At some point in our lives, we will ask ourselves at least one question that starts with those two little words. We question the decisions we make, wondering what might have happened had we made different choices or taken a different path.
But what about fate? Destiny? The moments that were out of our control?
These are the moments that Jeff Greenfield examines in his alternate history, “Then Everything Changed.”
In the book, Greenfield rewrites the history of President-elect John F. Kennedy. In his history, Jackie and Caroline do not wave to JFK on a Sunday morning as he leaves for church. An assassin’s conscience is not impacted by the presence of a wife and child, and JFK is never sworn into office. The country is thrown into a state of mourning and the government is left trying to create a contingency plan. In the end, Lyndon B. Johnson takes the presidency and guides the United States through the Cuban Missile Crisis and into the Vietnam War.
In a second narrative, Robert Kennedy escapes the assassination attempt on his life by a narrow margin and elects to speak to demonstrators, earning him favor with the people of the United States and, eventually, the presidency. RFK attempts to head a country pulled apart by a war not favored by the people (Vietnam) and escalating class and race concerns.
Finally, Greenfield gives Gerald Ford an opportunity to erase a critical error made in a Presidential debate with Jimmy Carter. He then goes on to win the election.
While reading the first two rewrites, I was riveted. There were times when it did drag slightly, but it was not significant enough to keep me away from the book. The tension between LBJ and RFK was palpable. You can tell that there is no love lost between the two leaders, even when Johnson attempts to extend the olive branch after JFK is assassinated. Greenfield is adept at making you feel like it is entirely possible for these events to have happened exactly as he wrote them. You believe that he could have been in the room while meetings occurred, capturing even minute details and delivering them in stark clarity.
As for the third tale, it feels more like fiction than the other two. I didn’t find it quite as dynamic as Greenfield’s first two historical rewrites. It does not feel quite as feasible to me as the previous two do, as it alters much of the history of the time.
All in all, this was a fantastic read. I will be very honest that those who are most enamored with political history may not like this as much as I did. However, my love (and knowledge) of history runs more to Colonial America, so I did enjoy reading Greenfield’s rewrite.
It really does make me wonder how much of our history, and our lives, could have been changed with just a small alteration. One decision, one thought, one moment in time that occurred differently could alter the textbooks our students read every day.
Robin Gwaro is a founding book review blogger at Bookgateway.com and has generously supplied this review. She describes herself as “a woman just trying to keep it all together. Most days, I have the juggling act down! Others, I have the broom and dustpan handy to clean up the mess. My life is not always easy, it is not always neat, but it is always worth every minute!” Her personal blog is Just Wandering. Not Lost.
This book was provided by the publisher as a review copy.