Read Virtual History: Alternatives and Counterfactuals. Edited by Niall Ferguson by Niall Ferguson Online


'Fluent and entertaining.' "The Times"'Ferguson . . . constructs an entire scenario starting with Charles I's defeat of the Covenanters, running through three revolutions, the American, the French and the Russian - that did not happen and climaxing with the collapse of the West, ruled by an Anglo American empire, in the face of a mighty transcontinental, tsarist Russian im'Fluent and entertaining.' "The Times"'Ferguson . . . constructs an entire scenario starting with Charles I's defeat of the Covenanters, running through three revolutions, the American, the French and the Russian - that did not happen and climaxing with the collapse of the West, ruled by an Anglo American empire, in the face of a mighty transcontinental, tsarist Russian imperium . . . A welcome, optimistic assault on an intellectual heresy that has done much, much more harm than good.' Brian Appleyard, "Sunday Times"'Quite brilliant, inspiring for the layman and an enviable tour de force for the informed reader . . . A wonderful book . . . lucid, exciting and easy to read.' Claus von Bulow, "Literary Review"'Sizzling essays hot from the academic griddle.' Piers Brendon, "Mail on Sunday"'The implications of "Virtual History" deserve to be meditated by every historian . . . a talented and imaginative team of historians who tackle with counterfactual verve a series of mostly twentieth century turning points.' Christopher Andrew, "Daily Telegraph"...

Title : Virtual History: Alternatives and Counterfactuals. Edited by Niall Ferguson
Author :
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ISBN : 9780241952252
Format Type : Paperback
Number of Pages : 560 Pages
Status : Available For Download
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Virtual History: Alternatives and Counterfactuals. Edited by Niall Ferguson Reviews

  • Andy
    2019-03-04 23:54

    A re-read & an upgrade from a 2 to a 4 Star ratingA lot was spent on the introduction but i’ll admit to skipping that after around 20 pages as was too disjointed for me to follow & wanted to get right to the meat of it! Have to admit you would need to know about each era & the politics of the actual history when reading about the virtual theories otherwise its quite hard to follow & perhaps picture, as well as separate the fact from the fiction. England without Cromwell was a little staid for sure. Would America have come about if no AWI was of more interest & the hypotheses raised of note I would say...... if not in 1776 then it would have occurred at another juncture so goes the theory & probably revolved around the slave trade & caused a North/South war & separation thereafter.Irish Home Rule in 1912 got my attention & again I liked the way it could have played out, with a suggestion that an even worse scenario could have been created with a unified Ireland being likened to Yugoslavia with all it’s religious division.......? Britain staying neutral in WWI with the general consensus, that, it would have kept its empire & financial power as the world leader but it got dragged into a war in the west by backing France/Russia entente or if it didn’t back it.... it encouraged a German/central powers invasion of both or either.... was in a no win situation really & by doing the right thing? Gave up its empire..... The next sees a Britain invaded by Germany by virtue of a number of scenarios mostly revolving around that if Hitler had actually had a plan in early 1940, it was more than achievable but it seemed the will was not really there for all manner of reasons..... What IF Hitler had defeated Uncle Joe.... it seemed plans to “regermanise” the East were in place through Himmler & others which had already started to be enacted in Poland through 1941, a well known factor was the late start for Operation Barbarossa as the Germans had to move through the Balkans to bail out the Italians leaving them short of capturing Moscow & Leningrad as winter hit their forces in late 1941.... another was the fixation of capturing Stalingrad which doomed/lost a quarter of a million german & axis forces......... cold war was quite lame but mainly as it’s only been presented by western historians as the Kremlin still has its files classified so it was a very short chapter & not that thought provoking tbh which is a real shame........ JFK is covered too, a what if he lived scenario which made him out to be a bit of a villain really, not quite the saint his assassination portrayed him to be....... then there’s the non-fall of the Berlin wall which again was thought provoking. The Final chapter puts all the virtual realities together & plays out the whole period from the English Civil war to the fall (or not?) of the Berlin wall & it makes for a great finish to a book which Ive much more enjoyed second time around by virtue of reading small chunks at a time.

