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Lies My Teacher Told Me: Everything Your American History Textbook Got Wrong | [James W. Loewen]

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

This national best seller is an entertaining, informative, and sometimes shocking expose of the way history is taught to American students. Lies My Teacher Told Me won the American Book Award and the Oliver Cromwell Cox Award for Distinguished Anti-Racist Scholarship.
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Publisher's Summary

This national best seller is an entertaining, informative, and sometimes shocking expose of the way history is taught to American students. Lies My Teacher Told Me won the American Book Award and the Oliver Cromwell Cox Award for Distinguished Anti-Racist Scholarship.

James W. Loewen, a sociology professor and distinguished critic of history education, puts 12 popular textbooks under the microscope, and what he discovers will surprise you. In his opinion, every one of these texts fails to make its subject interesting or memorable. Worse still is the proliferation of blind patriotism, mindless optimism, and misinformation filling the pages.

From the truth about Christopher Columbus to the harsh reality of the Vietnam War, Loewen picks apart the lies we've been told. This is a book that will forever change your view of the past.

©1995 James W. Loewen; (P)2002 Recorded Books, LLC

What the Critics Say

"Lies My Teacher Told Me goes beyond recounting fallacies of history and correcting American image: it surveys social issues misreported, ideas misrepresented, and encourages students of history to think about not only the facts, but the reporting which embellishes and colors their presentation. An invaluable guide for the reader." (Midwest Book Review)
"An extremely convincing plea for truth in education." (San Francisco Chronicle)

What Members Say

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  •  
    Timothy Wellington, Austria 09-02-04
    Timothy Wellington, Austria 09-02-04
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    "Of course he has an agenda. He wrote a book!"

    I agree with the criticism that the author has an agenda, but I disagree that it is so clearly biased. While his examples often include commentary and opinion, the reader should be able to filter through that to the real point: there is a lot of missing information or outright lies told in high school history books used today.

    I especially like the reviewer here who expresses the sentiment that Americans be proud of their history. That reviewer misses the main point which is that you don't only tell the positives without any of the negatives because you deprive the student from understanding that history, both the people and the events in it, are not one dimension things which can be glossed over.

    I challenge any reader/listeners of this book to think about whether the way Americans are taught history is accurate for all students. If you are native American, African, or any other racial group other than white, are the stories accurate or is American history just supposed to make white Americans feel good about how great they are?

    I am white and no apologist. History is history and none of us are responsible for what others did, especially in the past. The point is that history should help us understand why our world is the way it is today. If it's just a feel good fiction story, what is the point?

    126 of 141 people found this review helpful
  •  
    Lindsey SuttonUnited Kingdom 06-05-05
    Lindsey SuttonUnited Kingdom 06-05-05
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    "Fascinating and well presented"

    Very entertaining and narrated well. Not good for the car, becuase you may want to keep noting down things to check. I borrowed a lot of history books from the library while I was listening to this book, and had a great time discussing with various friends the views the author expresses, especially the view that you can be proud of a country that sometimes does bad things. I laughed myself silly when I found that our British books also censor Helen Keller's political views, and was chilled by Columbas' quoted letters. History writing at it's most thought provoking and entertaining.

    22 of 27 people found this review helpful
  •  
    january huntersville, NC, United States 01-19-13
    january huntersville, NC, United States 01-19-13 Member Since 2012
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    "I'm a stupid white girl..."

    ...at least that's what my American History professor told me during my first year of college. As it turns out, he might have been right. By the third chapter of this book I had to pause it to go look up information on the author just to make sure it wasn't my history professor. It's not. Just some old white guy. But I swear this is the same information that I so vehemently rejected in college. Perhaps (and I hate to say this) I was more accepting of the information because it was coming from a white man and not from a black man who I found condesending and insulting. Or maybe it's because I have age and experience on my side this time.

    The argument I used with my professor was that, although I'm white, I came from the lowest of low classes and escaped a religious cult in order to get an education. I was offended that he was telling me that I, and all other white people, are the reason that he struggled to make something of himself.

    This book brought both of these issues into clear focus for me. Race and social class. It would seem that my professor and I were playing roles we had been given by society and by our collective history.

    I thought this book was going to be more about getting the facts straight, but it is, instead, about why we are taught history that emphisizes the positives and complettely ignores any negatives, and how/why we need to change how history is taught in high school. Like some of the other reviewers, I found the author to be a bit boring and sometimes a little too angry. I understand his passion, but it came off as preachy.

    On the positive side, even when the book was boring, it still kept my interest. I knew a lot of the awful things about slavery, genocide and that Christopher Columbus was an a**hole, but was truly amazed at what he said about Helen Keller. I like her even more now. Yes, yes. So she identified herself as a communist. But she had the guts to stand up and shout (sign?) about what she knew was wrong, and that's more than most hearing and sighted people are willing to do.

