Monday, August 30, 2010

Sobel Wiki

Back in the days of my youth, when the internet was wild, rich, and largely spam-free, I found myself spending a lot of time on the alternate history Usenet group soc.history.what-if. It was there that I created my alt-hist magnum opus, the Drowned Baby Timeline. And it was there that I participated in the For All Nails project.

The FAN project had its origin in a book published in 1973, For Want of a Nail: If Burgoyne Had Won at Saratoga by Robert Sobel. Sobel was a business historian best known for his histories of the stock market, The Big Board (1965) and The Curbstone Brokers (1970). The summer of 1971 found him between book contracts, so he took up a suggestion from a former student and wrote a mock-history of an America that lost the American Revolution.

As the subtitle indicates, Sobel's alternate history diverges from our own in October 1777, when the British General John Burgoyne beats the Americans at the Battle of Saratoga and captures Albany. Conciliationists take control of the Continental Congress, and in June 1778 the war ends with the colonies returning to British control. Just as our history saw the Loyalists leave the newly-established United States of America for Canada, so Sobel's history sees the Patriots leave the re-established British colonies for Mexico, specifically Texas, where they establish themselves as the State of Jefferson. In 1781 Parliament passes a bill that reorganizes the North American colonies into a new dominion called the Confederation of North America, while in 1819 the State of Jefferson merges with the Republic of Mexico to create the United States of Mexico. Sobel then tells the histories of these two nations up until the time he was writing in the summer of 1971.

For Want of a Nail is a legend among alternate history fans, since it is easily the most detailed alternate timeline ever created. So when I noticed a copy for sale for a mere dollar at the Newport Public Library in August 2001, I snatched it up.

Three months later, Noel Maurer, economic historian and regular shw-i poster, decided to launch the For All Nails project to bring Sobel's history up to the 21st century. He invited other shw-i regulars to join in, and several did so, including my own now-fully-up-to-speed-on-Sobel self. The FAN project continued for two and a half years before those of us in the FAN Cabal let it drop, after yielding some 300 posts covering most of the 1970s; the results can be found here.

While the FAN project was going on, it occurred to us in the FAN Cabal that For Want of a Nail would make a damn good subject for a wiki, what with all the myriad people and events it covers. Sadly, we never got around to building that wiki.

Until now. The Johnny Pez blog is proud to announce the newly-formed Sobel Wiki at Since it's less than 24 hours old at this point, there are a grand total of five articles with actual content in them, and placeholders for 15 more. Hey, that just means there's more room to grow! I'll be adding more articles as time goes on, and hopefully some other Sobel fans will show up and join me.

Let the world tremble! The Sobel Wiki is online!

1 comment:

Andrew said...

Just as soon as I figure out which box my copy of FWoAN is in, I'll totally get in on this.