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Book Review – The Moscow Option: An Alternative Second World War

By David Downing; Frontline Books; 224 pages

Over the past two decades, alternate history has become an increasingly popular sub-genre, with several books from major publishers debuting seemingly every year, along with many, many more self-published titles.

The latter are usually disappointing, at best, however clever their premise may be. Even the better-written alternate history books often depend on improbable leaps forward in technology, or a historically accurate technological breakthrough seized upon, this time, by visionary leadership, or an unlikely alliance, or even the arrival of hostile extraterrestrials, straight out of a Ronald Reagan fever dream.

Eschewing the typical plot devices, The Moscow Option instead bases its altered history on a few plausible changes in events.

So it is a pleasure to see one of the best examples of alternate history fiction back in circulation with the reissue, in paperback, of David Downing’s The Moscow Option: An Alternative Second World War. Eschewing the typical plot devices, The Moscow Option instead bases its altered history on a few plausible changes in events. Downing simply bases his “history” on what might have followed if Hitler had been incapacitated during a key stage of Operation Barbarossa, for example.

Moscow Option

The Moscow Option: An Alternative Second World War, by David Downing; Frontline Books; 224 pages

In The Moscow Option, the fog of war, the tactical friction of the battlefield, and blind groupthink all continue to apply, just as they did in reality, although with different results. Much of the alternate history canon subscribes to the “great man” theory of history, and there are scores of stories with Patton, Alexander the Great, Churchill, Hannibal, Yamamoto, Washington, Rommel, or Joan of Arc as the central character. While the usual World War II suspects make an appearance in the book, and thankfully stay more or less true to their biographies and their character, they remain players influenced by events taking place on a larger stage. Downing is always aware of the inevitabilities of time, distance, and logistics, the core weaknesses and capacities of both Axis and Allies, the true capabilities of the armed forces of each nation, and how these forces would ultimately overwhelm the individual brilliance of any one commander, or victory in any one battle.

The Moscow Option: An Alternative Second World War will be a rewarding read for military historians, who will enjoy playing “spot the difference,” but it is also a gripping and entertaining story that will hopefully attract a wider audience. It certainly deserves one.