  • Simon
    2019-02-28 00:50

    I will write only about the 90 or so page introduction to this volume by the editor, Niall Ferguson, which I began by reading assiduously and ended by skimming quickly. Counterfactual history is history written mainly in counterfactuals – sentences of the form “if x had/had not been the case, then y would/would not have been the case.” (Obviously, most sentences in such a history might not actually be counterfactuals, but the main theses will be.) Of such historical endeavors, four questions must be asked, and it is surely the main job of an introduction to a volume of essays of counterfactual history to state these questions and discuss the possible answers to them. a) Which counterfactual suppositions (the “if” parts of counterfactuals) make interesting counterfactual history? There is not much interest in wondering what things might have been like had Lincoln been a Martian spy or had Chamberlain mooned Hitler in Munich. b) Are counterfactuals capable of being true or false? And if so, what makes one true and another false, and how might we determine their truth or falsity? c) If the answer to b) is no, then by what standard do we assess the value of a counterfactual? Interest? Plausibility? Verisimilitude? And d), how do we operationalize a measure of whatever answer we give to c)?Ferguson does address a). His answer is that we should restrict ourselves to suppositions that were seen as possible by the people to whom they pertain. If Chamberlain really did consider mooning Hitler, then the supposition that he did would be a permissible one by this criterion for counterfactual historicizing. Presumably, it never crossed Chamberlain’s mind and would not have been seen by anyone then as a likely course of events, so in fact it would not be a good basis for counterfactual historicizing. Ferguson’s answer successfully serves to exclude some worthless suppositions, but probably excludes too much. Perhaps no-one in Britain during the Industrial Revolution worried about an end to the supply of iron; but it might be interesting to think about what might have happened had iron become unavailable.About the remaining issues, Ferguson, as far as I can tell, says nothing whatsoever, essentially rendering his introduction irrelevant to the essays that follow. What he does do is to give a whistle-stop tour of philosophies of history, particularly focusing on issues of determinism. It seems plausible that one’s views on determinism might have some impact on one’s views on counterfactual history. But what that impact might or should be is far from evident. One could be a determinist, in the strictest, Laplacean sense and hold a variety of views about the answers to a) to d) above. If Ferguson wanted to dwell on determinism in the philosophy of history in this context, this is what he should have attempted to articulate.I was amazed that no mention at all was made of the work of David Lewis, who has provided the most sustained philosophical treatment of counterfactuals in existence. Lewis certainly has things to say that bear on questions a) to d). And I noted some pretty shoddy summary of Hume that makes me question the quality of his descriptions of other figures. Finally, he mentions Robert Harris’s novel Fatherland and says that the possibility of a German win in WWII also inspired several “less successful” novels, such as Philip K. Dick’s The Man in the High Castle! In what counterfactual universe is Dick’s novel less successful than Harris’s (though I don’t disparage the latter at all)?

  • Anil Swarup
    2019-03-16 18:39

    Another remarkably well researched book by Niall Ferguson. Those that are fond of history and question purported historical facts will love this book. The author first lays down the ground rules and looks at probable events that did not happen but could have happened and would have changed the course of history. He, quite correctly, does not subscribe to the deterministic view of history. For him history had to do a lot with individuals and their actions. There are indeed some fascinating alternative courses of history that come up for discussion. Perhaps the most interesting is the conclusion relating to British participation in the Great War (1st World War). In authors view, there was a possibility of the British not participating in what became the Great War. This was quite probable and if that had happened, Germany would have played the dominant role in the continent ( quite similar to the one it is playing now as an economic power), Hitler would have never come to power and the 2nd World War would not have happened.The American engagement in Vietnam could have taken a different course had Kennedy been alive. However,Kennedy's statement " our object is to bring Americans home and permit South Vietnamese to maintain themselves free and independent country" is quite reminiscent of what is now happening in Iraq and even Afghanistan.All in all a very interesting book but does not belong to the category of masterpieces like "Ascent of Money" by the same author.

  • S.
    2019-02-24 19:29

    Niall Ferguson at his best can be spell-binding, and his research and ability to tie together disparate facts to weave together his unique tapestry of analysis and historical account can be unsurpassed, but his output is uneven. I haven't even rated some of his lesser works as they were just that boring. Virtual History isn't terrible--and Ferguson is only part-writer, editing together other counter-factual historians to create plausible alternate histories--but he falls prey to the 'transport a real world event into the alterate universe' weakness (what if in the alterate world, the Argentinians actually won the Falkland war?-- this after 300 years of complete disparate history result in completely different great powers) and does not create ironies or power-reversals that are the pleasure of the best alternate universe / uchronie writing. at best a 3/5

  • David Bisset
    2019-02-27 19:32

    An enjoyable presentation of some less fanciful counterfactuals. I read the essays on the scenarios which particularly interest me in the twentieth century: some made sobering reading. No all Ferguson's introduction was rather arid, but his concluding essay was a counterfactual tour de force!

