Roger Bruns - Almost History

A fascinating topic to be sure. What if. . . The bark is, unfortunately, worse than the bite, however. Don't get me wrong. There are some good ones included, but the bulk are rather ho hum. Some of them aren't "almost history" so much as they are merely short-sighted forecasts.

Almost History includes over eighty short "chapters", most of which could be called "close calls, plan B's, or twists of fate." Many, however, deal with little known or only marginally important events that may not grab the attention of the general public. And several are already common knowledge so the shock factor is minimal (such as Truman beating Dewey in the 1948 election). The "uncovered" documents that pack a punch are, for the most part, the first few. After that they sometimes seem more like filler material until Bruns is finally left to sort through articles from magazines like Popular Mechanics that were overly pessimistic in their predictions for future technology growth. Yawn.

Bruns's commentary on the documents, however, is always interesting and well done. He has the right idea and presentation; he just lacks sufficient meat to work with. The best ones are those highlighted on the cover, in the engaging Foreword by Douglas Brinkley, and in the Introduction. Overall, it is a fun book for history buffs who like to engage in the what ifs of life.

from the publisher:

"Fate has ordained that the men who went to the moon to explore in peace will stay to rest in peace . . . These brave men, Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin, know there is no hope for their recovery."
Fortunately, these stirring words were never spoken by President Richard Nixon. Like many speeches, this one was written in preparation for events that might have happened, but never did. Almost History is a fascinating collection of speeches, memos, and other archival material that reveals how our government would have handled historic moments that almost -- but didn't -- come to be: JFK's prepared address justifying his bombing of Cuba during the 1962 missile crisis; Abraham Lincoln's plans for post-Civil War Reconstruction; the authorization for the use of American nuclear weapons in the Vietnam War; the CIA's memo discussing the use of Americans as guinea pigs in drug tests, the FBI's memo on deporting John Lennon, and much more. Compiled by a Deputy Director of the National Archives, this extraordinary and often provocative material demonstrates, in handwritten notes, telegrams, memos, and photographs, just how close we came to defeat, disaster, and distress -- and provides chilling proof that the course of history can change in an instant.

Almost History is not based on supposition. This collection, illustrated with numerous photographs of actual documents, offers a focus and insight into alternative history that is truly unique. Here are more than eighty selections, each introduced with the story of how they came to be and where they fit in the timeline of history. These events were so close to reality that those involved had committed their positions, policies, words, and feelings to paper in a variety of forms. Yet timing, twists of fate, and sudden changes stopped them from becoming our destiny.

Roger Bruns is the Deputy Executive Director for the National Publications and Records Commission at the National Archives. He is the author of fourteen adult and children's titles. He and his family live in Reston, Virginia.

"A lively and scholarly adventure into the world of historical imagination. Bruns amply demonstrates that what "might" have happened can be as fascinating as what actually did." --David F. Rudgers, former senior intelligence analyst and author of Creating the Secret State: The Origins of The Central Intelligence Agency, 1943-1947, University Press of Kansas, 2000