Stephen King is one of the most well-renowned authors in the modern literary sphere. His work is broad, covering a wide range of literary genres such as fantasy, crime, suspense, science-fiction, horror, and supernatural fiction.
His novels have inspired some of the best-rated films of all time, such as The Shining, It, and The Green Mile, and have captivated readers since he began writing in the late 1960s.
He is a multi-award-winning novelist, winning some of the most well-recognized awards possible, including Edgar awards, Grand Master awards, and Bram Stoker awards.
King is one of the best authors of his generation and he has written some of the most gripping, extraordinary, and well-written novels ever produced.
11-22-63 is an alternate history thriller that follows a time traveler who tries to prevent John F. Kennedy’s assassination. This event took place on the 22nd of November 1963, aka 11/22/63, hence where the story gets its title.
King trades descriptions of the digital age – phones, computers, and electric cars – with descriptions of iconic 1960s America – diners, Elvis, and big cars. His story fully immerses you in this era and brings the 1960s back to life in a Back to the Future-esque novel.
Jack, 11-22-63’s protagonist, aims to prevent Kennedy’s death in the hope that it may change the course of American and global history for the better. But when he arrives in the 1960s and falls in love with Sadie, a beautiful librarian, Jake is forced to manipulate the rules of time travel.
This novel has an excellent concept and follows various sub-plots that each captivate the reader in different ways. Through the scientific and physical principles of time travel, the love story between Jake and Sadie, and the intention to change the course of modern history, readers stay intrigued through every chapter.
If you’ve read and enjoyed 11-22-63 or you simply like the concept of alternate history, here are 20 recommendations of the best books in this genre, guaranteed to give you a varied selection depending on your period preference.
Fatherland by Robert Harris
Fatherland, written by the iconic historical fiction writer Robert Harris, uncovers what life would have been like if Germany had won the Second World War.
Not only does it go into detail about the changes in European social structure as Europe undergoes a process of ‘Germanification’, but it also follows a smaller plot, following a criminal police officer who is investigating the murder of a Nazi official.
The Yiddish Policemen’s Union by Michael Chabon
This brilliant novel from Michael Chabon explores an alternate timeline in which a colony of Jews settled in Alaska following the Second World War.
Alongside a suspenseful detective plotline, The Yiddish Policemen’s Union describes post-war life for many of these oppressed people and outlines how their society runs and who is in control.
The Underground Railroad by Colson Whitehead
The Underground Railroad tells of a fictional secret railway network in the antebellum South that provides slaves with free houses and safe routes to freedom.
The story follows Cora, a young girl enslaved on a plantation in Georgia. It tells her journey seeking freedom and the many disasters she encounters on the way as a young, vulnerable, Black girl.
If The Allies Had Fallen by Dennis E. Showalter
This is more of a factual, historically accurate take on alternate history. Unlike many other of these stories which are fictionalized, this book takes into consideration over 50 potential scenarios throughout the Second World War and gives you a scarily accurate insight into what our modern reality would look like.
If The Allies Had Fallen is a brilliant book for history lovers that are less concerned with fictional stories.
The Plot Against America by Philip Roth
This book tells of the fictional events following the hypothetical election results in 1940. The Plot Against America gives an insight into what may have happened if Charles Lindbergh had beaten Franklin Roosevelt.
This would likely have led America down a path that coincided with Adolf Hitler’s and American culture would have been significantly influenced by anti-Semitism.
The Years of Rice and Salt by Kim Stanley Robinson
This novel delves us back into the 14th century, during and after the outbreak of the Black Death, a pandemic that killed around ⅓ of the population of Europe.
But this novel tackles what may have happened if it killed 99%, bringing humanity close to the brink of extinction in this part of the world.
The Man in the High Castle by Philip K. Dick
Much like Fatherland, The Man in the High Castle explores what would have been different if Adolf Hitler and his Japanese allies defeated the Allies in World War II.
It is set in 1960s America, where anti-Semitism thrives and slavery is legal once again. Philip K. Dick, the classic science-fiction writer, brings a hauntingly accurate perception of what life could look like for many under the influence of post-war Nazism.
The Guns of the South by Harry Turtledove
This book is set in the American Civil War, during which time travelers bring the Confederate Army with modern artillery, medicine, technology, and ammunition to help them win the war.
The Guns of the South follows on from the war and tells of the social structures imposed under the influence of white supremacism.
Farthing by Jo Walton
After the Second World War, a group of upper-class, well-connected English families called ‘the Farthing set’ get together for a reunion.
Lucy’s parents were major figures who helped to overthrow Churchill and join forces with Hitler, so when Lucy marries David, a devout Jew, they aren’t best pleased.
When Lucy and David are invited to the retreat they are surprised and apprehensive about how this group will receive them. And after a major member of the Farthing set is ritualistically murdered on the first night, it becomes clear that their invite was in fact a way to frame the murder on David.
Farthing is a brilliant book that explores the psychology behind the group of people that backed Hitler in the war.
The Alteration by Kingsley Amis
This 1976 novel divulges the lives of Catholics if the Reformation had never happened. It tells of the dystopia created by the Catholic Church and the oppression faced by many seeking religious and personal freedoms.
