9 Interesting Alternate History Books – Admire the Fiction!

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I love alternate history novels. On the one hand, the stories feel familiar, but on the other, they let us imagine a world that is tantalizingly different from our own. 

AT A Glance: Our Top 5 Picks for Alternate History Books

Ever imagined what would’ve happened if America lost the War of Independence? Or the Nazis claimed victory in WWII? What if President Kennedy had never been assassinated? Alternate history stories examine these kinds of possibilities and ask the reader to suspend what they know about the past, and the present, in order to explore a new version of reality. 

So if you’re ready to explore the alternate history genre and you’re looking for a good place to start, you’re in luck. Here are my top 9 picks of the very best alternate history titles to read this year. 

9 Best Alternate History Books

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The Man in the High Castle by Philip K. Dick
  • Genres: Science Fiction, Novel, Alternate history, Fantasy Fiction, Political fiction, Dystopian Fiction
  • Awards: Hugo Award for Best Novel, Tähtivaeltaja Award
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Jonathan Strange & Mr. Norrell by Susanna Clarke
  • Genres: Novel, Fantasy Fiction, Historical Fiction, Alternate history, High fantasy
  • Page count: 1024 (Paperback)
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Fatherland by Robert Harris
  • Genres: Novel, Thriller, Alternate history, Science Fiction, Mystery, Adventure fiction, Dystopian Fiction
  • Page count: 352 (Paperback)
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The Yiddish Policemen’s Union by Michael Chabon
  • Genres: Novel, Science Fiction, Alternate history, Mystery, Detective novel
  • Awards: Nebula Award for Best Novel
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The Calculating Stars by Mary Robinette Kowal
  • Genres: Science Fiction, Novel, Alternate history, Hard science fiction
  • Awards: Hugo Award for Best Novel, Nebula Award for Best Novel
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The Years of Rice and Salt by Kim Stanley Robinson
  • Genres: Novel, Science Fiction, Alternate history, Historical Fiction
  • Awards: Locus Award for Best Science Fiction Novel
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11/22/63 by Stephen King
  • Genres: Science Fiction, Suspense, Alternate history, Time Travel Fiction
  • Page count: 849 (Hardcover)
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The Guns of the South by Harry Turtledove
  • Genres: Alternate history, Novel, Science Fiction, Historical Fiction
  • Page count: 516 (Harcover)
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River of Teeth by Sarah Gailey
  • Genres: Science Fiction, Historical Fiction, Alternate history, Western fiction, Adventure fiction
  • Page count: 176 (Paperback)
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1. The Man in the High Castle by Philip K. Dick

The Man in the High Castle by Philip K. Dick
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Forget dystopian futures; Philip K Dick’s The Man in the High Castle takes us into a dystopian past, where instead of The Allies declaring victory in WWII, it was Nazi Germany and Japan. Now, these two Axis powers occupy the United States, each with joint control over their new authoritarian world.

So rather than welcoming in a decade of counterculture and free love, 1962 America is a dark place to be. Slavery has been dragged out of abolition and is again accepted by the masses, and Jewish men, women, and children are forced into anonymity, living secret lives with the constant fear of being exposed. 

This harrowing yet captivating story won the Hugo Award for Best Novel when it was first published in 1963, and more recently, the story was adapted into a successful Amazon Prime TV series. 

2. Jonathan Strange & Mr. Norrell by Susanna Clarke

Jonathan Strange & Mr. Norrell by Susanna Clarke
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Get ready to take a trip into historical England, but not as you know it. In this fantastical version of the old world, magicians once ruled. They had command over the land and the sea, and fairies waited on them hand and foot. 

But by the turn of the nineteenth century, the magician’s powers have faded into nothingness, and their privileged worlds have ceased to exist. 

That is all but for one wealthy recluse named Mr. Norrell, who may just have the secret to resurrecting this bygone time. Hidden inside his Yorkshire residence, he’s collected an expansive library of books from the days of the magician’s powerful reign, and through them, he’s regaining some of that long-lost power. 

Never one to rush in, he tentatively tests his new abilities in the English capital. First, he resurrects a beautiful maiden from the dead, and as his confidence grows, it’s not long before he’s manifesting ghostly apparitions to confuse Napolian Bonapart’s army in a bid to help Britain during the war. 

All this time, Norrell believes he’s the only one in the land that is still practicing magic, but then he meets a charming and witty fellow magician named Jonathan Strange. Now, Norrell’s careful, cautious approach is thrown out of the window, and things are about to take a dangerous turn. 

3. Fatherland by Robert Harris

Fatherland by Robert Harris
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Two decades have passed since the Nazis declared victory in World War II, and the entire German population is gearing up to celebrate Hitler’s seventy-fifth birthday. Across the ocean in America, President Kennedy is preparing to make the journey to Europe to mark the occasion. He hopes he can finally make peace with the tyrannical leader and restore international relations once and for all. 

Meanwhile, in Berlin, a detective named Xavier March is summoned to investigate a corpse found on the shore of a nearby lake. But Xavier’s investigation uncovers some uncomfortable truths, and realizing that he’s on the verge of exposing a conspiracy, the Gestapo put a stop to it immediately. 

With the help of an American journalist, Xavier must work in secret to expose the lies and corruption at the root of these murders; corruption that goes all the way to the top. If the truth is revealed, they will change the course of history forever. 