  • Bradplumer
    2019-03-02 18:27

    Historical counterfactuals are fun to ponder: What if John Wilkes Booth had had poor aim? What if Hitler hadn't declared war on the United States after Pearl Harbor? What if Napoleon had escaped to South America in a tiny submarine after Waterloo? Niall Ferguson wants to go even further. Alternative histories aren't just amusing, he argues in the introduction to this collection of essays. They're actually a useful way to study history. They can help us think through whether certain historical events—Germany's defeat in World War II, or the fall of the Soviet Union, or civil rights in America—were actually inevitable or whether they were dependent on small choices and turning points that could have just as easily gone the other way.After finishing the book, I'm still a little skeptical of this broader claim. Yes, it's important to consider counterfactuals (it's hard to make claims about causation without thinking about counterfactuals, at least implicitly). But I'm less convinced that it's necessary to spin out elaborate alternative histories to answer hard historical questions.Take World War II. In one of the more readable essays in this book, Andrew Roberts argues that Germany could have very plausibly conquered Britain in 1940. Imagine if Hitler hadn't given his famous halt order and had instead allowed the Wehrmact to kill or capture the 40,000 British troops at Dunkirk. And so on...Well, okay. Lots of historians have mulled that question—it's hardly new. What Roberts is adding here are pages gaming out the consequences of that fateful decision. If Britain had fallen in 1940, the nation wouldn't have been around to attack Italy in Libya in 1941. Then maybe Hitler wouldn't have had to waste time bailing out Mussolini and could have launched his invasion of Russia a month earlier, before winter set in. Hitler might have won the whole war.There are smaller questions to consider, too. The British Royal Family would have fled in this situation, but where to? Roberts digs up some evidence that Franklin Roosevelt wouldn't have let the royals settle in Ottawa, their first choice, for fear of stoking anti-monarchical sentiment in Congress. King George VI might have had to settle for a government-in-exile in Bermuda.There's also the question of collaboration. Would the British people have acquiesced to German occupation the way the French did? Roberts desperately wants the answer here to be "no," and compiles as much evidence as possible that the British were united in opposition to fascism, unlike the French. (He dismisses the point that the British Channel Islands were fairly willing collaborators after being conquered by Germany in 1940 by noting that most of those inhabitants spoke French, anyway.)That brings us to the big question: What's the value in this exercise? One possibility is that it's entertaining, sure. Second is that it helps us appreciate the fact that the events of World War II were hardly inevitable. Third is that it can help adjudicate debates like, "Was French collaborationism really so vile? Wouldn't anyone have done what they did in a similar position?" Fourth is that alternate history is a nice organizing structure for discussing overlooked historical details (like the bit about the royals in Ottawa).Most of the essays in this book do a mix of #2 and #4. Mark Almond's essay trying to imagine 1989 without Gorbachev argues that the collapse of the Soviet Union was hardly inevitable—but was a result of specific, and deeply idiosyncratic, choices made by Gorbachev. Diane Kunz's essay on "What if John F. Kennedy had lived?" is helpful for its evidence that JFK was just as committed to the Vietnam war as Lyndon Johnson.But are detailed alternative histories necessary for making points like those? I'm not convinced. Are these essays always as rigorous as normal history tries to be? Probably not. Are they at least interesting? Sure, most of them. (The first three are a bit confusing if you don't know British history very well.) So I guess I can see why so many historians prefer to stick to what's known and are dismissive of this genre. That said, I'm sticking with my line that counterfactual histories are certainly fun to ponder.

