Christopher Nieman
This is a book I truly hope to read someday. Robert Sobel's For Want of a Nail is apparently considered one of the godfathers of the alternate history genre.

For science fiction fans, also, it is perhaps an ideal example of a 'butterfly effect' novel with a richly detailed alternate world flowing from the crucible moment.

However, from what I gather, it's a book which requires the reader to have more than a passing knowledge of the history of the American Revolution. And that's why I've been hesit
Leonard Pierce
May 20, 2008 Leonard Pierce rated it really liked it
Shelves: history
The book that basically kick-started the modern alternate-history movement (and by a business economist, no less, which is probably why he has a big corporation end up with the A-bomb). This thing is really well-researched and fun as hell, but almost painfully detailed and actually quite bizarre.
Rachal Myers
Jul 25, 2010 Rachal Myers rated it it was amazing
This is the best alternative history I have ever read. Its like a textbook for a different time line. Very creative and plauable.
Jessica Frances
Jun 19, 2015 Jessica Frances rated it it was amazing
I heard that this was the "Citizen Kane" of alternative histories, that was nominated for the Pulitzer Prize and gave it a read. This was a wonderful, thought provoking, book. It is like you went in a dimensional travel machine and grabbed a text book and brought it back to this world. I couldn't stop reading it.
Apr 18, 2016 Dan rated it it was amazing
I've read this book a number of times and own a copy, I cannot think of another book quite like it. An alternative history book as opposed to a novel, creating an incredibly detailed and coherent alternative future, written in an academic but very readable style - a classic of it's type.
This book was a unique reading experience. I'm glad I read it, but I never really got into it.

As a work of fiction it was too dry. As a work of non-fiction it was very weak on technology and geography - both of which I consider to be heavy players in history.

Then there were the footnotes. The carefully formatted footnotes are the defining part of this book. They made me want to "suspend disbelief" but their persistent use broke up my reading rhythm. Worse than that: knowing that they were fictio
May 29, 2015 Michael rated it it was amazing
This was the first book I read of alternative fiction and still one of the best of the genre. Highly recommended.
David R.
Sep 13, 2010 David R. rated it liked it
As Alternative Histories go, this one is intiguing but ultimately unsuccessful. Sobel carries a supposed timeline from Saratoga in 1778 to the 1970s and writes in the form of a textbook. Sobel is an economist, and it shows. The stuff is dry, packed tight with imaginary economic and political statistics. But as importantly, good alternative history requires real people and Sobel's treatment is top heavy with imaginary characters, especially after the last real one disappears in the alternate 1840 ...more
Nov 02, 2015 Bodicainking rated it it was amazing
A beautifully rendered alternate history book, written as a text book in a complete "in universe" style (with footnotes, alternative analysis and more of the trappings of academic history) which marvelously, in its plodding this-led-to-this whiggish way, demonstrates how what is history is always contested ("many have crossed the Rubicon, why do we only remember Caesar?").

And it ends with a private corporation becoming a nuclear world power, with its own island-state (Taiwan) to itself. Chilling
Aug 09, 2012 Mel rated it really liked it
I'm amazed at how this fictional (written in textbook style) alternate history book from over 40 years ago can relate to some of the problems we are seeing now. I think some of the premises are far-fetched, but hey, isn't that what alternate history is supposed to be? Read it (if you can find it) and see if there aren't things that our current politicians and talking heads are going on about.
Fresno Bob
Aug 02, 2013 Fresno Bob rated it it was amazing
best, most detailed alternative history I've ever read, basically the Loyalists "win" the American Revolution and most of the "Radicals" (the people you'd recognize as the Founding Fathers) split off from the colonies and end up founding "The United States of Mexico". It reads like a historical textbook. Great stuff!
Jul 19, 2014 Maz rated it really liked it
The likelyhood with the reality is amazing. The book so accurate in every detail that almost get bored in some paragraph and that gave even more plausibility to the (his)story. Enthrilling, I wish There were even an European version about the old continent events.
Jaybird Rex
Dec 18, 2011 Jaybird Rex rated it really liked it
The concept of non-fiction alternate history is still seeking justification in my frontal lobe, despite my having got through the book. This one's plausible, even interesting, but may give you the distinct feeling you're wasting your time.
Raymond Thomas
Aug 15, 2014 Raymond Thomas rated it really liked it
Shelves: alt-history
Brilliant book. Loved the style and the development of a truly different world instead of throwing in historical allegories to the point of distraction.
Feb 01, 2013 James rated it did not like it
More like a college paper than narrative. I admired the work of creating a whole alternate history but read very dry.
The AH classic. I'm knocking it a point because the density makes it a bit of a slog to finish.
Will Teich
May 22, 2013 Will Teich rated it it was amazing
Shelves: favorites
Best alternate history book ever written, hands down.
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Robert Sobel was an American professor of history at Hofstra University, and a well-known and prolific writer of business histories. He was also a chess Master, who represented the United States at the 1957 and 1958 Student chess Olympiads; he defeated thirteen-year-old future World Champion Bobby Fischer at Montreal 1956.

Despite his prolific writings in business history, he is most famous for his
More about Robert Sobel...

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