This meaty, scholarly collection of essays by gifted historian Niall Ferguson tackles the controversial topic of counterfactual questions: What if Hitler had invaded Britain in WWII? What if JFK had survived his assassination? What if there had been no Gorbachev to usher in the collapse of Communism? What if there had been no American Revolution? Ferguson points out that while questions such as these are a vital part of how we learn as individuals ("What if I had observed the speed limit, or refused that last drink?"), there remains a great deal of resistance--even hostility--to such musings among professional historians. "[I]n the dismissive phrase of E.H. Carr, 'counterfactual' history is a mere 'parlour game,' a 'red herring.' E.P. Thompson is less charitable, calling counterfactual histories "Geschichtswissenschlopff', unhistorical shit."
But Ferguson and his distinguished collaborators (many of whom are also Oxford fellows) lodge some convincing counterfactuals of their own to counter this arguably blinkered notion, this "idea that events are in some way preprogrammed, so that what was, had to be." In addition to the what-ifs above, Ferguson and his comrades tackle eight questions in all, including "What if Charles I had avoided the Civil War?", "What if Home Rule had been enacted [in Ireland] in 1912?", and "What if Britain had 'stood aside' in August 1914?" Virtual History makes for a stimulating and intellectually rigorous trip, with Ferguson's own delightful afterword as the collection's crowning jewel, a brilliant--and often bitingly clever--timeline tying together all the threads from 1646 to 1996. --Paul Hughes
Speculative history at its best, in which a talented team of historians, led by Niall Ferguson, explore what might have happened if nine momentous events had turned out differently.
What if there had been no American War of Independence? What if Hitler had invaded Britain? What if Kennedy had lived? What if Russia had won the Cold War? Niall Ferguson, author of the highly acclaimed The Pity of War, leads the charge in this historically rigorous series of separate voyages into "imaginary time" and provides far-reaching answers to these intriguing questions.
Ferguson's brilliant 90-page introduction doubles as a manifesto on the methodology of counter-factual history. His equally masterful afterword traces the likely historical ripples that would have proceeded from the maintenance of Stuart rule in England. This breathtaking narrative gives us a convincing, detailed "alternative history" of the West-from the accession of "James III" in 1701, to a Nazi-occupied England, to a U.S. Prime Minister Kennedy who lives to complete his term.
Niall Campbell Douglas Ferguson (born April 18, 1964, in Glasgow) is a British historian who specialises in financial and economic history as well as the history of colonialism. He is the Laurence A. Tisch Professor of History at Harvard University as well as William Ziegler Professor of Business Administration at Harvard Business School, and also currently the Philippe Roman Chair in History and International Affairs at the London School of Economics. He was educated at the private Glasgow Academy in Scotland, and at Magdalen College, Oxford.
The Times Higher Education noted his "pugnacious undergraduate life and debating style". In 2008, Ferguson published The Ascent of Money: A Financial History of the World which he also presented as a Channel 4 television series. Both at Harvard College and at LSE, Ferguson teaches an undergraduate class entitled "Western Ascendancy: The Mainsprings of Global Power from 1600 to the Present."
Ferguson is a Senior Research Fellow of Jesus College, Oxford University and a Senior Fellow of the Hoover Institution, Stanford University. He is a resident faculty member of the Minda de Gunzburg Center for European Studies, and an advisory fellow of the Barsanti Military History Center at the University of North Texas.
In May 2010 he announced that the Education Secretary in the U.K's newly elected Conservative/Lib Dem government had invited him to write a new history syllabus—"history as a connected narrative"— for schools in England and Wales.
In October 2007, Niall Ferguson left The Sunday Telegraph to join the Financial Times, where he is now a contributing editor.
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