What If?

What if? is an intriguing, provocative, and thought-provoking collection of essays by military historians, in which they examine momentous points in history, and ask "What if?" Ranging right through history from biblical sieges to Alexander the Great, and from the Spanish Armada to the Battle of Midway, historians examine how historical outcomes could have been different and how that may have affected history far into the future. For example : What if the Romans had successfully invaded what would later become Germany? Would we still have a Roman Empire today? Would the world speak Latin rather than English?

What really struck me about these essays was the huge impact that chance has on our everyday lives - if the Americans hadn't had the luck to fall upon the Japanese aircraft carriers just at the moment when their planes were being re-fuelled would they have won the Battle of Midway? And if they'd lost Midway how would that have affected the way they supported the war in Europe? What if there hadn't been a sudden patch of good weather on D-day, or what if Eisenhower had ignored the Scottish weather forecaster, who advised him, against the advice of others, to go for it on June 6th?

Weather time and again plays a vital part in military plans, scattering the fleet of the Spanish Armada, allowing Washington's forces to retreat under British noses, making the invasion of Europe in 1944 possible. Sudden illness and death also plays a part - Europe, and by extension the world, might have been a very different place if it hadn't been for the fortuitous death of Ogadai, the Mongol war-lord. Conversely what would have happened if a New York taxi driver hadn't braked just in time, and had killed Winston Churchill pre-World War II? Churchill's biography would have read very differently, and so would the history of the world.

One salutary lesson that this book teaches is that if your life is in a good place, you should be very thankful for what you have - it could all have been so different. Seemingly little decisions, or tiny changes in plans can have impacts far beyond what you may think. Educational, enlightening, entertaining, and a book that really makes you think - not just about history but about your own life choices. This isn't just for historians - each chapter has detailed information on what really happened followed by the historian's counter-factual version. A fascinating read - great for any kind of discussion group whether you're into military history or not.


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