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


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Product Details

  • Paperback: 464 pages
  • Publisher: Touchstone; Revised edition (October 16, 2007)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0743296281
  • ISBN-13: 978-0743296281
  • Product Dimensions: 9.2 x 6.1 x 1.2 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 14.4 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 3.9 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (820 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #2,773 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly

Loewen's politically correct critique of 12 American history textbooks—including The American Pageant by Thomas A. Bailey and David M. Kennedy; and Triumph of the American Nation by Paul Lewis Todd and Merle Curti—is sure to please liberals and infuriate conservatives. In condemning the way history is taught, he indicts everyone involved in the enterprise: authors, publishers, adoption committees, parents and teachers. Loewen (Mississippi: Conflict and Change) argues that the bland, Eurocentric treatment of history bores most elementary and high school students, who also find it irrelevant to their lives. To make learning more compelling, Loewen urges authors, publishers and teachers to highlight the drama inherent in history by presenting students with different viewpoints and stressing that history is an ongoing process, not merely a collection of—often misleading—factoids. Readers interested in history, whether liberal or conservative, professional or layperson, will find food for thought here. Illustrated.
Copyright 1994 Reed Business Information, Inc. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

From Booklist

When textbook gaffes make news, as with the tome that explained that the Korean War ended when Truman dropped the atom bomb, the expeditious remedy would be to fire the editor. Loewen would rather hire a new team of authors bent on the pursuit of context instead of factoids. In Loewen's ideal text, events and people illuminating the multicultural holy trinity of race, gender, and social class would predominate over the fixation on heroes and acts of government. Such is the mood adopted throughout this critique of 12 American history texts in current use. Vetting 10 topics they commonly address--from the Pilgrims to the Vietnam War--Loewen bewails a long train of alleged omissions and distortions. To account for the deplorable situation, he offers this quasi-Marxist explanation: "Perhaps we are all dupes, manipulated by elite white male capitalists who orchestrate how history is written as part of their scheme to perpetuate their own power and privilege at the expense of the rest of us." Certainly students' appalling ignorance of history is troublesome, and broken families and excessive TV viewing are at least the equals of white male conspirators as the cause. However, libraries located where dissatisfaction with textbooks exists should be interested in Loewen's critique. Gilbert Taylor --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

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.

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Customer Reviews

3.9 out of 5 stars
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Most Helpful Customer Reviews

2,147 of 2,285 people found the following review helpful By A Customer on August 6, 2001
Format: Paperback
As a conservative white male who views revisionist history quite skeptically, I did not expect much from this book. As a student of American history, I understood what a woeful job our textbooks and (unfortunately) our teachers do in teaching the actual history of this country, but I never expected both the depth and the level of scholarship Mr. Loewen presents in this book. It is well researched, well written and much needed. Having grown up near an Indian reservation, my own personal studies in original sources confirm how accurate Mr. Loewen really is. The book is hardly "political correctness" run amuck as suggested by one review. And his point is not to paint America as evil or bash Christian Europeans as two other reviews would lead us to believe. This type of simple minded attack does not tell us anything about the book, but rather betrays the reviewers' own entrenched viewpoints - viewpoints that certainly will not be changed by exposure to the truth. In fact, the criticisms make Mr. Loewen's point almost better than he can as to why history is taught in feel-good myths rather than truth. Yes, Mr. Loewen treats certain issues and not others. He tells us he is doing so several times throughout the book, and makes apologies for it. This is not intended to be a replacement for a full history of the United States. Mr. Loewen makes good and valid suggestions as to such replacements. It is not even intended to be a complete coverage of all the things our history texts get wrong. He would need several more volumes for that, and even then would get some of it wrong. For those who actually read the book (and many reviewers obviously did not), he admits all of this. Mr. Loewen's book is an important start. But it is only a start.Read more ›
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628 of 668 people found the following review helpful By History Man VINE VOICE on May 5, 2009
Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
This is a real eye-opener to anyone who thinks they learned about U.S. history in high school. Loewen spent eleven years reviewing the 12 most commonly-used U.S. history textbooks and found all to be seriously wanting. Textbook publishers want to avoid controversy (so, apparently, do many school systems), so they feed students a white-washed, non-controversial, over-simplified version of this country's history and its most important historical figures.

To make his point, Loewen emphasizes the "dark side" of U.S. history, because that's the part that's missing from our education system. So, for example, we never learned that Woodrow Wilson ran one of the most racist administrations in history and helped to set back progress in race relations that had begun after the Civil War. Helen Keller's socialist leanings and political views are omitted and we only learn that she overcame blindness and deafness. John Brown is portrayed as a wild-eyed nut who ran amok until he was caught and hanged, rather than an eloquent and dedicated abolitionist who uttered many of the same words and thoughts that Lincoln later expressed.

Loewen's book vividly illustrates the maxim that "those who do not learn from history are doomed to repeat it." Ignorance of our real history also renders us incapable of fully understanding the present and coming to grips with the issues of our time. For example, from the Civil War until around 1890, real racial progress was underway in the United States and civil rights laws were Federally enforced in the South. The military was integrated and former slaves had the right to vote, serve on juries and as witnesses in trials, own property and operate businesses.
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131 of 145 people found the following review helpful By lilygirl on June 22, 2010
Format: Hardcover
This is one of the books that changed the way I look at history and modern current events. So much of what I thought I knew about American History was overturned or cast in a new light, and some aspects of modern life make a lot more sense now. At times it can feel like you're getting beaten over the head with negativity, but if you can get past that you'll gain some valuable knowledge and insight. It's well worth the read.

Loewen makes a very good point that we shouldn't unthinkingly accept what textbooks teach us, but we shouldn't unthinkingly accept what Loewen teaches us either. He's not immune from his own historical misrepresentations and simplifications in service of making his point. I'm a liberal and his digs at Bush Sr. were tiresome even to me. The whole truth isn't here--the whole truth is best learned from multiple books, sources, and viewpoints. But, please don't let the above criticism stop you from reading. This book gives a great starting-off place for finding out more of the whole truth about American History.
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146 of 171 people found the following review helpful By Mike Baum on December 26, 2000
Format: Paperback
In *Lies My Teacher Told Me*, sociologist James W. Loewen looks at twelve popular American history textbooks used in public high schools today and concludes that they are inexcusably inaccurate and biased. He shows that, in addition to their being sloppy and error-prone due to incompetence, textbooks oversimplify historical facts and causes, obscure the process by which historical interpretations are made and revised over time, perpetuate national myths and even willfully lie. Often, Loewen reveals, this is done in the service of promoting blind patriotism in students or in capitulation to various interest groups and other pressures that work to undermine the professionalism and integrity of the textbook industry itself. A multitude of examples from actual textbooks used today will likely disabuse many lay readers--including many high school teachers, according to cited studies of their expertise in their own field--of cherished but wrong beliefs.
Some readers will object to Loewen's obvious "liberal bias." There is a case to be made for this. I, for one, would like to see a deconstruction of textbooks' pervasive anti-capitalistic mentality. Is it honest history, for example, to mention the antitrust suit against Standard Oil but not to mention the fact that its business practices did not harm consumers but benefited them? Or that many of the reforms of the Progressive Era--the Meat Inspection Act and the Pure Food and Drug Act, to name but two--were lobbied for by "big business" (appropriate here, but what a loaded term!) to throttle their competitors? Or that there is more than one theory of the causes of the Great Depression--and that Franklin Delano Roosevelt's New Deal only prolonged it?
But, no matter. Such criticisms are beside the point.
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