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More What If?: Eminent Historians Imagine What Might Have Been? Paperback – March 7, 2003

3.7 out of 5 stars 52 customer reviews
Book 2 of 3 in the What If Essays Series

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Editorial Reviews

Amazon.com Review

Many armchair historians have spent hours daydreaming of what might have been if some turning point in history had gone another way. The appeal of the What If? books is that editor Robert Cowley gets professional historians to concentrate on these imaginative questions. The first volume focused entirely on military matters; What If? 2 leans heavily but not exclusively in that direction. Victor Davis Hanson wonders about the consequences for Western philosophy if Socrates had died in battle, Thomas Fleming ponders a Napoleonic invasion of North America, and Caleb Carr argues the Second World War lasted longer than it should have because George Patton's superiors restrained their energetic general. More than two dozen contributors offer bold speculation: If the Chinese had committed themselves to ocean exploration, asks Theodore F. Cook Jr., might they have discovered the New World and even prevented "the worst horrors of the Atlantic Slave Trade [by halting] Portuguese expansion along the African coast at this early date?" Other times they are pleasantly modest: In one of the book's best sections, John Lukacs describes the fantasy of Teddy Roosevelt defeating Woodrow Wilson in the 1912 election--and decides the long- term effects would not have been great. Like its predecessor, What If? 2 is delicious mind candy for readers willing to believe there's nothing inevitable about what has come before us. --John Miller --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

From Publishers Weekly

Like its predecessor (also edited by Cowley), this is an engrossing collection of essays on counterfactual history. Each contributor examines a pivotal event, then considers the ramifications had the event come out differently. In some cases the ramifications are so monumental that their effects are more obvious than intriguing. For example, if Socrates had died in battle during the Peloponnesian War, Victor Davis Hanson suggests, democracy, Christianity and Western thought as a whole would be radically different. Similarly, had Pontius Pilate pardoned Jesus the book's most fascinating premise Christianity would have developed in entirely new directions, according to Carlos M.N. Eire. Other essays depend, to diminished effect, on nonevents, such as Theodore F. Cook Jr. explaining what the incredible Chinese navy would have accomplished in the Atlantic and the New World had the Ming emperors not turned inwards. Most authors, however, have teased out some incredibly tiny detail in history and demonstrated how that one stitch holds the whole fabric together. Most notably, Robert L. O'Connell explains how one bureaucrat may have kept Germany from winning WWI by hindering a program of unrestricted submarine warfare. James Bradley writes about a ragtag group of Australian soldiers during WWII who held back thousands of well-trained Japanese forces on the Kokoda Trail in New Guinea and by this Thermopylae-like action prevented the enemy from taking Port Moresby and, thus, Australia; had the defenders failed, "the entire calculus of the Pacific War" would have changed. And Robert Katz explores what would have happened had Pius XII protested the Holocaust, which he twice had a chance to do. Cowley has put together another fun book, although his introductions to each essay give away too much of the game. Illus.

Copyright 2001 Cahners Business Information, Inc.

--This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

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Product Details

  • Paperback: 400 pages
  • Publisher: Pan Books; New edition edition (March 7, 2003)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0330487256
  • ISBN-13: 978-0330487252
  • Product Dimensions: 5.1 x 1.1 x 7.8 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 12 ounces
  • Average Customer Review: 3.7 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (52 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #4,416,891 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

