Book List! Alternate History about Fascist USA
Updated: Feb 3
A rowdy character adept of bombastic pose and petulant rhetoric, there is no denying that Donald Trump has left a unique legacy in American politics. As we can start to reflect upon his Presidency, which ended amidst a never seen before level of street violence (protests are one thing, but when was the last time an angry mob stormed the Capitol, a democratic institution nearly as old as modern democracy itself?) one may wonder: was the MAGA movement the closest the USA has had from a successful fascistic trend?
To be fair, despite the boastful bravado and cult of personality which had grew around him, Trump was no Mussolini nor Hitler. His supporters were not on a war path to overthrow democracy -they merely contested the results of an election. The chaos at the Capitol, no matter how thuggish, deadly and disturbing, was no clearly planned paramilitary Nazi Beer Hall Putsch or coup d'état like Spain had witnessed back in 1981 (even if among protesters were to be found fanatics in Confederate regalia, even armed). And, so, American democracy, for all the turmoil it has been facing these past few years, still remained strong and standing proud. In other words, 2021 America is not Weimar.
The events in Washington, though, by being the dead end product (or so we wish) of a leadership which had carelessly engaged in anti-rationalism, post-truth and conspiracy theories (let alone violence fuelled through purposefully divisive and virulent tweets, speeches and innuendo) brought a powerful lesson to the fore: democracy should never be taken for granted. And what if the USA had, indeed, been governed by a fascist regime?
Fiction has always been a solid ground for speculations, and creative writers haven't shield away from asking themselves: what if the Allies had lost WWII, or, at least, what if Fascism had actually succeeded in overtaking one of the oldest democracy in the world? Well, here are my personal choices of TOP 5 ALTERNATE HISTORY BOOKS tackling the issue… Enjoy!
5- PHILIP K. DICK, 'THE MAN IN THE HIGH CASTLE'
Ultimate classic on the topic? Well, it’s not my number one for sure! I have read this twice, and I still don't get it. Taking place mostly in a 1962 San Francisco occupied by Imperial Japan, here's an alternate history within an alternate history, with the 'I Ching' as a nice way to hint that events are just a matter of 'chance'. It relies on a cool idea, but, to me, it sadly goes nowhere.
Personally, I found the writing sloppy, the ending lazy, and the whole pretty much uninteresting. I usually love Philip K. Dick, but I think here he just went ahead with an idea without really knowing what to do with it. I was disappointed. However, it remains a best seller on the subject, so, you might as well want to give it a go!
4- DANIEL EASTERMAN, 'K'
Set in an America ruled by Charles Lindbergh while the Nazis are still at war in Europe, this is mostly a spy thriller. It tells of a British spy whose mission is to stir a political chess game, supposed to force the USA into the war on the Allies' side.
The imagined fascist and violent regime of Lindbergh, chillingly supported by a state police controlled by J. Edgar Hoover and a powerful KKK, was all in all very well rendered. Sadly, plot aside, everything here tends to fall slightly apart.
The characters are way too one-dimensional to be interesting, and the action turns ridiculously and crazily Hollywood-action-type-of-movies in the end! It's a pity, but ‘K’ still makes for an interesting and entertaining read.
3- JAMES P. HOGAN, 'THE PROTEUS OPERATION'
Here’s another nice spy story, but entirely relying on time travelling with a twist... and how it all ends is really good! 'The Proteus Operation', although a bit confusing at time, remains a very pleasant novel.
I found the constant shuffling and reshuffling of events as we know them very well thought and crafted, the author playing knowingly with slight details (the political intricacies that led to WWII) like a painter with small touches on a great historical canvas. I also liked how the characters are nicely and interestingly brought to life, at times in a witty fashion (see for example how Isaac Asimov here inspired Albert Einstein with a stroke of genius!).
It's good, entertaining, and, for those interested in history (especially that particular period -the geopolitical intricacies culminating in the Second World War) a nice display of 'what if' kind of scenarios. This, truly, is a very enjoyable pick.
2- PHILIP ROTH, 'THE PLOT AGAINST AMERICA'
Roth 'remembers' here what might have been under the presidency of Charles Lindbergh. Such plot makes for a very unsettling book, as imagining Lindbergh embodying this other America, one where the anti-war lobbyists could have found common ground with the Silver Shirts, the Klan and the Bund, given the situation and mood at the time (pre-Pearl Harbour, that is) is not only very persuasive but quite frightening!
The scenario is cleverly exploited. Most of it is convincing. I also acknowledge that this whole other side of the United States is being here minutely reconstructed. I certainly thoroughly enjoyed the main tale, brilliantly told, of how a whole Jewish family (the narrator’s) is falling apart and left in pieces during such times. Divisions, fear, and uncertainties are indeed greatly conveyed.
However, I must say that I disliked Roth using his own childhood to here reconstruct history. I know that it's one of his trademark, but, from a writer, I find it lacking of imagination, pretentious (if not self-centred) no matter how well it works (and here it does, and brilliantly!). More problematic, I believe part of the ending (what happen to Lindbergh and the possible explanations given regarding his attitude towards Nazi Germany) to be far too fetched -to say the least! Such a twisted ending, to me, sabotage the rest; leaving a bit disappointed as the whole is oppressive enough, the characters deep, their struggles highly persuasive, and the setting very convincing.
It definitely remains a very commendable piece of work, but, because of such a puzzling ending to the Lindbergh's presidency and era, it's not the masterpiece I had expected.
1- LEO RUTMAN, 'CLASH OF EAGLES'
Finally, MY Number One!
What if the Nazis had actually invaded the United States? Taking place in occupied and cut off New York, here's a very well crafted book where the East Coast is controlled by the Germans, while Roosevelt's government is in exile in California.
All in all, it reminded me of what happened in France during WWII. In fact, all the historical details that were the lot of most of the then occupied European countries are just being transposed here. It's intelligently done, though, each of these details and events (rationing, black market, denunciations, roundups and executions, propaganda etc.) fitting very nicely and relevantly within the storyline.
The story itself is quite nice. It tells of internal conspiracies within the occupying Nazis (including a plot to kill Hitler, no less) and of a group of Resistant planning to sabotage a plane factory. The two subplots will ultimately collide in an ending as ambitious as it is skilfully well thought.
Slight twist, most of Leo Rutman's characters belong to the 1940s New York's underworld or, at least, constitutes a surprising but nice cast: actresses, gangsters, thugs, trade unionists and else, from the despicable opportunists and the surprising heroes to the fighters and the profiteers. They all interact in a balanced mix of action, drama and romance which, surely, can be a bit naïve and cheesy at times, but makes nonetheless for an enjoyable read. In fact, 'Clash of Eagles' (and what a great title that is, by the way!) leaves with a very nice feel of watching some of these old American movies from the black and white era -that's how great the atmosphere here is!
Entertaining, great historical reconstruction, ambitious and dramatic, 'Clash of Eagles' is therefore definitely my number one on the topic!
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