  • Alastair Hudson
    2019-03-18 21:53

    This took a long time to read. The introduction does more than sets the scene; it's an entire essay on various different approaches to history and the philosophical implications of these different approaches. It is also a justification for the essays in the book to break free of the deterministic nature of most historical writing and analysis... It's enlightening (for someone who's never studied history 'academically') but astoundingly dull.Neil does his best to establish a space for the worthy academic contributors to create a series of interesting essays looking at what might have happened 'if'. To identifying the crux points of the past and explore alternative consequences. I can imagine him publishing this essay in a colourless journal, having tea with some friendly professors who ply him with compliments before approaching his greedy publishers. Neil mails copies of his essay to identified contributors, all experts in their field who jump on board despite a few misgivings as to the premise of the intended book.After completing the tiring intro the reader is eager to jump into the meat of the book and the first contribution.It sets the scene for the rest of the book and disappoints greatly. It is not an enjoyable ride through an informed fictional past but an opportunity for the writer to layout the scenario as it actually happened in the manner of a dry précis of actual events. Worthy academic references, nods to other professors, faint self-congratulation and dazzlingly erudition (for those that know the period well). There might be time to include a paragraph or two at the end that outlines what might have happened 'if' and for the author to admit to not subscribing to the idea that academics should entertain such childish notions as 'counterfactual history'.The dull essays continue and a two star review seems imminent. The essay on the 'Irish' problem is the nadir. If I knew more about the history of this issue I'm sure I would have enjoyed the authors research and insights into the events that occurred better. But I didn't.Then we reach the First World War and the writing picks up, the events become more pertinent to modern day concerns and I knew more about the period. The essays follow the same format but there's better documentary evidence of proposed alternative plans. The Germans can be relied upon to make excellently well documented plans to cover all conte cites and this obviously helps the academics immensely. If the first half of the book was missing this would have been a five star review but it balances out at four.Back to Neil; the contributors essay disappoint. Academics are at universities for a reason - they don't write good fiction. Neil tries to lift the game with a spirited afterword playing with alternatives in a scenario that seems doggedly 'deterministic', in terms of events if not the players, until he gains enough confidence to plot the decline of the western world. Fun. I liked it. But too late.Those good essays from the halfway point were great because they were great history essays. They were not 'conterfactual' they described very interesting documentary evidence with some good analysis.A good book with a bad title.

  • Greg
    2019-02-17 16:41

    The historian Niall Ferguson has edited this collection of "possible, alternative" histories that cover a number of recent events, including the First and Second World Wars, the Cold War, JFK's assassination, and choices the Soviet Union faced in the late 1990s.The writing quality varies from essay to essay and, frankly, some of those I found to be relatively "dense."Dr. Ferguson, by the way, also writes the longest bloomin' "introduction" -- almost 100 pages -- that I have ever encountered, although in it he covers centuries of historical approaches to how historians and others have dealt with "what ifs" and "if onlys." I am unsure how the "average person" -- possessing some, but little detailed, knowledge of history -- would find these essays, for in offering their counter-possibilities they presume significant awareness of what actually did happen, including key players and events.With that significant caveat in mind, I did find much of the book of interest, as it reinforced how "history as we know it" was ALWAYS very plastic while occurring, that is, that not only were there often many policy options available, but also that the absence -- by illness, mood, or death -- of a certain key personage could significantly alter what actually occurred.It also reinforces the shaping power of "all other events" occurring at the same time. In other words, even thought Hitler might have been prevented from coming to power, the Weimar Republic of the '20s and '30s faced such tremendous economic and social challenges that the emergence of a stable, peaceful republic was unlikely, at least in the short term.This book really helps the reader understand that history is, indeed, truly "living," not just for those in the period under study, but for we who ponder it decades or centuries after "the past" has become "the past." It teaches us that while nothing is truly "inevitable," we must nonetheless be very sensitive to reading correctly "the signs of the times" for the cumulative patterns of economics, politics, and life as lived by the average person do shape what is possible (and what remains even unthought of).As so much of the history of the late 19th and 20th centuries does these days, there is much in this work that casts a dark, warning shadow over the games our current crop of politicians are playing,for words DO have consequences, ideas CAN be poisonous, and once the "dogs of hatred and war" are unleashed we will all go through the fires of hell before anything like "normalcy" returns.Greg

