Book review: ‘If Kennedy Lived:

An Alternate History’ by Jeff



By H.W. Brands, Published: October 25

Would Rocky Marciano have beaten Muhammad Ali if their primes had overlapped? Could Ted Williams have hit Bob Gibson’s fastball? Would John Kennedy have defeated Barry Goldwater in a race for president?Jeff Greenfield is silent on boxing and baseball, but his current contribution to fantasy politics includes a Kennedy victory over Goldwater in 1964, following Kennedy’s survival of the assassination attempt by Lee Harvey Oswald 50 years ago this November. Fantasists will find “If Kennedy Lived” intriguing — students of the real world less so.

(The Penguin Group) – “If Kennedy Lived: The First and Second Terms of President John F. Kennedy: An Alternate History” by Jeff Greenfield.


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There are two reasons to engage in counterfactual history. Greenfield prefers the more lenient label “alternate history.” One is to identify critical events, hinge points of history, and analyze why they turned out the way they did. To ask whether there would have been a Cold War if Franklin Roosevelt had lived to complete his fourth term is to conduct a thought experiment on the causes of the breakdown of the Grand Alliance of World War II. Were personal considerations crucial — was Harry Truman overly suspicious, perhaps? Or were larger factors decisive?Yet guessing can be fun, which is the second reason to engage in counterfactualism. Historical fiction has a long lineage. Homer, Shakespeare and Dickens indulged, as did countless authors less distinguished. Greenfield amuses himself concocting a second inaugural gala at which the Beach Boys sing “Fun, Fun, Fun (in a Second Term With JFK)” and Roy Orbison croons “Oh, Pretty Woman” (“This one’s for you, Jackie,” he says). Kennedy brings the Beatles to the executive mansion and declares, “Not since the British burned the White House in 1812 has a foreign invader conquered our land as swiftly and thoroughly as have John, Paul, George, and Ringo.”