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Then Everything Changed: Stunning Alternate Histories of American Politics: JFK, RFK, Carter, Ford, Reaga n Hardcover – March 8, 2011

3.9 out of 5 stars 68 customer reviews

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Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly

Speculation isn't history, but it's catnip to pundits and journalists like veteran CBS News reporter and commentator Greenfield (The Real Campaign), who can be excused for this romp into what ifs. He rightly says that alternative history's foundation is plausibility. And since he's read widely in the sources, his excursions into possible histories are decently anchored to the ground. In the first narrative, an actual failed attempt to assassinate JFK before his inauguration instead succeeds. LBJ takes his place, Guantánamo is wiped out by a rogue Soviet missile, and war with the U.S.S.R. is only narrowly averted. In the second narrative, Robert Kennedy isn't assassinated, beats Nixon in 1968, winds down the Vietnam War, and with no Watergate scandal, the cultural changes of the 1970s are averted. The third account has Ford winning re-election, but in 1980 it's Hart vs. Reagan, and Hart wins. Of course, there are other possible scenarios, which Greenfield doesn't discuss. And in these novelistic narratives, readers drown in excess, irrelevant detail (dinner menus, precise times of meetings, exact conversations)—all wonkish pundit stuff, and none essential to Greenfield's purpose. In the end, fun but insubstantial. (Mar.)
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From Booklist

Greenfield, chief political correspondent for CBS News, is also a successful novelist. Here, he tries something different: alternate history, delivering takes on three different moments in the not-so-distant American past. Not many people remember that in December 1960, President-elect Kennedy was almost assassinated. What if Richard Pavlick had gotten to Kennedy three years before Lee Harvey Oswald? Conversely, what if Robert Kennedy had not gone through the kitchen of a Los Angeles hotel where Sirhan Sirhan lay in wait? And, in 1976, had Gerald Ford not made a mistake in his debate with Jimmy Carter, that election might have gone a different way. Inevitably, speculation plays a role in Greenfield�s accounts, but he bolsters possible scenarios with ancedotes, quotes, and oral histories, all of which are sourced at the end of the book. This reliance on sources is why Greenfield prefers that his work be called nonfiction, though some may disagree. Perhaps readers who remember the actual events and casts of players will be the book�s best audience, but any history buff will appreciate these fascinating reinterpertations. --Ilene Cooper

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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 448 pages
  • Publisher: G.P. Putnam's Sons; First Edition edition (March 8, 2011)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0399157069
  • ISBN-13: 978-0399157066
  • Product Dimensions: 9 x 6.4 x 1.4 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.4 pounds
  • Average Customer Review: 3.9 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (68 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #889,205 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

Format: Hardcover
"...playing with history is a small bit of payback for the way history has played with us."

Historical speculation may not be fruitful, but it's fun -- and former Kennedy speechwriter and longtime political journalist Jeff Greenfield definitely has his fill of it, presenting three alternate history scenarios spanning two decades. He begins with the assassination of John F. Kennedy nearly two months before his inauguration as President, resets the clock and jumps to a kitchen in Los Angeles, where JFK's brother Robert narrowly escaped an attempt on his own life. After following RFK's bitter election campaign, Greenfield restores reality again and moves us into the seventies, shortly before Gerald Ford informed Jimmy Carter that there was no Soviet domination in Eastern Europe and never would be under his administration. Here, though, Ford rallies and just barely beats Carter in the election.

Greenfield's fun at history's expense provides for some great stories: for instance, after his aggressive stance offends Kruschev, the latter decides to "put a hedgehog in Uncle Sam's pants" and forces Johnson to respond to Soviet missiles in Cuba. Later, presidential candidate Robert Kennedy confronts violent students protests in Chicago in 1968, and still later Ted Kennedy is forced to debate a man who adopts Kennedy's own brother's legacy and uses RFK's words against him. Greenfield throws in little allusions to how historical events truly played out -- both during this period and beyond. Newly-minted congressman Al Gore Jr.
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Format: Kindle Edition Verified Purchase
Political Analyst Jeff Greenfield's latest book "Then Everything Changed" takes on the field of alternative history, not so much as a novel, but as an alternate "Making of the President" for three Presidents: Lyndon Johnson becomes President in 1960 when a lone nut blows up John Kennedy one month before he is inaugurated; RFK survives the Ambassador Hotel in 1968 and goes up against Nixon for the Presidency; and Gerald Ford manages to eek out a victory over Jimmy Carter in 1976, leading to a Ronald Reagan-Gary Hart election in 1980.

I'm a big fan of alternate history, and having watched Greenfield talk about this book, he obviously is as well. The best alternative histories always turn on one single event going slightly differently, and for the first 2/3 of the book or so Greenfield paints a great "what might have been". The first story is probably the best. In the real world, there was a lone, John Birch type nut who was planning on blowing up JFK in December of 1960. In our world, he got close but never succeeded, but Greenfied's world he kills Kennedy and throws the nation into a Constitutional crisis. Greenfield deftly weaves the tale of a nation in mourning with the back-room politicians who are so stunned they are falling all over themselves to make sure that the right thing happens and is SEEN as happening, so that the country knows that it's government will continue. His description of Lyndon Johnson is spot on. The LBJ who was Master of the Senate comes through very clearly as he takes the reigns of a shattered nation after the Age of Camelot is snuffed out before it even begins.
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Format: Hardcover
"If only." Those two words have the potential to lead to hours of discussion, conjecture, speculation and robust debate. For a political junkie such as Jeff Greenfield, those words have inspired a fascinating book. Greenfield, the senior political correspondent at CBS News and a veteran reporter at CNN and ABC, has an impressive political resume that includes stints with Robert Kennedy and New York Mayor John Lindsay. His knowledge of and love for politics is evident to any viewer of his regular television appearances.

Greenfield has selected three events from the late 20th century to form the speculative basis of his book. The first game-changing occurrence is an assassination attempt on John F. Kennedy. In December 1960, Richard Pavlick, a retired postal worker, drove a dynamite-loaded car to the Palm Beach, Florida vacation residence of the President-elect, but his plan was foiled by law enforcement. Greenfield speculates how history might have changed had Pavlick succeeded in exploding his device. A constitutional crisis would have resulted as the Electoral College had not yet voted for the President and Vice-President. In the skillful hands of Greenfield, the hypothetical history reads like actual reporting.

The saga of Richard Pavlick is unknown to many Americans. However, Sirhan Sirhan is recognized by almost all and remains in the news today. This past week, California authorities denied Sirhan parole for the June 1968 killing of Robert Kennedy. THEN EVERYTHING CHANGED speculates on how history might have been different had the murder never occurred. The result, according to Greenfield, is the presidency of Robert Kennedy. In his description of the Kennedy presidency, Greenfield's admiration for the New York Senator is clear.
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