This is a list of the top 25 alternate history books on the market. We’ve included alternate history novels focusing on different time periods and different parts of the world so there is sure to be something for everyone’s area of interest. If any of the books sound like your next alternate history adventure, you can experience them at no cost with Audible's one month free trial.
By Philip K Dick
The Man In The High Castle has drawn recent attention after being adapted into a TV series, but Philip K Dick’s original work offers a better level of insight. The story is based around an alternate history America which is under Nazi occupation following World War 2, and the implications for American society. The Man in the High Castle is a tale of resistance, paranoia, and the meaning of American Society.
By Harry Turtledove
Harry Turtledove is arguably the best-known writer of alternate history fiction. The Guns of the South is an interesting consideration of what would happen had the Confederate Army been provided with AK-47s during the Civil War. The Guns of the South draws upon tropes from both alternate history and time travel to present a fascinating insight into one of the most interesting chapters in American history.
By Michael Chabon
Michael Chabon uses the Yiddish Policemen’s Union to consider what would happen had Jewish people been granted a temporary safe haven in Alaskan territory following World War 2. The alternate history aspect is masterfully melded with narrative concepts taken from noir and crime, coupled with empathetic characters. Ideal for fans of alternate history, whodunnit, and thought-provoking literature in general.
By Mark Twain
Mark Twain’s A Connecticut Yankee In King Arthur’s Court is one of the most well-known examples of alternate history fiction. Twain’s tale is based around an American man from the 1800s journeying to sixth-century England. Twain is able to use the premise as a way of satirizing society and offering social commentary in a humorous way.
By Brendan DuBois
Brendan DuBois considers what would have happened if the Cuban missile crisis had escalated into full-blown nuclear war in Resurrection Day. The novel focuses on how JFK may have been viewed very differently if he hadn’t been assassinated, and also explores the relationship between the United States of America and the United Kingdom. Resurrection Day is a gripping depiction of international politics and how historical relations shape contemporary attitudes.
By CJ Sansom
What if Britain had surrendered to Nazi Germany during World War 2? This is the question considered by CJ Sansom in Dominion. The alternate history novel explores ideas of resistance and national identity as well as considering how Britain would have functioned under the control of Adolf Hitler. Fans of The Man in the High Castle will enjoy Dominion as it is conceptually similar.
By Kim Stanley Robinson
The Years of Rice and Salt is one of the most intricate and complex portrayals of alternate history ever written. It explores the implications of the Black Death plague and how the course of human history, spanning centuries, would have been altered if the Plague took a different course. Author Kim Stanley Robinson’s detailed depiction is sure to satisfy history buffs and fiction fans alike.
By William Gibson and Bruce Sterling
William Gibson and Bruce Sterling’s The Difference Engine is an alternate history book which is also widely considered to have started the steampunk genre. The novel explores the question of how human society would have been altered if the computer era had begun a century earlier. The Difference Engine makes use of real characters from history, their lives completely altered by the early introduction of computing.
By Jo Walton
Jo Walton’s first installment of the Small Change series is an alternate history tale centered on a United Kingdom which was able to make peace with Adolf Hitler. Many alternate history novels have explored what would have happened if Hitler won the war, so the scenario of a stalemate is a welcome change of pace. Farthing touches on many social topics, such as antisemitism and homophobia, in a gripping tale drawing upon elements of the mystery genre.
By Philip Roth
In The Plot Against America, Philip Roth explores what would have happened if Charles Lindbergh had defeated FDR and publicly stated his Nazi inclinations. The tale is told from the perspective of a young Jewish child in America and captures the fear and intimidation that would have been all too real had this version of history come to pass. The book also features notes contrasting the alternate history with real historical facts, which adds another dimension to this excellent work.
By Kingsley Amis
First published in 1976, The Alteration sees Kingsley Amis exploring what would have happened if Martin Luther had been made the Pope during the sixteenth century. This landmark alternate history novel explores the relationship between organized religion and science, creativity and wonder, and the value of art in society. For anyone fascinated by the concept of religious history and its impact on society at large, this is the ideal alternate history story.
By Eric Flint
1632 considers what would happen if an entire West Virginia mining town was suddenly sent back through the centuries to the time of the 30 year war. Eric Flint combines elements of alternate history and timetable to present a fascinating, character based exploration of this unique premise which many fans have compared to the Mark Twain classic A Connecticut Yankee in King Arthur’s court. The book is the first in the Assiti Shards series.
By Ward Moore
Bring The Jubilee is the original portrayal of the classic alternate history concept of the Confederacy winning the Civil War. Ward Moore is able to masterfully portray an America divided into the prosperous Confederate States of America and the struggling United States of America. The novel has a broad scope, imagining how different nations would have aligned if this scenario had occurred. Bring The Jubilee is often described as a lesser known but surprisingly impressive example of the alternate history genre.
