The Man in the High Castle – An Introduction to Alternate History
Amazon.com has just released the full season of “The Man in the High Castle”, a series based on the novel of the same name by Philip K. Dick. This is a good starting point to look at a fascinating topic: alternate history.
Alternate history deals with the age old question of “what if” on a historic scale. What if the Nazis had won World War II, what if Carthage had beaten Rome in the 2nd Punic War, what if the assassination attempt on John F. Kennedy had failed, etc.
While Alternate history always includes element of fiction – simply because the events we are looking at did not happen (in this way), there are two main angles how to look at alternate history: History and fiction.
Alternate History Fiction
Fiction basically means novels, TV shows or movies that deal with events or take place in a world where history happened in a different way than in reality. “The Man in the High Castle” for example takes place in a universe in which the Nazis won World War II and the United States were divided between Germany and Japan. Another prime example that uses the same premise is the novel “Fatherland” by Robert Harris. In both cases the authors start with “what if Hitler had won” and create a universe in which the primary plot of the novels takes place many years later.
Examples / recommendations (links)
Alternate History by Historians
The other possible angle is History. This can be historians toying with a fascinating “what if”, trying to extrapolate how history could have developed based on this alternate outcome. They might also us the “what if” scenario to look at a crucial point in history from different perspectives. They might want to show that what we see now as the natural development of history was not that obvious, when things happened. That history could have easily developed into a different direction.
1) What If?: The World’s Foremost Historians Imagine What Might Have Been (1999) edited by Robert Cowley
- No Glory That Was Greece – The Persians Win at Salamis, 480 B.C. (Victor David Hanson)
- Unlikely Victory – Thirteen Ways the Americans Could Have Lost the Revolution (Thomas Fleming)
- 20 essays in total, 395 pages
2) What Might Have Been?: Leading Historians on Twelve ‘What Ifs’ of History (2004) edited by Andrew Roberts
- The Spanish Armada Lands in England (Anne Sommerset)
- The Brighton Bomb Kills Margaret Thatcher (Simon Heffer)
- The Chads Fall Off in Florida (David Frum)
- 12 essays in total, 190 pages
3) What If? II (2001) edited by Robert Cowley
- Not by a Nose – The triumph of Antony and Cleopatra at Actium, 31 B.C. (Josiah Ober)
- The Chinese Discovery of the New World, 15th Century (Theodore F. Cook, Jr.)
- Martin Luther Burns at the Stake, 1521 (Geoffrey Parker)
- 25 essays in total, 428 pages
If you want to get an initial quick flavor of Alternate History without watching a movie / TV show or reading a book, the YouTube channel AlternateHistoryHub is recommended.
2 The Man In The High Castle “TV show”
“The Man In The High Castle” is available on Amazon Instant Video (requires Amazon Prime subscription).
Pictures / Embedded Videos:
- YouTube channel AlternateHistoryHub
- What If? (2001 paperback edition) edited by Robert Cowley
- What Might Have Been? (2005 paperback edition) edited by Andrew Roberts
- What If? II (2002 paperback edition) edited by Robert Cowley