Then Everything Changed: Stunning Alternate Histories of American Politics: JFK, RFK, Carter, Ford, Reaga n Hardcover – Mar 8 2011
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Praise for Then Everything Changed:
"Political junkies always play the 'what-if' game. Jeff Greenfield has taken it and turned it into something else entirely - a trio of thought-provoking, interesting, and downright clever scenarios which remind us just how much individuals do matter."
"Jeff Greenfield is a wonderful story-teller and a keen student of politics. A powerful what-if book that seems painfully, tantalizingly real."
-Evan Thomas, Author, The War Lovers, Sea of Thunder, and Robert Kennedy: His Life
"Filled with fresh revelations and brilliant speculation, Jeff Greenfield's alternative history is so detailed and persuasive - and the behavior of its protagonists so utterly believable - that it feels like reality itself. This is a remarkable feat of insight, imagination, and storytelling."
-Richard North Patterson
About the Author
Jeff Greenfield is the CBS News senior political correspondent, and a veteran of CNN and ABC News. A four-time Emmy Award winner, he is the author or co-author of eleven books. He lives in New York City.
Most Helpful Customer Reviews on Amazon.com
This time I think Greenfield wrote a winner.
Greenfield altered three events -- one a footnote event -- and tried to extrapolate what would have happened if the event had been altered. The footnote event was a would be assassin who backed off trying to kill President-elect Kennedy in Dec 1960. In Greenfield's version this assassin carries out his attempt and succeeds. Who would be president and what does he do in terms of some of the major domestic and international events of the early 1960s?
The second event is Sirhan Sirhan failing in his attempt to assassinate Senator Robert Kennedy in Jun 1968. Would Kennedy have finagled the Democratic nomination away from Hubert Humphrey who was well on his way to the nomination and probably would have been the nominee any way? How would the 1968 campaign have played out?
The third event is President Ford correcting himself in a debate about Soviet domination of Eastern Europe. He knew what to say but he did not say it. In Greenfield's scenario Ford does say what he knew to say. Would his correct response save his campaign to where he could overcome the lead Jimmy Carter had in the polls and win the 1976 election?
The problem I have with most alternative histories is that they are either not very plausible -- in my opinion -- or the author races toward an attempt to tie everything together neatly which is not easy to do given the alternative variables associated with the event. Although I do not necessarily agree with the scenarios or how subsequent events are resolved in this alternative history I think Jeff Greenfield actually succeeded in doing the difficult and doing so with interesting scenarios.
If Jeff Greenfield were to write another alternate history book similar to this I would be less reluctant to buy the book.
I'm a big fan of alternate history, and having watched Greenfield talk about this book, he obviously is as well. The best alternative histories always turn on one single event going slightly differently, and for the first 2/3 of the book or so Greenfield paints a great "what might have been". The first story is probably the best. In the real world, there was a lone, John Birch type nut who was planning on blowing up JFK in December of 1960. In our world, he got close but never succeeded, but Greenfied's world he kills Kennedy and throws the nation into a Constitutional crisis. Greenfield deftly weaves the tale of a nation in mourning with the back-room politicians who are so stunned they are falling all over themselves to make sure that the right thing happens and is SEEN as happening, so that the country knows that it's government will continue. His description of Lyndon Johnson is spot on. The LBJ who was Master of the Senate comes through very clearly as he takes the reigns of a shattered nation after the Age of Camelot is snuffed out before it even begins.
The problem with the story, and indeed the book, is that Greenfield is so interested in setting up HOW his alternate history happens, that he loses focus when the campaigning ends and the governing begins. There is so much detail in the RFK election story that almost 3/4 of that story, which begins with RFK avoiding assassination by Sirhan Sirhan, deal with the business of RFK winning the election. And while it's fun to read about real world backroom dealings, in my opinion the strength of alternate history would come from how RFK would govern once elected. Greenfield describes it, but not with the minute detail of the campaign. I won't spoil what Greenfield describes as an RFK presidency, but I will say that I found his writing on that to be a combination of wish fulfillment and goofy historical callbacks in the way of people like George H.W. Bush, Donald Rumsfeld, and a weird caper at the Republican National Committee that promises to go somewhere interesting and then just stops.
Perhaps because Greenfield was only interested in getting his fictionalized President's elected (or placed into power), he didn't feel the need to put all that much into how they governed. The Ford story, by far the weakest, seems to exist just to set up a Reagan-Hart match up in 1980, and here Greenfield's writing is sloppy and his characters act more like he wants them to act then they would act, which was not as big a problem in the first two stories. And considering how much historical information is available about these figures, Greenfield's final story smacks entirely of wish fulfillment, and not of a real analysis of what might have been.
All in all I would give the book 3 and 1/2 stars. Political junkies will love the backroom politics, but fans of history may well balk when they look at how Greenfield re imagines world and domestic events.