Alternate takes on history have been making news lately with the recent announcement that the minds behind Game of Thrones will be tackling a series centered around a victorious southern Confederacy. The act of taking real events and turning them on their heads is nothing new of course. Imaginative authors have been doing it for years. If you like reading about nefarious Nazis and scrappy little guys, then this is the book list for you!
- The Underground Railroad by Colson Whitehead
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Winner of the 2017 Pulitzer Prize for Fiction and 2016 National Book Award, “The Underground Railroad” makes the hope and anguish of slaves escaping southern plantations palbable by reimagining the historical underground railroad, a secretive network of houses and transporters that enabled some to reach freedom, as a literal train heading north. Keep an eye out for the Amazon adaptation by director Barry Jenkins (Moonlight).
- The Boys from Brazil by Ira Levin
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One of many writers fascinated by the thwarted future of Nazism, Ira Levin spins this thriller about an aging Nazi Hunter and his attempts to stop the Dr. Josef Mengele—the horrifying real-life concentration camp “Angel of Death”—from starting a new Reich in the anonymity of South America.
- The Man in the High Castle by Philip K. Dick
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Dick takes a slightly different tactic in his exploration of a post-WWII globe. According to “Castle,” the Allies lost the war and the U.S. is now controlled by the Germans on the east coast and the Japanese on the east. Now its 1962, and all hope for a democratic future seems lost—until a shocking discovery in an unlikely location sends despots and denizens alike scrambling for truth and power.
- Yiddish Policeman’s Union by Michael Chabon
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Other than Philip Roth (found later on in this list), no writer captures the intricate nuances of Jewish-American life quite like Michael Chabon. In this 2007 novel, Chabon imagines a future where many of the Jews threatened with Nazi persecution are given refuge by the U.S. government in remote Sitka, Alaska. There, they forge a successful republic steeped in Yiddish culture and every type of Jewish thought—as well as political intrigue and occasional murder. It is up to alcoholic detective Meyer Landsman to make sense of it all.
- Farthing: A Story of A World that Could Have Been by Jo Walton
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Eight years after their overthrow of Winston Churchill and the establishment of a separate peace with Hitler, the upper-crust of British society are satisfied with their world. Lucy Kahn also thinks she is satisfied—until her Jewish husband, David, is framed for murder. On a dime, Lucy and David must use all their wits to defeat the evil threatening to devour them.
- The Plot Against America by Philip Roth
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What would have happened if FDR lost the 1940 presidential election to aviator/Nazi sympathizer Charles Lindbergh? Though the question itself may sound far-fetched, Roth treats it with the seriousness befitting a seminal novelist. Lindbergh’s America is one of increasingly state-sanctioned terror and anti-Semitism, forcing a young boy—Roth himself—and his working-class family to stand up for themselves and their community. It could never happen here—until it does.
- Jonathan Strange and Mr. Norrell by Susannah Clarke
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The Napoleonic Wars have captured the attention of many great writers, but few have approached the conflict the way Clarke has. It’s 1806, war is raging, and magic is believed to be long-dead—until Britain’s Mr. Norell reveals his sorcery to the public. With the volatile young magician Jonathan Strange also in the mix, war and peace will never be the same again.
- The Wolves of Willoughby Chase by Joan Aiken
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In “The Wolves,” Aiken envisions an England where the Stuart dynasty never stopped ruling. In this version of the early 19th century, a random land shift enables a large pack of wolves to move south, terrorizing the rural inhabitants. Meanwhile, evil adults scheme, and good children attempt to intervene. Will they triumph in the end?
9. 11/22/63 by Stephen King
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The JFK assassination was a watershed moment in American history—a moment in time that changed everything, forever. But what if there was a way to undo that fateful Dallas day? English teacher Jake Epping is confronted with this question, and his decision to enter a portal to 1958 may just rewrite history. Whether it’s for better or worse, of course, remains to be seen.
Featured image courtesy of Goodreads.