What Could Have Been: Amazing Books on Alternate History ...

Books on alternate history are always popular because we are fascinated with what might have been. We love to speculate about what would have happened if Hitler's parents hadn't met, if JFK had survived, or if the Berlin Wall hadn't fallen. Great events in history always trace their roots back long into the past, and one small change along the way could have created a major difference. So try these books on alternate history for a taste of what might have been …

1. 11/22/63 (Stephen King)

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One of the recent books on alternate history is this non-horror story from Stephen King. Alternate history stories usually hinge on the scenario being the normal one, but this story involves trying to alter the course of history. A teacher goes back in time to try to prevent the assassination of JFK. Will he succeed, and how will success change history?

2. The Alteration (Kingsley Amis)

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Here is a very different England of the 1970s, in which the Reformation never happened, and England is ruled by King Stephen III, instead of Elizabeth II. This probably isn't the book to read if you don't like allegory, but it's certainly interesting to see the speculation about what would have happened without the Reformation, a process that caused enormous social changes.

3. SS-GB (Len Deighton)

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Historians of World War II consider the Battle of Britain in 1940 to have been a decisive event in the course of the war. Without a British victory, the British Isles would have been open to invasion. So what would an occupied Britain have been like? No Churchill, the King in prison, and the SS in charge …

4. The New Dinosaurs: an Alternative Evolution (Dougal Dixon)

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Here's what could be called the ultimate alternative history. Many books in the genre postulate a different version of historical events. But what if the dinosaurs hadn't been wiped out, and human history never existed? Some might say the Earth would be a lot better off!

5. Conquistador (S.M. Stirling)

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It's hard to imagine a world in which the US is not one of the world's superpowers. But this book allows its protagonist to travel to an alternate world where Alexander the Great didn't die at 33, and founded a vast empire. So the Americas haven't yet been discovered … until the hero finds the portal to the other world …

6. The Man in the High Castle (Philip K. Dick)

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Here's another book that imagines a very different outcome to World War II. Germany and Japan came out on top and divided the conquered territories between them. But as is often the case, former allies fall out … Interestingly, a story within the story deals with an alternate history where the Allies are victorious - how clever!

7. The Years of Rice and Salt (Kim Stanley Robinson)

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The Black Death of 1346 killed one-third of the population of Europe. In this book, the plague wipes out everyone in Europe, thus eradicating every European historical event from then on. This leaves the way open for Asia to become the dominant power and discover the Americas …

It's impossible to say whether any of these scenarios would have happened as described in the books, but the conjecture is fascinating. What alternate history would you like to have seen?

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