|Jeff Greenfield, currently at CBS news, was supposed to be Colbert's guest a couple weeks ago. A quick check suggests there isn't anything markedly novel out there, so here's what I put together then:
|Greenfield's been out promoting his book Then Everything Changed: Stunning Alternate Histories of American Politics JFK, RFK, Carter, Ford, Reagan . Here's Publisher's Weekly (via Amazon):
Speculation isn't history, but it's catnip to pundits and journalists like veteran CBS News reporter and commentator Greenfield (The Real Campaign), who can be excused for this romp into what ifs. He rightly says that alternative history's foundation is plausibility. And since he's read widely in the sources, his excursions into possible histories are decently anchored to the ground. In the first narrative, an actual failed attempt to assassinate JFK before his inauguration instead succeeds. LBJ takes his place, Guantánamo is wiped out by a rogue Soviet missile, and war with the U.S.S.R. is only narrowly averted. In the second narrative, Robert Kennedy isn't assassinated, beats Nixon in 1968, winds down the Vietnam War, and with no Watergate scandal, the cultural changes of the 1970s are averted. The third account has Ford winning re-election, but in 1980 it's Hart vs. Reagan, and Hart wins. Of course, there are other possible scenarios, which Greenfield doesn't discuss. And in these novelistic narratives, readers drown in excess, irrelevant detail (dinner menus, precise times of meetings, exact conversations)—all wonkish pundit stuff, and none essential to Greenfield's purpose. In the end, fun but insubstantial.
That 'stunning' in the subtitle annoys me, especially taken with this bit from Booklist (Amazon):
Inevitably, speculation plays a role in Greenfield?s accounts, but he bolsters possible scenarios with ancedotes, quotes, and oral histories, all of which are sourced at the end of the book. This reliance on sources is why Greenfield prefers that his work be called nonfiction, though some may disagree.
I don't care how accurately based-on his fiction is, I have a hard time believing I'll be 'stunned' by anyone's what-if fantasies. But then, this next is from the publisher's description:
A brilliant and brilliantly entertaining tour de force of American politics from one of journalism's most acclaimed commentators.
And if you'll honestly "never think about American history the same way" in the future, I'd submit that you've probably not spent a whole lot of time thinking about history in the past.
History turns on a dime. A missed meeting, a different choice of words, and the outcome changes dramatically. Nowhere is this truer than in the field where Jeff Greenfield has spent most of his working life, American politics, and in three dramatic narratives based on memoirs, histories, oral histories, fresh reporting with journalists and key participants, and Greenfield's own knowledge of the principal players, he shows just how extraordinary those changes would have been....
But what if it had gone the other way? The scenarios that Greenfield depicts are startlingly realistic, rich in detail, shocking in their projections, but always deeply, remarkably plausible. You will never think about recent American history in the same way again.