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

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This national best-seller is an entertaining, informative, and sometimes shocking expose of the way history is taught to American students. Lies My Teacher Told Me won the American Book Award and the Oliver Cromwell Cox Award for Distinguished Anti-Racist Scholarship.

James W. Loewen, a sociology professor and distinguished critic of history education, puts 12 popular textbooks under the microscope-and what he discovers will surprise you. In his opinion, every one of these texts fails to make its subject interesting or memorable. Worse still is the proliferation of blind patriotism, mindless optimism and misinformation filling the pages.

From the truth about Christopher Columbus to the harsh reality of the Vietnam War, Loewen picks apart the lies we've been told. This audiobook, narrated by Brian Keeler (The Hurricane, "All My Children") will forever change your view of the past.

383 pages, Paperback

First published August 4, 1995

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About the author

James W. Loewen

19 books750 followers
A professor of sociology, James W. Loewen earned his bachelor's degree at Carleton College in 1964, and his master's (1967) and doctorate (1968) degrees from Harvard University. Loewen taught at Touglaloo College from 1968 until 1975, and at the University of Vermont from 1975 until his retirement as professor emeritus in 1995.

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Displaying 1 - 30 of 3,546 reviews
Profile Image for Maurean.
857 reviews
February 20, 2008
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)
Profile Image for Jim Foley.
253 reviews14 followers
January 30, 2008
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.
Profile Image for Jamie.
Author 4 books158 followers
August 1, 2008
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.
Profile Image for Felicia.
Author 28 books128k followers
December 9, 2013
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!!
Profile Image for Always Pouting.
568 reviews677 followers
February 14, 2020
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.

Profile Image for Sumit RK.
338 reviews444 followers
April 24, 2019
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.
Profile Image for Mischenko.
1,012 reviews97 followers
April 12, 2018
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*****
Profile Image for Trevor.
1,279 reviews21.3k followers
February 8, 2010
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.

Profile Image for Pywicks.
81 reviews7 followers
December 16, 2008
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.
Profile Image for Kaora.
549 reviews279 followers
December 29, 2015
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.
Profile Image for Karina.
767 reviews
April 28, 2022
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.
Profile Image for Michael Finocchiaro.
Author 3 books5,417 followers
May 27, 2018
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.
Profile Image for Chris.
341 reviews950 followers
February 9, 2008
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....
Profile Image for kendall.
28 reviews7 followers
July 7, 2008
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.
Profile Image for Dustin.
92 reviews15 followers
March 7, 2008
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.
Profile Image for Jessica.
Author 27 books5,589 followers
August 29, 2022
James W. Loewen needs you to know that he's smarter, more educated, and just all-around better than any history teacher in America, anyone who has ever contributed to or published a history book, and also you, the stupid reader who was lucky enough to stumble across his amazing book that sets the record straight on American history!

Except it doesn't, because 90% of the book is him bitching about how textbooks are for-profit scams, history teachers are bad at their jobs, and students aren't taking the initiative to seek him out and get the education they need. The two stars here are for the information about American history he did manage to disseminate, between rants about how stupid everyone else is, and which were very interesting. Although there was little that was really as mindblowing as he thought it would be. This is the updated version which was done sometime in Obama's presidency, and he said several times that people are just now starting to stop the hero worship of Columbus, just now finding out that most early American presidents owned slaves, etc.

Um, sir? I'm 45 years old. I grew up in small Idaho towns where my history teachers were mostly very conservative Mormons, and I knew all about Jefferson and Sally Hemings, that the story of Washington and the cherry tree was a tall tale, that Helen Keller was a socialist. Literally the only information here that was news to me was that Woodrow Wilson was a racist monster. (I previously had no opinion of him at all.)

