Sunday, August 7, 2011

Review: Lies My Teacher Told Me

Lies My Teacher Told Me: Everything Your American History Textbook Got Wrong
By James W. Loewen
Released: October 16, 2007
Publisher: Touchstone (Simon & Schuster imprint)
Pages: 464
ISBN-13: 978-0743296281

Genre: Non-Fiction, History

This fascinating book by Professor James W. Loewen, delves into the American mythos. Loewen points out why history is such a hated subject among the nation's youth. In order to separate fact from fiction, he compares 12 commonly used American History textbooks with historical research and authentication.

He explains that history is presented as a series of facts to be learned and then regurgitated for a test in our nation's high schools. History has come to mean memorizing a bunch of dates, and learning about historical figures who are elevated to hero status in American history textbooks. Primary sources are rarely, if ever, used or reffered to. Can you imagine taking a Shakespeare class without actually reading any Shakespeare?

He clearly explains that American textbooks seem to be obsessed with creating "heroes" out of our nation's historical figures. This is harmful because they start to whitewash prominent figures in American history, without addressing their flaws. This puts students in a bad predicament for disillusionment. And from what I was able to infer, there are two ways for disillusionment:

1. The potential for disillusionment by discovering the "hero" has flaws.

2. The potential for disillusionment in oneself. (For who could ever live up to some of these historical figures we put on pedestals?)

Loewen clears up facts about early explorers to the Western hemisphere, prominent figures like Helen Keller, and iconic figures from American History like Christopher Columbus. National myths are examined and put into perspective.

The book juxtaposes the myth and the reality for the reader. Paintings are used to aid in discussing perceptions of the treatment of Columbus.

The glorified, "heroic" version of Columbus as seen in the US Capitol's Rotunda:

Landing of Columbus  by John Vanderlyn
The unfortunate truth for the natives of Hispaniola:

Theodore de Bry's Woodcut on the Treatment of Natives by the Spanish
I think the author does what he sets out to do in the beginning: make history a much more fascinating subject by making it more real, and acknowledging that there is just as much controversy and debate in the past, as there is in the present. History is not a neatly little boxed up collection of self-contained "facts," but a tapestry of human experience as diverse in perspective as the human race itself.

Here is a video on the book's amazon page. Loewen gives a no-nonsense history of a Civil War Statue monument in Alexandria, Virginia:

'...O frabjous day! Callooh! Callay!' He chortled in his joy.


  1. Ooh! I cannot wait to read it. I just bought it and it is next on my list. :)

  2. It's really eye opening. I had heard about some of the things before, but what I didn't know blew me away.

  3. This sounds like the kind of book I'd love to read! Now I'll just have to see if I can get my hands on it.

  4. This one has been on my TBR list for SUCH a long time! I really, really MUST get to it sometime. Thanks for reminding me! 

  5. This looks really interesting.  I hate the fact that we tend to either idolize or demonize historical figures without taking into account that they are people, and as such multifaceted.

  6. I read this about 10 years ago or so (was this re-printed because I read mine way before 2007).  I've kept it all this time and it's moved with me from place to place.  Go read it!!


Please leave a comment.

Subscribe by Email

Netgalley Badges

Professional Reader Frequently Auto-Approved