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What If?: Military Historians Imagine What Might Have Been Paperback – 6 Apr 2001


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What If?: Military Historians Imagine What Might Have Been + What Might Have Been?: Leading Historians on Twelve 'What Ifs' of History: Imaginary History from Twelve Leading Historians (Phoenix Paperback Series)
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Product details

  • Paperback: 416 pages
  • Publisher: Pan; Reprints edition (6 April 2001)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0330487248
  • ISBN-13: 978-0330487245
  • Product Dimensions: 13.1 x 2.6 x 19.7 cm
  • Average Customer Review: 3.4 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (22 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 91,269 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)
  • See Complete Table of Contents

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Product Description

Amazon Review

American editor Robert Cowley has brought together those whom his meaty book dubs "the world's foremost military historians" to describe details of significant human conflicts and to construct plausible "counterfactual" events. The balance between the actual and the speculative varies between essays but the counterfactual is always used as "a tool to enhance the understanding of history".

Beginning with the siege of Jerusalem in 701 BC and ending with the Cold War, the contributors posit some amazing historical alternatives. Christianity and Islam, for example, may never have existed and Hitler might have been killed in the First World War. Generally taking a "Western" (sometimes specifically American) perspective, the far-reaching repercussions of real and imagined events are shown. Information gems include the fact that Genghis Khan's soldiers wore silk underwear and that the Kaiser almost met his end in a Wild West show stunt in 1889. What If? reveals that the path of history is a mix of action, reaction and chance. As the editor writes, "milliseconds can influence centuries" and "the difference can be as slight as the path of a bullet". A book of both facts and opinions, it can be argued with as well as learnt from. It might provide perfect fodder for an intellectual dinner party--although pondering the frightening unpredictability of past and future could damage your appetite! --Karen Tiley --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

Review

"'Anyone interested in military history or indeed history in general will find it fascinating to read.' Spectator 'Pure, almost illicit pleasure... What makes these essays tremendously diverting is how little they strain one's sense of credibility.' Andrew Roberts, Sunday Telegraph 'These informed, elegant essays authoritively analyse incidents over the past 3,000 years.' The Times 'One of the delights of the book is that broad speculative analysis is built from a mass of exciting detail. This make for a top-class bed-side read.' Financial Times"

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First Sentence
What if Sennacherib, king of Assyria, had conquered Jerusalem in 701 B.C. when he led his imperial army against a coalition of Egvptian, Phoenician, Philistine, and Jewish enemies and handily defeated them all? Read the first page
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Customer Reviews

3.4 out of 5 stars

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

12 of 12 people found the following review helpful By T. Lynch on 16 Feb. 2005
Format: Paperback
As a history student myself and with an interest in alternative histories and what might have been, I found this book to be very entertaining. The book covers scenarios such as Thirteen ways the Americans could have lots the revolution, a Roman Victory over the Germanic tribes in the Teutoburg Forest, a victorious Spanish armada, a failed D-Day, and the cold war turning hot at the Berlin Wall in 1961 to name but a few. In each scenario events are pin pointed in which history could have diverted off into an alternative path. It is thoroughly entertaining to read, although I couldn't help but feel slightly disappointed that the alternatives weren't explored in a bit more detail. Nevertheless, the book is an interesting and entertaining read to anyone with an interest in history.
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12 of 12 people found the following review helpful By U. Schwela on 8 Dec. 2002
Format: Paperback
As a book, this was certainly hard to put down and was a quick read, the various scenarios it presents are very interesting, although the great emphasis on 1770's America should perhaps be highlighted on the book's cover. There was one greater frustration though, each scenario is built up vividly but there is a lack of detail as to WHAT the consequences of an alternate history might have been. You end up finishing the book feeling you have been on a roller-coaster ride where none of the drops lived up to the expectation built up in the climb. A good introduction to alternate history, but no more.
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8 of 8 people found the following review helpful By manbearpig on 9 July 2006
Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
well, i just think this is a superbly interesting book, perfect for dipping in to and re-visiting. If more people were to read this sort of book on trains etc. it would represent a considerable intellectual advance over puzzles and glossly magazines. its NOT a university text book, and to criticise it from that point of view is to mis-understand the aim of the book.

Also, to complain that the consequences of various alternatives are not fully fleshed out is a dire mistake. The book allows a lot of room for the reader to fill in the blanks- for instance, the wonderfully written little segment on the mongols and the death of Ogadai that saved Europe perfectly explains how our continent could have been culturally decimated without trying to piant that particular picture in full.

Another interesting element to that particular story is the destruction of the Caliph of Baghdad by the Mongols. The supreme head of Islam was put in a sack and "trampled to paste" by wild horses. the caliphate has never been restored...how would christians have coped had the pope suffered the same fate?

anyway, questions like that are left to your imagination, which is a pleasant and pleasing thing to get from a book.

the last few chapters are slightly below power, and the over-emphasis on america is slightly grating. But the book clearly believes that the various cultural traits of people can be traced back to historical events- for instance, Russian xenophobia comes from the attacks of the Mongols centuries ago, whilst German aggression is put down to that nation never having experienced Roman rule etc etc. its a highly debatable thought, but to go with it a minute only a young, historically naive nation like America would have the temerity to revise history and re-present it in such an interesting fashion.
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15 of 16 people found the following review helpful By A Customer on 18 Jan. 2001
Format: Paperback
In many decisive occasions of human history things could really turn out differently and we would live in a very, very different world now (Even, the world history itself; what if the meteor that finally killed all dinosours missed the earth). The book comprises many interesting cases from 700 BC up to present time. One starts to believe that everything was chance (or bad luck). Still, I feel the book could even be better. American originated cases (from Revolution to Midway) make up an unproportinally large part of the book. Instead there could be given more examples from others parts of the world, especially from Europe and Asia. There are lots of moments that should have taken place in this book, at least as an anecdote. Anyway, it is a brilliant work and I recommend it to all history thinkers.
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4 of 4 people found the following review helpful By "silver_blue" on 17 Oct. 2002
Format: Paperback
I would have loved this book if it had actually done what it originally set out to do - which is to write alternate histories for various pivotal events in the past.
Unfortunately, more time and space is spent explaining what really DID happen, rather than what MIGHT have happened. It leads to (rather simplified example) passages such as "British soldier xxx had a gun trained on George Washington (...add long explanation of events). He didn't shoot him, but if he had then Britain might have won the revolutionary war."
There is a distinct lack of in-depth speculation, more a case of "x event might not have happened, in which case history would have been different."
A bit frustrating.
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13 of 14 people found the following review helpful By A. J. Summersgill on 2 Oct. 1999
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
I just love books like this - having tried to write alternate history stories myself, I know how difficult it is - miss one tiny detail and the whole premise can fall apart. So books like "What If..." written by people who know a little bit more about their chosen subjects than myself (ie: proper Historians) are indispensable for anyone who wants to consider how different the world would be if, for example, the US hadn't fluked a win at the Battle of Midway or even if the UK and US hadn't entered the First World War. Would it have even BEEN a "World" War? Probably not as it happens. Food for thought.
I also recommend "The Hinge Factor" by Erik Durschmied and "The Hitler Options" and "Invasion" edited and written by Kenneth Macksey respectively, the latter being an in-depth look at the alternate history of the German Invasion of England in July 1940.
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