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Altered Pasts: Counterfactuals in History
Tekijä: Richard J. Evans
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An excellent work of history. The author does judge the value of counterfactuals to history, as expected, concluding that it offers little. But he also goes far beyond that to study just what it is that has led to the rush towards speculation about what might have been. This is an enterprise mostly conducted by the political right, to show the power of free will and heroic individuals; Margaret Thatcher would have approved. ( )
Evans is ruthless, forensic and totally convincing in demolishing this pretext, finding instead an even greater determinism, where the autonomous actions of a handful of great men set in motion enormous, immutable forces. Free will is only the free will of leaders.
Counterfactuals are the byproduct of a paranoid nostalgia specific to the right, where "greatness" is forever being sabotaged by leftists, liberals or whoever.
A bullet misses its target in Sarajevo, a would-be Austrian painter gets into the Viennese academy, Lord Halifax becomes British prime minister in 1940: seemingly minor twists of fate on which world-shaking events might have hinged. Alternative history has long been the stuff of parlour games, war-gaming and science fiction, but over the past few decades it has become a popular stomping ground for serious historians. Richard J. Evans now turns a critical, slightly jaundiced eye on the subject. Altered Pasts examines the intellectual fallout from historical counterfactuals. Most importantly, Evans takes counterfactual history seriously, looking at the insights, pitfalls and intellectual implications of changing one thread in the weave of history.
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Brandeis University Press
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