4. The Yiddish Policemen’s Union by Michael Chabon

The Yiddish Policemen's Union by Michael Chabon
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After the catastrophic collapse of the new state of Israel in 1948, Jewish refugees were granted a safe haven in the Federal District of Sitka, high up in the Alaskan panhandle. For sixty years now, the Jews and their descendants have lived in harmony and prosperity, creating a vibrant, soulful, and dynamic city that was all their own. 

But now, their time is up, and the District is due to be reclaimed by federal forces. Once again, the people of Sitka face displacement, and the future ahead looks bleak. 

Meanwhile, Meyer Landsman, detective of the District Police, thinks he has enough to worry about without contemplating the impending takeover. His marriage is all but over, his career is a shambles, and his life is falling apart at the seams. 

But when a murder occurs right under his nose, Landsman sees it as an opportunity to prove to himself and everyone else that he’s not such a loser after all. 

As he digs deeper into his investigation and uncovers some disturbing revelations, word comes down from above that he should quit the case immediately. But there’s no stopping him now; he’s determined to expose the truth, but by doing so, he may have to face his darkest fears. 

5. The Calculating Stars by Mary Robinette Kowal 

The Calculating Stars by Mary Robinette Kowal
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Back in the spring of 1952, a colossal meteorite fell to Earth, instantly obliterating Washington DC and much of the East Coast of America. 

What followed was a climate catastrophe very similar to the one which rendered the dinosaurs extinct. Soon, the Earth will be inhospitable to humans, and so the race is on to find a new home in space. If humanity has any hope of surviving, the entire planet must work together. 

Elma York’s contribution to the survival of mankind is a particularly crucial one. As a talented mathematician and a WASP pilot, she joins the team of scientists at the International Aerospace Coalition, who are working hard to put the first man on the moon. 

But the more Elma becomes involved in the project, the more she begins to wonder why the first feet to touch the lunar surface should be a man’s. After all, there’s an abundance of skilled and capable females working on the project, so why not one of them? 

So Emla gathers all of her courage and makes a vow to change the course of history. It’s time to shatter the status quo and become the first female astronaut the world has ever seen. 

6. The Years of Rice and Salt by Kim Stanley Robinson

The Years of Rice and Salt by Kim Stanley Robinson
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The tale begins back in the dark ages of the fourteenth century, right around the time that the Black Death is on its way to ravage Europe. History tells us that the continent was brought to its knees, with a third of the population was wiped out by the disease. But what if it was worse than that? What if the Black Death has been so cataclysmic that it destroyed almost every living soul in Europe at that time? With only a few lucky survivors scratching through the wreckage, the caucasian population would have been all but extinct. 

This captivating novel explores the alternative history that might have been; a history filled with war, famine, and tyranny, alongside triumphant revolutions and glittering innovation.

7. 11/22/63 by Stephen King 

11/22/63 by Stephen King
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Jake Epping is an English teacher, but in his spare time, he teaches an adult GED program. One day, he’s handed an essay from one of his students, Harry Dunning, that is unlike any he’s ever read before. 

It’s a harrowing true-life tale of a fateful night 50 years ago when Harry’s father returned home wielding a hammer. What followed was the brutal murders of his mother, brother, and sister, but miraculously, Harry managed to escape with only a shattered leg. He still walks with a limp to this day. 

Shortly after reading his student’s horrifying tale, Jake bumps into his friend Al at the local diner, who lets him in on an incredible secret; his unassuming storeroom is actually a portal to the year 1958. After much hesitation, Al convinces Jake to travel back in time in order to try and stop the Kennedy assassination. 

And so Jake is transported to a world that he only recognizes from the movies in the hope that he can change the course of history forever. Will he stop Lee Harvey Oswald in his tracks and get back to the future unscathed? Or do the higher forces of the universe have other plans for him, like saving Harry’s family? 

8. The Guns of the South by Harry Turtledove

The Guns of the South by Harry Turtledove
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It was a cold, dark January in 1864, and the once-powerful General Robert E Lee and his army are on the brink of defeat. Gettysburg has ripped through the seams of the Confederacy, leaving his remaining men injured, exhausted, and ill-equipped. 

When all looks to be lost, a strange gentleman named Andries Rhoodie appears from nowhere and approaches Lee with an offer. Speaking in a bizarre accent that the general just can’t place, the man produces a weapon that he says will change the course of the war. It’s a gleaming rifle with futuristic proportions, nothing like anything that he’s seen before. The man demonstrates its incredible power, breathtaking rate of fire, and ability to kill multiple enemies all in one sweep, and the general is floored. 

The name of this weapon? An AK-47, and Rhoodie promises unlimited quantities to the Confederate army. 

9. River of Teeth by Sarah Gailey

River of Teeth by Sarah Gailey
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Sarah Gailey’s River of Teeth begins with a rather unbelievable truth; back at the start of the 20th century, the US government spearheaded a campaign to import hippopotamuses from the African continent to American soil. Once they arrived, these hippos were to be bred in the marshlands of Lousianna and slaughtered for their meat. This bizarre plan would be the answer to a growing food shortage across America, and although it never took off, it was surprisingly well-received by the public at the time. 

This fascinating book explores the possibilities of an America that might have been. A land where feral hippos ruled the bayou and terrorized the human population. Realizing their plan had gotten out of control, the government is forced to recruit assassins and mercenaries from around the world to try and put a stop to these dangerous beasts. 

Conclusion

These fascinating stories take the reader on an adventure through time, into a world that might have been. These nine books will provide a great introduction to the genre, but this is by no means a definitive list; there are countless captivating alternate history novels to explore. 

If you have any AH recommendations for our readers, I’d love to hear from you. Leave us a comment in the box below. 

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