  • Steve
    2019-02-24 16:30

    Virtual History is a pseudo-academic work that explores "counterfactual" questions. It answers questions such as "What if J.F.K. had not been assasinated?" Which is of interest in a semi-modern setting. It also answers questions like "What if Charles I had not sued for peace with the Scots in the 1640s. The questions are actually quite interesting, but they are "Anglo-American" centric (the book's own term).There are several annoying things about this book, but happily only one of them permeates the text. The text is about 50% about counterfactuals, and 50% about why counterfactuals are (a) interesting, and (b) not just academic exercises. In fact, one gets the impression that history scholars may be dealing with a wave of "things happen because the masses are pushing that way". And Niall Ferguson is doing his best to show that that's not a reasonable way to look at situations where a single person really did make or break a given historical decision.The annoying thing that permeates the text is the author's use of humor. Its not "ha ha" humor, its more like: "this guy was a scumbag and I don't understand why anyone even cares about him", angry, humor. I want to call it political, but he seems to do it to both traditional and progressive icons equally.The last thing that seems to be worth pointing out is that I think the "Anglo-American" angle is hit too hard (though it might be the target audience). Also, a number of details we have learned about the world in the last 30 years don't seem to be covered in much depth (such as: a 3000 year old society doesn't just cave because an outside force invades it with superior weaponry).Overall, the book is an interesting read if you're a history buff. You may find it a little one dimensional at times, but if you're into Anglo-American history, there is a lot of detail you can dig into.

  • JohnBellamy
    2019-03-03 21:32

    It's understandable that counterfactual historical speculations have been more popular with fiction writers than historians, as their handling by the latter has all too often lurched toward the simplistic and absurd. Indeed, too many of them--Robert Fogel's tome on what 19th century American development would have been like without railroads--have reminded me of nothing so much as an early "Saturday Night Live" skit which featured a "film" of the Battle of Hastings showing William the Conquerer's decisive employment of a modern battle tank against his adversaries. Thankfully, Niall Ferguson's skillfully edited collection of historical speculations mainly avoids the pitfalls and outright silliness so often found in the perilous counterfactual genre. Most of the questions asked and speculatively answered here are the obvious ones: What if Hitler had invaded Europe? What if the American Revolution had been suppressed? What if JFK had not been assassinated? What if Britain had decided not to enter World War I on the side of the Entente? What if there had been no Cold War? Or, allowing that, what if Communism had not disintegrated in 1989? Not to mention some queries of perhaps greater interest to the British scholars who wrote most of the essays here, such as: "What if King Charles I's 1639 expedition against the Scots had succeeded? What if Irish Home Rule had finally been passed on the third try in 1912? Readers may not find all of the topics here equally fascinating but all are treated soberly and, for the most part, with impressive erudition. And not the least of this book's pleasures are editor Ferguson's introductory essay on the value of counterfactual history and his most Afterword, a very amusing blending and send-up of all of his contributors' thoughts. Very well done, often very funny, and Ferguson's own essay on British entry into World War I is a must-read.

  • Bookaholic
    2019-03-19 16:45

    Este o tentaţie umană firească să ne întrebăm ce s-ar fi întâmplat dacă un anume eveniment n-ar fi avut loc sau dacă am fi ales alt drum atunci când am fost puşi în faţa unei dileme. Nu este o pornire aplicabilă doar pe plan personal, ci şi extrapolată la un context mai larg, istoric. Aşa-numita istorie contrafactuală, care mizează pe „condiţionalul contrafactual”, dă frâu liber imaginaţiei pentru a dezvolta direcţii pe care trecutul le-a curmat de cele mai multe ori în mod neaşteptat. Volumul coordonat de Niall Ferguson adună nouă poveşti alternative despre anumite momente-cheie din istorie, autorii lor mergând pe un fir logic evenimenţial, un fir care ar fi putut, după toate coordonatele istorice, să capete finalitate.În cuprinzătoarea introducere scrisă de Niall Ferguson, acesta stabileşte premisele existenţei unei asemenea istorii virtuale, trecând în revistă principalele argumente şi contraargumente emise de diverşi istorici de-a lungul timpului. Principala critică a acestui gen de demers este că reprezintă un simplu joc de societate, un amuzament, precum şi asumarea rolului perdantului, adică o reacţie emoţională (conform lui E.H. Carr), iar E.P. Thompson susţine că aceste ficţiuni sunt doar „bazaconii nonistorice”. (continuarea cronicii:

  • Bas Kreuger
    2019-02-27 19:54

    Counterfactual history: horror for one historian, blessing for the other. Ferguson (as editor) and others prove to me that careful analysis of facts and figures plus the changing of one or a few variables can make a very believable alternative history. The UK staying out of WWI and thus Imperial Germany creating a sort of European Union 35 years early; Gorbatchev choosing the Chinese path instead of Perestroika and Glasnost and thus cracking down hard on unrest in the Eastern block in 1989 while economically going for more capitalism. Less believable is Hitler winning WWII after capturing the British Army at Dunkirk, the horror scenario of the Third Reich ruling over Europe after winning the war is as bad as ever.I for me would love to see an alternative history where the Netherlands stay neutral in WWII as we were in WWI. What if Hitler hadn't attacked us in 1940? How would we have behaved? Like Sweden or Switserland? Or a sort of Vichy France? And what would have happened with the Dutch East-Indies and Japan?Readable and imaginative

  • Mark Singer
    2019-02-19 19:46

    This is one the more interesting books I have read on counterfactuals, or alternative history, as they are better known. Edited by Scottish historian Niall Ferguson, the collection is focused on British and European history, and features a number of historians fleshing out their what-ifs. Three of the books nine essays are on World War II, which seems to be the main focus of alternate history these days. But the book also explores paths not often encountered, such as an English Civil War or American Revolution that never happened, a Europe dominated by the Kaisers Germany after the First World War, and the non-collapse of the Soviet Union. The book begins with an excellent examination of the logic and theory behind counterfactuals. The only weak point of the book is a silly afterword where Ferguson awkwardly combines all nine of the essays and unsuccessfully creates an alternate timeline.

  • Kym Robinson
    2019-02-26 21:35

    If you enjoy reading alternative history fiction then this book is for you. A nice collection of various periods in time and how things and events could even changed if key moments had of gone in another direction.A nice deviation and indulgence for any one with a sense of historical appreciation and understanding. Whether you agree or disagree it does not matter as it is all a dance down the path of 'imagine if' and therein lies the creative license of those writing, however 'expert' or not that they may be.Counter factuals on history or even futurist writing are the intellectual version of 'Superman vs the incredible hulk' or Ali vs Tyson sort of debates. It is fun to indulge in, to hear others opinions and to allow your imagination to ponder the 'what if'. While it shall always have a time and place, such books always belongs on your fiction shelf and as such are nothing more than that.65 %

  • Olethros
    2019-02-24 17:39

    -Imaginativo pero basándose en cosas con diferente grado de probabilidad o incluso de sensatez.- Género. Ensayo.Lo que nos cuenta. Con prólogo de Thomas Carlyle y epílogo de Niall Fergusson (que coordina y también colabora con uno de los trabajos), seis ensayos que proponen diferentes devenires hipotéticos de nuestra historia, desde una España sin enfrentamiento fratricida hasta la inexistencia de una Perestroika, pasando por diferentes escenarios ficticios en el desarrollo de la Segunda Guerra Mundial, entre otros temas, pero que a diferencia de la publicación original no presenta tres trabajos sobre una América bajo dominio inglés, una Argentina sin peronismo y una Unión Europea bajo auspicio del liderazgo alemán (en el siglo XIX, no sean malos pensando en la actualidad…), con la intención de centrarse más en el siglo XX.¿Quiere saber más de este libro, sin spoilers? Visite:

  • Jack
    2019-03-13 19:43

    Finally finished this book. This book is made up of a series of essays by different authors dealing with 'counterfactual' history...what could have happened. I am a fan of alternate histories and looked forward to reading this one - the dust jacket has a painting of London's Big Ben draped in Nazi banners.It read,for the most part, like a college history text book. The authors quoted chapter and verse from real primary source materials. Many of the essays were boring - and I love history.The one essay I found most interesting is what if President Kennedy was not shot in 1963. How would the USA have been different? (I was in high school in 1963). The author, Diane Kunz, a well respected historian, presents a short, but very revealing, history of Kennedy's accomplishments up to the November day. Her conclusion - history has been extremely kind to a mediocre (her opinion) president. That one essay was worth the price of the book (got it in the bargain bin).

  • Harpal
    2019-03-06 00:34

    Not a huge fan of this book, but it's an interesting project for academic historians, and worth looking at just for that reason. Ferguson starts with making the argument for why counterfactual history is actually important for understanding history and, more importantly, the philosophy of history - for instance, not accepting historical events as inevitable and looking for deterministic processes behind them. It also allows one to grasp the importance of various decisions and the alternatives that were perhaps considered but not taken.Still, I didn't think that any of the individual pieces actually bore that out all that much. They were fun reads, but I can't remember a single darn thing from this book. Of course, I have been drinking more lately.

