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Legends, Lies Cherished Myths of American History

3.54  ·  Rating details ·  560 ratings  ·  51 reviews
The truth and nothing but the truth—Richard Shenkman sheds light on America's most believed legends.

The story of Columbus discovering the world was round was invented by Washington Irving.

The pilgrims never lived in log cabins.

In Concord, Massachusetts, a third of all babies born in the twenty years before the Revolution were conceived o
Paperback, 224 pages
Published March 26th 2013 by William Morrow Paperbacks (first published 1988)
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Average rating 3.54  · 
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May 31, 2019 rated it it was ok
175 pages of mostly tedious claims, attempting to debunk traditional folklore and American history taught in childhood textbooks. There are few facts or evidence presented to back up most of the claims. A 70% boring read that leaves you questioning if anything you've ever been taught is real.
Dec 14, 2008 added it
Not as scurrilous as the title makes it sound, it's mostly a quick summary of how newer historical research can debunk self-serving or nostalgic representations of historical events and figures. What gives the book its poignancy, especially 20 years after its first publication, is how little most Americans even know the false "facts" that are debunked here. Do most Americans today believe that President Harding committed suicide, that the Underground Railroad helped tens of thousands of slaves e ...more
Mary JL
Mar 01, 2009 rated it liked it
Recommends it for: any fans of popular history
Recommended to Mary JL by: Discovered while browsing
There is a lot of interesting historical information packed in this little volume. The writing style is easy to read.

If you do not read a lot of history, you might be suprised about the things you thought were true--that are either merely legends--or facts with some important details neededing to be corrected.

A quick, light popular history book---aimed at the aveage reader rather than history scholars. Very amsuing in spots.
Nandakishore Varma
Abandoned this one. Didn't like the smug,smart-alecky style of writing. And most of the "surprises" are old hat.
After World War II, the U.S. Government concluded that Japan would have surrendered within months, even if we had not bombed Hiroshima and Nagasaki. - I find this hard to believe.
Jun 11, 2019 rated it really liked it
This was a fun book to read with lots of information. I read a lot of history so a lot of this wasn't new to me. I did enjoy reading about the folk heroes and the chapter on the immigrants was very relevant in today's world.

I had a couple of problems with the book: I would have liked more detail about Shenkman's claims and Shenkman gets a little snarky; sometimes that's funny and sometimes it's annoying.

Even with these problems this book is worth a read, especially if all you know o
Steve Webster
Aug 27, 2019 rated it really liked it
Entertaining and completely contrarian. If we are to believe Shenkman, we have to stop believing quite a bit of what we thought we knew. He kind of makes you want to research... to refute the refuter.
Nov 16, 2019 rated it it was amazing
The great value of books like these is they force us to question our passive acceptance of spoon fed history
Jaq Greenspon
In the age of Snopes and other Internet resources, this book is outdated and smug. Add in the drastic need for a copy editor and I just couldn't finish it.
Michael Laflamme
Nov 07, 2018 rated it really liked it
A wonderful little book full of informative sidelights to history. I would recommend this small volume to anybody interested in American history. Great Stuff!
Brian DiMattia
Dec 30, 2012 rated it did not like it
Shenkman writes a relatively quick read, about 170 pages on all the things you thought you knew about American history but were wrong about. It's informative to a degree but I got sick of this book quickly. While I'm a firm believer in facts and truth trumping dogma of any kind, it's never fun to read 170 pages of "Hey, everything you believe is a lie!" And it doesn't help that Schenkman's writing style is glib and casual.

It says on the cover that this book was the inspiration for a show on cab
Mar 07, 2017 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
A great book to load onto a mobile device and read in short periods of time when you're waiting for someone or something.
Feb 01, 2010 rated it really liked it
Lies, Legends, and Cherished Myths of American History by Richard Shenkman has the kind of title to make one cringe. One may well picture a self-righteous professor blasting his gullible readers and their hypocritical teachers, for rejecting truth in favor of fairy tales like Plymouth Rock and George Washington and the Cherry Tree. Instead, Shenkman takes a warmer, more understanding, almost celebratory tone towards the material. He also makes it clear that many of these “cherished myths” are no ...more
Feb 08, 2015 rated it liked it
A quick and witty jaunt down the avenues of American history, the lack of primary sources will probably put off the more discerning reader of history. That aside, the author shares some of his own favorite historians' insights into the many legends surrounding that create the American mythos from the country's first Puritans to the sacred cows of Kennedy and Reagan.

Conversational in style, I do have to remove stars for the simple fact that in Shenkman's haste to debunk he often overs
Feb 05, 2012 rated it it was ok
Shelves: non-fiction
Television news reporter (now there’s a credential) Shenkman attempts to debunk some widely-held but erroneous beliefs about American history from Columbus to the present day, covering topics such as sex, family, the so-called good old days, arts and quotations. It’s a fine and admirable idea for a book. Unfortunately, this book does not deliver the idea’s promise.

