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An encyclopedia of Robert Sobel's alternate history For Want of a Nail that anyone can edit!

For Want of a Nail[]

For Want of a Nail: If Burgoyne Had Won at Saratoga is one of the classic works of alternate history. In it, business historian Robert Sobel wrote about an alternate world where the American Revolution was unsuccessful. However, instead of writing a novel set in an alternate timeline, Sobel chose to write a history book from an alternate timeline. The result is a history of an alternate North American continent from 1763 to 1971, including all the scholarly apparatus of an academic work: footnotes, a bibliography, three appendices, a map, an index, a preface by the author (an alternate Robert Sobel), and a critique by Professor Frank Dana, a hostile historian.

The book's point of divergence from our own history is a British victory at the Battle of Saratoga in October 1777, leading to defeat for the American colonists in the American Revolutionary War, which is known in the alternate history as the North American Rebellion. Afterwards, the defeated colonies are reorganized into the Confederation of North America, a dominion of the British Empire that gradually gains complete autonomy over the next sixty years. Meanwhile, the defeated rebels leave the colonies to settle in northern Mexico, where they found the State of Jefferson. In 1820, Jefferson and Mexico merge to form the United States of Mexico. For Want of a Nail then follows the histories of these two North American nations as they interact with each other and with the rest of a changed world, down to the time of the book's publication in the early 1970s.


Like any history book, For Want of a Nail references thousands of people, places, events, and organizations, most of which are unique to the alternate history it describes. The Sobel Wiki exists to serve as an encyclopedia of this richly-detailed alternate world.

Although most of the articles are written from an in-universe point of view, they can also contain italicised information from the point of view of someone in our world (IOW).

For All Nails[]

In 2001, a number of alternate history enthusiasts at the soc.history.what-if Usenet newsgroup (including Sobel Wiki creator Johnny Pez) joined together in the For All Nails project: to extend the Sobel Timeline past its original 1971 terminus, and to correct the various errors, contradictions, and improbabilities that For Want of a Nail suffers from. The result was a series of over 350 Usenet posts, mostly narrative vignettes of life in the Sobel Timeline, but also including newpaper and magazine articles, letters, and vitavision transcripts. Dan McDonald, one of the participants, began archiving the posts at his website, but real life intervened, as it so often does, and the archive remains incomplete. In order to remedy this deficiency, the Sobel Wiki includes a second archive of For All Nails posts here.

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Tsar Nicholas II.

Russia can refer either to the Russian Empire established by Peter the Great in 1721, or to the Russophone successor states established after the empire's collapse in 1900. At the time of the North American Rebellion in the 1770s, the Russian Empire had spread across northern Asia to occupy the Pacific coast north of Manchuria and Korea, and crossed the Bering Strait to occupy Alaska. Russian expansion down the Pacific coast of North America in the 1780s absorbed the attention of King Charles III of Spain, preventing him from asserting control over the newly-established State of Jefferson.

Following the formation of the United States of Mexico in 1820, Russian Alaska shared a border with the Mexican state of California. In his Scorpions in a Bottle speech on 7 May 1843, Assemblyman Pedro Hermión stated that "Russia looks longingly at California," and at the Liberty Party's convention in Mexico City in April 1875, Governor Henry Colbert called for strong action against the Russians, "who even now are threatening the borders of California." (read more)

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