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Lies My Teacher Told Me: Everything Your American History Textbook Got Wrong

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Americans have lost touch with their history, and in Lies My Teacher Told Me Professor James Loewen shows why. After surveying eighteen leading high school American history texts, he has concluded that not one does a decent job of making history interesting or memorable. Marred by an embarrassing combination of blind patriotism, mindless optimism, sheer misinformation, and Americans have lost touch with their history, and in Lies My Teacher Told Me Professor James Loewen shows why. After surveying eighteen leading high school American history texts, he has concluded that not one does a decent job of making history interesting or memorable. Marred by an embarrassing combination of blind patriotism, mindless optimism, sheer misinformation, and outright lies, these books omit almost all the ambiguity, passion, conflict, and drama from our past. In this revised edition, packed with updated material, Loewen explores how historical myths continue to be perpetuated in today's climate and adds an eye-opening chapter on the lies surrounding 9/11 and the Iraq War. From the truth about Columbus's historic voyages to an honest evaluation of our national leaders, Loewen revives our history, restoring the vitality and relevance it truly possesses. Thought provoking, nonpartisan, and often shocking, Loewen unveils the real America in this iconoclastic classic beloved by high school teachers, history buffs, and enlightened citizens across the country.


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Americans have lost touch with their history, and in Lies My Teacher Told Me Professor James Loewen shows why. After surveying eighteen leading high school American history texts, he has concluded that not one does a decent job of making history interesting or memorable. Marred by an embarrassing combination of blind patriotism, mindless optimism, sheer misinformation, and Americans have lost touch with their history, and in Lies My Teacher Told Me Professor James Loewen shows why. After surveying eighteen leading high school American history texts, he has concluded that not one does a decent job of making history interesting or memorable. Marred by an embarrassing combination of blind patriotism, mindless optimism, sheer misinformation, and outright lies, these books omit almost all the ambiguity, passion, conflict, and drama from our past. In this revised edition, packed with updated material, Loewen explores how historical myths continue to be perpetuated in today's climate and adds an eye-opening chapter on the lies surrounding 9/11 and the Iraq War. From the truth about Columbus's historic voyages to an honest evaluation of our national leaders, Loewen revives our history, restoring the vitality and relevance it truly possesses. Thought provoking, nonpartisan, and often shocking, Loewen unveils the real America in this iconoclastic classic beloved by high school teachers, history buffs, and enlightened citizens across the country.

30 review for Lies My Teacher Told Me: Everything Your American History Textbook Got Wrong

  1. 5 out of 5

    Maurean

    I originally picked this up several years ago because the blurb on the back cover appealed to me: “Lies My Teacher Told Me” is for anyone who has ever fallen asleep in history class." Mr. Loewen’s premise is that history textbooks have been presented to portray a slanted, optimistic and patriotic “dumbed-down” view of America, because this suits the needs of the conservative white people who sit on the textbook adoption boards. By critiquing 12 highly used American History textbooks, the author su I originally picked this up several years ago because the blurb on the back cover appealed to me: “Lies My Teacher Told Me” is for anyone who has ever fallen asleep in history class." Mr. Loewen’s premise is that history textbooks have been presented to portray a slanted, optimistic and patriotic “dumbed-down” view of America, because this suits the needs of the conservative white people who sit on the textbook adoption boards. By critiquing 12 highly used American History textbooks, the author successfully presents several topics which they currently address, and uncovers the alleged omissions and distortions. I completely agree with the author’s basic belief that American students are getting short-changed when we present only the PC-version of our country’s heritage, not to mention the fact that this watered down presentation only serves to bore them all to tears (students consider history to be “the most irrelevant” and “boring” of all the 21 subjects commonly taught in school). I, personally, was interested to learn that not one of the twelve textbooks described the geopolitical implications of Christopher Columbus’s encounter with the Americans; none mention that Columbus was the first to send slaves across the Atlantic. When we present our youth the world through rose-colored glasses, where no controversial subjects arise, it no doubt causes them to be ill prepared for the real world that exists beyond the classroom. Having said all that, however, I found Loewen was overplaying the “politically correct” hand himself, replacing the conservative, Euro-centric rhetoric with his own overtly socialist and liberal leanings. His strong opinions on historical events may cause some readers to overlook his message on education. For this reader, it made for just the kind of boring recitation of skewed political propaganda the author claims to be rallying against. If you are interested in the topic of education and how it is being inseminated to our children through textbook censorship and abridgement of the facts, then I would recommend Diane Ratvitch’s “The Language Police: How Pressure Groups Restrict What Students Learn” for a more balanced examination of this issue. (clicking on the title will link you to a reader's journal/discussion of the book)

  2. 4 out of 5

    Jim

    This was a great book! The first two-thirds gives example after example of the many lies, omissions, and half-truths found in American high school history books, and the last third speculates why this has happened. Here's one example: Almost everyone knew the world was round before 1492. Columbus's main reason for traveling to the new world to find gold, and he was responsible for killing, torturing and enslaving natives by the millions. Eight million in Haiti alone were reduced to 200 within 60 This was a great book! The first two-thirds gives example after example of the many lies, omissions, and half-truths found in American high school history books, and the last third speculates why this has happened. Here's one example: Almost everyone knew the world was round before 1492. Columbus's main reason for traveling to the new world to find gold, and he was responsible for killing, torturing and enslaving natives by the millions. Eight million in Haiti alone were reduced to 200 within 60 years - now seen as history's first documented genocide. Columbus practically invented genocide. The new world was not populated by sparsely-scattered tribes, but by as many as 100 million Indians, which were systematically wiped out by one plague after another, most introduced purposely. Columbus's role in setting up the system is never mentioned. Indians were hunted for sport, murdered for dog food, and given to officers as sex slaves. Tributes in gold or cotton were due every 3 months, and Indians who did not comply had their hands chopped off. The book goes on to discuss the invisibility of both racism and anti-racism in history books, and example after example of how history books white-wash our history, always making America look like the good guys, and never mentioning our mistakes. The author would like to see history taught showing both sides of each event, and involve students in discussions of the pros and cons, which might make it more interesting to study. Why is history taught this way? The author speculates that, although we strive for the truth in all other subjects, we purposely lie in history books, beasue we are trying to use history to build patriotism and a love of America in our children, and the truth might get in the way of that goal. We also want to shield our children from the harsh realities of the world, at least till they study history in college. But most students never study history in college, and the facts go unlearned. I found much in this book that I never knew. Except for the controversy about teaching Evolution, history is the only subject whose content is dictated by parental groups and school boards. This is a book that will make you stop and think like few others will.

