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Lies Across America: What Our Historic Sites Get Wrong Paperback – November 14, 2000

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Editorial Reviews Review

Little seems to delight historian James W. Loewen, author of Lies My Teacher Told Me, more than picking apart the cherished myths of American history. Few Americans study history after high school--instead, Loewen writes, they turn to novels and Oliver Stone movies to learn about the past. And they turn to the landscape, to roadside historical markers, guidebooks, museums, and tours of battlefields, childhood homes, and massacre sites. If you were to trust those sources, Loewen suggests, you would learn, erroneously, that the first airplane flight took place not at Kitty Hawk, North Carolina, but at Pittsburg, Texas. "It must be true--an impressive-looking Texas state historical marker says so!" Loewen chortles.

In these entertaining pages, Loewen takes a region-by-region tour of the United States, pointing out historical oddments as he travels. For example, a massacre of white pioneers by Indians commemorated in Almo, Idaho, never took place, Loewen continues; neither did many other such events. Indeed, he insists, "throughout the entire West between 1842 and 1859, of more than 400,000 pioneers crossing the plains, fewer than 400, or less than .1 percent, were killed by American Indians." And if you were to visit Helen Keller's Georgia birthplace, over which a Confederate flag flies, you would get the impression that Keller had been an unreconstructed daughter of the Old South, whereas she was in fact an early supporter of the NAACP. And so on.

After finishing Loewen's alternately angry and bemused exposé, readers will likely never trust a roadside historical marker or tour guide again--which may prompt them to turn to history books to check things out for themselves. As well they should. --Gregory McNamee --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

From Library Journal

A Confederate war memorial in Helena, MT? America's most toppled monument? These are only a couple of the things Loewen discovers during his travels around this highly monumented country. This book takes an often amusing look at the strange and sometimes sinister motivation behind the creation of many of America's historic sites. Good questions to ask when seeing something as simple as a roadside plaque or as complex as Mark Twain's home town are "Who made this?," "When?," and especially "Why?" The answers often reveal attempts to misinform or push certain cultural or political agendas. As the title implies, Loewen (Lies My Teacher Told Me, The Truth About Columbus) views official history with a certain skepticism that can be entertaining. Recommended for public libraries.AJoseph Toschik, Half Moon Bay P.L., CA
Copyright 1999 Reed Business Information, Inc. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

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Product Details

  • Paperback: 480 pages
  • Publisher: Touchstone; Reprint edition (November 14, 2000)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0684870673
  • ISBN-13: 978-0684870670
  • Product Dimensions: 6 x 1.1 x 9.2 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.4 pounds
  • Average Customer Review: 3.6 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (113 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #1,225,435 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

More About the Author

James W. Loewen is the bestselling author of Lies My Teacher Told Me and Lies Across America. He is a regular contributor to the History Channel's History magazine and is a professor emeritus of sociology at the University of Vermont. He resides in Washington, D.C.

Customer Reviews

I found the information very interesting and informative.
stephanie swank
First, if this book had the title: "What You May Not Have Known About America's Historic Sites", I may have given this three stars.
Vincent Middleton
Lies Across America: What our Historic Sites Get Wrong is an excellent book by James Loewen.
Jason Nelson

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

77 of 80 people found the following review helpful By EJon on October 10, 2009
Format: Paperback
For all the shrill complaints, you'll notice no one points out any errors in this book. Indeed, most of the factual history in the book is solid and not even seriously debated by historians. For example - numerous memorials notwithstanding - all serious historians agree that the Confederates, not the Union, burned Richmond and many other Southern cities as they abandoned them. I learned a lot from this book, and I haven't found any serious problems with his facts for for the items I've looked into - although I don't think *everyone* would agree that President Buchanan was gay.

Like his earlier book, one of his central points is that accurate and complete history - with all its controversy and complexity - is simply more interesting than the sanitized (and sometimes just plain wrong) version we get in school or from historical monuments. I strongly agree, but some people are very uncomfortable with this view, as is clear from the other comments. He doesn't say our Founding Fathers were "despicable", merely that they were human beings with human flaws - some of them large. For example, he has a lot of good things to say about Thomas Jefferson, but it's a pretty serious omission to sweep the fact that he owned slaves under the rug. If you want to hear only good things about our major historical figures, do yourself a favor and *do not read this book*.

He does have a serious axe to grind with the South, but remember he's competing with books like "Slavery: as it was", which is still trying to paint an idyllic picture of black simpletons who really preferred being slaves (read some of the glowing reviews *that* book gets). We would probably complain if Germany still had monuments to Nazis, yet the South has many monuments vicious and outspoken racists.
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194 of 217 people found the following review helpful By I. Westray on August 28, 2000
Format: Hardcover
If you have any doubts about the lightning rod James Loewen has given us in this book and its predecessor, "Lies My Teacher Told Me," take a look at the few low ratings given by other Amazon readers. The code words are all there -- he's an ivory tower academic, he's anti-confederate, it's all "political correctness," he's racist because he's "anti-white," and so on. Cages have been rattled, it's as simple as that. Some cherished myths go down hard in these books.
Anyone who dismisses this as a "doctoral dissertation" from someone in an "ivory tower" hasn't read any dissertations, trust me. These are funny, chatty, entertaining books. (This one in particular is a great browse, because it's broken cleanly into sections about individual monuments.) Loewen's voice is perfect for this tone and subject, not in any way affected or studied; he's a likeable author, and these are enjoyable books.
Loewen's overarching theme is that history would be a much more vital, constructive force in American life if Americans were actually exposed to its true breadth and depth. Loewen makes many impassioned appeals to primary sources, to the voices and sentiments of actual participants. He gets at those basic themes in a nicely straightforward, common-sensical way -- by comparing primary sources to the schlock we're given in their place. For my money, the humor and pathos, the melancholy irony, in that comparison is a breath of fresh air. Lies My Teacher Told Me used a comparison of several high school textbooks as its departure point. Here Loewen begins by examining historical markers, asking whether each does an adequate job of describing the history it's meant to include.
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119 of 133 people found the following review helpful By David Wintheiser on October 14, 2000
Format: Hardcover
After reading some of the reviews here, I was a bit concerned that perhaps Mr. Loewen might have skewed his history a bit to help make his admittedly entertaining points. While the book's essays are copiously footnoted, and each essay contains its own bibliography (often running to half a dozen or more citations even for a small three or four page essay), some of the criticisms of Mr. Loewen's work still gave me pause. Since I am merely a casual student of history, I decided to take my questions to the most knowledgeable authority I knew: a history teacher friend whose favorite pastime seems to be finding the subtle historical distortions in otherwise excellent historical and historical-fiction movies like "Gettysburg" and "Saving Private Ryan".
After I had read him perhaps two dozen of the ninety-five essays in this book, my friend had no significant criticisms: Loewen correctly identifies not only those areas where there is a difference of opinion among historians, but also where there is agreement among historians that differs with the popular imagination. Loewen also identifies the actual history behind each monument, both the history of the event commemorated and the history of the monument itself where appropriate. He distinguishes between markers which merely attempt to cloud the truth (essay 13, for example), those which blatantly contradict the truth (essay 62), and those which have no relationship to the truth but have instead been invented of whole cloth (essay 15). The book is an impressive piece of historical detective-work, even more so when one considers that the history involved covers nearly the whole of the United States.
In the end, my friend enjoyed my 'preview' of Loewen's book enough so that he went out and purchased the hardcover. I already had. The book really is that good.
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