I think the second most frequently asked question about time travel (after the question about accidentally killing a grandparent) is how would you change history. And I think the most popular answer is probably: go back and kill Hitler. Stephen Fry’s Making History write about just that answer in a way I’ve often wondered about myself. What if taking out Hitler means that things turn out worse? Not that I’m saying I wouldn’t take a crack at it myself if I had a time machine handy, but part of the fun of asking what if is thinking about the really outrageous possibilities.
The other thing that makes Making History such a fun read is that it was written by Stephen Fry, the Stephen Fry. So this book is a torrent of words that you can’t help but read with Fry’s voice in your head. If you watch the video posted below, you’ll get a very good idea of what reading a book by Fry is like:
Back to the book: Michael Young is a doctoral student studying history at Cambridge. He’s just finished drafting his thesis about the early life of Adolf Hitler when he bumps into a physics professor who has ties to the Holocaust. This professor has discovered a method for looking into the past. It takes some more work, but they work out a way to send things back, too. Michael hatches a plan to release a super-contraceptive pill–that renders men sterile for the rest of their lives–in the well in Brunau-am-Inn where Hitler’s parents live before the future Führer can be conceived. When they actually manage to succeed, Michael is whisked into an alternate history that is worse than the history he left. Michael and the professor then struggle to put things back the way they were.
I love reading time travel novels because they all have to wrestle with this question. Can you meddle with history? Should you meddle with history? Some of them take the tack of non-interference (as much as one can). One of my favorite series actually has a group of characters who are responsible for maintaining historical integrity. It takes a lot of chutzpah to write a book like Making History, where the plot revolves around annihilating and then restoring Hitler.
Fry does a great job of rewriting history from the point of divergence Michael created. The changes start small, but the new Hitler turns out to be a lot more crafty than the real one. Instead of World War II, we get a tense cold war between Europe and the United States. Germany has the bomb and that’s not the worst thing about this new history. There are no more Jews in Europe. This rewriting always makes me wonder if this is the way history was meant to roll out. Could it be better? I know it could be worse. And then I wonder some more about alternate universes. And then I have to spend some time on Wikipedia relearning what really happened.
It’s more fun than it sounds. Honest.