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


The "what if?" concept is one of the most original and engaging on the current history bookshelf. These essays, all written with that fresh concept in mind, are chock-full of provocative ideas, and are as accessible to the general reader as they are to the well-read scholar. The first two volumes in the series won unanimous praise. "Fascinating," hailed The New York Times Book Review. "Tantalizing," wrote the Chicago Tribune. "The 'alternate history' or 'what if' mode, plausibly and imaginatively executed, can be entertaining as well as instructive," said The Washington Times. In this new collection of never-before-published essays, our brightest historians speculate on some of the nation's more intriguing crossroads. Among the irresistible highlights: Caleb Carr (author of The Alienist) on America had there been no Revolution; Tom Wicker on the first time a vice-president, John Tyler, succeeded a deceased president, and the surprising ramifications; Jay Winik (April 1865) on the havoc that might have resulted if Booth had succeeded in his plan to assassinate Johnson and Seward as well as Lincoln; Antony Beevor (The Fall of Berlin 1945) on the possibility of Eisenhower's capture of Berlin before the Soviet arrival in 1945; and Robert Dallek (An Unfinished Life: John F. Kennedy, 1917-1963) on one of the most agonizing of all American "what ifs": what might have happened if JFK had not been assassinated. As a bonus in this volume are two articles that any American history collection would not be complete without, reprinted from the original What If?: "What the Fog Wrought," by David McCullough, imagines General Washington's disastrous defeat during the Battle of Long Island, and "If the Lost Order Hadn't Been Lost," by James M. McPherson, envisions General Lee's march into Pennsylvania in 1862, which changes the outcome of the Civil War.
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Editorial Reviews

This somewhat unusual approach to the study of history is informative, interesting, and even entertaining. Cowley has invited 17 eminent historians to speculate on how history might have been changed if certain events or conditions had not occurred or had occurred differently. A caution—the readability level generally falls into the college range and the essays have a scholarly tone. These features will not deter the serious older YA history buff. Each article stands alone and ranges in length from 10 to 20 pages. The author describes the situation or event as it happened, and then he speculates on what might have happened if conditions had been altered. Finally, he discusses any long-range results that have occurred. Weather and illness (physical and mental) sometimes affected the course of American history. Four essays deal with events in the Civil War. Someone's smoking habits and carelessness may have changed the course of the war. A breakdown in communications prior to the Battle of Shiloh indirectly led to the writing of Ben Hur. Three articles focus on the breakup of the Union, including the possibility of a new country in the Midwest. Finally, the essays move into the 20th century and deal with WW II, the Cold War, and John F. Kennedy. The editor has selected well. The essays might serve as teaching tools in critical reading and creative writing endeavors. The topics are infinite. Good if matched with the right student. KLIATT Codes: A—Recommended for advanced students and adults. 2003, Penguin, Berkley, 298p. illus. maps., Ages 17 to adult.
—Prof. John E. Boyd
Library Journal
In this illustrated third volume of the "What If" series on conjectural, counterfactual, or imaginary history, editor Cowley once again enlists the assistance of historians David McCullough (on the Battle of Long Island), James McPherson (on General Lee's famous "Lost Order"), and others such as Tom Wicker, Robert Dallek, and Thomas Fleming. Breezy, popular, and yet with some annotations (although no bibliography or index), this compilation entertains and provokes the already informed and whets the general reader's appetite for the would-be past. The essays demonstrate how events influence one another by showing what could have happened rather than judgmentally making a case for what should have occurred. Great for history buffs not quite ready for fiction, it is suitable for public libraries and general academic collections.-Frederick J. Augustyn Jr., Library of Congress Copyright 2003 Reed Business Information.
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9781402579486
  • Publisher: Recorded Books, LLC
  • Publication date: 8/28/2004

Meet the Author

Robert Cowley is the founding editor of MHQ: The Quarterly Journal of Military History, which was nominated for a National Magazine Award for General Excellence. Cowley has held several senior positions in book and magazine publishing.

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Table of Contents

List of Maps and Illustrations
Might the Mayflower Not Have Sailed? 1
William Pitt the Elder and the Avoidance of the American Revolution 17
What the Fog Wrought: The Revolution's Dunkirk, August 29, 1776 43
"His Accidency" John Tyler 55
Lew Wallace and the Ghosts of the Shunpike 67
If the Lost Hadn't Been Lost: Robert E. Lee Humbles the Union, 1862 87
The Northwest Conspiracy 103
Beyond the Wildest Dreams of John Wilkes Booth 127
The Revolution of 1877 147
The Whale Against the Wolf: The Anglo-American War of 1896 163
No Pearl Harbor?: FDR Delays the War 179
If Eisenhower Had Gone to Berlin 189
Joe McCarthy's Secret Life 205
If the U-2 Hadn't Flown 225
The Cuban Missile Crisis: Second Holocaust 251
JFK Lives 273
What If Watergate Were Still Just an Upscale Address? 285
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