  3. 4 out of 5

    Jamie

    Ostensibly, Lies My Teacher Told Me: Everything Your American History Textbook Got Wrong by James Loewen is a book about factual inaccuracies found in a survey of twelve popular History textbooks. That's a good hook, but unfortunately once the hook gets you the place it pulls you into is slightly different than what you might expect. This book might more accurately be titled Subtle Biases Created by Questionable Omissions in A Few Textbooks. But that, of course, is not quite as bombastic a title Ostensibly, Lies My Teacher Told Me: Everything Your American History Textbook Got Wrong by James Loewen is a book about factual inaccuracies found in a survey of twelve popular History textbooks. That's a good hook, but unfortunately once the hook gets you the place it pulls you into is slightly different than what you might expect. This book might more accurately be titled Subtle Biases Created by Questionable Omissions in A Few Textbooks. But that, of course, is not quite as bombastic a title and you probably wouldn't read the book, would you? After a brief false start involving how Hellen Keller was a raging Communist, Loewen starts his review of American history in precolonial days, beginning with the atrocities of the Conquistadors and other European explorers. Then it moves on to the atrocities of the White European settlers. Then the atrocities of the early American, White colonists. Then the atrocities of the antebellum slave owners. Then the atrocities of the postbellum racists. Then the atrocities of the opponents of the civil rights movement. You see the pattern here? It holds up for most of the book. Throughout it all, Loewen does a pretty good job of showing how textbooks often omit information and whitewash (pun intended) the characters of prominent Europeans and Americans, such as Christopher Columbus and Abraham Lincoln. And it is pretty interesting to read how, for example, textbooks describe how the Nina, the Pinta and the Santa Maria were "storm battered" and floundered into the shores of the new world full of crews on the brink of mutiny, while Columbus's own personal journal pretty much says that hey, the weather has been awesome this whole trip and everyone is still in a great mood. Or how Lincoln made several campaign speeches in which he turned his nose at the idea of racial equality. And Loewen makes good points about how these omissions seem to be systematic done towards the end of downplaying the unpleasant (like, say, the genocide of Native Americans through disease and murder) and emphasizing the heroic (like, say, taming a wilderness that in truth wasn't that wild because the Indians had already cultivated it but are dead now). At times, his comments are impressively subtle, like when he notes how textbooks often credit President Kennedy and other governmental institutions for coming up with anti-discrimination legislation during the 60s, when the government was, for the most part, bowing to pressure from civil rights activists, who really deserve all the credit. This kind of misinformation, he argues, teaches that Blacks and their White allies were not the ones who enacted these changes can thus not expect to view them as inspirations for future battles. It's a subtle point, but Loewen makes good arguments that stuff like this is all in the name of making us feel good about our country and unquestioning about our pride in our history. And he's good about describing how this is doing a disservice to people both as students of history and as eventual participants in our system of government. BUT, that all being said, I'm not quite sure I've ever read anything so awash in liberal White guilt as this book. It's not that I necessarily disagree with any of this, but the tone of the work is often offsetting and sometimes approaches zealotry. I was really hoping to read more interesting tidbits about stuff that history books get wrong, the kind of stuff that might serve well as idle chit-chat at my next dinner party or bar crawl. But it doesn't take long for it to become apparent that that's not what this books is about. It's really just a vehicle for Loewen's politics. Not that there's anything wrong with that and not that I found myself disagreeing with his politics too often (well, sometimes). It's just not the book I expected or even really wanted.

  4. 5 out of 5

    Felicia

    This book is a TOTAL eye-opener about how we're taught cultural prejudices and distorted American history through classroom textbooks. I mean, I'm pretty liberal, but the perspective of this author totally opened my eyes to things that I just took for granted about how our history was founded, about people we deify who were not the gods we simplify them into being, like Christopher Columbus and the Pilgrims, etc, and how racial inequality and sexual inequality is subtly established in the text i This book is a TOTAL eye-opener about how we're taught cultural prejudices and distorted American history through classroom textbooks. I mean, I'm pretty liberal, but the perspective of this author totally opened my eyes to things that I just took for granted about how our history was founded, about people we deify who were not the gods we simplify them into being, like Christopher Columbus and the Pilgrims, etc, and how racial inequality and sexual inequality is subtly established in the text in ways that you never would notice unless they're pointed out for you. I really recommend this as a way of seeing things with different eyes, really interesting and worth picking up!!

  5. 4 out of 5

    Pouting Always

    James Loewen reviews the history books commonly used in the US public school system and the factual inaccuracies contained in those books. The book goes over many of the common practices in publishing history textbooks especially those concerning sanitizing our history for children and what is appropriate for them to know about our country. Before reading this I had never actually thought about my own experiences in school with history but I feel like a lot of what he discusses was really valid James Loewen reviews the history books commonly used in the US public school system and the factual inaccuracies contained in those books. The book goes over many of the common practices in publishing history textbooks especially those concerning sanitizing our history for children and what is appropriate for them to know about our country. Before reading this I had never actually thought about my own experiences in school with history but I feel like a lot of what he discusses was really valid and I agreed with much of what he said. I do tend towards being much more liberal though but I don't think there's anything wrong with acknowledging our mistakes as a country and I think the fact that we dont educate people properly about our history and government plays a pretty big role in the many problems that crop up. People deserve to be told the truth and to decide for themselves and I don't think it necessarily makes a person not patriotic to criticize it's country's behavior. Many people are blamed for their poor voting choices but that isn't helped by the lack of information most people have about our actual history. I really enjoyed this one and it made me think about a lot of things I hadn't before, my enjoyment of this may stem from the fact that I'm still relatively young and haven't read as many books like this one though. I would totally recommend it though to people interested in history or those dissatisfied with the static sanitized history they learned in school.

  6. 5 out of 5

    Sumit RK

    When we censor our history by disguising our scars, we belittle the struggles our ancestors fought so hard to overcome. Having sold nearly two million copies, Lies My Teacher Told Me is one of the most successful history books of recent times. This book attempts to take a hard look at American history, trying to separate facts from myths and inaccuracies. James Loewen has reviewed the history books commonly used in the US public school system and the factual inaccuracies contained in those bo When we censor our history by disguising our scars, we belittle the struggles our ancestors fought so hard to overcome. Having sold nearly two million copies, Lies My Teacher Told Me is one of the most successful history books of recent times. This book attempts to take a hard look at American history, trying to separate facts from myths and inaccuracies. James Loewen has reviewed the history books commonly used in the US public school system and the factual inaccuracies contained in those books. The book goes over many of the common practices in history textbooks including omitted facts, hero worship, misinformation, and outright lies. In a way, this book is an attempt to correct the way history is taught in schools. While the focus of this book is solely on American history, it will make you think & question about any history you read from now on. The book begins with busting some well-known myths like Columbus’s voyages (he didn’t really discover America). The myths around Thanksgiving, Civil War, Civil rights movement, the My Lai massacre in Vietnam, and even some recent events like 9/11. It is particularly severe on the trend of hero worship. From Helen Keller to Woodrow Wilson to Columbus (who killed and enslaved most of the population of Haiti), Loewen’s book is a gruesome & provocative re-telling of American history. He concludes that not one of the history books makes an attempt to history interesting or encourage critical thinking among students. The book is an interesting read, often entertaining and at many times disturbing. Loewen does a pretty good job of showing how textbooks often omit facts and whitewash the characters of prominent historical figures such as Christopher Columbus and Abraham Lincoln. He also does a great job in pointing out how unpleasant facts (like the genocide of Native Americans or slavery) are suppressed and the heroic qualities are overemphasized. The basic premise of the book is that history is biased and needs to be corrected. So it was odd to find, that many of the ‘facts’ itself were slightly biased. For eg: the Vietnam War; the US may be wrong in interfering in Vietnam but to not mention Ho Chi Minh’s background (advisor to the Chinese Communist armed forces, had the backing of USSR and killed many of his political rivals) is ironic. If the purpose of ‘correcting history’ is to replace one version of whitewashed history with another version of whitewashed history, the entire exercise is pointless. Overall, the book is thought-provoking and attempts to promote a dispassionate study of history. He argues that students should be able to critically analyze the history they read, which is appreciable. The book although a bit controversial, is worth reading, especially if you are interested in history. Many thanks to the publishers The New Press, the author James W. Loewen and Edelweiss for the ARC.

