The best novels set in alternate histories

Why am I passionate about this?

I'm a lot of things. I design games. I study literature and theater. I write novels that are messy fusions of literary and genre fiction. I'm endlessly curious. Each of my books starts with when I hear in my head, the voice of a character asking a question. It's always a silly question, and it's always the one that matters more to them than anything else in the world. "Why does being superintelligent make you evil?" became Soon I Will Be Invincible. "What are people who play video games obsessively really looking for?" became You. Answering the question isn't simple, but of course that's where the fun starts.


I wrote...

Crooked

By Austin Grossman,

Book cover of Crooked

What is my book about?

Crooked started with the question, "How could someone as smart as Richard Nixon become American history's greatest joke?" 

Brilliant, ambitious beyond measure, and epically self-sabotaging - who actually was he? We learn, in Nixon's own words,  how in the midst of the Alger Hiss trials, he stumbled into the Lovecraftian conspiracy that was the truth behind the Cold War. His whole life became a frantic juggling act - managing his political career, his marriage, and a world of supernatural horror he keeps just out of sight. By the end, we learn the reasons for doing what he did. And that there are far worse things in the world than Richard Nixon.

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The books I picked & why

Book cover of The Man Who Was Thursday: A Nightmare

Austin Grossman Why did I love this book?

A cult novel from the early twentieth century, beloved of everyone from C.S. Lewis to Neil Gaiman to literally Kafka.

It starts at a peaceful suburban garden party, then plunges us into the secret anarchist conspiracy to bring down civilization, and the equally secret police force dedicated to stopping them. Duels, disguises, and mind-blowing revelations ensue, with writing just packed with Edwardian-era wit and charm.

By G.K. Chesterton,

Why should I read it?

5 authors picked The Man Who Was Thursday as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

Can you trust yourself when you don't know who you are? Syme uses his new acquaintance to go undercover in Europe's Central Anarchist Council and infiltrate their deadly mission, even managing to have himself voted to the position of 'Thursday'. In a park in London, secret policeman Gabriel Syme strikes up a conversation with an anarchist. Sworn to do his duty, When Syme discovers another undercover policeman on the Council, however, he starts to question his role in their operations. And as a desperate chase across Europe begins, his confusion grows, as well as his confidence in his ability to…


Book cover of Watchmen

Austin Grossman Why did I love this book?

This is the book that forever changed how superheroes were written.  

In Watchmen, masked vigilantes started as a craze in the 1930s, and history got slightly bent in the process. We won the Vietnam War, Nixon stayed president, and...you'll have fun picking out all the bits of altered history in the background.

The heart of the book is its unforgettable characters - slightly over-the-hill superheroes brought out of retirement by the murder of one of their own, to face an ever-deepening mystery and their own midlife crises.

By Alan Moore, Dave Gibbons (illustrator),

Why should I read it?

4 authors picked Watchmen as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

A hit HBO original series, Watchmen, the groundbreaking series from award-winning author Alan Moore, presents a world where the mere presence of American superheroes changed history--the U.S. won the Vietnam War, Nixon is still president, and the Cold War is in full effect.

Considered the greatest graphic novel in the history of the medium, the Hugo Award-winning story chronicles the fall from grace of a group of superheroes plagued by all-too-human failings. Along the way, the concept of the superhero is dissected as an unknown assassin stalks the erstwhile heroes.

This edition of Watchmen, the groundbreaking series from Alan Moore,…


Book cover of Cryptonomicon

Austin Grossman Why did I love this book?

Cryptonomicon is a sprawling saga of the obsessive nerds who shaped the 20th century.

The plot deftly intertwines the adventures of a handful soldiers and codebreakers in World War II, with a tech startup in the 2000s.

The plot is epic drama - sunken Nazi submarines, hidden gold, data havens, island-hopping warfare in the South Pacific - and Stephenson has a matchless gift for making the nerdiest subjects vastly entertaining.

By Neal Stephenson,

Why should I read it?

5 authors picked Cryptonomicon as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

With this extraordinary first volume in an epoch-making masterpiece, Neal Stephenson hacks into the secret histories of nations and the private obsessions of men, decrypting with dazzling virtuosity the forces that shaped this century.

