Saturday, December 15, 2012

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

Lies My Teacher Told Me : Everything Your American History Textbook Got WrongLies My Teacher Told Me : Everything Your American History Textbook Got Wrong by James W. Loewen
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

I'm glad I read this book. It's useful, presented in a readable way for the most part, and necessary. It works against the jingoistic tone of American History, stripping away the sugar coating to inform the reader how it actually happened.

Unfortunately, the book is sometimes uneven. The second-to-last chapter is so dry, I set the book aside for a week contemplating if I wanted to read the whole thing. There are some contradictions; the author wants race relations discussed in greater depth, but objects to the information coming from members of the oppressed race. The author objects to making heroes of our historical figures, but then spends most of the chapter on the Civil War building a shrine to Abraham Lincoln.

That's not the say the book is deeply flawed. It addresses several of my own observations about learning history in American schools. The picture in textbooks is scattershot and composed of names and dates, which this book does a lot to remedy. I got a much better idea of the big picture from this book, and how one event led to another. And, despite the author's stated distaste for POC sources, he does illustrate racism throughout history, and how it affects the present. Reading this book, it's clear that racism remains a factor despite slavery's ending 150 years ago, and it's in our power to fix it. Also, he very nicely debunks the "states' rights" myth of the Civil War.

The chapter on the first Thanksgiving told me little I didn't know, though it did highlight points I hadn't thought much about. I'd hoped it would have something I hadn't already unlearned. But then, Nathaniel Philbrick took an entire book, Mayflower, to expand on the concept, so I shouldn't be surprised his was more comprehensive.

Overall, I found this an informative read, and would recommend it to anyone who knew something was missing from the American History class in high school. Unless textbook publishers take some of his words to heart, I think this should be added to the curriculum. Despite its wide approach, it makes history a far more interesting subject, populated with human beings and a narrative instead of cardboard cutouts in flashbulb bursts.

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