by Robert Harris
Random House, 338 pp., $21.00
Contending with Hitler: Varieties of German Resistance in the Third Reich
edited by David Clay Large
German Historical Institute/Cambridge University Press, 197 pp., $34.95
For the Soul of the People: Protestant Protest against Hitler
by Victoria Barnett
Oxford University Press, 358 pp., $30.00
German Resistance Against Hitler: The Search for Allies Abroad, 19381945
by Klemens von Klemperer
Oxford University Press (Clarendon Press), 487 pp., $49.95
A Good German: Adam von Trott zu Solz
by Giles MacDonogh
Overlook Press, 358 pp., $25.00
In 1931, J. C. Squire edited a volume of essays by various hands called If; or, History Rewritten, which he described as “a number of speculations by curious minds as to the differences that would have been made had ‘events taken another turn.’ “ The authors included Philip Guedalla, who considered what might have happened “if the Moors in Spain had won” and wrote a history of the independent state of Granada from 1491 to the Paris Peace Conference of 1919; G. K. Chesterton, who sought to make clear the favorable consequences in the long run, for the British Isles and for Europe, of a marriage between Don John of Austria and Mary Queen of Scots; and Hendrik Willem Van Loon, who discussed the complicated politics of the Atlantic seaboard after the Dutch had decided to remain in New Amsterdam.
In one of the liveliest essays in the book, Winston Churchill addressed himself to the historical repercussions of a Confederate victory at Gettysburg and described with gusto how this led, by way of a series of complicated and improbable events, to the foundation of a Union of the English Speaking Peoples that was strong enough to prevent the outbreak of war in 1914 and to lay the foundation of a united Europe, the inauguration of which was presumably to be celebrated in 1932, under the patronage of Emperor William II of Germany, whose forty-four-year reign had been a model of peace and social progress.
For the historian, this kind of conjectural history is an amusing challenge to the imagination, a game that can be played for any period, from ancient times until the recent past, in which his success will be measured by the plausibility of his invention. It is different with the writer of fiction. If the story he has to tell is to gain anything from being set in an invented past, that past will have to be recent enough to be within the memory of his readers, and his invention will have to bear some correspondence to what their own hopes and fears were at the time. A story that took place in a Rome that had lost the Punic wars, rather than won them, would gain nothing from the imagined context, which would merely confuse most readers. But a story placed in a Nazi Germany that has won the Second World War is bound to gain from its setting, since most people over the age of fifty in Europe and the West (and, thanks to television, the movies, and the verbal testimony of elders, many younger persons as well) know that such a victory was a real possibility and can recall their own feelings as they contemplated it.
Like Len Deighton and Philip K. Dick before him, Robert Harris has profited from the great and continuing interest in Adolf Hitler in writing a thriller set in an age dominated by a National Socialist movement that has triumphed in the Second World War. The time is …