Making History is a novel by Stephen Fry, who was born in Hampstead,
London on Saturday, August 24, 1957 as the son of Alan and Marianne Fry. Except
other books such as The Hippopotamus Fry also wrote some plays(e.g.
Latin! in 1979) and films and the musical Me & My Girl. He
also worked as an actor in the famous BBC series Blackadder.
Making History was first published in the United Kingdom in 1996 by
Hutchinson. The book tells a fantasy-science fiction-time travelling story about
a student named Michael Young who wants to eliminate the holocaust from the
history books by preventing Adolf Hitler from being born. The book itself is
divided into two books (in the first book every chapter title starts with
"Making-", in the second every chapter title ends with "-History").
The story begins in Michael Young's house in Cambridge. Michael is an
aspiring history student who just finished his doctoral thesis (he calls it
Das Meisterwerk) about Hitler's roots. Because he's late for his lecture
and his girlfriend Jane took their Renault he hurries to the university. In his
pigeon-hole there he discovers a package that is supposed for Leo Zuckermann, he
is willing to hand it over himself and gets to know him when the pages of his
Meisterwerk where blown away by the wind and he helps him to collect
them. They arrange to meet again in Leo Zuckermann's room the same day. They
split and Michael goes on to visit his girlfriend who is also studying at the
university but she studies biochemistry. He enters her lab to clear the conflict
they had the day before. Their argument is not the important thing about his
visit but the discovery of a pill she invented: little orange pill that makes
The meeting in Leo Zuckermann's room is a discussion about Michael's
interest in Adolf Hitler and leads to Leo's wish to read a copy of Michael's
doctoral thesis. The other copy of the Meisterwerk Michael had given to Angus
Alexander Hugh Fraser-Stuart (his professor) to read it. It turns out that Mr.
Fraser-Stuart calls his thesis "garbage" and "insupportable" because it is
partly written like a novel (in fact excerpts from the thesis are printed in the
book Making History).
After the disaster with Mr. Fraser-Stuart he visits Zuckermann again who
now shows him a fascinating invention of him: a device which one can uses to
look into the past. The only disadvantage is that you only see billowing shapes
in rippling colours and one can't interact with the things seen. Leo and Michael
watch Auschwitz on October 9th,1942 when Leo tells him that his
father may be one of the shadows (because Zuckermann is a Jewish name Michael
believes that his father was in the concentration camp as a prisoner, which
turns out to be not the truth...). Despite Leo being a natural scientist he is
very much interested in history (which supports Michael's claim).
Fascinated by the fact that travelling in time was nearly possible Michael
and Leo start to work on their "TIM" (which stands for Temporal
Imaging Machine) because Michael comes up with an idea: they send
the little orange pills to the water resource of Braunau am Inn just before
Adolf Hitler has been fathered (or as Michael says: "We just make sure the
motherfucker is never born.). Their work is so intensive that Michael's
relationship with Jane goes up in smoke an Jane moves to the Institute of
Advanced Studies in Princeton, USA. When Michael and Leo discuss this it turns
out that Leo is not a Jew but the son of a German SS doctor who "treated" the
prisoners in the concentration camp. His real name was Bauer, Leo Zuckermann had
been a Jewish doctor and friend of his father who also died an the concentration
camp and who's identity Axel(which is Leo's real Christian name) and his mother
took to escape from Poland and the prosecution by the Allied Forces. So Axel
Bauer grew up as an American Jew named Leo Zuckermann.
Although or maybe because Michael knows this now they go ahead with their
work and they finally manage to send four of the infertility pills to the water
reserves of Braunau am Inn, Upper Austria, the 1st of June, 1888.
Then there is a blackout...
The second book begins with Michael staggering home after a party. But it
was not any party but one at Princeton, USA! He has woken up as Michael "Mike"
D. Young, a student of Princeton university. And there is only one who helps him
to "refresh" his memory is Steve. Michael is a stranger to everything and
everyone from his point of view and he suddenly has this "strange" British
accent and uses British phrases and idioms. Michael is dazed and confused and
(as fractions and ultimately his whole memory return) he begins to ask Steve
(the only one he can really talk to) questions about his life and history in
general. There he discovers that he has done it: he wiped out Adolf Hitler. But
the bad thing about this is that the Nazi Party existed anyway and that Rudolf
Gloder had taken the place of Hitler and that he killed even more people than
Hitler because he had been "smarter" than he. So Michael informs himself about
the actual history that he changed completely. Due to his abnormal behaviour he
is even enquired by the secret service (and they tell him that Steve is expected
to be a homosexual which is forbidden in the US he created). They also tell him
that Axel Bauer did analyse the Braunau water to create a weapon that wiped out
He manages to get out of the enquiry but he knows that they keep watching
him. So he tries to get in touch with the Leo Zuckermann of that timeline to
change history again. On winding paths he manages to perform this and changes
history again but as he does this his new friend Steve gets shot by the secret
But the book has a happy ending: Steve manages to jump with Michael back
into his (slightly changed) timeline. And this happy ending is also surprising
because in the end Michael becomes homosexual (like Steve) and they live happily
The main characters are: Michael Young, his girlfriend Jane, Leo
Zuckermann/Axel Bauer, Steve.
Michael Young is an aspiring student who chose history to be his subject
because he is not good with figures and history was the "best" non scientific
subject. He often argues with his girlfriend who is
scientifically-straight-minded and loses the argument quite often. He is
obsessed with the idea of protecting the world from Adolf Hitler that he does
not think about the consequences of his activities. The twist in his character
is when he discovers that he is actually gay (which he does during his stay in
Jane is a typical natural scientist: analysing things, searching for
rational resolutions for problems, trying to calculate the probabilities in
life. Her relationship with the younger emotional Michael in marked by their
conflicts about which is the more important subject: science or history. Jane,
with her arrogance, considers science to be more important since every idiot
could learn dates and David Copperfield kind of stuff but science requires
actual research. She is a pretty flat character compared to Michael.
Leo Zuckermann is a fascinating person. His father was a murderer during
World War II and he feels guilty for that. He never coped with the fact that
they (his mother and he himself) took the identity of a family that was killed
by people his father supported. Michael's plan is a chance for him to make these
terrible things never happen, a thing he does not want to be his personal
revenge but a help for the whole world.
Steve too is a quite flat character, although one has to admit that his
hidden love for Michael (he tells him that while refreshing his memory) and that
he has never actually been a friend of Michael but he helps him anyway is kind
of interesting. The ending, his love is fulfilled, is quite surprising and a bit
The book evokes an interesting question: what would have happened if Hitler
was never born?
The book answers this question drastically: yes the holocaust would have
happened and more drastic than we know. And I think this is partly true: maybe
someone cleverer than Hitler would have risen in the NSDAP and done things
equally bad as Hitler or even worse. I think the mood in Germany and Austria
lead to a thing like the holocaust and I don't think this depended on the name
And that's what makes this book unique: it makes the reader think about
what consequences it would have if one changed the timeline.
I liked this book very much not only because it was an entertaining read
(553 pages in 4 days) but because of the fascinating diversity a changing of the
time would have. What would change? In which way would it change? Could one
calculate how the world would look like if the time was changed?
I find these questions exciting and challenging.