    This book won't be for everyone. It's academic rather than entertaining. But if you have the patience to get through it, you might just be a better person for it. Even if you don't like what the author is saying, perhaps you can still take away from this book the message that I found to be the most important. Think for yourself, ask questions and don't follow along blindly when you can be an active participant.

    13 of 16 people found this review helpful
  •  
    Elana MINNEAPOLIS, MN, United States 08-28-11
    Elana MINNEAPOLIS, MN, United States 08-28-11 Member Since 2010

    FunnyBusiness

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    "Who Knew Betsy Ross Didn't Design The First Flag"

    Since learning this particular fact in "Lies" I have asked many colleagues and to a person, no one was even aware that there was any question or debate regarding Betsy Ross and the first flag.

    Granted, the truth about the first flag doesn't impact economics, world relations, or human rights, but it does make you feel foolish - at age 60 I feel like I just learned there isn't a Santa Claus.

    Of course the myth about Ms. Ross is just the tip of the misinformation students are fed regarding American history.It gets better. From Columbus, to Woodrow Wilson, to our involvement in war, the American history most of us learned is embarrassing, inaccurate, and dangerous.

    This was one of the most eye-opening and educational books I have ever read I really think it's a most read for anyone who is interested in current events and curious why the rest of the world doesn't see the US quite the way we do.
    .
    While the narrator was definitely not one of my favorites and at times to book seemed to get bogged down in educational politics,the information was so important that those annoyances were simply minor aggravations.

    6 of 7 people found this review helpful
  •  
    steve kearny, NJ, United States 12-22-09
    steve kearny, NJ, United States 12-22-09 Member Since 2009

    Addicted to Audible since 2009

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    "MUST READ"

    A must read for anyone enjoys history from a world's perspective. One of the best history books I've ever encountered. Excellent author and great narration too!

    12 of 15 people found this review helpful
  •  
    Theseus 07-07-13
    Theseus 07-07-13
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    "Ultimately dies by its own sword"
    Would you recommend this book to a friend? Why or why not?

    I would recommend to a few friends who are intelligent enough to see through the misinformation and appreciate the core message of the book.


    What was most disappointing about James W. Loewen’s story?

    Professor Loewen fails to take his own advice to "treat the truth as sacred" and falls into just as many historic errors, though in the opposite bias, as the textbooks he criticizes. While correctly pointing out that current history textbooks repeat many half-truths and outright lies, while omitting other very important facts, he then goes forward to try and correct these commissions and omissions with equally heinous factual errors emphasizing different untruths, half-truths, and omissions.

    While it may be necessary to swing the pendulum heavily in the other direction to counter decades of bad historic authorship in textbooks, it is unforgivable for the author who repeatedly claims that the truth is of utmost importance to then substitute his own disinformation. What we are taught as historic "facts" actually tend, more often than not, to be a consensus opinion based on available evidence (primary source) and interpretation thereof. Unfortunately, which facts are included, which are controversial, and which are considered apocryphal are influenced as much by politics and culture and even personal guilt as by any objective standard. The author, while recognizing faults in others, fails to recognize them in himself which, if anything, are even greater.

    I am a frequent reader of revisionist history, long ago having recognized how full of errors my history education was, and appreciate what the author is trying to do. If one is willing to set aside a lot of his "facts" and focus on the message that the existing textbooks are seriously flawed, it is a valuable, though belabored, point. Therein lies its chief value.

    For example, once the author starts to discuss ethnocentricity and the flaws of Christopher Columbus and the Plymouth colonists, about how they are lionized at the expense of the aboriginals and inconvenient facts to this mythos are swept under the rug, he seems to fall heavily into the other pervasive myth of the "noble savage." We have been encouraged incessantly by the purveyors of political correctness to believe that Indians in the Americas were pure and noble and represented all that was good about mankind, sort of a human equivalent of the elves in fantasy tails, and were nothing but victims at the hands of the evil Europeans and their weapons of war and their devastating diseases. While Loewen doesn't go quite that far with his demonization of Europeans, and I tend to agree with his assessment of their motivations and flaws on the whole, he fails to provide equal treatment to the Indians and their flaws. It is not acceptable to criticize the natives because modern politics have assigned them the role of victim. So rather than teaching the facts and events, both favorable and unfavorable, regarding each side and permitting the individual to decide who is noble, if anyone, and what was bad, the author insists on pursuing one-sided arguments to build up one side and denigrate the other apparently out of a misplaced sense of guilt.

    Thus I feel the book overall has some moderate value to it, but take it all with a grain of salt. The ultimate message of the book, shown both by his mostly valid criticisms of other historians as by his own bad example, is that history does not exist in a vacuum and the message delivered to the reader has been heavily filtered by various influences and individuals along the way, each adding their own bias. Perhaps it is impossible to produce an unbiased history text, and that may be the lesson, though unintended, we can learn from Professor Loewen.


    What does Brian Keeler bring to the story that you wouldn’t experience if you just read the book?

