This year is the centenary of the Russian revolution of 1917, so we can expect a fair few volumes on the subject. My first dabble has been Historically Inevitable?, edited by Tony Brenton.
There has been a broad sway of opinion amongst historians, not just in the old Soviet Union, that the revolution was inevitable. A rotten, autocratic Tsarist regime was replaced by the Bolsheviks, whose ideals were corrupted by Stalin. Others argue that the Tsarist regime was being modernised and liberalism would have been the outcome had the Bolsheviks not seized power.
The essays in this book, by leading historians of the period, look at key moments in the period and asks them to describe the background and the events, before engaging in a bit of 'what if?' history.
The events include the role of Rasputin in trying to dissuade the Tsar from entering the war, as he had done in the earlier Balkan war. Better known, is the role of the Germans in facilitating Lenin's return to Russia, in the famous sealed train. It is also argued that Lenin's personality and drive was crucial to the revolution, and so when he was stopped by police in Petrograd, but not recognised, an opportunity was lost. Similarly, there was a failed assassination attempt by Fanny Kaplan (or possibly not) that very nearly ended Lenin's life.
Other events include the earlier 1913 assassination of the reforming Prime Minister, Pyotr Stolypin. As an 'authoritarian moderniser' he might have been able to make the necessary economic reforms. Interestingly, Stolypin is much admired by the current Russian President, Vladimir Putin.
In the military sphere another chapter looks at the Civil War and the role of Admiral Kolchak. The original opposition was much more broadly based than the subsequent right-wing 'White' forces.
The value of 'counterfactual history' is controversial, but I think it works in the way it's done in this book. The historical events are properly narrated and the 'what ifs?' are narrowly drawn.