  7. 4 out of 5

    Trevor

    The problem with this one is that it has so much content, so much information per page, that it is hard to know where to start. I found this book nearly life altering, particularly since I’m a week away from studying to become a history teacher. If you are in the US this is a very important book for you to read as you are sure to be shocked by some of the myths about your history that are discussed here. For the rest of us in the non-USA this book is just as important because it serves as a guid The problem with this one is that it has so much content, so much information per page, that it is hard to know where to start. I found this book nearly life altering, particularly since I’m a week away from studying to become a history teacher. If you are in the US this is a very important book for you to read as you are sure to be shocked by some of the myths about your history that are discussed here. For the rest of us in the non-USA this book is just as important because it serves as a guide to understand why Americans are so remarkably ignorant or ill-informed about their history. Along the way this book has interesting things to say about such subjects as why education does not make people more compassionate or more likely to think for themselves and why textbooks present such a distorted picture of US history in the first place. This is, in short, a deeply powerful book about how we ought to educate our children and why the fact that schools do such a bad job at teaching history is part of the reason why they do such a poor job at providing the kind of education needed by students to help them live their lives in a democracy. This book bases its arguments around what is printed in (and omitted from) twelve popular textbooks on US history. The lies this book is concerned with are the distortions and untruths that are a commonplace in high school American History textbooks. As he points out early in this book, the first year of most college history courses in the US are about seeking to remove all of the misinformation students have been taught in high school. One of the author’s colleagues refers to first year American History as ‘Iconoclasm I and II’. And the distortions he documents here are nearly enough to turn your hair colour. Take that ever nice deaf and blind girl, Helen Keller, who made good and thereby proved by the sheer force of example of her life that anyone can make it in America – the land of opportunity, home of the free, land of the brave. What is never mentioned, Loewen points out, is that this message, and this is the story presented of Keller’s in virtually all of the text books, is the exact opposite of the meaning Keller sought to illustrate by her own life’s work. Keller, for most of her life, was a Socialist and avid supporter of the Soviet Union. She actively sought to improve the lot of other people who were either deaf or blind while pointing out that these people were generally made so by industrial accidents. She said that most of these people had no hope of achieving in any way similar to how she had. If anything, it was her moral outrage at the social inequities in capitalist society that she wanted to be remembered for and the work she did to remove these inequities, work so that we too should be outraged and do something about these outrages – but instead our textbooks turn a blind-eye and stop up our ears to her life’s work and message while painting a halo around both her and her teacher. A halo so bright that it hides the truth with its glare. His discussion of Woodrow Wilson is possibly even more disturbing. Wilson’s support of the Ku Klux Klan, for example, is never mentioned in any of the books, and his segregation of the US government is likewise ignored by all of the textbooks. Of course, lies of omission are no less lies. Did you know that when Wilson was president of Princeton it was the only northern university not to admit black students? Or that Wilson only once met African American leaders in the White House but virtually through them out? Wilson did much to bring about the modern world and many of his achievements following the First World War in particular are a great tribute to him, but, as is pointed out here, American high school textbooks seem incapable of presenting a ‘worts and all’ picture of US ‘heroes’. Take as an example Wilson’s high praise of the film The Birth of a Nation – a jaunty little film whose themes will become clear once you are told it was originally called The Clansmen and was about the great lie in American history, that Reconstruction following the Civil War was a time when African Americans dominated life in the south. Wilson said, “It is like writing history in lightning, and my only regret is that it is all true.” Racism is a key theme in American history and an important way to understand much about modern America. And yet, it is a theme that is mostly ignored in all of the textbooks. The part played by plague in depopulating America so that white and black settlers could take over Native American land is not discussed at all in any of the text books – despite the impossibility of American being so settled without biological warfare. Columbus’s extermination of the Native Americans of Haiti is not mentioned in any of the text books and this fact fits well with the theme that heroes can do no wrong and if they did do wrong then such wrongs are either excused or ignored. As he points out, “In the early 1920s the American Legion said that authors of textbooks ‘are at fault in placing before immature pupils the blunders, foibles and frailties of prominent heroes and patriots of our Nation.’” I have known so little about US involvement in Haiti, but all I am finding out is deeply shameful and therefore reason enough to keep it hidden. I need to quote this bit, “Then the United States supervised a pseudo-referendum to approve a new Haitian constitution, less democratic than the constitution it replaced; the referendum passed by a hilarious 98,225 to 768”. Of course, hilarious is used here in the sense that we laugh and cry about the same things. However, Columbus’s extermination of the estimated 8 million natives of Haiti, often by working them to death, makes most of the horrors that followed on that tortured island pale in comparison. Did you know that King James (yes, of the Bible fame) gave thanks to the Almighty God for providing the plague that helped depopulate the Americas of its original inhabitants? He was not the first or the last to do this, but you might not think that from any of the history books studied in American high schools as the entire topic remains taboo. And just what was the Civil War fought for? Surely not something as crass as slavery. His discussion of the treatment given to the end of slavery in textbooks, particularly from the 1920s (a time at the full depth of the nadir of backlash – particularly in southern states, but similar in the north) is heart-wrenching. History in the US seems to be written to ensure that middle class white kids don’t get offended – the effects on African Americans, Native Americans, Spanish Americans or working class Americans is of little or no interest to the authors of these text books. The stuff in this book on white people living with Native Americans with even Benjamin Franklin saying that ‘No European who has tasted Savage Life can afterwards bare to live in our societies’ is a damning indictment of ‘our societies’ and something else never mentioned in history text books. Did you know that the Native Americans paid $24 for Manhattan Island weren’t even the Indians who lived there? Rather than being stupid, these Indians are the colonial equivalent of the guy who sold the Eiffel Tower to scrap metal dealers. Of course, finding the ‘right’ Indian to buy land from was very low on the list of priorities of those doing the buying. Look, I haven’t even told you about classes in the United States and how textbooks assure students that there have only been middle class people in America since the 1600s. The extensive chapters on slavery and reconstruction are mind-blowing. As is the factoid gleaned from his students – 22 percent of whom thought the Vietnam War was fought between North and South Korea (you’d have thought there was a bit of a hint there in the name of the war, but obviously not). Look, I could go on and on. This book is truly fascinating and it provides some hope and lots of ideas on how history could be taught so as to help students think for themselves, to learn about their history and to engage in the life of their society. None of these involve writing the ‘perfect’ history book, but all of them involve asking that most essential of all questions (so important they generally ask it in Latin) cui bono? Who benefits? A magnificent book and one that has filled me with passion. I can’t praise this book enough.

  8. 4 out of 5

    Mischenko

    I had to take a sociology course when I was in college and had a genuinely interesting professor. He’s one that I won’t ever forget and still think about from time to time. He was the type of teacher that made learning interesting and it was a class I actually enjoyed going to. Anyhow, he gave us a recommended reading list of books he thought we should take a look at. None of them were mandatory, but I read them all. This is one of those books. I was never really interested in learning history wh I had to take a sociology course when I was in college and had a genuinely interesting professor. He’s one that I won’t ever forget and still think about from time to time. He was the type of teacher that made learning interesting and it was a class I actually enjoyed going to. Anyhow, he gave us a recommended reading list of books he thought we should take a look at. None of them were mandatory, but I read them all. This is one of those books. I was never really interested in learning history when I was in grade school, not even American History. Many of the historical events in American History that I did learn about in school–according to the author of this book–were inaccurate. This book made me feel quite ignorant after reading it. For example, as a child we were taught that Columbus was a great explorer who discovered America, not one that initiated cruel policies and killed people. I discussed some of it with my grandfather who was also a teacher of many subjects and some of it he did agree with, while some he wasn’t totally sure about. Ironically, my children’s 3rd grade history text is still teaching the people and events in American History the same way by withholding truth. The section that discusses why history hasn’t been taught correctly is thought-provoking. The author brings to question why American History has been basically dumbed-down with very simplified requirements as to what we needed to learn to just pass the tests. Could this be why so many don’t enjoy learning American History? Could it be why many can’t retain it? It was an eye-opening book for me and I still keep it on my shelf for reference. Although controversial, I think it’s a book worth reading, especially if you have an interest in history. My rating on this is: 5*****

