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Showing 1-10 of 44 reviews(Verified Purchases). See all 73 reviews
on March 23, 2011
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.

The problem with the story, and indeed the book, is that Greenfield is so interested in setting up HOW his alternate history happens, that he loses focus when the campaigning ends and the governing begins. There is so much detail in the RFK election story that almost 3/4 of that story, which begins with RFK avoiding assassination by Sirhan Sirhan, deal with the business of RFK winning the election. And while it's fun to read about real world backroom dealings, in my opinion the strength of alternate history would come from how RFK would govern once elected. Greenfield describes it, but not with the minute detail of the campaign. I won't spoil what Greenfield describes as an RFK presidency, but I will say that I found his writing on that to be a combination of wish fulfillment and goofy historical callbacks in the way of people like George H.W. Bush, Donald Rumsfeld, and a weird caper at the Republican National Committee that promises to go somewhere interesting and then just stops.

Perhaps because Greenfield was only interested in getting his fictionalized President's elected (or placed into power), he didn't feel the need to put all that much into how they governed. The Ford story, by far the weakest, seems to exist just to set up a Reagan-Hart match up in 1980, and here Greenfield's writing is sloppy and his characters act more like he wants them to act then they would act, which was not as big a problem in the first two stories. And considering how much historical information is available about these figures, Greenfield's final story smacks entirely of wish fulfillment, and not of a real analysis of what might have been.

All in all I would give the book 3 and 1/2 stars. Political junkies will love the backroom politics, but fans of history may well balk when they look at how Greenfield re imagines world and domestic events.
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on September 28, 2016
I have read two or three Jeff Greenfield books and could only rate them as mediocre at best.  So it was with some reluctance that I decided to spend a few dollars to see what he could do with alternative histories.
 
This time I think Greenfield wrote a winner.
 
Greenfield altered three events -- one a footnote event -- and tried to extrapolate what would have happened if the event had been altered.  The footnote event was a would be assassin who backed off trying to kill President-elect Kennedy in Dec 1960.  In Greenfield's version this assassin carries out his attempt and succeeds.  Who would be president and what does he do in terms of some of the major domestic and international events of the early 1960s?
 
The second event is Sirhan Sirhan failing in his attempt to assassinate Senator Robert Kennedy in Jun 1968.  Would Kennedy have finagled the Democratic nomination away from Hubert Humphrey who was well on his way to the nomination and probably would have been the nominee any way?  How would the 1968 campaign have played out?
 
The third event is President Ford correcting himself in a debate about Soviet domination of Eastern Europe.  He knew what to say but he did not say it.  In Greenfield's scenario Ford does say what he knew to say.  Would his correct response save his campaign to where he could overcome the lead Jimmy Carter had in the polls and win the 1976 election?
 
The problem I have with most alternative histories is that they are either not very plausible -- in my opinion -- or the author races toward an attempt to tie everything together neatly which is not easy to do given the alternative variables associated with the event.  Although I do not necessarily agree with the scenarios or how subsequent events are resolved in this alternative history I think Jeff Greenfield actually succeeded in doing the difficult and doing so with interesting scenarios.
 
If Jeff Greenfield were to write another alternate history book similar to this I would be less reluctant to buy the book.
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on September 2, 2015
Interesting, but definitely for political geeks. Greenfield presents three interesting scenarios and fills each a level of detail missing from many of the normal alternative histories. However, the details are often superfluous and detract from the main story line in each case. However, of the three, only the one dealing with the Cuban Missile Crisis meets the criteria of a critical case that is the norm for counterfactual cases.
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on March 2, 2017
The book title is enticing as one thinks "what happened that changed everything" and "how was everything changed?." However, once the "act" that "changes everything" occurs ... everything slows down, plods along, making the reader say to him/her self "okay ... andddd now what?" Not fast paced nor is there quick action. The book is not what I hoped it would be
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on October 28, 2015
I'm still reading it. Since I lived through this time I am having a little trouble with keeping up with the "alternate" view of historic events. The subject matter could go almost anyway but the author has chosen an unusual way. Many of the involved are not with us anymore so anything written now is fiction and nothing more.
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on January 3, 2014
Greenfield describes alternate histories as needing to be "plausible." That leave a fairly broad canvas to use, and he certainly does with each of the three narratives. I found the one regarding JFK being assassinated in 1960 to be the most "plausible," while the one with Ford beating Carter in 1976 leading to a Hart-Reagan fight in 1980 to border on ridiculous. The best parts of the book are the insights into the personalities of the major characters and the relationships they had with each other. As the time frame of each narrative extends, the presumptions used in the alternate history may be plausible based on what has already "occurred", but the narratives become less credible in terms of final outcome.
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on April 15, 2011
This could have been better if the author had taken each scenario closer to the present day.
In other words it each of the scenarios left me hanging.
For Example How badly was LBJ disabled after his Cuban missle "Heart Attack?
Since this was before the 25th Ammendment, How could Hubert Humphrey function as "Acting President"? How did these events figure in the 1964 Election?
2. Assuming he survived the Ambassador hotel, Was Robert Kennedy a 1 term or two term President? Was there another assasination attempt? another place? another time?
3. After being cought with the Intern, did Gary hart have to deal with Impeachment Much as Bill Clinton did in the late 1990s? All these questions were left unanswered.
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on May 9, 2012
...But first I'm going to give you pages and pages of backstory first.

Don't get me wrong. The author knows the players and this is a gold mine of political trivia, but he also has some bad habits - such as the example given above. It leads to the reader doing some thumb-twiddling while waiting for the (sometimes predictable) amazing revelation to happen, but some of the details are interesting enough that you can forgive the author for making you wait.
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on October 24, 2015
I am reading this book now. It is hard to put down! It offers a kind of alternative universe of "what ifs" if certain events in American history had not occurred. I don't want to give the story away so I'll just end by saying the book is fascinating .
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on October 27, 2013
This alternate history, history that never was, is an extremely thought-provoking book. The author looks at a trio of political what-ifs. First off, what if the December 1960 bomber hadn't hesitated when Jackie and the kids came to the door to say goodbye to JFK? What if RFK had not taken the same route in the hotel on that fateful June morning in 1968? What if Gerald Ford corrected his gaffe in the second presidential debate in 1976 and then overtook Jimmy Carter in the polls?

He tosses out some other what-ifs as food for thought. What if the man who tried to kill FDR in the 1930s had succeeded (instead, he killed the Chicago mayor, Anton Cermak)? What if it had been rainy in Dallas on Nov 22, 1963?

Everything in this excellent alternate history book by a political reporter is plausible, which is part of what makes it so entertaining. What if history had been a bit different? How would history have changed?

Beyond providing a compelling alternate history narrative, Greenfield also shows how cultural and other events might have been different, such as how Ian Fleming's James Bond never took off because JFK, a fan, never talked about how much he loved these books. I wish the author had done more of these.

Very thought-provoking. Very interesting. Highly recommended.
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