    I think the narrator does a fine job of providing a condescending tone towards the listener that the author likely approves of. You very much get the sense that not only is the author calling the textbook authors morons (which they often are) but also blames the listener/reader for believing these other authors. The premise that most American History books contain massive errors somehow seems to be the fault of the other victims in the narrative, the students. Instead, the tone of voice is one of a self-important intellectual who has never done an honest day's work chastising a group of children because they believe in Santa Claus. I'm sure the author was pleased with this.


    If this book were a movie would you go see it?

    No, though it might make a good History Channel 1-hour documentary.


    2 of 2 people found this review helpful
  •  
    Carl Stamford, Ct, United States 03-25-05
    Carl Stamford, Ct, United States 03-25-05 Member Since 2005
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    "Scholorly but Boring"

    The important thing to know about this book is that it's not a history book. It's a book ABOUT history books.

    I bought this book thinking it was another book I had read in the past : "That's Not in MY History Book", which is a really fun read and very informative.

    "Lies..", on the other hand is a rather scholorly work but boring, repetitive, and whiny. You won't learn too many new anecdotal facts, but rather just a handful that are meticulously proven then worked to death. For example, expect to learn that Hellen Keller became a card-carrying communist (which is interesting), then prepare to listen to the author whine that it's not in the history books for about 20 pages.

    If you want to listen to a history book that I think would get the "Lies.." stamp of approval yet not be boring, I would suggest "Everything You Need to Know about American History but Never Learned". There's a 6 hour version and a 20 hr version. That books doesn't gloss over slavery, indians, or any of the other hot buttons, yet at the same time has a positive vibe. Listen to this books a few times, as I did, and you'll not only be an expert on American History, but an expert on Indian History, Black history and the slavery issue. Then you can quiz your friends and laugh at them. Ha!

    37 of 51 people found this review helpful
  •  
    Lawrence Linden, MI, USA 06-14-05
    Lawrence Linden, MI, USA 06-14-05 Member Since 2004
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    "Worthwhile, but not a classic"

    It's an easy listen but a tremendous amount is missing without the illustrations and notes of the print copy, which my daughter had as required reading in her seconary AP American History class -- which caused me to listen in the first place.

    This is NOT a history book. It's a sociology book about secondary history education. Unfortunately while the author makes an impassioned plea for the problem he fails to provide any comprehensive solution. More textbooks with less scope and more depth won't do it, yet that, along with a change in the approach of teachers and school boards (and no methodology for achieving that) are about all that's really proposed.

    Likewise, it's easy to say that we should not publish inaccurate or misleading data and then feed it to our students under the guise of unalterable facts. I agree strongly with the fact that we should not publish information that is untrue -- but its nowhere near as clear how far we should go to _draw_attention_ to the humanity and foibles of our "heros" without destroying the reason for mentioning the hero at all.

    Stong "liberal" agenda to the book, but the fundamental message that students should be taught to THINK, and that avoiding controversy is destructive to that end, is valid.

    16 of 22 people found this review helpful
  •  
    James R. Racheff Frederick, MD, USA 09-30-04
    James R. Racheff Frederick, MD, USA 09-30-04 Listener Since 2004
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    "Reviewer Missed His Own Point"

    The first reviewer ("James") concluded that "History is history- you can't lie about it."; however, the very point of the book is that you can lie about history and, very often, those who lie are the very people who author the textbooks used in many High School history classes.

    The real question poised by this book is more blunt: should we teach our children the full truth about the history of our country (good, bad, and indifferent) or do we try to instill "unquestioning patriotism" on the masses?

    The book does become more "preachy" towards the second half, and the author certainly has an agenda of his own, but the questions raised are still salient, appropiate, and very interesting.

    17 of 24 people found this review helpful
  •  
    Steven RIVERVIEW, FL, United States 02-15-13
    Steven RIVERVIEW, FL, United States 02-15-13 Member Since 2012
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    "Was Hoping for Something Else"

    Really interesting anecdotes on American history, but not enough of the book is devoted to that. I was hoping for a book that was all of that. Stuff like "You learned that x but actually y" is what I wanted but the book only devotes about 1/4 of the time to that. The rest is devoted to telling you why you learned it the way you did which his conclusion is usually: racism. Anyway, it was alright, but like I said I wish there was something else.

    1 of 1 people found this review helpful
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  • Tess
    Surbiton, United Kingdom
    1/14/12
    Overall
    "Thought provoking."

    I really enjoyed this book, it was thought provoking and well read. Its main premise is how the teaching of history by text book is killing the subject, which wouldn't be so bad if the text books were not just full of rubbish history.
    The examples are told with humour but it can be a little repetitive.

    0 of 0 people found this review helpful
  • J. Watts
    7/31/11
    Overall
    "Inspiring"

    Beautifully read and giving fascinating insights into American history. Cannot fail to make you annoyed at the way history has so far been taught. The only downside is that author, by his own admission, fails to look into the history of two important social groups in American history: women and Hispanics. That would have made it perfect but nevertheless Loewen does inspire you to read further and in effect to be your own historian. Highly recommended.

    0 of 0 people found this review helpful
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