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Legends , Lies & Cherished Myths of World History Paperback – November 29, 2011

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Product Details

  • Paperback: 320 pages
  • Publisher: William Morrow Paperbacks; Reprint edition (November 29, 2011)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0060922559
  • ISBN-13: 978-0060922559
  • Product Dimensions: 0.8 x 5.3 x 8 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 8.8 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 3.3 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (60 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #1,159,830 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly

While not exactly revisionist history as scholars define it, this is a breezy, entertaining, if occasionally too flippant, attempt to clear up many popular misconceptions. Shenkman ( Legends, Lies and Cherished Myths of American History ) here tackles such events as the Trojan War (the one described by Homer didn't take place) and Churchill's stirring radio speeches during World War II (they were performed by an actor). Some of the purported revelations--about the numerous contradictions in the Bible and the bad rap given to Machiavelli--are hardly news. Others, like the faking of newsreels in the first half of this century and the fact that Voltaire made up the boast "I am the state," generally attributed to Louis XIV, will surprise many. Fun to read. Illustrations not seen by PW.
Copyright 1993 Reed Business Information, Inc. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

From Booklist

Was there really a valiant little Dutch boy, a protesting Lady Godiva, a fiddling Nero, or a prudish Queen Victoria? No, says Shenkman in his latest debunking effort. The historian roams the globe and the pages of history, calling up popular images and replacing them with more prosaic accounts and the reasons the mythic versions evolved in the first place. No person, event, or thing is safe from Shenkman's corrections; among his topics are Cleopatra, Scottish kilts, Copernicus, the Middle Ages, World War II, marriage, and Frankenstein. Denise Perry Donavin --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

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Customer Reviews

The book isn't all bad.
G. Bonine-Giles
For instance, he argues that the Munich Agreement wasn't really "appeasement" because Britain wasn't prepared to go to war.
A. Courie
The writing is very easy to follow, and the short, yet detailed chapters make the book a fairly quick read.
Chad Spivak

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

34 of 37 people found the following review helpful By ensiform on October 16, 2004
Format: Paperback
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 instances, his "proof" of the falsity of one claim is simply another author's claim. Shenkman also has an odd idea of what constitutes American history, often resorting to 17th-century history to refute claims of what "American" life really is. He also quotes extensively but cites sources sproadically, often lumping a few paragraph's worth of sources together in one footnote. There are one or two nuggets of good stuff in here, like the origin of Paul Bunyan, or some of Harvard's history, but the lack of primary sources and generally non-scholarly approach make this book somewhat interesting at best.
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48 of 56 people found the following review helpful By Michael Rossander on November 7, 2002
Format: Paperback
This looked like a fascinating premise - debunk all the things we think we know. Unfortunately, the book did not live up to it's promise for me. The author tried to cover so much ground that nothing could be properly explored or explained. Just a lot of random factoids strung together.
I'm normally a fan of the factoid books, but I guess I just had mismatched expectations. I expected more from this book.
I was also vaguely troubled at a number of points during the book. The author used a lot of weasel words (might, could, may, etc.) when trying to convince us that the conventional understanding of a particular point is wrong. If you know better, say so. If it's a matter still in dispute, that's a little too academic for me to care about.
At other points, I found myself challenging his assumptions and sources. The one good thing I can say about this book is that for popular entertainment it was exceptionally well footnoted. (Not that I have the resources to look up all those books, but it was reassuring to think that I could.)
I doubt I'll be picking up any of his other books.
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51 of 60 people found the following review helpful By G. Bonine-Giles on July 18, 2000
Format: Paperback
All in all, it's a pleasant read. The problem is that Shenkman seems to get carried away with the sound of his own voice, forgetting to fill in little things like details, attributions, etc. And sometimes, his "debunking" is unnecessary.
For example, Shenkman spares great pains to tell us that works of fiction (Shakespeare, Hans Brinker, etc.) aren't true at all - they're fiction! (Perhaps in the sequal he can inform us that Harry Potter isn't a real person).
Although he admits his biases up front, this doesn't give him carte blanche to revel in them. Shenkman is unabashedly Ameri-centric, and his prejudice against other nations is sometimes appalling. For example, he denigrates the British for not being completely stoic during the Battle of Britain in WWII. His evidence? One person's diary shows that he (gasp) went to two luncheon parties during one week! Horrors! He denigrates heroes of France, England and India because, basically, they were human. God forbid!
The book isn't all bad. Shenkman (when he actually quotes his sources and doesn't prattle on about minutia) does a great service by asking us to examine our history instead of getting it spoon-fed to us. As such, this book makes a nice starting point for the re-exploration of history. If only he'd given us more to chew on, instead of a thin, sarcastic gruel.
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26 of 30 people found the following review helpful By J. E. Markley on June 3, 2006
Format: Paperback
Your sixth grader might find it revealing, but nobody with any knowledge of history will learn much from this disconnected, purposeless collection of factoids. Shenkman acts like an annoying twelve-year old who's memorized 50 state capitals and wants you to listen as he recites them -- and thereby proves how smart he is.

Many of the facts he "reveals" here were things most people would learn from a comptent high-school or college American History class, or else are too irrelevant to be included even there. e.g. pointing out that Paul Revere had two companions, or that Molly Pitcher was not the only woman to fight in the Revolution.

Yes, it's true that most people aren't aware that John Paul Jones later served as a mercenary to Catherine the Great ... but what's the point? Are they supposed to know? Does not knowing reflect some sort of failing in their education? Shenkman certainly implies as much.

But even more annoying is his habit of attacking myths that nobody really believes. He refers to the "firmly held belief that premarital sex is a twentieth-century phenomenon." Firmly held by whom? Shenkman wants to pretend that there are people out there who think that there was no fornication pre-1900, so that he can show how wrong they are (and by contast, how smart and urbane he is). But of course nobody actually thinks this; what they actually think is that it was >less common< in the past than it is now ... which his statistics confirm. Now it probably is true that many people misunderstand or exagerrate how much less common ... but that's a comparatively subtle distinction, and Shenkman doesn't do those.

To pick another, he alludes to the (putatively common) "belief that Presidents were freqently born poor." Excuse me?
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