Alternate history is a genre where history has diverged from the actual history of the world.
Compiled by Forbes Library Staff | Summaries from ContentCafe, NoveList, Wikipedia, Amazon.com | Updated July 2011
- The Difference Engine by William Gibson and Bruce Sterling
This novel depicts a world in which the computer was invented in Victorian Britain, causing the Industrial and Information Revolutions to happen simultaneously, and the British Empire to become even more overwhelmingly powerful than it really did. The authors are noted as Cyberpunk writers, and in this case they give some of that flavor to alternate history.
- Roma Eterna by Robert Silverberg
Silverberg’s characters in this book inhabit a world in which the Roman Empire never fell. Many historical developments are similar to those in our reality, but always within the context of a surviving empire. This is not a new premise, but Silverberg does it well.
- How Few Remain by Harry Turtledove (Starter)
The first in a hugely popular series, this takes place about 30 years after the South won the Civil War. Turtledove has made a small industry of his own in this field, writing several bestselling series, each based on an historical “point of divergence” – so if you like this book, there are plenty more to read!
- The Years of Rice and Salt
by Kim Stanley Robinson
In an alternate history world in which the population of Europe is almost completely wiped out by the Black Death during the fourteenth century, three superpowers--China, India, and the nations of Islam--battle for supremacy in a World War destined to create a new world order.
- The Plot Against America
by Philip Roth
When the renowned aviation hero and rabid isolationist Charles A. Lindbergh defeated Franklin Roosevelt by a landslide in the 1940 presidential election, fear invaded every Jewish household in America. Not only had Lindbergh, in a nationwide radio address, publicly blamed the Jews for selfishly pushing America toward a pointless war with Nazi Germany, but, upon taking office as the thirty-third president of the United States, he negotiated a cordial "understanding" with Adolf Hitler, whose conquest of Europe and whose virulent anti-Semitic policies he appeared to accept without difficulty.
- Lion's Blood: a novel of slavery and freedom in an alternate America
by Steven Barnes
In a work of alternate history in which the peoples of Africa colonize the Americas, the fates of two families--one Islamic African aristocrats, the other Druidic Irish slaves--collide as two young men, one of each dynasty, confront their world and each other.
- Making History
by Stephen Fry
What if Hitler had never been born? An unquestionable improvement, one would reason--and so an earnest history grad student and an aging German physicist idealistically undertake to bring this about by preventing Adolf's conception. And with their success is launched a brave new world that is in some ways better than ours--but in most ways even worse.
- The Yiddish Policemen’s Union
by Michael Chabon
In a world in which Alaska, rather than Israel, has become the homeland for the Jews following World War II, Detective Meyer Landsman and his half-Tlingit partner Berko investigate the death of a heroin-addicted chess prodigy.
- The Two Georges
by Richard Dreyfuss & Harry Turtledove
A story of murder, intrigue, and a stolen painting portrays America as it might have been, had George Washington surrendered to George III.
- Alternate Generals II
edited by Harry Turtledove
A collection of alternate history stories speculates about how world history would have been changed if the great battles, from the Spanish Armada to Pearl Harbor, had been fought under different circumstances.
- Resurrection Day
by Brendan DuBois
In 1972, ten years after a nuclear war decimated both the United States and Soviet Union, Carl Landry, a young reporter, searches for the killer of a veteran of the 1962 war and begins to suspect that the victim may have held the key to a terrifying conspiracy.
Film to watch:
- It’s A Wonderful Life
Yes, this classic film is also a form of Alternate History, on a personal level. George Bailey (Jimmy Stewart) finds out what the world would have been like if he’d never been born. This is the standard “butterfly stamping its foot in China” theme, played out in a group of individual lives.
- The Tipping Point: how little things can make a big difference by Malcolm Gladwell.
A perfect book to read before trying the famous Ray Bradbury story about time travelers who step on a butterfly during a dinosaur big-game hunt, then return to find their present day completely changed (A Sound of Thunder).
- What If 2: eminent historians imagine what might have been
Speculations on how history would have changed if certain famous events turned out differently.