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Lies My Teacher Told Me About Christopher Columbus: What Your History Books Got Wrong Paperback – August 12, 2014
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"A perfect antidote for the nonsense about Columbus conveyed to our children for generations."
Howard Zinn, author of A People’s History of the United States
"Absolutely indispensable for at least the next hundred years. This book is a real Discovery and a real Exploration."
Ariel Dorfman, Walter Hines Page Chair of Literature and Latin American Studies, Duke University
"Every teacher in America could benefit by reading this fine work."
Bill Bigelow, co-editor, Rethinking Columbus
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Up until approximately 50 years ago, history was all about great men and great events. But in their zeal to present iconic figures like Washington and Jefferson as persons to emulate, historians often went too far, portraying them as infallible demi-gods, and great events such as Columbus' discovery of America were always told in the most heroic fashion. But then in the 1960s, reflecting the attitude of the times, the pendulum began to swing back. Suddenly the great figures in American history had all become ambitious opportunists with self-serving ulterior motives. Historians began writing more and more about the long-neglected area of social history, focusing on women and minorities and the downtrodden. James Loewen is clearly a product of this new era of historical thought. As such, he never misses a chance to interpret Columbus' actions in the worst possible light, or ascribe to him the basest of motives.
I am a revisionist historian myself, and I recently wrote a novel about the American Revolution from the point of view of one of the great scoundrels in American history, in which I take a less-than-heroic look at the Founding Fathers. Scoundrel! But that was a novel, written with a huge dollop of cynical humor, and these were the views of the villain of the story. Every negative thing said about the revered figures of the Revolution could be true--if, like my nefarious narrator, you interpreted their actions in the most cynical way. Just as the Founders might have been the saintly wise men portrayed by earlier historians, if you choose to interpret their actions in all the best light. Of course the truth generally lies somewhere in the middle, and this is where Loewen fails as an historian. His books are based on overturning the earlier heroic, myth-ridden portrayals of figures like Columbus, and in so doing, he goes too far, giving a portrait of the man that is every bit as one-sided as the early biographies he is trying to correct. However, if the reader bears this in mind, he can learn quite a lot from Loewen's book. It is well-written, well-researched, well-argued, and he does a thorough job of presenting Columbus' less heroic motives, which certainly must have had some impact on his actions. As long as the reader maintains a healthy level of skepticism, and thinks of Loewen as a lawyer presenting a case rather than an impartial judge, this is a book well worth reading.