Shenkman uses nearly no primary sources, relying on modern historians’ research. This gives the result that in many insta
Jan 16, 2016 rated it it was ok
I wanted something quick, easy & entertaining to read on a bus trip. This more than sufficed. No great revelations, in my estimation, but definitely a few tidbits and angles I hadn't known about before. The introduction is passionate and very bold in its assertion at how truth is Important, then the author proceeds with flip, brief sketches that barely touch on a subject while clearly not wanting to relinquish being able to bring the subject up; this undermines the gravitas of the forward's ...more
Ms. B
Jun 07, 2016 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: adult, 2016, nonfiction
Feels dated (it was published near the end of Ronald Reagan's presidency!) Our point of view on American history is shaped by whomever is writing our history books. Some of the myths that Shenkman dispels are now common knowledge. For example, most readers will not be surprised that Columbus is not the discoverer of America nor was he a good guy. Depending on your prior knowledge, others will be a surprise. And some will be questioned by astute readers, like Americans being better off than they ...more
Randy White
Feb 05, 2010 rated it really liked it
This was a re-read for me, and although it's somewhat dated due to when it was written, it's still a good read and gives a quick summary of the myths that drive the American people...the ones they think are historically factual especially. As with any "real" history book, Shenkman notes his sources so he can be "fact-checked", something historians and other social scientists have been doing for almost a century. Still, reading some other reviews, I have to believe that many do not understand wha ...more
Aug 08, 2008 rated it it was ok
Recommends it for: Kids, 12 and under
Okay, I picked this book up for the bathroom library.... but then I got hooked into skimming the whole thing last night.

It is worth a skim; not sure about the accuracy, and he does make some rather broad assertions... but I did appreciate it because it was a good poke to my consciousness, when I sink into "oh, why don't xxx do like they used it...." kind of thinking....

I did think it was good that Shenkman had footnotes (not that I checked on them, obviously; I skimmed),
Matt Sautman
Feb 14, 2014 rated it it was amazing
Having read the sequel to this text, Legends, Lies & Cherished Myths of World History a few years ago, I knew I would easily be sucked into this work. Shenkman does an excellent job relaying his information in a fluid manner without coming across too flippant or unprofessional, and the amount of sources used to create this volume is incredibly abundant. In some ways, the book is a breath of fresh air as many of the myths listed in this book are not ones held as prominently anymore, but read ...more
Rachelle Reese
Mar 10, 2011 rated it liked it
The book was filled with a lot of interesting facts about the history of the United States and many of the icons we are brought up to revere. I was somewhat saddened to learn that some of the landmarks I had visited as a child were not authentic and some beloved tales were fictional. Mr. Shenkman has a conversational style and, unlike many history books, the text was easy to read and seldom dry.

My one criticism is that sometimes the organization was weak. Subheadings between topics w
Dec 27, 2008 rated it it was ok
The book is at its best in chapters ("The Family", "Sex", etc.) that are more systematic about deconstructing preconceptions, and it's at its worst when a chapter is little more than a bullet-point enumeration of corrected information.

It's more of a launching point for an interest than a resource in itself. The references are for the most part secondary sources, which weakens its value. A reader interested in some set of revelations would be encouraged to track down the works in ques
Oct 20, 2012 rated it liked it
Interesting stories. Many were not myths or at least I've their heard the debate on their veracity. One interesting thing I noticed was that although almost all the authors suppositions were supported by research and footnotes many of those only had one reference while if researching the "myths" you could easily find more references to the validity of the myth. I don't say that makes the author wrong only how little we can really be certain of so many truths we take for granted.
Dec 23, 2008 rated it it was ok
Recommends it for: no one, really.
Some of the information in this book is interesting.
But it's tarred with the "gotcha" spirit of the whole. While that's fun at first, it grows increasingly more grating as pages pass.

Also, the author is far too fond of citing items as wrong that aren't, just because he apparently doesn't understand them. That's a bad feature...
Jan 21, 2016 rated it it was amazing
For being a non-fiction, history book, this was a really interesting book. It referenced many things about American history that are widely believed, and then described what was fact and what was fiction in a quick, enjoyable manner. I not only learned a lot from this book, but I really enjoyed it as well. It's a great reference.
May 22, 2016 rated it it was ok
Short and quick, it reads more like a list of incorrect myths than anything. Nothing too shocking or surprising here. I would have appreciated a little more detail. As it, it really just leaves me wanting to read a bigger book on the same subject.
richard mills

This is best viewed as bathroom reading. There is little depth. Often a "myth" is referred to and refuted in their same sentence. It moves from specific facts to broad generalizations. It is also dated at this point in content and scholarship.
Jun 03, 2013 rated it liked it
I thought this was pretty interesting. Many stories I already were aware were "myths" but there were a few eye opening moments, especially related to Christopher Columbus. If you are a history buff, I think you will enjoy this book, it is a quick read.
Fenixbird SandS
Nov 10, 2007 rated it liked it
Recommends it for: history us research
Shelves: history, nonfiction
1988 copywright TV news reporter stationed in Washington DC authored this NY Times Bestseller. Kirkus Reviews wrote,"A gold-mine for bar-bettors...Shenkman's jam-packed grabbag of topsyturvy Americans amuses and shocks."
May 24, 2014 rated it it was ok
A mixed bag overall; some really interesting stories, but at times he doesn't expand on the truth and ends with just "that's not how it happened" which is unsatisfying; somewhat injects his personal politics in the text, which isn't necessary
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