David Mytton

Book Review (4/5) – Virtual History: Alternatives and Counterfactuals (Niall Ferguson)

Published (updated: ) in Book Reviews.

Originally published on Goodreads.

I did not actually finish this book, but read half of it before moving on. The challenge for me was that it is extremely technical and detailed. It is almost like a textbook in the level of detail, which is perhaps good for research and academic study but more of a problem for casual reading.

That said, I still rated it 4 stars because having read 50% of it, the concept of counterfactuals becomes quite clear. Indeed, the main lesson of the book is that no event is ever a result of a single incident, person, variable or decision. There is no such thing as “if we just did X differently”. This is a common mistake in the popular press and gives the false impression that events are simple or easy to reverse. 

Completing the book would help to cement this idea with further examples of historical counterfactuals, but I didn’t feel it necessary to finish as that point was already well made.