Cover image for What if? : the world's foremost military historians imagine what might have been : essays
What if? : the world's foremost military historians imagine what might have been : essays
Cowley, Robert.
Publication Information:
New York : G.P. Putnam's Sons, [1999]

Physical Description:
xiv, 395 pages : illustrations, maps ; 24 cm
Format :


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D25.5 .W44 1999 Adult Non-Fiction Central Closed Stacks
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D25.5 .W44 1999 Adult Non-Fiction Open Shelf
D25.5 .W44 1999 Adult Non-Fiction Open Shelf

On Order



Historians and inquisitive laymen alike love to ponder the dramatic "what ifs" of history. In these twenty-two original essays, scholars ask the tantalizing question: Where might we be if history had not unfolded the way it did? Their answers are surprising, and sometimes frightening, but always entertaining.David McCullough imagines George Washington's ignoble end at the hands of the British if he had not made his escape from Long Island in August 1776. Writing about the Civil War, James M. McPherson suggests General Robert E. Lee could have moved into Union territory and the ultimate crossroads--Gettysburg--and won it all in 1862, if only his Special Order No. 191 had not been lost and turned over to General McClellan. Would the Union have been cleaved in half? Stephen Ambrose describes what might have happened if D-Day had failed. If the storm enveloping the Normandy coast in 1944 had become worse on June 6th, the invasion would have resulted in catastrophe.Other essay topics include Alexander the Great's luck, the Spanish Armada's ill wind, Napoleon's overconfidence, Hirohito's missed opportunity, and Hitler's inflated ego. In addition to the twenty-two essays, fifteen "sidebars," or shorter pieces, cover even more "what ifs." Among the contributors are Stephen W. Sears, Thomas Fleming, Victor Davis Hanson, Lewis H. Lapham, William H. McNeill, Williamson Murray, Josiah Ober and Theodore K. Rabb.

Author Notes

Historian Stephen E. Ambrose grew up in Wisconsin and attended the University of Wisconsin and the University of Louisiana.

Ambrose is considered to be one of the foremost historical scholars of recent times and has been a professor for over three decades. He is also the founder and president of the National D-Day Museum in New Orleans.

His works include D-Day: June 6, 1944: The Climactic Battle of World War II, Citizen Soldiers: The U. S. Army from Normandy Beaches to the Bulge to the Surrender of Germany, June 7, 1944-May 7, 1945, Band of Brothers: E Company, 506th Regiment, 101st Airborne from Normandy to Hitler's Eagle's Nest and Undaunted Courage: Meriwether Lewis, Thomas Jefferson and the Opening of the American West. Abrose served historical consultant on the motion picture Saving Private Ryan.

(Bowker Author Biography)

Reviews 3

Booklist Review

The mysterious subtext of military history, counterfactual suppositions, here parades in full regalia. Among the speculating drum majors are the most popular contemporary names in the field (e.g., James McPherson and John Keegan), but fame should be no prerequisite for delving into the essays of all three dozen authors. They explore the trove of contingent events that could have transformed the Western world into something other than what it developed into. If not for Themistocles, the Athenian admiral who galvanized the Greeks at Salamis, the seed of Western civilization might never have germinated. An Islamic Europe might have evolved from a different result of the Battle of Tours, and had not the Mongols' Khan keeled over in 1242, everything to the Atlantic might have been destroyed, foreclosing capitalism, the Renaissance, and the Reformation. Nearer in time with better documentation, the revisions seem to hinge on tiny details--like Robert E. Lee's famous "lost order" that actually brought on the Battle of Antietam. Had Lee's courier been less careless, could Lee have induced and won a Battle of Gettysburg in 1862? The speculative scenario spun by historian James McPherson typifies these riveting excursions into the unknowable. For the armchair general musing on the ramifications of an Aztec victory at Tenochtitlan, Napoleon's at Waterloo, Japan's at Midway, or Germany's at Normandy, editor Cowley has assembled a war college faculty nonpareil. --Gilbert Taylor