  9. 5 out of 5

    Kaora

    Americans need to learn from the Wilson era, that there is a connection between racist presidential leadership and like-minded public response. This book is so important to read. I do not know if there is any other field of knowledge which suffers so badly as history from the sheer blind repetitions that occur year after year, and from book to book. History is a subject that I haven't taken since high school. Because I, like so many others, found it incredibly boring. I grew up in Canada but largel Americans need to learn from the Wilson era, that there is a connection between racist presidential leadership and like-minded public response. This book is so important to read. I do not know if there is any other field of knowledge which suffers so badly as history from the sheer blind repetitions that occur year after year, and from book to book. History is a subject that I haven't taken since high school. Because I, like so many others, found it incredibly boring. I grew up in Canada but largely what was taught was the same. I learned the US presidents and how the US and Canada split. But the underlying theme was the same. Canada is great and awesome and look at all the things we have done! But History isn't all sugar and spice and everything nice. We didn't learn about Columbus in the slave trade, or how he used Indians for dog food, or how he cut their ears and hands off because he wanted gold. We didn't learn Jefferson owned slaves. We didn't learn that American Indian camps were Hitler's inspiration. And not knowing is a dangerous thing. History has been rewritten to avoid controversy, and in doing that we have removed any lessons we could possibly learn from it and any conclusions we may draw from it by independent thinking. Our teachers have failed us. Loewen does a great job of asking questions about why we learn what we learn and the dangers we face by modifying our history that is so relevant today. History, despite its wrenching pain, Cannot be unlived, and if faced With courage, need not be lived again. I highly recommend everyone reads this. Cross posted at Kaora's Corner.

  10. 5 out of 5

    Evie

    I love works that give you the uncensored truth about history, but this particular book left me feeling as though the author had something to prove, rather than reveal.

  11. 5 out of 5

    Chris

    Why does nobody like high school history? Or civics, or social studies, or whatever they're calling it these days. Why does pretty much everybody hate this class? I mean, you have people who can memorize irrelevant sporting statistics for the last fifty years, but they can't name more than two nineteenth-century presidents. The author of this book, a teacher and researcher of history, started looking into this. He'd found among his high school and college students an appalling level of ignorance Why does nobody like high school history? Or civics, or social studies, or whatever they're calling it these days. Why does pretty much everybody hate this class? I mean, you have people who can memorize irrelevant sporting statistics for the last fifty years, but they can't name more than two nineteenth-century presidents. The author of this book, a teacher and researcher of history, started looking into this. He'd found among his high school and college students an appalling level of ignorance in basic American history. So, he decided to try and figure out what went wrong and why. His conclusion? Textbooks. The textbooks that we use in American history classes are simplistic, dry and patronizing, aimed not at teaching the students about the rich epic that is American history, but rather at reinforcing what they already believe to be true: America is a great place, and it's just getting greater. Loewen has a lot of bones to pick with the history texts, but he limits himself here to ten. He looks at things like heroification, social biases, omission of the underclass and so on. With twelve common texts to draw upon, he tries to see what they omit and what they include, and he is shocked and appalled. The primary sin of American history textbooks, he believes, is a lack of conflict. They present our history as a series of semi-benign events that all turned out okay in the end. These were not things that we (the government, a president, society) did, they were things that just happened. There is no causality, no emotion, no contradiction. Nothing ever leads to anything else, and none of it certainly is reflected in modern times. And so what is left is a bright-eyed, doped up view of America, where everything is just fine, and whatever may happen in the future, we'll get through that as well. His position is that if we could teach history properly, as a continuum that affects us even now, it would be more interesting. If we showed the contradictions and the unpleasantness, we could teach students to think critically and, in turn, be better citizens. The cynic in me, of course, immediately thinks, "Well, no one wants that!" He does try to offer solutions, things that a good textbook should do - focus on fewer topics, offer a broader view, and force students to work outside the text, for example - but he also acknowledges that it's not nearly as easy as it sounds. One of the reasons why history texts have to be so bland and inoffensive is because they have to be. If the subject matter is too controversial, the economic implications could be catastrophic. Too much focus on Black achievement during the Reconstruction? Southern schools won't buy your book. Not enough focus on the achievements of women? Say hello to NOW, you'll be hearing from them a lot. For every page and every paragraph, there's some parent, teacher, administrator, student, or just plan nutjob who might take offense, and so the solution is to be as inoffensive as possible. And in a country where people get very offended very quickly, I can see how textbook publishers might find it easier just to give up and put out the same crap edition after edition. It's a tough problem to solve, and Loewen admits that he doesn't really have the solution. All he can really do is shine a light on the problem, and hope that we can figure it out. Because history is essential to knowing what to do with the future of America. And, of course, the rest of the world....

  12. 5 out of 5

    Michael Finocchiaro

    While not as good or revolutionary of A People's History of the United States by Howard Zinn, Loewen writes an entertaining and eyebrow-raising book about the hidden catastrophes in American history that your teachers did not tell you about. I would personally read Zinn first but this is an excellent followup (and much shorter if the length of Zinn initially intimidates you). It is highly readable and once again in the current context of fake news and flag-waving ignorance, a critical book to se While not as good or revolutionary of A People's History of the United States by Howard Zinn, Loewen writes an entertaining and eyebrow-raising book about the hidden catastrophes in American history that your teachers did not tell you about. I would personally read Zinn first but this is an excellent followup (and much shorter if the length of Zinn initially intimidates you). It is highly readable and once again in the current context of fake news and flag-waving ignorance, a critical book to see that America - despite its ideals - has not always lived up to its self-proclaimed goal of being the Home of Democracy and Freedom. To be read. Now. Urgently.

  13. 4 out of 5

    Jen

    When I started this book, I thought it would be along the lines of "your teacher told you this...but this is what happened..." You know like "hey columbus didn't discover the new world...blah blah blah" and there was some of that. But more importantly, and far more interestingly, this book is an indictment of how American history is taught. As the book went forward, even I found myself thinking "yep, that's what I was taught" and wondering if I would have found American history less boring had it When I started this book, I thought it would be along the lines of "your teacher told you this...but this is what happened..." You know like "hey columbus didn't discover the new world...blah blah blah" and there was some of that. But more importantly, and far more interestingly, this book is an indictment of how American history is taught. As the book went forward, even I found myself thinking "yep, that's what I was taught" and wondering if I would have found American history less boring had it been as filled with flawed characters as European. Most of my European history comes from books. I read a lot. Starting with Garrett Mattingly, which is not a bad way to start. Mattingly doesn't sugar coat. And when European history is taught, teachers don't have the same pressures to heroify (this is kind of a word http://wiki.answers.com/Q/What_is_her...) Europeans as Americans. Instead we go "oh those silly pesky Europeans..." With our own leaders, we are taught to rever them. Even the most obvious example of the sainthood of Washington. Not saying he wasn't a good person, but he was also a real person. The book argues that if students were taught that you can be flawed and conflicted AND change the world, how much more inspiring would that story be. Instead only those who go forward in American history (and for the most part that doesn't include me) learn the shadows in the heroes. But this is simply annoying compared to ethnic-bias that pervades the teaching of American history. I found myself just saddened when I read example after example of things that I had been taught, and how it was inherently racist. And I'm not just talking about the Civil War. I could give examples, but I'm seriously struggling with which to choose. There are simply too many. This book is not a fun read full of "neat facts" about history--it's more than that, much more. I was in turns angered, saddened, and ashamed by what passes off as teaching history. Not only are we taught incorrect information, but we are taught in such a way that assures us it will be found boring. This was a wonderful and thought-provoking book. I'm better for having read it.

