What Ifs? of American History: Eminent Historians Imagine What Might Have Been
. G. P. Putnam's Sons, $26.95 (298pp) ISBN 978-0-399-15091-3
The 18 contributors to this latest installment of the What If? series are indeed eminent: they include David McCullough, Tom Fleming and Robert Dallek (though series editor Cowley might have found more than one woman for his roster). For historians whose works are bound by facts, there must have been pleasure in letting their imaginations engage instead in speculation, though the""shadow universe"" presented here is still rooted in the historical record and reflects back on it. In""Might the Mayflower not have sailed?"", for example, Theodore K. Rabb enumerates a series of""strokes of luck"" that enabled the Pilgrims to come to America, including Sir Edwin Sandys's propitious takeover of the Virginia Company. And in""What if Watergate Was Still Just an Upscale Address?"", Lawrence Malkin and John Stacks wonder what would have happened Nixon hadn't been forced to resign the presidency. Americans would be less cynical, they speculate, and, more surprisingly, the U.S. might have had a national health insurance plan. Other essays ask fascinating questions about the the Civil War and the Cuban missile crisis. A pleasure for history buffs longing to engage in some footloose imagination, this book drives home the fact that even momentous political events can hinge on a few uncontrollable events. Maps and b&w photos.
Reviewed on: 10/01/2003