Then Everything Changed: A Book Review
Then Everything Changed by Jeff Greenfield and published by G. P. Putnam’s Sons is alternate histories of American politics. The book focuses on JFK, RFK, Jimmy Carter, Gerald Ford and Ronald Reagan.
The book starts with an assassination attempt on FDR before his inauguration. Giueseppe Zangara’s attempt was unsuccessful because he arrived late and a spectator jostled Zangara enough that the shot missed Roosevelt. The premise of Greenfield’s book is that small events like this change history. History turns on small points and not necessarily big events. Greenfield comments on five events and how history may have changed if they hadn’t happened.
JFK had been elected president, but hadn’t been confirmed by the electoral college when Richard Pavlick strapped some dynamite to him and planned to kill Kennedy. It was Sunday morning, December 11, 1960 and Jackie answered the door instead of John. This stopped him from setting off the explosives. Later the police picked him up. There are points in everyone’s life where if something different had occurred which changes events. If it had rained in Dallas, the cover would have been on JFK’s limousine he may not have been assassinated
Robert Kennedy could have won the Democratic nomination for president and perhaps the office if he hadn’t been killed in 1968. He was ushered through the kitchen where Sirhan was waiting for him. If nominated for the presidency, Kennedy had a reasonable chance of becoming president.
Gerald Ford was closing on the lead Jimmy Carter had in the 1976 presidential election. Ford had taken the presidency because of Nixon’s Watergate resignation. Ford had pardoned Nixon and had to overcome that during his campaign. The final vote was close and went in Carter’s favor. Ford made a mistake in the debate before the election that may have lost the election for him. He said there was no Soviet domination of Eastern Europe. He had an opportunity to correct the error but didn’t. Many historians think he would have won if not for that slip.
Ronald Reagan was within an inch of assassination in 1981. The bullet didn’t enter his heart, and he survived. After the attempt, his popularity increased.
Reagan also figures into the 1976 Ford campaign. If Ford had won it’s not certain Reagan would have been chosen for the 1980 campaign or ever been elected president.
Greenfield doesn’t devote as much of the book, or give him a section, to Gary Hart as he does the others, but Hart’s affair does get mentioned. Hart was in a strong position for the 1988 presidential nomination when photographed with a model on his lap. He later withdrew.
All of these are turning points where history could have been different. Greenfield consulted with Doris Kerns Goodwin, other presidential scholars, and aids and associates of the people involved to form his alternate histories of how the world would have been different.
I like the concept that major events turn on almost insignificant incidents. I liked the books actual histories. Greenfield gave some insights and perspectives in those areas. I thought it was a little weak in some areas of the alternate history. They were well thought out and plausible, but I would like to seen them projected further in the future. I think that was the weaker sections of the book. It was interesting, but I feel it could have been better.