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What If? The World's Foremost Historians Imagine What Might Have Been (2000)

What If? The World's Foremost Historians Imagine What Might Have Been (2000)

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3.7 of 5 Votes: 4
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0425176428 (ISBN13: 9780425176429)

About book What If? The World's Foremost Historians Imagine What Might Have Been (2000)

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 question that I thought was interesting. Effectively, he spoke of the what-ifs that we don’t even know of. Take World War I as an example: how many poets, scientists, artists, or diplomats died as a result of that conflict? We can’t even know how different the world would be had some of those people lived out their lives fully. We have no idea what we’re missing out on because of the way things weren’t…I, however, ended up reading this book from a much more personal perspective: what are the choices I’m making today, right now, that seem small but determine what my life will look like years from now? What if I hadn’t offered to give that girl a ride to a Bible study, the girl who I ended up marrying and has now born me two children? What if my fellow engineering student hadn’t mentioned to the USA recruiter that I was particularly interested in working here, leading to him calling me back? What if my parents had turned down the opportunity to live overseas, and take their children with them?A friend of mine recently made a choice that will change every day for the rest of her life. At the time, it probably didn’t seem like too big of a deal, but the consequences of that seemlingly fleeting decision are literally life-altering, for her and everyone around her. But, maybe there are other factors at work. Maybe God, or Destiny, or Whatever You Want To Call It, simply manipulates the dice to put us in this place right now. Maybe Cortez couldn’t have lost. Maybe there was no other way but for him to win. Maybe there is no Alternate Universe where I didn’t give the girl a ride. Maybe this is all the way it has to be.

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 decidedly, they are successful. One short example : while the first so-called "European leader" was at war with the papacy, the greatest Empire known to man was on the verge of conquering Europe. And it seems, according to this book, and very convincingly, that it could have succeeded, as such great was the difference in strategical thinking between Mongol and European generals. But History, as written by western scholars, mainly retains Frederick II, not Ogedaï.This book is well-written, not a complete boring scholarly account, but with references that one can check. Its title is a little misdirecting : it should be called "When are the 'What if?' of history", because no speculation is done on the consequences of the alternatives, except if theses 'what-ifs' changes the way a war was conducted. One must understand: this book is not about alternatives history, it is about possible outcomes of battles and wars. So, in my opinion, this book is a must-have if you want to understand the fragility of history. This book is a must-have if you want ideas on points of inflection in history (and write a parallel history). And is not a must-have if you are looking to fiction.PS: in my quality of Frenchman, I just have a little critic: the chapter on Napoleon Bonaparte is atrociously biased. Na!

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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, being subjugated by England in the Revolutionary War. The contra-factual (or alternate history) scenarios are painful in a different way. Many involve a correction to a mistake or a pattern of behaviors that results in a more favorable outcome for the factual losers. The postulates then proceed along lines of 'rational' behavior on a go-forward basis resulting in some sort of alternative utopian outcome. I suspect that real contra-factual historical progressions would be just as sloppy as the pre-event and pos-event factual world. Unfortunately, to create those scenarios requires such chains of assumptions that they become alternate-reality fictions rather than postulated contra-factual progressions. But, I believe that the challenges of my personal pain in some of the scenarios, and the impossibility of building realistically chaotic forward-looking scenarios, are endemic to this sort of exercise. All in all, I really enjoyed the book, and would give it a 4.5 if fractional grades were allowed. I can't give it a 5 though, but I recommend it highly to anyone who enjoys history.

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, kind of defeating the whole point of the book.Another thing that lets it down is the fact that it determines to view history from a very USA-centred, 'beware the beast from the east' standpoint, almost in a "hark at just how technologically retarded we would have been had the Ottomans/Persians/ any other non-white empire defeated those glorious Europeans" way.This is on top of a very heavy preoccupation with events of the American war of independence and civil war - together contributing at least half a dozen long chapters - which I personally have little or no interest in.An interesting idea and an okay read but I wouldn't advise anyone to go out looking for this or to hunt it down.

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 unimpressed. When there was some "what if" speculation, it was usually pretty grim and/or racist. Many of the historians seemed to think that things have turned pretty well, and that things going otherwise would have meant doom and despair for all civilization. As I'm fairly sure not everybody is happy with how history turned out, how about a little speculation on how we could have done better? For example, China might want a do-over for the past 200 years...or say, the Middle East for the past 3000.The later essays were better, though a better grasp of history than mine is recommended. I'll be checking out the sequel, if only because it's sitting right here. I do, however, recommend that if you're going to only read one essay out of this book, that it be the one about the Mongol horde.

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