  14. 5 out of 5

    Karina

    I read this a while ago and forgot about it until I saw a GR friend reading it. I liked its content and I agree that history is taught a certain way to bore us into stupidity. Who remembers liking history and who can remember what they learned? I don't/can't. Now that I am older I can appreciate it and want to discover what really happened. As "they say" history repeats itself.

  15. 4 out of 5

    kendall

    The thesis of the book is interesting and well supported, however, I found it pretty dry which was disappointing considering a main point Loewen makes is that Middle School/High School History books are too boring. He goes into too much depth in the first two chapters making the same point over and over again, while quickly and concisely exploring more current history, which again is the same criticism he makes of the textbooks he attacks. I also thing the extreme liberal tone of the book took a The thesis of the book is interesting and well supported, however, I found it pretty dry which was disappointing considering a main point Loewen makes is that Middle School/High School History books are too boring. He goes into too much depth in the first two chapters making the same point over and over again, while quickly and concisely exploring more current history, which again is the same criticism he makes of the textbooks he attacks. I also thing the extreme liberal tone of the book took away from the authors credibility and it would have been more successful without his unnecessary bashing conservatives. Despite my criticism I found the book very thought provoking and relevant. I would love to see Loewen included a comparison of how the same "history" is taught in different countries providing support with passages from different textbooks in France and Germany during WWII for instance.

  16. 5 out of 5

    leslie hamod

    A fascinating book which describes the educational history books used for years. Ignoring facts and twisting the truth, the author finally exposes the errors in history taught to our children up to and including the Iraqi war. A very education and eye opening experience!

  17. 4 out of 5

    Dustin

    What I learned from this textbook: 1. That it is not weird that I hated history/social studies in high school, but now find it interesting. 2. That textbook "authors" can't be bothered to do their own research, so all the textbooks tell the same apocryphal stories (George Washington and the cherry tree, the first Thanksgiving, Columbus as all-round good guy, the US as "international good-guy peacekeeper, with NO ulterior motives), making every factoid on every page suspect. 3. That our history is f What I learned from this textbook: 1. That it is not weird that I hated history/social studies in high school, but now find it interesting. 2. That textbook "authors" can't be bothered to do their own research, so all the textbooks tell the same apocryphal stories (George Washington and the cherry tree, the first Thanksgiving, Columbus as all-round good guy, the US as "international good-guy peacekeeper, with NO ulterior motives), making every factoid on every page suspect. 3. That our history is far richer and more interesting than any one book (including this one) can possibly tell, so relying on a single book to teach a class like this is setting everyone, teacher and student alike, up for failure. 4. That while history is based on facts, the interpretation of those facts really does constantly change, and how we learn about them is based on previous societal changes. It is up to every student and teacher to separate fact from interpretation, and then to apply their own interpretation as needed. A discussion of slavery and Reconstruction written by a privileged European-American before the Civil Rights movement will not carry much water if read critically instead of just read to memorize the factoids for the test. 5. That our leaders have learned from the past and are applying its lessons to the present and the future: "Of course the people do not want war....But, after all, it is the leaders of the country who determine the policy, and it is always a simple matter to drag the people along, whether it is a democracy, a fascist dictatorship, a parliament, or a communist dictatorship. Voice or no voice, the people can always be brought to the bidding of the leaders. That is easy. All you have to do is tell them that they are being attacked and denounce the pacifists for lack of patriotism." - German Field Marshall Hermann Goering, Nuremberg, April 18, 1946 Read this book, now. Then go out, and read more books, preferably primary and secondary sources, which tell the actual story, and include the controversies that still remain, both in ascribing motives to the people who made history, but also the controversies in interpreting what the facts actually mean, both for the present and the future.

  18. 5 out of 5

    Daniel

    re-read the updated version. Still excellent. As a history major in college, I still have an affinity for the subject. This book was very interesting, because it challenged many of the things we were all taught in the American educational system. It's a real eye opener, and while you may have a superficial knowledge of some of the events and trends that we were never taught,or taught in such a way that the real issues were glossed over, this book delves into them in depth. I would highly recommend re-read the updated version. Still excellent. As a history major in college, I still have an affinity for the subject. This book was very interesting, because it challenged many of the things we were all taught in the American educational system. It's a real eye opener, and while you may have a superficial knowledge of some of the events and trends that we were never taught,or taught in such a way that the real issues were glossed over, this book delves into them in depth. I would highly recommend this book, even if you are not into history.