By L Sprague de Camp
Imagine journeying to Rome to study its culture and architecture, but in a sudden flash of lightning, being transported back to the ancient city itself in the time of its glory. That is the precise premise used by L Sprague de Camp in Lest Darkness Fall. When Martin Padway is transported back to the time period which fascinates him the most, he uses his modern knowledge to prevent the fall of the Roman Empire. This alternate history story is an intriguing exploration of how technology impacts society.
By Stephen Baxter
Voyage by Stephen Baxter is the perfect marriage of alternate history and space-based science fiction. The story considers what would have happened if President Kennedy hadn’t been killed and had been able to send a manned mission to Mars. Voyage delves deep into the engineering concepts needed to achieve such an ambitious example of space travel. For alternate history fans with a fascination for spaceflight, Voyage is a journey well worth taking.
By Robert Charles Wilson
Robert Charles Wilson tells an incredibly imaginative tale in Darwinia, which explores what would happen if Europe transformed into a magical and mystical world in 1912 based around dense jungle and farfetched creatures. This is an alternate history novel packed with interesting ideas, amazing imagery and shocking narrative twists. Darwinia focuses not just on alternate history but also on an alternate family of organisms and an entirely different depiction of the natural world.
By Robert Harris
Fatherland is set twenty years after Hitler was able to defeat the allies and win World War 2. Robert Harris paints a terrifying picture of a world accustomed to Nazi control and the ramifications of fascism being the world’s dominant ideology. This alternate history book makes masterful use of tension and characterization to explore the interaction of both German and American citizens should the world have taken a very different direction.
By Janet E Morris
The 40-Minute War is an eerily prescient read for many alternate history fans as it depicts events somewhat similar to 9/11 despite having been released in 1984. Janet E. Morris presents the scenario of jihadists setting off a nuclear bomb and crashing an airliner, causing normal American life to collapse. The 40-Minute War draws upon alternate history and spy thriller tropes to present a thrilling tale filled with twists and excitement.
By Harry Turtledove
Harry Turtledove is one of the most prominent names in the alternate history genre and Ruled Britannia is his intriguing tale of Britain under Spanish rule. The story makes use of prominent real life figures from history, including William Shakespeare and Queen Elizabeth. Turtledove’s tale is a fascinating choice for anyone interested in European history and seeing historically prominent people in an alternate history situation.
By Len Deighton
Len Deighton uses SS-GB as a truly chilling portrayal of how history could have been impacted if World War 2 had ended differently. SS-GB presents an alternate history world where Winston Churchill has been executed by the Nazis and Great Britain is under the oppression of brutal Nazi occupation. Len Deighton has written extensively about World War 2 from a nonfiction perspective and his depth of knowledge adds detail and authenticity to this gripping novel.
By Jake Goodwind
Jake Goodwind begins his epic alternate history series Line of Blood Saga with Ancient Truth. Goodwind’s novel is a whirlwind mix of mythology and science fiction, exploring theories relating to aliens, ancient Egyptians, and the origins of life on Earth. This is one of the most ambitious and esoteric takes on the alternate history genre, and is well worth a read for those seeking something truly unusual.
By Kazuo Ishiguro
Kazuo Ishiguro’s Never Let Me Go is widely regarded as one of the most expertly crafted alternate history books to ever be released. The story focuses on an alternative version of England where children are secluded at a strange boarding school for a mysterious purpose. The story gradually builds to reveal a nightmarish, dystopian twist which will shock even the most cynical science fiction fan. This is an ideal choice for those wishing to explore shocking scenarios presented with true literary flare.
By Jasper Fforde
The Eyre Affair is a portrayal of an alternate reality version of Great Britain set in 1985. This is a society where time travel takes place, and many other science fiction concepts, such as cloning, are part of everyday life. Jasper Fforde’s tale is an enjoyable and incredibly creative ride through a vibrant and surprising version of reality. The Eyre Affair is fun, suspenseful science fiction at its very best.
By Gregory Urbach
Anyone fascinated by American history and the colorful characters featured in it will find Custer at the Alamo a true delight. Gregory Urbach’s alternate history story features General George Custer being transported back in time to help out at the Alamo’s defence. The book is an entertaining read in its own right, but also offers valuable and fact based insight into a fascinating chapter of American history.
What Is The Alternate History genre all about?
Alternate history is a fascinating genre of science fiction exploring how the world would have been different if history had unfolded in another way. These books range in scope from plausible historical differences to totally fantastical diversions from reality.
How were the Best Alternate History Novels Selected?
This selection of alternate history novels has been selected based on a mixture of stories I’ve personally enjoyed, suggestions from reputable sci fi publications, and books that have received glowing reader reviews. The list has also been composed to reflect a range of different approaches to alternate history in order to offer something for fans of different time periods and geographical locations.
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