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For Want of a Nail
: If Burgoyne Had Won at Saratoga

Author: Robert Sobel
Hardcover
456 pages (September 1997)
Stackpole Books;
ISBN: 1853672815 ;
Dimensions (in inches): 1.53 x 9.52 x 6.40

 

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Table of Contents

PREFACE
1 Prelude
2 The Rebellion Begins
3 Victory in America
4 The Britannic Design C.N.A.
5 The Wilderness Walk U.S.M.
6 The Trans-Oceanic War BOTH
7 The Era of Harmonious Relations C.N.A.
8 The Crisis Years BOTH
9 The United States of Mexico U.S.M.
10 The Taking of the West U.S.M.
11 California Gold U.S.M.
12 The Rocky Mountain War BOTH
13 The C.N.A.: The Corruption of Progress
C.N.A.
14 The People's Coalition C.N.A.
15 Recovery and Progress U.S.M.
16 The Kinkaid Interlude U.S.M.
17 The Bloody Eighties BOTH
18 An Age of Renewal C.N.A.
19 The Crisis of Mexican Republicanism U.S.M.
20 The Mexican Empire U.S.M.
21 Ezra Gallivan's Creative Nationalism
C.N.A.
22 The Great Northern War U.S.M.
23 The Starkist Terror C.N.A.
24 Years of the Pygmies BOTH
25 The Moral Imperative C.N.A.
26 A Time of Diffusion C.N.A.
27 The Dewey Era C.N.A.
28 The Slave Dilemma U.S.M.
29 Manumission and Expansion U.S.M.
30 The Fuentes-Jackson Duel C.N.A.
31 The Fight for Peace C.N.A.
32 The Global War BOTH
33 The Ashes of War C.N.A.
34 The Guilt Question C.N.A.
35 The Mercator Reforms U.S.M.
36 The New Day C.N.A.
37 The War Without War BOTH
38 Scorpions in a Bottle BOTH
CRITIQUE,
Frank Dana
APPENDIX I: Governors-General of the Confederation of North America
APPENDIX II: Leaders of the United States of Mexico
APPENDIX III: Presidents of the Kramer Associates
SELECTED BIBLIOGRAPHY
INDEX


Editorial Reviews
For Want of a Nail is an alternate history classic. The outcome of one battle in the American Revolution diverges from reality, and sparks an unstoppable chain of events which affects the history of the whole North American continent.

In reality, the British general John Burgoyne, heavily outnumbered by American troops, surrendered his army to General Horatio Gates at the Battle of Saratoga in 1777, a major turning-point of the Revolution. Robert Sobel takes a step sideways and presents the alternative version: reinforcements arrive at Saratoga, Gates' men flee, and Burgoyne is victorious. Rather than openly allying itself with the American rebels, France withdraws its support, as does Spain, and the colonies surrender.

Those former rebels who refuse to live in the Confederation of North America established by the British leave their homes and settle in what becomes the United States of Mexico. From the on the two continental nations find themselves constant rivals, locked in military, political and economic conflict. Sobel provides a detailed, intricately documented insight into two warring powers that develop in such dramatically different ways from their shared origins and underlines the power of single events upon the course of history.

Professor Sobel teaches History and Economics at Hofstra College, New York, and is the Lawrence A. Stessin Distinguished Professor of Business History. He has been a regular contributor for Newsday and is the author of many books on American commercial history.


For Want of a Nail is a singular work in published alternate history. Unlike the masses of fictional works set in alternate worlds, and the occasional description of an alternate history for the purposes of overt what-if questions and roleplaying sourcebooks, its format is of a nonfiction book from an alternate world. Specifically, a history book written just like a real history book, but detailing the history of an alternate timeline. The writer, Robert Sobel, is a business historian and he has written a book that (other than the fact that the events it describe never happened), is distinguishable from a real history only by the copyright page and the subtitle "If Burgoyne had Won at Saratoga". It comes complete with footnotes (and rather interesting ones), a bibliography consisting of fictional books and some very old but real works, an introductory map, and a critique by another historian (fictional, one assumes, though it may be one of Sobel's real-world colleagues in disguise). As suggested by its format, For Want of a Nail reads like a history book (one focusing on political and economic history primarily, with occasional references to social and military history). It is thus a bit dry if you don't like reading history books, but personally I found the attention to even the smallest colorful details fascinating, while the book as a whole moved along at a good clip - it's about 400 pages of actual text, in the format of a survey history of an alternate North America. It covers 200 years, from the American Revolution to the time when Sobel actually wrote the book (1971). If it were a real history book, it would be considered a fairly interesting one. My opinion is pretty easy to sum up - I consider For Want of a Nail to be the greatest work of alternate history that I have ever read, bar none.


I was a bit hesitant getting For Want of a Nail..., mainly because I've heard from various places that it is a "fictional textbook", and so might be drier than Death Valley at noon. But when I actually started reading it I was quite surprised to be totally absorbed in the narrative, even the really dry parts were at least slightly interesting. A survey from the doomed Revolution (where our Founding Fathers are held with complete contempt) to an uneasy (and completely different) Cold War in the early seventies. A really fascinating part of the narrative is how one event 200 years ago can vastly change the history of the entire world...by the time you get to "today" all the names are unrecognizable, as are many parts of the world map. Sobel even puts down an extensive list of "source material" from historical texts that never existed, but don't ignore them though because they sometimes provide interesting foreshadowing for the rest of the chapter/book. I have a feeling that octopus-like companies like the Kramer Associates are going to become a major factor in our own future. In For Want of a Nail... they provide a third party to the CNA and USM, a nation in all aspects but doesn't own any land. And oddly enough I actually agreed with many of Dr. Dana's points at the end of the book, which made me like it even more. One minor point of contention: the British seem to invest the CNA with a LOT of autonomy, nearly too much to be believable at some points. But basically it is worth every penny. Stop reading this and buy it now!

 

 

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