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Founding Myths: Stories That Hide Our Patriotic Past 1st Edition

48 customer reviews
ISBN-13: 978-1595580733
ISBN-10: 1595580735
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Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly

Patrick Henry never said, "Give me liberty or give me death!" In fact, no record exists of what he said in his powerful call to arms of March 23, 1775. And Molly Pitcher never took her husband’s place at a cannon after he fell at the Battle of Monmouth. Historian Raphael dissects these and 11 other myths of the American Revolution to uncover the truth of these famous events and the significance of their conversion into myth. These tales, argues Raphael, represent 19th-century ideals of "romantic individualism" more than the communitarian ideals of the revolutionary era. Raphael (A People’s History of the American Revolution) continues in his populist vein by arguing that these myths, rather than encouraging patriotism and heroism, actually "take away our power," leaving us "in awe of superhuman stars" like Washington or Jefferson and "discouraging ordinary citizens from acting on their own behalf." This is arguable, but advocates of history as seen from below will find the author’s point of view appealing. And all students of American history will find Raphael’s correction of the historical record instructive and enjoyable. Illus.
Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

From School Library Journal

Adult/High School - If a high school history teacher were to ask his class when the Declaration of Independence was signed, he undoubtedly would hear a chorus call out, "July 4, 1776." But what percentage of students, or teachers for that matter,would know that as of August 1, only John Hancock had actually signed the document? And how many would know that at least 14 men who were not even in Philadelphia on July 4 are recorded in the Congressional Journal as signing it on that well-remembered date? But sign it they did, and what does it matter what the actual date was? Raphael thoroughly delineates the creation of the fictive July 4 signing, including intentional lies and omissions in the "official" Congressional Journal. The chief impetus behind this doctoring of history was simply to have a neat, unmistakable date for national celebration. The author goes on to expose numerous myths before, during, and after the Revolution revolving around Paul Revere's ride, Valley Forge, Patrick Henry's "Give Me Liberty or Give Me Death" speech, the Battle of Yorktown, and several others. In each case, Raphael outlines the myth, reveals what really happened, and, most importantly, argues why we must move past historical nonsense so that a truer, more democratic national record can emerge. Academic historians have long known these truths. Raphael deserves praise for his efforts to have that knowledge trickle down to the rest of us. Toward that end, he offers a "Note to Teachers," including a Web site with grade-appropriate lesson plans. - Robert Saunderson, Berkeley Public Library, CA
Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

Product Details

  • Paperback: 368 pages
  • Publisher: New Press; 1 edition (July 1, 2004)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 1595580735
  • ISBN-13: 978-1595580733
  • Product Dimensions: 8.1 x 6.5 x 1 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1 pounds
  • Average Customer Review: 3.7 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (48 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #478,709 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

More About the Author

Ray Raphael is a Senior Research Fellow at Humboldt State University, California. His seventeen books include Founding Myths: Stories That Hide Our Patriotic Past, A People's History of the American Revolution, Mr. President: How and Why the Founders Created a Chief Executive, and most recently Constitutional Myths: What We Get Wrong and How to Get It Right.

Customer Reviews

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

78 of 83 people found the following review helpful By L. F. Smith VINE VOICE on August 26, 2008
Format: Hardcover
Some of the reviewers critical of this book are missing the point. The author does indeed debunk some of the mythic events of our revolutionary past. However, his purpose is NOT to prove that the founders were somehow evil, or to argue that the US is not a great nation, or to make young Americans cynical, or even to show off by attacking other historians.

Rather, he's arguing that the founding myths-- the amazing (and often fictional) achievements of people like Paul Revere, Molly Pitcher, Patrick Henry, etc.-- obscure an important reality: The American Revolution was one of the broadest-based political movements in human history, and all of the patriots who participated deserve credit, not just the "heroes."

Why does this matter at all? Because the genius of the American idea is that we are both a nation of "the people" and a nation of individuals. Focusing on individual accomplishments obscures the truly amazing nature of the accomplishments of the founding generation as a collective whole.