Publisher's Weekly Review

CounterfactualsÄconsiderations of alternate outcomesÄmake up one of the main provinces of military history. This volume, for which an A&E companion TV documentary is scheduled in November, incorporates two dozen essays and a dozen sidebars on what might have happened by writers of diverse specialties, including generalist Lewis Lapham, novelist Cecelia Holland and historians John Keegan, David McCullough and Stephen Ambrose. Readers willing to be open-minded can consider Europe's fate had the Mongols continued their 13th-century course of conquest. They can speculate on the death in battle of Hern n Cort‚s and the consequences of an Aztec Empire surviving to present times. Thanks to James McPherson, they can read of a battle of Gettysburg fought in 1862 (instead of 1963) and resulting in a Confederate victory, or the consequences of a Confederate defeat at Chancellorsville courtesy of Steven Sears. Ambrose suggests that Allied defeat on D-Day would have meant nuclear devastation for Germany in the summer of 1945. Arthur Waldron presents a China, and a world, that might have been far different had Chiang Kai-shek not taken the risk of invading Manchuria in 1946. Consistently well drawn, these scenarios open intellectual as well as imaginative doors for anyone willing to walk through them. Maps and photos not seen by PW. Audio rights to Simon & Schuster; foreign rights sold in the U.K. and Germany. (Sept.) (c) Copyright PWxyz, LLC. All rights reserved

Library Journal Review

What if George Washington hadn't escaped from Long Island? What if Lee's Special Order No. 191 hadn't been lost? How would history be different? Cowley, founding editor of MHQ: The Quarterly Journal of Military History, calls on historians like Stephen Ambrose and John Keegan to reconsider history's little quirks. (c) Copyright 2010. Library Journals LLC, a wholly owned subsidiary of Media Source, Inc. No redistribution permitted.

Table of Contents

Robert CowleyWilliam H. McNeillVictor Davis HansonJosiah OberLewis H. LaphamBarry S. StraussCecelia HollandTheodore K. RabbRoss HassigGeoffrey ParkerThomas FlemingDavid McCulloughAlistair HorneJames M. McPhersonStephen W. SearsRobert CowleyJohn KeeganTheodore F. Cook Jr.Stephen E. AmbroseDavid Clay LargeArthur Waldron
List of Illustrationsp. ix
Introductionp. xi
Infectious Alternatives: The Plague That Saved Jerusalem, 701 B.C.p. 1
A Good Night's Sleep Can do WondersBarbara N. Porter
No Glory That Was Greece: The Persians Win at Salamis, 480 B.C.p. 15
Conquest Denied: The Premature Death of Alexander the Greatp. 37
Furor Teutonicus: The Teutoburg Forest, A.D. 9p. 57
The Dark Ages Made Lighter: The Consequences of Two Defeatsp. 71
The Death That Saved Europe: The Mongols Turn Back, 1242p. 93
If Only It Had Not Been Such a Wet Summer: The Critical Decade of the 1520sp. 107
If the Holy League Hadn't DitheredPeter Pierson
The Immolation of Hernan Cortes: Tenochtitlan, June 30, 1521p. 121
The Repulse of the English Fireships: The Spanish Armada Triumphs, August 8, 1588p. 139
Unlikely Victory: Thirteen Ways the Americans Could Have Lost the Revolutionp. 155
George Washington's GambleIra D. Gruber
What the Fog Wrought: The Revolution's Dunkirk, August 29, 1776p. 189
Ruler of the World: Napoleon's Missed Opportunitiesp. 201
Napoleon Wins at WaterlooCaleb Carr
If the Lost Order Hadn't Been Lost: Robert E. Lee Humbles the Union, 1862p. 223
A Confederate Cannae and Other Scenarios: How the Civil War Might Have Turned Out Differentlyp. 239
Vietnam in America, 1865Tom Wicker
The What Ifs of 1914: The World War That Should Never Have Beenp. 261
Bismarck's Empire: StillbornJames Chace
Thanks, But No CigarDavid Clay Large
The Armistice of DesperationDennis E. Showalter
How Hitler Could Have Won the War: The Drive for the Middle East, 1941p. 295
What A Taxi Driver WroughtWilliamson Murray
Triumph of the DictatorsDavid Fromkin
Our Midway Disaster: Japan Springs a Trap, June 4, 1942p. 311
The Case of the Missing CarriersElihu Rose
D Day Fails: Atomic Alternatives in Europep. 341
The Soviet Invasion of JapanRobert Cowley
Funeral in Berlin: The Cold War Turns Hotp. 351
China Without Tears: If Chiang Kai-shek Hadn't Gambled in 1946p. 377
A Quagmire Avoided?Ted Morgan
The EndRobert L. O'Connell