The history essay: the past that never was

What if Napoleon had won at Waterloo, Franz Ferdinand had survived in Sarajevo or Hitler had never come to power? Counterfactual histories are all the rage – but their historical value is questionable

Louis-Napoléon Geoffroy’s The Apocryphal Napoleon imagined what would have happened if the emperor had conquered Russia in 1812 instead of being defeated at Moscow. In this painting, Napoleon retreats from Moscow. (Photo by Universal History Archive/Getty Images)

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