Lies My Teacher Told Me
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Lies My Teacher Told Me

3.94 of 5 stars 3.94  ·  rating details  ·  31,985 ratings  ·  1,664 reviews
This national best-seller and American Book Award winner is an entertaining, informative, and sometimes shocking expose of the way history is taught to American students. James W. Loewen, a distinguished critic of history education, puts 12 popular textbooks under the microscope. What he finds is a proliferation of blind patriotism, mindless optimism, misinformation, and f...more
Published 2006 (first published January 1st 1995)
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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...more
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...more
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...more
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...more
Kristina
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.
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...more
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...more
Daniel
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....more
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...more
kendall
Jul 07, 2008 kendall rated it 2 of 5 stars  ·  review of another edition Recommends it for: teachers, people interested in history/politics/education system
Recommended to kendall by: Nithya
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...more
Dustin
Mar 07, 2008 Dustin rated it 5 of 5 stars  ·  review of another edition Recommends it for: EVERYONE
Shelves: history
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...more
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...more
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...more
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...more
Lisa Bell
Jul 10, 2007 Lisa Bell rated it 5 of 5 stars  ·  review of another edition Recommends it for: history lovers
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...more
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...more
Cyndy
Oct 11, 2007 Cyndy rated it 1 of 5 stars  ·  review of another edition Recommends it for: neoconservatives - to light them up
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...more
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.
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...more
Emily
Wonderful read for students of American History and sociologists. Loewen conducted a fabulous study of American History textbooks in the late 80s and early 90s. What he found was a narrative lacking much depth, diversity, and frankly, any excitement. He was right. Most texts still adhered to the "great white father's" narrative of American history that our parents and grandparents learned throughout the 20th century. Much of American history, from Columbus to Lincoln to Vietnam and anything in b...more
Vinh Nguyen
Oct 02, 2007 Vinh Nguyen rated it 5 of 5 stars  ·  review of another edition Recommends it for: everyone
Whatever you had learned in your high school textbooks and college textbooks probably were presented to you in carefully modified forms. Truths were distorted to make facts look pretty. For example, Woodrow Wilson was a very racist president but in fact most textbooks never had written to present that ugly side of our dear president. All I can say is that this book is super controversial book; if you ever going to pick up this book for a good read, just prepare to be offending somewhat due to al...more
Jennifer
Great book! Explains why I got such bad grades in US History... The teacher did not pay attention (rather chose not to) when I pointed out what we were being taight did not match what I'd been taught in Europe.. It is appalling to read all the lies students in the US are being fed on a daily basis. Text books are slanted to make them appear the hero in every situation; this book uncovers a bit of the nonsense.
Thing Two
This book was published in 1996, before elementary schools had computers, before Wikipedia was the starting point for every high-schooler's research paper, before life as we now know it began. But, my history classes were taught from books published before 1996, and my teachers were educated before then. If it weren't for my need to read-all-things-published, my exposure to history might have ended where most Americans does, at graduation.

Loewen spent a decade reviewing 12 popular high school h...more
Jennifer
This was an EYE-OPENING look at REAL American History.

Did your teacher or college professor ever tell you that Christopher Columbus is not really the hero we all thought, and responsible for genicide of a million people in Haiti, as he "claimed" that territory for Spain? Did you know that Helen Keller was a communist and fought for a socialist America throughout her lifetime, risking charges of treason? Did you know American Indians died off in droves from diseases Europeans brought over on thei...more
Brianna
I love history. I love reading about it, I love memorizing it, I love questioning it, I love finding new interpretations of major events. So you would think I and this book would get along famously.

I've read (and enjoyed) some pretty dry non-fiction in my time, but I found this a bit of a drag. In addition, I already knew most of the shocking untruths that were revealed to us.

I feel like this book would only be really beneficial to people who really weren't paying attention, but those people ar...more
Selena Calingo
Oct 01, 2007 Selena Calingo rated it 5 of 5 stars  ·  review of another edition Recommends it for: everyone
I had never liked history in school or high school. Only later did I ever develop an interest from things like the History Channel, movies, and actually visiting historical sites. I wish I had read this book when I was younger because it is really enlightening, not only about history, but about why there is such lack of interest in history in students and adults. The author only covers 10 important topics in American history, but I feel I have a better understanding of them than I ever did in hi...more
Vannessagrace Vannessagrace
Lies My Teacher Told Me: Everything Your American History Textbook Got Wrong should be required reading starting at the elementary level, studied again at the middle school level, and truly taught as analytical thinking at the high school level all four years.

As a kid I hated American History because it never sounded like truth. The History books I was required to read did not teach history, they taught how superior the European white men were over all other cultures. What was mentioned about N...more
Don
UPDATE: After reading the first 150 pages, now I just sorta have this book on my shelf and pick it up from time to time.


This book is very good on a few levels ... It takes the textbook publishers to task for their weak glossing over of American history, and it emphasizes the use of primary documents, which are important and often underutilized by lame teachers. It is also (verbosely) summarizes some very valid criticisms of the general treatment textbooks and by extension, some high school teach...more
Daniel Crews
Should be required reading for collegiate American history students. Deducted a star because the author makes no attempt to hide his liberal bias - which I like, of course, but which might make it hard for some to take as anything other than the pointless character assassination of our shared cultural and national heroes. But the author argues that American history should not primarily be used as a tool for instilling patriotism and commitment but as a means of learning to avoid the same mistake...more
Rey Dekker
Lies My Teacher Told Me Everything Your American History Textbook Got Wrong Loewen, James W.
Starts off strong with some alarming but not unheard of characterizations about Senor Columbus, the Founding Fathers and their slaves (life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness indeed), witch trials and civil rights struggles and then devolves into the author’s crusading for text book reform. His points are valid to any objective historian but the length to which he goes belaboring these inequalities bec...more
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James Loewen at Busboys and Poets In Washington DC 1 42 Oct 07, 2012 11:17PM  
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“The antidote to feel-good history is not feel-bad history but honest and inclusive history.” 22 likes
“In sum, U.S. history is no more violent and oppressive than the history of England, Russia, Indonesia, or Burundi - but neither is it exceptionally less violent.” 16 likes
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