Wish fulfillment ain’t what it used to be — maybe I should have read a little more closely through the contributors’ list before I checked out What Might Have Been: Imaginary History From Twelve Leading Historians. I’m a sucker for alternate history essays or stories (or ‘counterfactual history,’ if I’m to use the term they’re addicted to in the book), and the fact that I enjoyed a series of often pretty good short stories also called What Might Have Been, which I’ve still got around here somewhere, probably helped me when it came to checking things out.

But it’s an explicitly right/Tory/conservative collection as such, or at least editor Andrew Roberts wants to make it so. That perhaps explains the presence of Conrad Black talking about the possibility of the Japanese not actually bombing Pearl Harbor, for example. It’s sometimes creative, it’s sometimes rote, once or twice an author hashes out what actually did happen in history while spending only a line or two on the putative alternate results.

Twice, however, it verges into the realm of the bizarrely wonderful, where the authors don’t so much care about illustrating an alternate reality as much as just plain venting. Roberts himself gets one of those moments when he posits a Russian Revolution where Lenin got off the train, was about to begin a speech, and then got shot by one Lev Harveivic Oswalt, a touch that made me want to hit him. In Roberts’ vision Kerensky remained at the head of the Russian government, somehow single-handedly turned Russia into a beautiful and capitalist liberal democracy and made sure that everything was nice and happy. I want to assume that the thrust was actually satiric here in keeping with the name of the assassin, but I have my severe doubts.

Meanwhile, one David Frum posited a world where enough chads fell off ballots in Florida that Gore was in office when 9/11 rolls around. A quick check of the credits revealed he was a speechwriter for the president we do have, as well as having just coauthored a book with Richard Perle. So the unsurprising savaging of Gore and crew as being little more than the touchy-feely stereotypes which folks of Frum’s ilk assume defines their ideological enemies becomes its own ridiculous joke, especially since you just know the guy would react spectacularly poorly to the idea that he was little more than a death-worshipping bigot (or something similar). But I suspect it figures that in a world where the reality of BushCo in office during 9/11 and after has been ad hoc flailing and desperation means that all Frum can hope for now is to convince himself it would have been worse otherwise.