  19. 4 out of 5

    Jan Rice

    Although I bought Lies My Teacher Told Me as a resource book for the author's lecture series Rethinking Our Past: Recognizing Facts, Fictions, And Lies In American History, I've now read the 42-page Chapter 4, "Red Eyes," in its entirety. He's attempting a look at American history from the Native American (Indian) point of view. He does succeed in his trademark turning of history upside down, with an overriding theme of how Indians became savages in the national consciousness--even though Indian Although I bought Lies My Teacher Told Me as a resource book for the author's lecture series Rethinking Our Past: Recognizing Facts, Fictions, And Lies In American History, I've now read the 42-page Chapter 4, "Red Eyes," in its entirety. He's attempting a look at American history from the Native American (Indian) point of view. He does succeed in his trademark turning of history upside down, with an overriding theme of how Indians became savages in the national consciousness--even though Indian expertise and inventiveness taught the incoming Europeans everything from how to cultivate the land to how to govern. Indian culture was not a monolith, that is, not just one thing all along. Instead, it began evolving and adapting as soon as contact with the Europeans occurred. For example one segment entailed the remnants of a number of Indian tribes (which, you remember, had each been decimated by the European diseases against which they had no immunity) working together to govern themselves in a union. Their success, Loewen argues, fed into what became American-style democracy and eventually bubbled up in European democratizing movements as well. Being absorbed into in the wider economy transformed Native culture, magnifying the importance of (1) hunting and trapping and (2) the slave trade. With guns and horses their success in those enterprises expanded while prior skills succumbed to creative destruction. Why labor over tightly-woven basketry when you could trade for kettles (and for more guns and horses)? Then, as the decades passed and territory was hunted out (or made unsatisfactory for wildlife by European farming, animal husbandry and manufacturing), Indians dropped out of the economy and lost their worth in consequence. Also, as the trade in Native American slaves expanded, Indians could not remain farmers on the land. And Loewen does assert that Indians were farmers at the get-go; they were not nomadic until this process that he describes had progressed. As a result of those Indians closer to European settlements raiding the more remote tribes for slaves, the hunted tribes were driven off their ancestral lands. Thus they could no longer farm, so, ironically, as events followed their course, Indian dependence on trade with Europeans only increased, even for food. The slave trade in Native Americans was sizeable. And here's something that boggled my mind, reminding me of what empires did in ancient times upon vanquishing regional foes. Remember how they used to remove local populations to parts afar in order to neutralize the possibility of rebellions (the "lost tribes" and so forth)? Well, to deal with the problem of escape among Native Americans, the Europeans traded Indian slaves to the West Indies for African slaves! There would then be no hope of escape and resistance. Loewen asserts our idea of a "frontier" with Europeans on one side and Natives on the other is false. Instead there were "zones of interaction" that were very multicultural--areas where various European and Native groups mixed and where multiple languages were spoken. At points and in various regions of the country these zones lasted a long time. He refers to what happened with contact between Natives and Europeans and in these very diverse cultural zones as "syncretism:" cultural exchange and the sharing of skills and thought. Previously I had only heard of syncretism in terms of religion and never as a positive. So his use of the term syncretism as a positive force is new to me. I began to think of syncretism in that sense as opposite to today's fear of cultural change and "cultural appropriation" on the further reaches of both Left and Right. Stop it? Good luck with that! It seems to be an unstoppable force. But the ultimate fate of these diverse multicultural zones was a foregone conclusion, given the power differential and the increasing loss of economic worth of the native populations. And as they faded in economic worth and power, their status became "proof" of their inferiority, with their further marginalization rationalized as no more than what is to be expected or deserved. Loewen gives detailed attention to the position of Native Americans as allies during two hundred years of war in the Americas reflecting the wars in Europe. After Natives were no longer needed as allies, their worth was yet further diminished, and subsequent Indian wars became mopping-up operations. Loewen claims that no matter what Indians did they could not come out ahead, not as long as they had no protection under the law. He gives some credence to changes in those negative attitudes as a result of the civil rights movement, but I think the economic standing, relatively low numbers, and being to some extent out-of-sight and out-of-mind on reservations have limited that improvement--although as I pointed out in my other review, he does say that gambling and gaming enterprises have put some Indians back on the economic map. Thought-provoking issues I noticed that James Loewen sometimes says "our" and "ours," and wondered who is this "ours" and if he's inadvertently extending us-and-them thinking. (...hard to avoid.) In contrasting war among Natives and Europeans, Loewen argues that the latter were more warlike. Even if that's the case, I was disinclined to credit his styling war among Native Americans as a "pastime." ...Also, he seemed to be arguing that war among hunter-gatherers is not as bad as among the settled, while simultaneously arguing that Native Americans weren't hunter-gatherers. Or maybe "hunter-gatherer" does not mean what I think it means.... Seeing through "red eyes" has some difficulties as a metaphor, plus it would be nice to move away from characterization by color--too binary and too close to a Nazi-like characterization by appearances. That's why I've tried to say "Native American" or "Indian" and European, rather than red and white. How should the descendants of settlers relate to this history? Loewen would like to see a middle course: for descendants to know that wrong has been done and tell the truth but not wallow in guilt or be subject to denigrating blame in return. And yet that is a hard row to hoe that in part turns on how the wrong that has been done is to be thought of. It's in that connection that I think of Loewen's own use of terms such as "deliberate" and "propaganda," which seems to me to signify intent. Here I digressed into a rant or sermon, which did turn out to be useful in enabling me to figure out where I was going, but only after taking me off the path. A good place for my ramble is behind "spoiler" brackets. (view spoiler)[The implications certainly don't stop with Native Americans and Europeans; it's all too easy to jump from accusations of intent to calling the U.S. a criminal or fascist enterprise as Ta-Nehisi Coates and others do--after all, democracy is the worst form of government--except for all the others. One way to begin is to ask what we (any of us) want when we are confronted with the unfair and unjust use of power, individually, in families, in our groups or in our collectives. What do you want? How should we judge others, and what price should we exact? When we ourselves have not done it but it was done in the past? When residuals remain? When we deem that others are doing wrong? When we hear the wrongs of the past still being verbally rehearsed in the present? When amends have been made but we deem them insufficient? When vengeance would increase the sum total of violence in the world? When a court of law is available but a verdict we deem less than satisfactory is rendered? When injustice extends into the past as far as can be seen and has accrued widely? Upon learning that our own judgments are not fair, and that seeing things in our own favor is part of being human? And that it's easier to see the wrongs others have done and judge them than to look at ourselves? Is absolute contrition what would satisfy us? On a personal level regarding a small matter that may not seem very serious since it didn't involve violence, I used to think that it would. So, here's a cartoon that represents what I thought I wanted at a thankfully now-past point of greater marital argumentation. (hide spoiler)] A picture is worth a thousand words, or at any rate that's an excuse for the following cartoon. Our yearnings can come to grief against the shoals of what's even possible. Moreover, if at some level it's ourselves we want to be different, then the complete contrition of the offending party (even if it were possible and desirable) could never be the expected solution. (To further compound the picture: I doubt complete and abject contrition occurs in a power vacuum.) WUMO comic strip for December 10, 2016 James Loewen hasn't quite decided whether to demand justice while chanting "Never forget!" or whether to be a pragmatic, get-over-it-and-get-on-with-it type. In Pinkerian terms (The Better Angels of Our Nature: Why Violence Has Declined), Loewen hasn't decided which side of the moralization gap he's on. If I remember right, Pinker says the professional observer has to be the pragmatist, but that doesn't seem to satisfy Loewen. So he simultaneously eggs on and tamps down the moralizing, crusading impulse. He wants people to do something: to correct history, but not get mad, or not too mad. Yet society seems dominated by two sides, the side that gets very angry indeed and the side that insists on the traditional view of the past. At the very least, change is needed not only in the party we deem to be the offender but also in our traumatized selves. I am not going to rate Lies since I haven't read it all, yet I anticipate four stars, as for the lecture series. Not only does James Loewen get said what needs to be said, he also makes me think. Other connections Louise Erdrich is a novelist who often writes on American Indian themes. Here's my review of The Round House: https://www.goodreads.com/review/show.... Here's my review of Neither Wolf nor Dog: On Forgotten Roads with an Indian Elder, a memoir as reported to the author, Ken Nerburn. https://www.goodreads.com/review/show...

  20. 4 out of 5

    Josh

    Without question, this is the greatest non-fiction book I have ever read. To illustrate that claim, let me highlight that it served, in large part, as the inspiration for my master's thesis. In it, Loewen, a college professor, is constantly frustrated by how little his young, incoming freshmen know about history. So, in the late 90s he wrote a scathing investigation of the most common history textbooks used in secondary classes. He details how poorly these textbooks link events, leaving students Without question, this is the greatest non-fiction book I have ever read. To illustrate that claim, let me highlight that it served, in large part, as the inspiration for my master's thesis. In it, Loewen, a college professor, is constantly frustrated by how little his young, incoming freshmen know about history. So, in the late 90s he wrote a scathing investigation of the most common history textbooks used in secondary classes. He details how poorly these textbooks link events, leaving students with little idea how one occurrence causes another. But more importantly, he decries how much these textbooks turn historical figures into heroes, rather than actual human beings. As a few examples: Abraham Lincoln's private journal makes it apparent that he did not emancipate slaves because he thought slavery immoral, but because he thought it economically unmanageable; Hellen Keller, a committed Socialist, did not believe anyone could improve their station in life if they worked hard enough, which is of course the lesson her childhood is supposed to teach us; and Woodrow Wilson was a rabid rascist and a member of the Ku Klux Klan. But these truths are never taught to secondary students, for reasons that are at best ineffectual. Loewen could not be more brutal in his assessment of secondary school's historical lessons. And he, and this book, will forever be one of my models as I continue teaching. I would encourage any and everyone to read this book; more than any other source, it will help you become a better American citizen.

