Prime Minister Boris and other things that never happened, edited by Duncan Brack and Iain Dale, is the third in a series of collections of ‘what if’ histories (one of which I contributed to myself). This time it is 22 counter-factuals all by different authors, taking events that really happened, adding a little twist and then seeing how event played out. Or rather 20, along with two forays into the possible near future with Ken Livingstone and Boris Johnson.
As with the previous volumes, each author has the freedom to pick their own style, varying from whimsical fictional accounts to more earnest analysis of what might have happened and why. Most of the time the varying formats is a strength, keeping the book interesting and allowing imaginative approaches that work fine in brief but would be tedious at length. The spoof Soviet textbook footnotes for the chapter on what if the anti-Gorbachev coup had succeeded are very funny and work well in that chapter. A full book just in that style would have been rather wearing though.
The one weakness is that it means some chapters give very little clue to the reader as to where reality stops and fiction starts. In a way that is a credit to the fictional account, but unless you know the actual events in detail you will never get to fully appreciate the skill with which the segue was done nor have a chance to ponder how plausible the changes are.
Even so, it’s a fun read and the range of chapters is particularly impressive given that two volumes have preceded this one. There is an emphasis on British history, but a few chapters look at the wider world, including not only the Gorbachev one but also ones on Richard Nixon, Rupert Murdoch and Hillary Clinton.
In a few cases the chapter authors seem to be more working out their angst over events they were involved in, or demonstrating how they are smarter than the people they are writing about. Even so, the writing remains enjoyable and the overall standard is impressively high.
A great read (and not just for the page that mentions me!).
Note: a review copy of this book was provided to me by the publisher.