#13 What Ifs of American History

No, I’m not dead. Just overworked and also trying to watch the NCAA tournament. But the challenge of 50 books lives on, and I am still making progress.

13. What Ifs of American History (edited by Robert Cowley)
This book was a collection of essays positing, as you might imagine, alternative versions of American history. The basic criteria is that you take some major historical event or period and interject one decision being made in a different way, and presto, guess at the ensuing results.

Some of these are kind of obvious what ifs– for instance, what if Kennedy had not been assassinated. Some of them are much more subtle– what if Eisenhower hadn’t authorized the U2 flyover of Russia that got Francis Gary Powers shot down. The proposed answer is that the Cold War would have defused decades earlier, and infinite amounts of American resouces would’ve been diverted from defense spending. Or what if the Mayflower hadn’t have sailed– the proposed answer is that colonists would have thrived in Virginia instead of Massachusetts, that the basic American ethic would’ve accordingly been changed, and we’d probably be a lot more like Canada.

This was a very interesting read. I particularly enjoyed the more obscure bits– like the possible mass industrial revolt that Rutherford Hayes saved the U.S. from in the late 19th century, or the aforementioned U2 spy plane scandal. The essay format is nice as well, because if you get a particular chapter that doesn’t particularly resonate with you, the next is merely pages away. I would recomend this book, and may try to check out others in this “What Ifs” series.



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