THE GREAT WAR: BREAKTHROUGHS by Harry Turtledove
AN ALTERNATE HISTORY OF THE WAR TO END ALL WARS
DEL REY, August 2000
The south won the civil war (thanks to intervention from France and England) and the U.S. has longed for revenge. Now, allied with Germany in the First World War, it just may have its chance. Brutal trench warfare has bled both the north and south for years, but in Tennessee, General George Armstrong Custer has an original idea--what would happen if he massed his tanks rather than committing them piecemeal according to U.S. military doctrine? The result is the beginning of the end for the outnumbered confederacy. While successful in the south, the U.S. also pushes north against Canada and Britain, its resources near the breaking point already thanks to the German offensives in Europe, can do little to help its embattled Empire--or itself.
Author Harry Turtledove (click here to read other BooksForABuck reviews of novels by this author) is something of a master of the alternative history. Using impressions from soldiers, civilians, sailors, politicians, and officers, Turtledove paints a picture of a believable and human story of war and its consequences. In this alternative history, the Republican party nearly vanished with the loss of the Civil War and socialism took its place as the second party. Red revolution, led by southern blacks, damaged the southern cause enough, at least that they could be blamed for the South's defeat (setting the stage for a World War II sequel with the CSA having its own version of Hitler blaming the defeat on anything the South itself.
More convincingly than Turtledove's fantasy retelling of actual history, his alternative histories work. Although it takes a while to get into the story (I was tempted to stop reading after the first hundred pages), the novel is finally rewarding. Turtledove gives an evenhanded and sympathetic account of the sufferings of war. It is easy to sympathize with the North's decision to impose Treaty of Versailles-like consequences on the South, and to sympathize as well with the Southerners who think only to prepare for the next battle.
Turtledove's mixture of historical and purely fictional characters is occasionally jarring, but makes for a more convincing story.
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