For Want of a Nail
: If Burgoyne Had Won at Saratoga
456 pages (September 1997)
ISBN: 1853672815 ;
Dimensions (in inches): 1.53 x 9.52 x 6.40
who bought this book also bought:
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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
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
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!