Be forewarned: Some SPOILERS ahead.
The most important aspect of any alternative history story is plausibility. The credibility of the story itself and the attention span of many readers (including myself) hinges upon that. If Kennedy Lived: The First and Second Terms of President John F. Kennedy: An Alternate History I think ultimately doesn’t live up to the hype and it ended up losing my plausibility at several points.
I thought it started out great by using weather (a common alternative history trope) as the butterfly that would set off the series of events. Everything through the actual attempted assassination was plausible and I did not stop to question any of it. Considering Bobby’s views in the ’68 campaign, I wasn’t surprised to see some of it reflected here. It also seems like Greenfield took some of the more liberal aspects of Nixon’s administration (China) and incorporated it here.
The book loses me when it decides to suddenly push out LBJ, and lost me further when it did not focus on many of the potential butterflies of America not being in Vietnam. I won’t spoil anything more beyond that, but this coupled with Greenfield’s unnecessary use of historical context lost me. While I understand some of your average readers may not know the full circumstances behind some events, the inclusion of historical context for every main decision just seems like unnecessary padding for the book and trying to pre-justify what he’s trying to accomplish. Just let the story tell itself.
My other main complaint is the amount of jumping around that this book decides to do. This alongside skipping years of the Kennedy Administration was extremely disappointing to me. This book was sold as the first and second terms, instead we largely get to see what Kennedy decides to do about Vietnam and race relations. It seems almost shocking to me that events like the Space Race (something Kennedy championed) and women’s liberation are completely ignored.
One other minor complaint with this book is that it (especially towards the end) decides to allude to real events to the point where it’s no longer witty. I understand this is a common inclusion in alternative history stories, but typically it ends up playing out elsewhere. Here, we get lines like “No mission accomplished” in relation to Vietnam.
You’re probably wondering why I gave it two stars instead of one at this point. My reason for that is I am probably more critical of alternative history stories than your average reader since I read a lot of them. The other reasons are that I thought the text itself was written well, the author looked at the right sources, and there were some clever points to the book.
If you’re looking for a good alternative history book, this honestly isn’t the place to find it. Greenfield’s other alternative history book, Then Everything Changed Stunning Alternate Histories of American Politics JFK RFK Carter Ford Reagan is superior and makes for a better read.