  21. 4 out of 5

    Deena

    It is all well and fine for people to criticize historians for being snobs about who writes the history books... but this book is a great example of what goes wrong when non-historians try to write history. Everything in this book is taken out of context - and is therefore at best skewed and at worst just wrong. Context is everything. Nothing happens in a vacuum; historical events out of context are just stories - and usually not very good ones at that.

  22. 5 out of 5

    Justin

    Lies My Teacher Told Me is a well-written and insightful expose of some of the problems inherent in the teaching of US History in public schools. From outdated textbooks to gross distortions of basic events and major figures, Loewen exposes readers to a side of US History that most do not get in high school. However, I had a problem with some of his methodology. His survey of 12 textbooks didn't seem like enough to make a truly damning critique of education in the country. In addition, his judgm Lies My Teacher Told Me is a well-written and insightful expose of some of the problems inherent in the teaching of US History in public schools. From outdated textbooks to gross distortions of basic events and major figures, Loewen exposes readers to a side of US History that most do not get in high school. However, I had a problem with some of his methodology. His survey of 12 textbooks didn't seem like enough to make a truly damning critique of education in the country. In addition, his judgments are too broad. While the textbooks may get things wrong, he acts as though education is nothing more than reading textbooks and parroting back the information found in them. This sort of viewing leaves out the crucial element of teacher involvement. One of the books he reviewed was used in my US History class but our teacher avoided the obsolete and incorrect mistruths our book contained. An interesting read but not enough to condemn the whole system.

  23. 4 out of 5

    Lisa Bell

    GREAT title! Really makes you think about all those HS History Classes you sat through and wondered what they were leaving out of the discussion. For example: how come we never discussed Vietnam? History magically "ended" at WWII; we always assumed that it just coinsided with the end of the school year (oops - "no time" to discuss anything after! Have a good summer kids!). This book really explores how the top 10 American History Textbooks taught in 95% of American High Schools present readers w GREAT title! Really makes you think about all those HS History Classes you sat through and wondered what they were leaving out of the discussion. For example: how come we never discussed Vietnam? History magically "ended" at WWII; we always assumed that it just coinsided with the end of the school year (oops - "no time" to discuss anything after! Have a good summer kids!). This book really explores how the top 10 American History Textbooks taught in 95% of American High Schools present readers with the "feel-good" versions of American History, and how the not-so-pretty parts of American History (such as slavery, treatment of Native Americans, the gilded age, immigration, etc) that greatly affected (and still affect) the American population are glossed over or presented as "not so bad" as they truly were. Very interesting, intense read.

  24. 5 out of 5

    Cyndi

    I learned a lot from this book. But I gotta tell you, its depressing as hell. Mankind is basically crap and have always treated each other badly and then lied about it. The atrocities in this book are horrible. Genocides, prejudices, tortures, so many horrors. If you’re looking for a book that will make you feel good about the kindness of our fellow human beings and the strength of our historical heroes, this ain’t it. But if you want to know the evil sides of the many names in our history book I learned a lot from this book. But I gotta tell you, its depressing as hell. Mankind is basically crap and have always treated each other badly and then lied about it. The atrocities in this book are horrible. Genocides, prejudices, tortures, so many horrors. If you’re looking for a book that will make you feel good about the kindness of our fellow human beings and the strength of our historical heroes, this ain’t it. But if you want to know the evil sides of the many names in our history books, this book is for you. I now know more about Christopher Columbus than I ever wanted to know.

  25. 5 out of 5

    Lena

    In LMTTM, sociology professor James Loewen takes a close look at the subject of American history and why it is that high school students tend not just to loathe the subject but also come out of that class so badly informed. His verdict - the textbooks are to blame. In the 1992 version of this book, Loewen took a close look at the 12 most widely used history textbooks and discovered that their true purpose was less to educate American students about the entirety of their history but instead to acc In LMTTM, sociology professor James Loewen takes a close look at the subject of American history and why it is that high school students tend not just to loathe the subject but also come out of that class so badly informed. His verdict - the textbooks are to blame. In the 1992 version of this book, Loewen took a close look at the 12 most widely used history textbooks and discovered that their true purpose was less to educate American students about the entirety of their history but instead to accomplish the following: to present events in such a way as to prevent students from feeling bad about the less than sterling actions of our ancestors; to create polished heroic images of major historical figures untarnished by any hint of human complexity, to formulate the idea of perpetual progress, thus diminishing the students awareness of still existing societal inequities; to include every possible factoid that might make the book more appealing to people in various locations, and most importantly, to completely avoid offending any group that might have the power to prevent the textbook's adoption and thus diminish sales. The net result of this are tombs that are both mind-numbingly dull and exceedingly incomplete. Loewen does his best to correct the latter by highlighting in gruesome detail the horrors of our past left out of these books, from the brutal enslavement of the natives by Columbian explorers to the explosion of racist suppression of blacks after the Civil war to the nefarious actions of a government that is all too often acting at the behest of special interests rather than its wider citizenry. In addressing facts such as the ownership of slaves by the founding fathers and the overt racism of Woodrow Wilson, Loewen points out what students of literature have always known - complex, conflicted humans make for far more interesting subjects than one-dimensional superheros. Yet in neglecting to discuss the shadow sides of both our history and the people within it, our textbooks give the idea that history is a set of boring facts to be learned and perfect heroes to be emulated rather than a perpetually evolving compilation of interlocking and often conflicting ideas and the people who struggle with them. By denying students the ability to see history in this way, textbooks also deny them the ability to learn how to consider competing ideas, analyze the strengths and weaknesses of each, and in the process, discover how to think for themselves. At a time when so much of America seems to have lost touch with even the most basic facts of the present let alone the distant past, Loewen's book is incredibly important for anyone not just interested in our nation's past but also in its future. That said, however, this is not an easy book to read. In striving to provide balance to the mindless positive propaganda of our textbooks, Loewen dives so deep into the most horrible aspects of the American past I found this book often hard to stomach. It's not that I was unfamiliar with the basic atrocities he presents (though I did learn a great deal I hadn't known before), but the fact that he presents them in such a relentless litany, with only a passing reference to anything positive about America, left even a good liberal like me feeling starved to hear SOMETHING positive about my country. After reading this book, I can imagine how incredibly fascinating and stimulating a history book that included both the good and the bad sides of America would be and how far it would go in enabling the US citizenry to make better decisions about our future, but this is unfortunately not that book. I read the 2007 edition, which addressed changes that have been made in the 15 years since the original came out. Though some minor improvements have been made, the current dent in the problem is minor compared to the size of it, particularly at a time when right-wing fundamentalists on Texas textbook adoption boards are wielding such a huge influence on what will and won't get read by students in the rest of the country. Until the textbook Loewen envisions has been written, this will remain a crucial counterbalance to conventional American history.

  26. 5 out of 5

    Jeffrey

    Really enjoying this look at history, things I knew and didn't know, and also about how history is written, rewritten, or unwritten and why. To be fair, it's not the teachers that are lying necessarily, or intentionally, but certainly many textbooks.

