In the first of their planned three-volume alternative American history, King and Bredehoft expertly plot the effects of the South’s victory in the Civil War.
This history starts with Lee’s triumph at Gettysburg, a “point of divergence” clinching the nation’s division into the USA and the CSA—Confederate States of America. The countries form competing international alliances: While the CSA partners with Germany and Britain, the USA forms tightknit friendships with France and Russia. Border conflicts erupt near Mexico and Canada, which the Yukon Gold Rush renders appealing to would-be U.S. colonizers. With Britain entangled in the “Irish Question,” Russia advancing into India and Afghanistan, and the CSA and Japan planning to attack the Philippines, the stage is set for an altered World War I in 1898. Global warfare catches most great powers unprepared, both technologically and ideologically. The CSA, however, is an able aggressor: Hoping to annex Maryland and Delaware, it leads devastating attacks on New York and Washington, leaving the capital in ruins. Indeed, this bleak picture coincides with the narrator’s present-day setting: Writing in 1963, an unnamed, former U.S. president surveys a post-apocalyptic scene while cowered in a primitive New England outpost, with New York City having been destroyed by Germany’s atomic missiles. He attempts to pinpoint where everything went wrong, inspired by “duty to make an honest accounting at history’s bar.” At first, Confederate victory may have augured a better world, but as the slave trade and the accelerated cycle of war continued, things grew worse, especially as the USA restricted freedom of speech to prevent dissent. King and Bredehoft seamlessly weave genuine and conceivable historical happenings: The Dreyfus Affair and Boxer Rebellion are juxtaposed with imagined but entirely plausible assassinations or invasions. Omissions, such as the Boer War and Lincoln assassination—he decided against seeking re-election, leaving the job to William H. Seward—come with faultless justification. Throughout, there is an impressive level of detail as the authors follow minute chronological swerves to their logical conclusions, illustrating “the highly contingent nature of history.”
A flawless blending of actual and potential events, aided by an engaging narrator.