Then Everything Changed: Stunning Alternate Histories of American Politics: JFK, RFK, Carter, Ford, Reagan - Jeff Greenfield
I won a copy of this book from the Goodreads First Reads program, and thank you very much for that. I'm not sure what prompted me to enter the drawing, as I generally prefer reading fiction. I do remember watching Mr. Greenfield do political commentary on television when I was a teenager, and I remember being impressed by his command of the language. Upon winning a copy of the book, I became alarmed that I was about to read a book written in overly academic and esoteric language, thereby making comprehension by my pedestrian mind problematic. However, my fears were unfounded. It is written in a simple and straightforward style. And as for my preference for reading novels, given the fact that most of its content is speculative, it was fiction enough for me to pretend I was reading a novel (or rather three novellas), while still providing enough accurate historical details to make me realize my knowledge of mid to late 20th century history is woefully deficient. Although Mr. Greenfield's narration did fill in many of the gaps in my knowledge, I still found myself having to look up many other facts. This significantly slowed my progress in getting through the book, but I am not about to complain about feeling compelled to learn more about U.S. history.

Coming at this as neither a history or political buff, I did find it a little hard to follow. There were so many names to remember, and having what I now realize is only a cursory knowledge of the events, the only persons whose names I did know were the primary players. However, this is something that is easily remedied with slow and careful reading, and re-reading when necessary (which further slowed my progress!).

Obviously this book was not written for the likes of me, and had I not received a free copy with the expectation of a review, it's unlikely I ever would have read it. And although the feeling of contentment after reading a thoroughly satisfying novel was not present, and despite the fact that my political bent is obviously different from Mr. Greenfield's, I can't say that I regret the experience. I have always considered my lack of interest in non-fiction a personal failing. Strictly speaking this was not non-fiction, but it was close enough.

Honestly, given how well written and researched this book is, a 3 star review does seem a bit stingy, but I didn't enjoy it enough for it to warrant 4 stars.

Here is my take on each of the three sections of the book:

The first chapter, dealing with the failed assassination attempt of JFK shortly after he was elected (before he was sworn in), was rather enjoyable. Not only did I learn what really happened, but I also got a very credible what if scenario from someone who has made a careful study of the events in question.

The second section, dealing with JFK's younger brother Bobby, I had a bit of a hard time with. If Robert Kennedy had not been assassinated, if he had won the Democratic nomination, if he had been elected President, then apparently everything would have been all rainbows and butterflies. He would have brought such an amazing resolution to the Viet Nam conflict that no one would have needed to protest anything for the remainder of the decade, the Cambodian people would have been so awed by how he handled Viet Nam, they never would have allowed Pol Pot into power, and the sixties would have ended with - "more men and women at work in the broken neighborhoods . . . fewer broken families." SERIOUSLY?

The third chapter I found to be somewhat of a mess. Rather than following the format of the first two sections (if this minor event in history had changed, here is what the immediate result would be), it became more like if this minor event in history had gone differently, this would have changed, but never mind that, let's just keep supposing everything had gone different and fast forward four years. Rather than it being a chapter about Gerald Ford's presidency, it was all about Gary Hart. And throughout the chapter, it seemed as if Mr. Greenfield was looking for excuses to name-drop future political players who had absolutely no connection the the hypothetical situation he was relating, which really broke up the flow of the narration.