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Monday, November 21, 2011

Book Review: Lies My Teacher Told Me by James W. Loewen

Lies My Teacher Told Me: Everything Your American History Textbook Got Wrong
by James W Loewen
Paperback, 464 pages
October 16, 2007
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Genre: Non Fiction

Source: Personal collection
“Americans have lost touch with their history, and in Lies My Teacher Told Me Professor James Loewen shows why. After surveying eighteen leading high school American history texts, he has concluded that not one does a decent job of making history interesting or memorable. Marred by an embarrassing combination of blind patriotism, mindless optimism, sheer misinformation, and outright lies, these books omit almost all the ambiguity, passion, conflict, and drama from our past. 
In this revised edition, packed with updated material, Loewen explores how historical myths continue to be perpetuated in today's climate and adds an eye-opening chapter on the lies surrounding 9/11 and the Iraq War. From the truth about Columbus's historic voyages to an honest evaluation of our national leaders, Loewen revives our history, restoring the vitality and relevance it truly possesses. 
Thought provoking, nonpartisan, and often shocking, Loewen unveils the real America in this iconoclastic classic beloved by high school teachers, history buffs, and enlightened citizens across the country.”

I think I should start off by saying that this book isn’t a “set the record straight” book about American history – it is a critique of high school US history textbooks. I have seen too many reviews where the reviewer complained that it was all about textbooks – and yes it is! Loewen conducted a thorough survey of over a dozen US history textbooks and compares them against one another as well as against the historical record. He discusses what is misrepresented or completely overlooked and why. He explains why there is a need to teach our children true history as opposed to the continued feeding of lies. At the same time we are presented with much more detailed histories of events that we thought we knew.

I graduated from high school only 6 years ago and can attest to having used at least 2 of the textbooks that Loewen reviewed and actually can agree with many of his points about these books. I know that I too fell into believing many of the broad generalities that are taught by these texts and Lies was quite thought provoking – I often found myself going to explore many of these topics. I think that this is a good book not just for someone who is involved in the textbook selection process, but for parents as well. It helps to know if your child is getting an adequate history lesson or not.

Lies covers a vast array of topics from the colonization of America up to 9/11 and the present. Some of the topics covered include: Christopher Columbus, the first Thanksgiving, Native American policies, Racism, Antiracism, Federal Government, Vietnam War, Recent Past. He also closes out the text with chapters on why history is taught the way it is, some things that can be done to improve the situation, and the outcome.

I very much enjoyed this book. I liked seeing how different texts covered (or failed to cover) an issue and then learn some additional facts about the highlighted event. There were also some great images and charts that are often not included in high school texts that were very enlightening and interesting. At times the author can be long winded and you are ready to move on to the next section, but you really get the feeling that he is passionate about what he is telling you. I can’t wait to read his other book, Lies Across America: What Our Historic Sites Get Wrong.

I recommend reading this preview of the introduction before committing to the book to discover if this book is for you.

Reviews of this book by other bloggers:

Buy the Book:: Amazon | Barnes & Noble | RJ Julia

Also by James W. Loewen:

lies across america
Lies Across America: What Our Historic Sites Get Wrong

sundown towns
Sundown Towns: A Hidden Dimension of American Racism

The Confederate and Neo-Confederate Reader: The “Great Truth” About the “Lost Cause”

Find James W. Loewen: Website

Copyright © 2011 by The Maiden’s Court


  1. I found this book really interesting--because my middle and high schools covered all the "truths" behind the "lies" so I wasn't too shocked! It's funny to me how varied curriculums are! I will say--history is such a nuanced and detailed subject, there's always something to leave out--and it's a tricky business deciding what that will be.

  2. Fantastic review, Heather. What a great concept for a book. Even though I'm not American I did take some American history in both high school and university so I'd be curious to know how my understanding of it meshes with the information in Loewen's book.

  3. Rowenna - It sounds like you had a great history course! For me it was a lot of same old thing until my senior year of High School when we got a new teacher. She really knew what she was doing and didn't just teach from the book - I enjoyed that class.

    Melissa - That would be interesting to compare what you were taught. I wonder if it would be more accurate than what many schools here teach - I wouldn't be surprised!


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