Tuesday, December 05, 2006

An "alternate history" of the Civil War

David A. Bell, historian and author of The First Total War: Napoleon's Europe and the Birth of Warfare As We Know It, weighs in on the recent Washington Post essays by historians evaluating George W. Bush's rank among American presidents. (The grades were not high.)

Bell has some smart things to say about the way we think about presidential success, so click here to read his brief blog post. But what caught my eye was a novel he mentioned in the middle of his argument:
[F]or the general public and historians alike, "greatness" correlates so closely with success, which means that in practice, one of the most important requirements is simply good luck. The novelist Harry Turtledove once illustrated this point in a very astute "alternate history" called How Few Remain, which was premised on the idea that a stroke of pure luck allowed the Confederacy to win the battle of Antietam, and with it, the Civil War. Set in 1881, in an America still divided between North and South, the novel included as one of its characters none other than Abraham Lincoln--still alive, but largely reviled in the North as a failure and a crank; the man who lost the war.
Not really my thing--I have a hard enough time keeping track of the actual history to risk muddling my mind with alternate versions--but others may be intrigued.

By the way, David Greenberg was one of the five historians who weighed in on Bush's place in history; Greenberg recently put his book, Nixon's Shadow, to the page 69 test.

David Bell also put The First Total War, due out from Houghton Mifflin in January, to the page 69 test; that story will appear here on the blog soon.

--Marshal Zeringue