In 1942, Lawrence Pritchard Waterhouse—mathematical genius and young Captain in the U.S. Navy—is assigned to detachment 2702. It is an outfit so secret that only a handful of people know it exists, and some of those people have names like Churchill and Roosevelt. The mission of Waterhouse and Detachment 2702—commanded by Marine Raider Bobby Shaftoe-is to keep the Nazis ignorant of the fact that Allied Intelligence…


Book cover of Flashman

Austin Grossman Why did I love this book?

Flashman does a thing I love, which is to tell the story of another book's least notable character.

Harry Flashman comes from Thomas Hughes's 1850 novel Tom Brown's School Days (the entire basis for the Harry Potter novels), where he's a sub-Draco Malfo figure, a useless bully.

Flashman tells the story of his later years as the Victorian Empire's most cowardly soldier, rattling around British colonies, stumbling through their various atrocities and debacles. I wish the book were even harsher on the Brits, but it's a deeply fun counter-text and a lovely bit of escapism nonetheless.

By George MacDonald Fraser,

Why should I read it?

7 authors picked Flashman as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

For George MacDonald Fraser the bully Flashman was easily the most interesting character in Tom Brown's Schooldays, and imaginative speculation as to what might have happened to him after his expulsion from Rugby School for drunkenness ended in 12 volumes of memoirs in which Sir Harry Paget Flashman - self-confessed scoundrel, liar, cheat, thief, coward -'and, oh yes, a toady' - romps his way through decades of nineteenth-century history in a swashbuckling and often hilarious series of military and amorous adventures. In Flashman the youthful hero, armed with a commission in the 11th Dragoons, is shipped to India, woos and…


Book cover of His Majesty's Dragon

Austin Grossman Why did I love this book?

Tolstoy gave us a saga of love and parties in the shadow of the Napoleonic Wars, but did he think to give people pet dragons, that come in different colors, each of which have different capabilities and temperaments?

That alters how wars are fought and the delicate balance of the Great Powers in this alternate version of history? No. No, he did not. Go get it. Pure indulgence.

By Naomi Novik,

Why should I read it?

10 authors picked His Majesty's Dragon as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

Naomi Novik's stunning series of novels follow the adventures of Captain William Laurence and his fighting dragon Temeraire as they are thrown together to fight for Britain during the turbulent time of the Napoleonic Wars.

As Napoleon's tenacious infantry rampages across Europe and his armada lies in wait for Nelson's smaller fleet, the war does not rage on land and water alone. Squadrons of aviators swarm the skies - a deadly shield for the cumbersome canon-firing vessels. Raining fire and acid upon their enemies, they engage in a swift, violent combat with flying tooth and claw... for these aviators ride…


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Book cover of Leora's Letters: The Story of Love and Loss for an Iowa Family During World War II

Joy Neal Kidney Author Of What Leora Never Knew: A Granddaughter's Quest for Answers

New book alert!

Why am I passionate about this?

I'm the oldest granddaughter of Leora, who lost three sons during WWII. To learn what happened to them, I studied casualty and missing aircraft reports, missions reports, and read unit histories. I’ve corresponded with veterans who knew one of the brothers, who witnessed the bomber hit the water off New Guinea, and who accompanied one brother’s body home. I’m still in contact with the family members of two crew members on the bomber. The companion book, Leora’s Letters, is the family story of the five Wilson brothers who served, but only two came home.

Joy's book list on research of World War II casualties

What is my book about?

The day the second atomic bomb was dropped, Clabe and Leora Wilson’s postman brought a telegram to their acreage near Perry, Iowa. One son was already in the U.S. Navy before Pearl Harbor had been attacked. Four more sons worked with their father, tenant farmers near Minburn until, one by one; all five sons were serving their country in the military–two in the Navy and three as Army Air Force pilots.

Only two sons came home.

Leora’s Letters is the compelling true account of a woman whose most tender hopes were disrupted by great losses. Yet she lived out four…

By Joy Neal Kidney, Robin Grunder,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked Leora's Letters as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

The day the second atomic bomb was dropped, Clabe and Leora Wilson’s postman brought a telegram to their acreage near Perry, Iowa. One son was already in the U.S. Navy before Pearl Harbor had been attacked. Four more sons worked with their father, tenant farmers near Minburn until, one by one, all five sons were serving their country in the military. The oldest son re-enlisted in the Navy. The younger three became U.S. Army Air Force pilots. As the family optimist, Leora wrote hundreds of letters, among all her regular chores, dispensing news and keeping up the morale of the…


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