The Alteration particularly hones in on the life of one boy, who has been monitored by Catholic priests. They decide that his young voice is too pure to face puberty and take their own measures to prevent it from deepening.
Jonathan Strange & Mr. Norrell by Susanna Clarke
Jonathan Strange & Mr. Norrell is based in the alternate setting of historical England in the 1800s, during the time of the Napoleonic wars.
It mixes fantasy and alternate history elements to uncover the magic that has been hidden within the countryside for years.
The Difference Engine by William Gibson and Bruce Sterling
This novel is set in Victorian Britain during the time of the Industrial Revolution. It covers the social change that happens as a result of advanced technology being discovered early and instead of positively influencing society it sparks outroar and rebellion.
The Difference Engine is brilliantly written and innovative and is known as one of the first novels to pave the path for the emergence of the ‘steampunk’ sub-genre.
Island in the Sea of Time by S.M. Stirling
This novel is perfect for time travel lovers! It follows the community on Nantucket, which after a great storm has wiped out their home, discover they have been transported back to the Bronze Age and must survive using only natural resources and their instincts.
Island in the Sea of Time is an award-winning novel with a fantastic premise.
Everfair by Nisi Shawl
Everfair is a fantastically innovative novel that uncovers what may have happened if African countries developed sooner than their colonizers.
Not only does Shawl develop the social differences on a national level, but she also goes into great detail about the complex relationships between Africans, Asians, Americans, and Europeans and peels off the layers of real-life racist attitudes that developed as a result of African colonization.
Lest Darkness Fall by L. Sprague de Camp
This novel explores what happens after an academic is hurled back in time to the Roman Empire. Knowing everything he knows from the modern age, can he help to bring about social, technological, and medicinal advancement?
Lest Darkness Fall delves into the pressure put on one man to prevent catastrophic events, mass death, and years of failed advancement that he knows are on their way.
Underground Airlines by Ben H. Winters
Winters uncovers what may have happened if Abraham Lincoln was assassinated before the 1961 inauguration after which the Civil War began and slavery was abolished.
Underground Airlines follows Victor, a man who escaped from slavery and is now trained as a bounty hunter, attempting to find escaped slaves just like him. He is effectively a double agent, working hard to preserve the freedom he thought he’d never get.
Leviathan by Scott Westerfeld
Set in an alternate World War I with animals as weaponry and fantastical ammunition, Leviathan follows two soldiers, on opposing sides of the same war, as their paths collide and lives change forever.
Weapons of Choice by John Birmingham
Weapons of Choice is the first book in Birmingham’s trilogy and follows a military experiment that incorporates modern machinery and artillery in the naval wars of 1942.
The course of military history has been forever changed and when the lives of modern military men and women, all from different backgrounds, mix with the original, traditional men within the Allied forces, perspectives change and people get put at risk.
How Few Remain by Harry Turtledove
This brilliant novel from the ‘master’ of alternate history follows the events after the South’s victory in the Civil War.
After a critical area in Mexico is annexed, America goes to war again, but this time, their allies are few and far between. How Few Remain follows the personal lives of the troops and the leaders in their ferocious battle for international recognition.
SS-GB by Len Deighton
This novel explores life in Nazi-occupied Britain after the collapse of the Allied forces in World War II.
SS-GB interestingly follows the personal lives of those who remain loyal to previous Britain and how their espionage networks continue running under SS control.
This list is filled with historical ‘what-ifs’ to spark your interest and give you an insight into how our history has led us to our modern lives and what could have been different if history had unfurled in different ways.
Bonus: The most popular alternate history thriller books
- The Man in the High Castle by Philip K. Dick
- 11/22/63 by Stephen King
- Fatherland by Robert Harris
- The Plot Against America by Philip Roth
- The Guns of the South by Harry Turtledove
- Bring the Jubilee by Ward Moore
- The Yiddish Policemen’s Union by Michael Chabon
- Days of Infamy by Harry Turtledove
- The War That Came Early: Hitler’s War by Harry Turtledove
- The Difference Engine by William Gibson and Bruce Sterling
- Fevre Dream by George R.R. Martin
- The Years of Rice and Salt by Kim Stanley Robinson
- The Plot Against America: A Novel by Philip Roth
- The Man With the Iron Heart by Harry Turtledove
- The Alteration by Kingsley Amis
- World War Z: An Oral History of the Zombie War by Max Brooks
- Fatherland by Robert Harris
- The Two Georges by Richard Dreyfuss and Harry Turtledove
- The Plot Against America by Philip Roth
- The Miracle at St. Bruno’s by Paul McCusker
Frequently Asked Questions
What is alternate history in books?
Alternate history is a sub-genre within speculative fiction that explores the ‘what if’ motif within various time periods. They follow one particular historical event and detail what would happen if it played out differently.
What is the first alternate history book?
The first known alternate history book is Nathaniel Hawthorne’s P’s Correspondence, released in 1845.
What is the point of alternate history books?
They help us identify how the smallest choices or events can have large consequences and lead to significant social change. This can help us identify what choices to make in the future.
Is alternate history real?
No – alternate history follows a plotline that could have happened if certain historical factors were different.
Is Stephen King still writing?
Stephen King retired briefly from writing in 2013 but has since started writing new thrillers.
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