Loewen says in the beginning that he doesn't blame and is not out to defame history teachers, then proceeds to do just that. He makes blanket statements about how NONE of them use primary sources, or help their students make connections between the condensed events in their textbooks. That they teach straight from the textbook, use the materials like tests and videos that come with the textbook, and never think outside the box. I freaking WISH. My US History teacher in high school make us give a presentation every Friday on a topic we had to choose and research ourselves, and have at least two sources for. I don't even remember HAVING a textbook! As someone who knows so many teachers (friends, family members, plus my kids' teachers), having this man drone on and on about how inferior they all are was sending me up the wall! He took every history teacher in America and tied them up in a neat little box he labeled, "Lazy and Uneducated." And he bases this assumption on the students he sees as a sociology professor at a small southern liberal arts college.

My eyes cannot roll hard enough.

The annoying tone of the book was not helped by the audiobook reader, either. He would fill his cheeks with air and explode them out whenever he said a word that started with B or P. And since a lot of this book concerns Black American history . . . Just imagine someone audibly making their cheeks flap by saying "the BLAcks, the BLAcks, the BLAcks" about thirty times a minute. My husband heard about five minutes of this book and had to leave the room.
Profile Image for Jen.
380 reviews42 followers
April 20, 2009
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.
Profile Image for Deena.
1,335 reviews7 followers
January 13, 2009
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.
Profile Image for Daniel.
269 reviews
June 22, 2018
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.
Profile Image for Barbara.
1,636 reviews26 followers
October 24, 2021
This is a book I assigned my students. It is not easy reading, but informative. The one aspect of the book that I found unnecessary was the author's recount of exactly which high school history textbooks get which facts right, or which they leave out. Overall, this text uncovers aspects of American history that many of us don't know. For example, I associated President Woodward Wilson with being involved in the founding of the League of Nations. I didn't know that Wilson was a white supremacist who tried (but failed) to ban African Americans from many government jobs, but did manage to segregate federal jobs.

There are reasons that many secondary school students find history deadly. Instead of delving in-depth into understanding historical periods and the context of events, students often are required to memorize names and dates. The reasons for this go beyond a plot by the "haves" and publishing companies to keep students from learning more controversial parts of American history. While that is one reason, there are also competing values at play as well as stakeholders with different interests, such as ideas about the goals of education and teaching American history. Is the goal to develop students' pride in their nation, and foster patriotism? Well for some segments of American society, it is. Do we want to protect students from some of the more traumatic parts of our history? That can be a reason for both teachers and parents. African American parents may be concerned about their young children learning some of the more tragic aspects of Black history. More conservative parties may choose to describe westward expansion as American progress, but few American Indians would view the lose of their lands, way of life, and the majority of their people, as progress.

By sticking to a bland version of American history, we avoid controversy (as well as critical thinking). One may ask why the inquiry approach that was developed in the 1970's did not stick. Well in addition to the many pressures students and teachers may feel now to pass a growing number of high stakes tests, teachers simply don't have the time to do the research and work required for this kind of teaching in most schools.

Ironically, the author writes, while public school students are subjected to a deadening brand of history that may suppress many aspects of US history that could be controversial, and critical of our government, students of better off parents, attending private schools, are more likely to be exposed to a wide range of American history, even though it is more critical of their socio-economic class. This is the type of history, the author argues could elevate students of traditionally marginalized groups - Latino, Black, American Indian and immigrant students.

I read the first 200 pages but had to finish the remaining 40% of the book in less than a week. So I got the audiobook and found it pretty good listening.
Profile Image for Josh.
19 reviews
January 2, 2010
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.
Profile Image for Jan Rice.
509 reviews427 followers
Shelved as 'collection-read-in-part'
August 3, 2017
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.

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.
Profile Image for Justin.
38 reviews9 followers
January 21, 2008
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.
Profile Image for Ross Blocher.
429 reviews1,336 followers
June 19, 2017
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.
Profile Image for Jim.
Author 6 books2,015 followers
November 12, 2022
Loewen points out a lot of problems with the way history is taught in this country; more than even I knew about & I've argued a lot with both my history teachers & those of my kids for decades. (My US History teacher completely ignored the Pentagon Papers when I took it in 1974!) Loewen originally reviewed a dozen history books & this edition adds another half dozen. While they've improved in some respects, they're still teaching outright lies, half-truths, & boring kids out of their minds with vapid pronouncements. They're also teaching too much & including too many factoids, which leads to icons, not real people making tough decisions. There's no understanding of the tides of change. They don't encourage any sort of critical thinking or further reading & research.

