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Showing 1-5 of 5 reviews(Verified Purchases). See all 21 reviews
on November 23, 2009
Almost America is lively written. Its stories are very personalized - having us following the main characters thoughts at supposedly crucial points in time when they might have acted differently and thereby changed the course of society.

Alternate histories need good factual understanding, a convincing point of divergence, and a well-linked chain of events following from that point of divergence. Unfortunately, in my opinion Almost America fails to meet the standards in those regards.

First, the facts are sometimes off. Countries or persons are mixed up repeatedly (As a brief example: Belgium signed Versailles, while the Netherlands held Maastricht as well as territories in South-East Asia, not the other way around). Sometimes time tables, public opinion or aims are simply changed.

Second, the point of divergence is not always convincing. In the stories that strictly focus on American internal politics, Tally succeeds rather nicely in convincing us about the point of divergence. However, the international chapters succeed less well. Without spoiling the chapters: pulls from public opinion (isolationist tendencies, which were a problem in December '41, let alone in June '40) are forgotten.

Third, the alternate chain of events is somewhat haphazard. Mind you, they are fun to read, but again too often unconvincing. Aims and demands of other belligerents (Germany in WW I; Japan in WW II) are simply adapted for a clean causal scheme.

All in all, I was disappointed with this book. Even though I am a big alternate history fan, and the author takes his time describing the general circumstances from which he diverges, the divergences themselves are flawed.
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on April 22, 2001
This book is in a slightly different class than most recent alternate history (or "counterfactual history," as the author calls it). The book is an anthology, but all the stories were written by the same author, Steve Tally. From his writing, I would have guessed that Mr. Tally is a history professor, and a pretty lively one, but he is in fact a professional writer whose credits include as much hard science as history. Nevertheless, his grasp of American history is impressive, and enhances his book's quality.
The book takes twenty-eight "what if" scenarios and plays them out: What if the early United States had kept the Articles of Confederation? What if President T. Roosevelt had carried out his threat of outlawing the fledgling sport of American football? What if Nixon had fought his impeachment until the bitter end? What if IBM had written its early personal-computer code in-house instead of hiring Microsoft? The answers are fascinating, but plausible. As the author's introductory note explains, "I tried to make the counterfactual scenarios plausible. Adolf Hitler doesn't step into a time machine to join Robert E. Lee at Gettysburg . . . . [T]he counterfactuals are based on the decisions of human beings, not on acts of God. . . . Focusing on decisions allows us to second-guess those decisions, and second-guessing is always good sport." Looking past the implicit dig at "The Guns of the South" by Harry Turtledove (a very good book, in my opinion), Mr. Tally lives up to his promise of plausibility: each chapter opens with an actual history lesson that sets the stage for the alternate-history story, then closes with a discussion of the sources and historical analogies that were used in constructing the story. For example, the chapter about the early United States keeping the Articles of Confederation, "America Scraps Its Constitution," plays out an interesting storyline whose facts are partly drawn (as the chapter later explains) from the Confederate States' experiment with a decentralized national government in the 1860s.
It may be a drawback for some readers that the stories tend to be a little dry and academic, as if the book was a real history textbook rather than a novel. For me, however, the academic tone gives the book a certain charm that only enhances its interest. The stories actually engaged me as I tried drawing on my own knowledge of history to figure out where they were heading. For those readers who are seriously interested in second-guessing Mr. Tally's second guesses, he recently (Feb. 2001) set up a website for such a discussion, which he mentions in his introductory note.
This book got me thinking, it educated me, and it was fun.
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on June 18, 2006
And ironically perhaps because it is the least fictional. This reads like a history text, but the most fun history imaginable. Tally makes it clear from the beginning that he doesn't want to engage in flights of fancy or acts of God. This is alternative history based on reasonable differences of decision made by individuals. Everything not only could have happened, it very nearly did happen. Tally exquisitely researched all of the different scenarios to find moments of great indescision by great men of history- and then replays the scenario.

Through this procedure we get to see how very possible an alternate reality could be. More clearly than I've ever seen before, it is the great men of history who make the changes. (At least in part- a storm blowing a flotilla of Old World ships off course or the Vikings not giving lactose-intolerant war-like Native Americans milk can also change the course of history.) I appreciate how Tally spends a large portion of each chapter explaining the details of true history first. Too often alternative history texts assume a wide understanding of history by the audience on obscure events, leaving the reader with a large "Huh?" Then Tally engages in his alternate reality, inserting very believable dialouge for different historic individuals. He doesn't give away the ending- we know what happened historically, but not why it was so pivotal. The alternate recaps are short, but they covincingly make their point known. Lastly Tally finishes with a recap of what did happen, but tells us what was so important about these events.

If you read this, you might learn a good deal of history. And you might really enjoy yourself a lot in the bargain.
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on August 8, 2001
The historical background is poor and Tally's slopiness in reasoning is clear. In the chapter on history without the Morse telegraph Tally ignores the many other electrical telegraphs. Morse's code gave his telegraph some clear advantages . But is implausible that given the many alternative electric telegraphs( no alternative electric telegraph would have existed 20 years later on the eve of the Civil War. It is even more implasable that the railroad would have been the fastest way of sending messages in 1861 given that other telegraphic signalling systems (using semaphores ) had been in use in France since Nepoleon. Some such systems would have been pressed into wide use to operate railroads if somehow electric telegaphs were not invented. Railroads were in fact closely wedded to telegraphs which were needed to dispatch the information for them to run safely Other nonsense is abundant. Tally's account of the original scheme for electing vice presidents omitts the two votes possessed by each elector and mistates the nature of the crisis in 1800 which was caused by the failure of the Republicans to coordinate their votes by arranging for one elector NOT to vote for Burr. Tally imagines that the provision for the election of the second highesr vote getter for Vice President would not have been fixed even though if lead repeatedly into disaster. In reality all it needed was one Burr under the US saddle to promote a fix before the next election. I had hoped to give this book to my daughter to spice her year in HS American History instead I shall be hiding it from her.
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on January 9, 2007
This book is great as a source of true history but of what could have happened. I have read most of the What If type books and found this one to be one of the best.
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