Virtual History: Alternatives And Counterfactuals

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9780465023233: Virtual History: Alternatives And Counterfactuals

What if there had been no American War of Independence? What if Hitler had invaded Britain? What if Kennedy had lived? What if Russia had won the Cold War? Niall Ferguson, author of the highly acclaimed The Pity of War, leads the charge in this historically rigorous series of separate voyages into imaginary time” and provides far-reaching answers to these intriguing questions.Ferguson's brilliant 90-page introduction doubles as a manifesto on the methodology of counter-factual history. His equally masterful afterword traces the likely historical ripples that would have proceeded from the maintenance of Stuart rule in England. This breathtaking narrative gives us a convincing, detailed alternative history” of the West from the accession of James III” in 1701, to a Nazi-occupied England, to a U.S. Prime Minister Kennedy who lives to complete his term.

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This meaty, scholarly collection of essays by gifted historian Niall Ferguson tackles the controversial topic of counterfactual questions: What if Hitler had invaded Britain in WWII? What if JFK had survived his assassination? What if there had been no Gorbachev to usher in the collapse of Communism? What if there had been no American Revolution? Ferguson points out that while questions such as these are a vital part of how we learn as individuals ("What if I had observed the speed limit, or refused that last drink?"), there remains a great deal of resistance--even hostility--to such musings among professional historians. "[I]n the dismissive phrase of E.H. Carr, 'counterfactual' history is a mere 'parlour game,' a 'red herring.'" E.P. Thompson is less charitable, calling counterfactual histories "'Geschichtswissenschlopff', unhistorical shit."

But Ferguson and his distinguished collaborators (many of whom are also Oxford fellows) lodge some convincing counterfactuals of their own to counter this arguably blinkered notion, this "idea that events are in some way preprogrammed, so that what was, had to be." In addition to the what-ifs above, Ferguson and his comrades tackle eight questions in all, including "What if Charles I had avoided the Civil War?", "What if Home Rule had been enacted [in Ireland] in 1912?", and "What if Britain had 'stood aside' in August 1914?" Virtual History makes for a stimulating and intellectually rigorous trip, with Ferguson's own delightful afterword as the collection's crowning jewel, a brilliant--and often bitingly clever--timeline tying together all the threads from 1646 to 1996. --Paul Hughes

About the Author:

Niall Ferguson is Fellow and Tutor in Modern History at Jesus College, Oxford. He is the author of Paper and Iron, The House of Rothschilds, and The Pity of War ). He writes regularly for the Times Literary Supplement, and lives in Oxford.

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