I would have liked a shorter version of this. While it was well narrated, it's very repetitious. He hammers in the same points of how the text books failed over & over condemning them for only telling part of the story while doing the same at times. 3 or 4 stars? 5 for the basics, 2 for the delivery. 3.5 rounded up.

He starts out with a good, moderate agenda, but he veers pretty far to the left & that causes him to fall prey to many of the same issues he correctly condemns in the text books.
- He mentions Thomas Jefferson's 'fortune', but not his mostly self-imposed financial difficulties nor did he write a word on how critical the black vote was in electing him. No mention of made of the laws or the fate of many 'freed' slaves, especially at the time of his death.
- There's no mention of why Andrew Jackson hated Indians so much.
- He initially leaves the impression that the succession of the southern states was monolithic when it was far more nuanced for many, especially in the border states. (Kentuckians in Gray: Confederate Generals and Field Officers of the Bluegrass State & Beautiful Jim Key: The Lost History of a Horse and a Man Who Changed the World show how conflicted KY & TN were.) He eventually does touch on how conflicting goals did undermine the Confederacy, but he overstates the state of their armed forces toward the end of the war. He fails to mention how depleted their treasury was or the state of their trade & economy.
- In making his point for the stratification of US society, he compares US company CEOs' wages to that of factory workers in Bangladesh which completely undermines what had been a good section.
How can I trust his analysis when he makes such leaps & omissions?

Arguable Point: He dumps both Bacon's & Shay's Rebellions in as part of class wars, not the way I'd categorize them. If I did, I'd at least mention the Whiskey Rebellion in the same breath. He didn't. IMO, the first was over stealing Indian land. The other two were about nearly bankrupt governments desperate to make ends meet. The irony of Sam Adams writing the Riot Act or George Washington turning Federal troops loose on US citizens should always be mentioned. The rural poor were certainly hurt more than rich in both cases, so I suppose that is his justification. Seems too simple to me.

The last two are more than halfway through the book & the first time he gets into economics. It left me with the impression that he doesn't know or understand the economics underlying the situations he has framed in sociological terms. Throughout the book, I kept wondering at the lack of economic reasoning. I also was disappointed when he condemned us for not spending as much of our GDP on foreign aid as some other countries, but never mentioned a dollar amount or how that is figured. From the little I've read, it varies greatly.

I am disappointed that he didn't take a broader view of history geographically, politically, & over time. As the book went on, he condemns the US for its hypocrisy - teaching a whitewashed version while doing some pretty heinous things. He's correct, we have & do, but he became increasingly strident about it without putting it into any broader context. He spends quite a bit of time on slavery, race, & social issues without comparing them to the rest of the world at the time. He makes it seem as if our meddling in other countries is done only for greed. He doesn't mention the other players & contests going on. Even a quick summary of President Thomas Jefferson dealing with the Barbary Pirates is mind-blowing in so many ways.

He mentions how the revelations about Nixon & the Vietnam War harmed our trust in the government severely, but he fails to mention that sources other than the standard history books he reviewed have also made these betrayals clear & how often they're caught today. A People's History of the United States (1980) by Zinn is a well known refutation & often used in schools yet he never mentions it. He simplifies situations into the same idiocy he says he abhors. Disappointing.

He's also asking for the impossible in some cases. He wants more information in the books yet makes a big deal about them being too large. Each decade adds even more to our story. As a high school student, I was able to take one year of US History. It's ridiculous to think a single school year is long enough to soak up even a brief, vanilla overview much less leave time for discussion. If kids had to read Hakim's Joy Hakim's "A History of US" books from grade 4 to 7 or 8, they could spend more time discussing in high school. He mentions Hakim's books, yet doesn't actually say they should be used.

