Our question of the week this morning, which dealt with a hypothetical what-if scenario, coincidentally touched on something that’s been on my own mind lately.
Do you have your own favorite Civil War alternative history? If so, what is it, and what do you like about it? And perhaps most importantly, how has it helped you re-think history?
I know many people poo-poo alternative history (and if you’re one of those people, don’t feel obligated to play along here—although you might miss something worth thinking about). I admit, for me, it can be a guilty pleasure. When I’m looking for a little brain candy, I usually turn to fiction and read a good story. Earlier this summer, I decided to re-read Harry Turtledove’s How Few Remain: A Novel of the Second War Between the States.
For those unfamiliar with the book, Lee’s “lost order” never got lost and he ended up beating McClellan in the Battle of Camp Hill across the river from Harrisburg—and that’s just the prologue. The rest of the book centers on events twenty years later when the Confederate States of America buy a pair of provinces from Mexico; the U.S. sees it as a security threat and declares war. James Longstreet is the Confederate president and Stonewall Jackson is the general in chief of the army; James Blaine of Maine is the president of the U.S.
The book springboards to a series of 10 other books that extends Turtledove’s alternative history through World War II. I’m not ashamed to admit it’s fun.
Besides the fun, though, I also find alternative history useful as a tool to sharpen my critical thinking. I never write counterfactual history myself, but what-if questions can be good lenses for challenging assumptions and examining context.
So, for those of you who do like to read alternative history, what are your favorites?