Wednesday, November 16, 2005

For Want of a Nail...

I originally wrote the following eight or ten years ago, when it looked like we had a chance to get Robert Sobel's great alternate history For Want of a Nail in the SFBC, since it had a new edition from the military publisher Greenhill and book-club rights were available. The other guys (it was the History Book Club at the time) offered more money, higher royalties, more prestige, and a better platform, so I can't blame Greenhill for taking their offer over ours. But this little blurb has thus never seen the light of day, so I wanted to finally set it free...

We don’t often offer history books in the club, but we had to make an exception here..

I can remember when I first read For Want of a Nail..., as a second form student at Prince Edward Middle School in New Manchester, New Jersey. I hadn’t liked history up till then — it all seemed a boring parade of British Kings and governors, unrelated to my life in the North American Confederation. But those shiny first editions (donated by the Earl of Paterson on the Queen’s Birthday the year before) sparked my interest with the story of my country, and of its rival and occasional enemy, the United States of Mexico.

This club spans both the CNA and the USM, from Mexican Alaska to the heart of British America here in New York, and so does Sobel’s engrossing history. We all know how the CNA started, under the great General Burgoyne, the hero who put down the Rebellion. And I even knew something of the early history of the USM — how some of the defeated rebels carved out a new nation, Jefferson, on the shores of the Gulf of Mexico and how their great leader Andrew Jackson conquered Mexico to form the greater nation.

But Sobel makes the story come to life on the page, spanning two hundred years of history from the Rebellion to my school-boy days with wit and verve and a wonderful eye for historical characters. Sobel makes it more than a history; it becomes a story — of two nations sharing the same continent through uneasy peace and bloody war. Even now, twenty-five years after it was first published, it’s the standard history of North America. This is one book that should be in every home — of the CNA and the USM — and I urge you to read this wonderful history. I can guarantee you that you’ve never read a history book like it!

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