He points out & then seems to forget that these books have to pass the scrutiny of school boards, too. These are the same bodies that have banned classics from libraries. He does pick this back up in one of the last chapters. In the afterword, he finally offered some solutions, but I wish they had come sooner, sprinkled in among the condemnations a bit more.

All of that makes it seem as if I have a lot of problems with this book. Not really. From a factual perspective, it started out better than most & it does point out a huge, awful problem. I just wish he hadn't repeated himself quite so often or undermined his arguments by preaching just part of the story. That's just ironic.
Profile Image for Lena.
Author 1 book335 followers
May 14, 2011
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.
Profile Image for Jeffrey.
Author 156 books1,304 followers
August 23, 2018
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.
1,054 reviews88 followers
December 15, 2017
Turkey Day Coverup Unmasked and......

If setting a lot of American history straight was the only function of this book, it would still be worth five stars. Yes, you will learn a lot of stuff your high school history teacher and textbook (much more the book) never told you. Maybe your teacher stuck to the book out of a well-placed sense of self-preservation. [Why get fired for teaching stuff that didn't go down well with the town fathers or rightwing citizen groups ?] I know that in my case, my teacher never mentioned the epidemics that virtually wiped out the Native Americans before the dear old Pilgrims even got to Plymouth Rock. How come Squanto could speak English ? Was Chris Columbus really the first to know that the Earth was round ? Did he actually discover America ? Was Reconstruction a vast failure caused by Black inexperience and (Northern) White greed ? How many times did the US send military forces to intervene in various Latin American countries ? Why were all those millions of African-Americans galvanized to get Obama elected ? Was it just because he looked like them ? Check your (real) history books. Was Woodrow Wilson such a paragon of virtue ? How come I never heard that a sitting president of the USA got inducted into the Ku Klux Klan right in the White House ? (Harding) Whoa, dude ! If these few rather radical differences from your textbook rouse your curiosity, hang onto your hat ! You are going to learn a lot more by reading LMTTM. Some people say that the author is too left wing. Well, we got the rightwing version stuffed into our brains as kids, and I think that's still going on. About time to hear a difference. Plus, history is not just a collection of facts, it's also interpretation. You may not like Loewen's interpretation, but you have to come up with a better one in order to discredit it---a better one that still adheres to known facts, but puts a different spin on them. If you are prepared to do this in the average American high school history course, I'll eat my hat. My high school history book pontificated and we had a zillion quizzes on the stuff. The USA could do a lot better, unless you believe that thinking is a dangerous activity.

"An' that ain't all" as the song says. Loewen did more than just his homework. He analyzed 12 popular US history textbooks for eleventh graders and showed how they consistently valued colorful tales and personality over actual facts. He showed how they avoided serious issues that might have made us think---racism, social class, capitalism, labor history, immigration, and gender inequality (just for a start). Most of them presented feel-good history, trying to create patriots who believed that America was the ultimate triumph in nation states, the International Good Guy. While feeling bad about your country is not a great diet for kids, a bit of truth never hurt because if you think you live in "God's Country", there is no other explanation for why others don't like us except `jealousy' or simple `ill-will'. You won't be able to understand what happens now because you have no idea about the controversies of the past. Loewen argues that Americans don't like history because it is so phoney as presented, so willfully ignorant of actual conditions, and because the textbooks are syrupy when they should be insightful. He says that memorization of thousands of useless facts turns kids off. I think, personally, that the reason that Americans are so dismal in history stems from reasons beyond just textbooks, so right there I depart somewhat from the book. Still there is no gainsaying that his picture of the textbooks (and fact memorization) is right on. And it's not just a long diatribe about what's wrong. He offers plenty of suggestions as well, take them or leave them. Frankly, this is one of the most instructive books I've read in a long time on any subject. I'm sure it's the single book you need if you wonder how come kids today can't understand what's going on in the country or the world. And why should we point the finger at kids ? We all had those textbooks. Read this one.
Profile Image for Lisa Bell.
20 reviews1 follower
July 10, 2007
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.
Profile Image for Cyndi.
2,310 reviews95 followers
January 19, 2018
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.
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