  27. 4 out of 5

    Ross Blocher

    This is an important book for anyone living in the United States. James Loewen takes a look at some of our shared national history, primarily through the lens of the textbook. He has combed thoroughly through 18 of the top-selling American history textbooks (and 6 additional ones as of the 2007 update I read). In those textbooks, he has found a pervasive Euro-centrism, in which the accomplishments of white people are given undue weight, drowning out the other peoples and cultures who have partic This is an important book for anyone living in the United States. James Loewen takes a look at some of our shared national history, primarily through the lens of the textbook. He has combed thoroughly through 18 of the top-selling American history textbooks (and 6 additional ones as of the 2007 update I read). In those textbooks, he has found a pervasive Euro-centrism, in which the accomplishments of white people are given undue weight, drowning out the other peoples and cultures who have participated in our history. Subtle and not-so-subtle use of language has reinforced this; with "our" antecedents called "settlers" for the same activities that make "their" ancestors "invaders". It's not that teachers are intentionally telling lies, but that a number of influences, financial and political, combine to remove anything from textbooks that could be considered controversial or unpatriotic. As a result, we don't get any instruction in critiquing American actions of the past. This makes us poorly prepared to understand how we got to our current situation, poorly inspired to make a change, and bored in classes that are filled with rote memorization of stories unrealistically and half-told. Chapters cover topics like the "discovering" of the "new world", the tendency to make heroes and remove flaws, the atrocities of Christopher Columbus, the first Thanksgiving, treatment of Native Americans, racism in textbooks, John Brown and Abraham Lincoln, Reconstruction South, the "nadir" of race relations from 1890-1940, upward mobility, out-sized focus on positive portrayals of the federal government, the Vietnam War, foreign involvement, 9/11, the focus on "progress", environmentalism, and the textbook approval process itself. For each topic, Loewen can point to exactly how many textbooks within his sample actually treated a topic fairly (precious few), and cites specific examples of elided topics, authors who have neither written nor read their own attributed books, and lazy copying between publishers who hire anonymous freelance writers to create these massive 1,000+ page tomes. It's an eye-opening book. Loewen clearly does have an agenda and a perspective to share, but it's one worth considering, even if you find it overly political. It will, at the least, sensitize you (as it did me) to some obvious problems with our collective treatment of the past.

  28. 4 out of 5

    Cyndy

    great cocktail fodder. i think the author has a great overall point. especially since my mom is navajo and was raised as a baby in tuba city, az. but c'mon. does anyone out there still believe the shite printed during the cold war anyway? some of the examples in the book are pure sensationalistic crap. that's ok, it's no worse than the religious right's crap and in this case much more interesting and less mystical. i find it just as hard to bite at each 'fact' given in this book when the author great cocktail fodder. i think the author has a great overall point. especially since my mom is navajo and was raised as a baby in tuba city, az. but c'mon. does anyone out there still believe the shite printed during the cold war anyway? some of the examples in the book are pure sensationalistic crap. that's ok, it's no worse than the religious right's crap and in this case much more interesting and less mystical. i find it just as hard to bite at each 'fact' given in this book when the author has in fact written it 'in penance' for missing the civil rights movement. hey, tell it to your priest...er....whoever. sets the tone right off for some extreme bias. Yep. it's a fun read and will result in many lively debates over dinner. i thought it would be more modern and intellectual.

  29. 4 out of 5

    Mike

    Before I get into this review, a couple of disclaimers, if I may. First of all, I'm not an American and was not put through the American school system, which means I have no first hand experience of the standard of history teaching referred to by James Loewen. I'm British and count myself extremely fortunate to have attended a very good school at home. Secondly, I am aware that history in many countries is twisted a little for either feelgood or nationalist purposes, depending on how you choose to Before I get into this review, a couple of disclaimers, if I may. First of all, I'm not an American and was not put through the American school system, which means I have no first hand experience of the standard of history teaching referred to by James Loewen. I'm British and count myself extremely fortunate to have attended a very good school at home. Secondly, I am aware that history in many countries is twisted a little for either feelgood or nationalist purposes, depending on how you choose to view these distortions. British history is not taught in a particularly balanced fashion in the UK, especially with regard to more modern issues such as the Irish 'troubles'. That said, I am aware of some of the appalling atrocities committed by the England and then the British down the years. I know, for example, of the pogrom against the Jews of York in that city's castle in 1190, and that one of the reasons for this was the debt a local noble owed and did not wish to pay. I know that Oliver Cromwell's invasion of Ireland was a disgustingly bloody affair and that much more recently indefensible acts have been carried out in that country in the name of the United Kingdom. I could go on with British actions in India, for example, much of Africa, or even initial English colonisation efforts in North America, but the point has been made: we should know of these things and we do. In America, it would seem, teaching the past failings of the state and its people is a no-no, leaving a populace unable to critically consider how it came to be where it is now and often in possession of a history which is simply not true. Loewen points out with exceptional lucidity such examples as Columbus who, American textbooks claim, sailed west, discovered the Americas and found that the world was not, after all, flat. The previous sentence can only be said to be true if it ends 'sailed west'. He most certainly did not discover the Americas - which were populated when he arrived - and sailors had known for centuries that the earth was curved - a ship's hull disappearing over the horizon before its sails will tell anyone that Loewen does not simply stick to disabusing us of the simple untruths of history, however. He viciously, and quite rightly, attacks coverage of Woodrow Wilson, a white supremacist who interfered in the affairs of other nations, often creating long term problems both locally and for America itself, by continually launching invasions of other states; most recent American interventions in Iran and Lebanon, which have created sectarian and political issues in those countries; and even the Vietnam War, portrayed as a moral intervention when it most certainly was not. What Loewen is at pains to point out, and what he covers so well, is that the books that are used to teach Americans about how they came to be where they are today paint government after government as lily-white, and their 'mistakes' as misunderstandings. Wrongful executions, the napalming of vast swathes of jungle in Vietnam and Laos, continued attempts to assassinate Fidel Castro and many other unforgivable horrors - all are either painted as the unfortunate errors of a nation striving to do right, or otherwise totally ignored as inconvenient. 'Lies My Teacher Told Me' is a damning indictment of how American high school students are taught about their country. Thoroughly researched and bursting with cutting, to the point arguments, if James Loewen's work has not yet brought about a change in an education system run by interest groups then it's about time it did. America is not alone in distorting its history beyond recognition - Russians are taught a version of history so far from the truth it should not be called history at all - but for a country which would like to pride itself on openness and progress, Loewen asks questions which demand answers.

  30. 4 out of 5

    Whitney Archibald

    This biggest reason I'm rating this book so high is that it was so thought-provoking. Loewen reviewed 12 common American history textbooks and analyzed the content based on historical accuracy and bias. Unsurprisingly, they all presented a very sanitized and rosy view of American history. His argument is that most of the textbooks in use 1. are very Euro-centric, marginalizing minorities (especially african americans and native americans); 2. "heroify" major historical figures so much that they This biggest reason I'm rating this book so high is that it was so thought-provoking. Loewen reviewed 12 common American history textbooks and analyzed the content based on historical accuracy and bias. Unsurprisingly, they all presented a very sanitized and rosy view of American history. His argument is that most of the textbooks in use 1. are very Euro-centric, marginalizing minorities (especially african americans and native americans); 2. "heroify" major historical figures so much that they ignore any faults or human characteristics; 3. extinguish the possibility of critical thinking by avoiding controversy; 4. rely so much on memorization that students cram for tests and then purge their minds of the information to make room for the facts in the next chapter; 5. are factually inaccurate, because they regurgitate info from old textbooks without sourcing new historical research 6. Exclude primary sources... and there are probably some more important points that I'm forgetting. I agree with most of these conclusions, but to prove them, Loewen was a bit extreme in the opposite direction. To prove his point, the book ended up presenting a very sensationalized version of American history, because he was including only the worst examples of our past, to show what was excluded. By the end, I was exhausted. Ultimately, I finished the book realizing that I have a lot of gaps to fill in my knowledge of American history, especially in the recent past. Although I already realized that there it is impossible to write an unbiased history, it's made me more aware of how to study history more objectively and review my sources more critically. Wow. I didn't intend to write an essay. Sorry about that.

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