By John D. Cofield TOP 500 REVIEWERVINE VOICE on October 15, 2001
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
What If? 2 continues the work of What If? 1 by offering interesting looks at alternatives to known history (counterfactuals) written by well known historians. What If? 2 is even better than its predecessor because it does not stick to military issues, but examines a wide range of cultural and biological possibilities. For example, the most intriguing chapter is a look at what would have happened had Jesus not been crucified, but lived to an advanced age. The postulated result is a true Judeo-Christianity imposed on the world by an apparently permanent Roman Empire. Another remarkable chapter describes the probable impact of a Ming Chinese trans-Pacific voyage of discovery in the 15th century. Military affairs are not entirely neglected, as there are discussions of alternate endings for the Battle of Hastings, the Franco-Prussian War, and World War I, among others. Finally, there is a fine examination of the role of the potato in history. I hope there is a What If? 3, 4, etc.
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Format: Hardcover
This is the sequel to the excellent first volume of counter factual history that was presented in the original, "What If ?". The possibilities of how history may have unfolded if the path that did take place was altered are literally endless. Not all the scenarios are as entertaining or thought provoking as others, and in general the first of these two books was more consistent in both subject matter and presentation. The majority of the alternate histories that are presented are very worthwhile for contemplation, however there are some exceptions that make an otherwise worthy continuation, place second among the two books readers have been offered.
The first book was largely based on military what if scenarios. This second volume tries to take a broader look at events, however conflict of one sort or another is usually a factor. The book opens with one of the better and most far reaching counter factual scenarios. The death of a single individual that can modify a portion of history is less scarce than one whose death could arguably change history fundamentally. The first scenario asks what if there was a single death at Delium in 424 B.C., and the life lost in battle had been that of Socrates? In the broadest sense no less than the Western intellectual tradition that flowed from this man would have been replaced by a very different set of criteria. If there were no Socrates, then who would have taught Plato, would he even have aspired as he did? This initial foray into what if is excellent.
The Chinese traveled widely by sea, in ships that were up to 400 feet in length and 150 feet wide. Their ability to have "discovered" the world that Columbus eventually stumbled upon was not only within their capabilities, it is again an alternative historical outcome that holds fantastic variables.
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Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
When I first found out that there was going to be a "What If? 2" and that it wasn't going to focus exclusively on military matters, I was very excited. As much as I am a fan of military history, I was very interested to see how historians of other disciplines might predict how our world could be different today. Unfortunately, having finished the book, I am rather disappointed. That's not to say that the quality of the writing, or the turning points are sub-par, they're not. In fact, in terms of composition and selection of historical turning points, this book is actually more original and uniform than its predecessor.
That's what makes this book so disappointing: there is great potential, but it never lives up to its self-proclaiming goal of telling the reader "what if?" The background research is solid, and the authors in almost every instance make a cogent, educated case as to why history turned on a given moment or person. Unfortunately, in almost every instance they fail to follow up with any meaningful speculation. In fact, there are very few alternate scenarios that extend for more than a few paragraphs.
Considering how successful the first volume was in regards to alternate histories, this volume's lack of them is inexcusable. What else can the reader expect in a series entitled "What If?" than a detailed exploration of how our world could be different today. The only explanation I can think of is that counter-factual history is an immensely useful tool in political-military history, but it is less so (or at least less utilized) in social history. It therefore seems probable that many of the writers in this edition were unsure as to how to weave a different world after having identified their turning point.
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Format: Paperback
After the huge success of the 1999's "What If?", a superb foray into the speculation of hardly inevitable military events, there comes this book. It does not focus completely on military history, like it's predecessor...
The main problem of the book is this: the bad essays (and there are many) are way too long, and many potentially good ones (Cecilia Holland's on the Battle of Hastings, which does not explore the possibilities of a victory by Harold at all) are too short. The opening chapter on the possible death of Socrates in battle is very heady and not rewarding. The next scenario, on a possible victory by Antony and Cleopatra, is more intriguing; but the chapter on the survival of Jesus Christ is (in my opinion) surprisingly vague about the worldwide aspects of this event.
And so on and so on. Only a few essays even approach those in the original: "Napoleon Invades America" (which has the interesting mix of fascinating facts and equally interesting counterfactual speculations that made the original so worthwhile), "The Fuhrer In The Dock", "The Great War Torpedoed", "No Bomb, No End", and "The Luck of Franklin Roosevelt" are the best. The rest are at best mediocre, and don't come close to those essays' precedents.
The worst essay, perhaps, is the one by Alistair Horne (who wrote arguably the best essay in the original, "Ruler of the World") on what would've happened if the Franco-Prussian War had never happened. So far, so good. But when we get into the explanation, WHY is it avoided? Because Napoleon III visits a medium, and the spirits of Napoleon and Minister De Talleyrand advise him. What the **bleep** kinda garbage is that? The essays on Socrates, Theodore Roosevelt's presidency, and Lenin not being sent to Finland Station are close.
Bottom line: "What If? 2" is readable, but not even close to the superb original...
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