Further, some of the myths Raphael debunks actually distort our history in important ways. For example, the myth that the Revolution essentially ended with the British surrender at Yorktown denies the important reality that the fighting continued for more than a year afterward, and the outcome was very much in doubt for that whole time. The myth that all of the fighting in the Revolution was British vs. American patriots ignores the reality that in the southern colonies, the Revolution was a vicious civil war between American loyalists and American patriots, a struggle that was to have consequences for the next hundred years.

Those who see this book as the explication of some sort of egalitarian bias are welcome to their views.
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26 of 26 people found the following review helpful By Metallurgist TOP 1000 REVIEWER on April 25, 2009
Format: Paperback
This book is subtitled "Stories That Hide our Patriotic Past", which is an important theme of the book. The author contends that the myths that have been created about the Revolutionary War and its heroes obscure the real story and overshadow the important contributions of countless unsung patriots. Unfortunately, some chapters do degenerate into a populist, left leaning, screed that has prompted some reviewers to trash this book. However, on balance, I found the information provided far outweighed the chapters that degenerated into a screed. The author is careful to document when and why these myths were created and how they have been incorporated into textbooks and how this incorporation has changed over time. I found this documentation to be very important, since without it the author might just be substituting one myth for another.

Some of the myths are well known to be myths, with little or no historical foundation. The story of Molly Pitcher and that of young George Washington chopping down the cherry tree fall into this category. Other stories are not myths ser se, but rather are simplifications that distort the actual historical fact. The idea that the Revolutionary War ended with the victory at Yorktown is an example of this type of "myth". Fighting continued after this battle, and ten times more American soldiers died after Yorktown than died in the battle itself. A good history points out that the peace treaty was not arrived at until September of 1783, 25 months after the victory at Yorktown, but the fighting during these 25 months (a civil war in the Southern Colonies/States between Patriots and American Loyalists) is often overlooked. The civil war aspects of the war are often replaced by the myth of solidarity of the colonists against Britain.
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25 of 27 people found the following review helpful By Lars P. Hanson on June 17, 2008
Format: Paperback
Often it takes time for history to prevail over mythology, but it can happen, as this author proves. The book is well documented, and the references check out. The one-star reviews speak for themselves - neither really addresses any of the issues raised in any substantive manner.
Yes, Americans have generated their own mythology surrounding what Americans consider to be key events or key instruction points in their history. No surprise there - every nation does that. (The Serbs still celebrate a massive defeat on the plains of Kosovo in 1389, almost 620 years ago!)
The author's point is that the truth actually reveals more about what is most laudable in the American character than do the myths. He argues quite convincingly that the truth is both more interesting and more worthy of remembrance than are the myths. His arguments are thoroughly footnoted and his sources are well documented.
I will not spoil the book for those who have not yet read it, but I do highly recommend it to any and all who are more interested in truth than in mythology.
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38 of 46 people found the following review helpful By Seachranaiche on October 9, 2004
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
It is quite unsettling when the historical "truths" we believe to be absolute turn out to be embellishments, myths, or outright fabrications. We believe the Revolutionary War and the Founding Fathers to be sacred; they are beyond reproach. The truth is tough to take, but as Ray Raphael explains in great detail, the embellishment of any individual act of heroism during the Founding period of our nation cannot detract from the hundreds or thousands of acts of heroism that went on daily but just didn't make it into the history books. Often, the embellishments or myths that have evolved around a particularly famous event actually serve to portray that event as less exceptional than it really was. Many episodes from the Founding have been mythologized not from a desire to cover up the truth, but to convert what was a complex struggle into streamlined stories that could be passed down to children. This is why we must always be skeptical of oral traditions that are assumed to be fact: They are going to have been embellished; it is impossible for them not to have been. They may tell a great story or pass on an important moral, but allowing them to become dogma only conceals the truth.

Despite its flippant cover, Founding Myths is not light reading. Raphael does examine a few of the more recognized Founding stories, but he writes as if he is on a crusade, and before long he is delving deeply into the characters and motivations of the Founding Fathers themselves. He cites his sources, and I am sure he has done his research, but his interpretations are completely egalitarian: There seems to be no room in his worldview for individual impetus or catalysis. If any individual Founder acted in a particularly prescient or heroic way, he could only have done so because his constituents ordered him to.
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