  • Carlos Dourado
    2019-02-23 21:53

    Há livros que parecem ser feitos para nos sentir ignorantes e dizer "Caro leitor: você acabou de ultrapassar o seu limite cultural; por favor volte para trás e devolva o livro se puder". Este foi o primeiro livro que li que me deixou com essa sensação.Comprei-o, pensando que iria ler algo sobre temas simples como "E se... [inserir desfecho histórico diferente do que aconteceu]", e fui surpreendo por uma análise que mais parece adequada para uma tese de doutoramento: complexo, e com uma necessidade de um background de História Económica absolutamente acima da média.O livro assim muito difícil de ler, e não fosse o meu estoicismo, tinha ficado na gaveta.Recomendado para o típico estudante de doutoramento em Historia, vertente económica, que queira fantasiar um pouco! :)

  • Arjun Narayan
    2019-03-15 19:40

    This one is just straight up awful. By this book Niall Ferguson's descent into ridiculousness is complete (although it is only edited by him). It's extremely arrogant and far reaching in its attempt. I will be honest in saying that that is what attracted me to picking this book up from the shelves. However it spectacularly fails to deliver on its premise in ways far too hilarious for me to document here - see Amazon for some good takes. Pankaj Mishra's LRB review of "Civilization" also comes to mind.

  • Julian
    2019-03-14 16:29

    I have little time for alternative history. I enjoyed a book at school ("If It Had Happened Otherwise") but really it is in general no more than amusement, light amusement, of little academic value. But I have to say I found this book very enlightening, indeed a serious work of history: by analysing in a serious way how events took their course in an unreal reality the authors shed much light on why they did take the course they did in real reality. The chapter on the Stuarts and the Civil War sticks in my mind.

  • Phil
    2019-02-18 21:48

    This is an interesting idea with a great introduction as to why counterfactuals are worth considering. The method, in which primary source documents are used as the basis of drawing counterfactuals (No "How would Lincoln have reacted to an alien invasion in 1862?" kinds of questions) illustrates how history did not have to happen as it did. Ferguson's final essay, in which he combines all the counterfactuals into a single compelling narrative, is very entertaining. To borrow to Woody Allen, the book is "mental masturbation."

  • Tim
    2019-03-02 16:50

    I love Ferguson and how he focuses on the fact that history was not pre-ordained and that many possible solutions were possible at the time. In this book he outlines a plausible "virtual history" in an enjoyable way. I thought this was a little dense in places, and expected a lot of historical knowledge of the reader, but as a Ferguson fan I liked it a lot.

  • Sam
    2019-03-12 17:51

    History seems full of things that had to have happened. But before historical events happened they didn't seem inevitable. Historians describing how things could've happened else-wise remind the reader of how historical events felt to the participants. It also gives us fresh eyes with which to appreciate our weird, unexpected, historical period.

  • Chris Bull
    2019-02-22 18:35

    Tried to get through this book, but most of it read like an academic paper. Ugghh.This is not alternative history of which I am found of. This was heavy going. I wonder what if I hadn't spent any time on reading this....

  • Chris Passingham
    2019-03-13 16:51

    I am afraid this book was written with the premise that every one in the world is obsessed with U.S. and not world, history. This made what should have been an interesting book into one that was slightly dull.

  • Hom Sack
    2019-03-03 23:35

    Reading these essays have been a long slog. There is just more information in them that I needed or wanted to know, even with the periods of history that I'm familiar with, e.g. WW-I and WW-II. Nevertheless, the counterfactuals offered are interesting and worth considering.

  • Rob Shurmer
    2019-02-27 22:40

    Worth the price for Ferguson's 90 page-survey of historiography that serves as an introduction.

  • Carl Barnes
    2019-02-20 20:50

    Stunning counterfactual ending of what the world could be like today if things had gone differently!!

  • Mike F
    2019-03-14 20:30

    Advocates use of of counterfactuals in historical scholarship. Wants to advocate for a "Chaostory".

  • Steven Williams
    2019-02-26 21:40

    I don't think it's as good a collection of alternative histories as Cowley's What If? books. However, Ferguson does provide a good defense of the value of doing such histories.