Close Calls, Plan B’s, and Twists of Fate in America’s Past
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A clever collection of primary documents that reveal “turning points in American history when events might have taken a different road.”

Bruns (National Publications and Records Commission/National Archives) divides this engaging assortment into 12 thematic sections, each arranged chronologically. He introduces each piece with a description of its historical context—sometimes far surpassing (in length) the document itself. Included is a vast array of items—some surprising, others well known, almost all enlightening. Among the most interesting are General Eisenhower’s press release, written in case the D-Day invasion failed; a message astronaut John Glenn had prepared in the event that his spacecraft landed in a remote region (it actually says “Take me to your leader”); the speech President Nixon would have delivered in the event the Apollo 11 astronauts did not return safely from the moon; an account of the 1859 meeting between Frederick Douglass and John Brown (the latter failed to convince the former to join him in the raid at Harper’s Ferry); a letter from an 11-year-old girl telling Abraham Lincoln that she’d vote for him if he grew a beard (he did); the speech Theodore Roosevelt delivered moments after he was shot (“[I]t takes more than that to kill a bull moose,” he brayed); intelligence that President Carter decided to “suppress the most alarming aspects” of the report on the nuclear accident at Three-Mile Island; Richard Nixon’s 1937 application for employment with the FBI (rejected!); Nixon’s advice to President Reagan about the Iran-Contra scandal (“a stillborn midget”); the speech JFK would have given that day in Dallas (“[T]here will always be dissident voices heard in the land”); Colonel Travis’s final message from the Alamo (“I shall never surrender nor retreat”); and an 1871 finding that Mrs. O’Leary’s cow may indeed have started the Great Chicago Fire.

Agreeable ammunition for those who love to fire the “What if?” question at history. (40 b&w photos)

Pub Date: Oct. 4th, 2000
ISBN: 0-7868-6663-2
Page count: 224pp
Publisher: Hyperion
Review Posted Online:
Kirkus Reviews Issue: Aug. 15th, 2000