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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

Critic Reviews

"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)

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  • Dubi
  • New York, NY
  • 01-17-15

Historical Fiction Stranger Than Truth

Who was the first black major league baseball player? Which iconic child hero grew up to be a radical socialist communist feminist? Which president lionized for his prescient foreign policy and progressive domestic initiatives ordered some half dozen foreign invasions, even sending troops into Soviet Russia, and re-institutionalized racism? Which great American hero, one of only two honored by name with a national holiday, launched genocide and slavery in the western hemisphere? Was Lincoln actually racist?

Why don't we know these things? Because, according to author James Loewen, a professor of sociology, our high school history textbooks omit, distort, or outright misstate some facts of our history, striving to tell a nationalistic story based on pride, patriotism, rationalization, and self-congratulation rather than the truth of the matter. Our history was, as the saying goes, written by the winners.

But, warns Loewen, if you elevate that cliche from explanation to excuse, you risk falling into another cliche: those who ignore history are doomed to repeat it. Twenty years after Loewen wrote his cautionary tale, recent history demonstrate his point -- the fictional rationale for invading Iraq, ongoing debates that sometimes devolve into turmoil over social justice, racial inequality, and environmental disaster, and (on the more specific issue of how these things are taught), the introduction of controversial textbooks in some states that exacerbate the distortions Loewen wrote about two decades earlier to further a particular political agenda.

How you react to this book, to its premise, to its highly detailed decimation of history texts, will depend on how willing you are to re-examine what you were taught in high school, how you feel about the truth behind myths taught as history. It will likely also depend on whether your personal opinion tacks to starboard, because this book decidedly leans to port. Loewen has an unmistakable point of view -- I believe his case would pack more punch if he took an objective approach, even though I align with him almost 100% ideologically.

As a one-time history major back in my long-ago college days, I always prefer truth over mythology. So I ate up Oliver Stone's TV documentary and companion book, The Untold History of the United States, and I devoured this book in audio format. I already knew many of these things, but I was still capable of being surprised by other revelations. I would heartily recommend this to others willing to re-examine the truth behind some of our beliefs. If you're not comfortable with that, I suspect you don't need me to tell you stay away, you'll get that from the title and description.

My only criticism is that the last three chapters are no longer about the distortions in our history texts, but about how these texts are created and adopted, how they affects people's perceptions, and what can be done to rectify the situation. The context of how history is taught in high school is perfect for unmasking the truth of our history, but for me personally, the subject of the textbooks themselves is less interesting. So this ultimately cost the book one star in the story category (I would really like to rate it 4 1/2 stars, so I go with 4 for story and 5 overall to get a 4 1/2 average -- the narration gets only a 4 because it sometimes borders on strident).

The answers to the questions in the opening paragraph: a) not Jackie Robinson, b) Helen Keller, c) Woodrow Wilson, d) Columbus, and e) other than being against slavery, yes, in his early days, as was almost everyone in his era, but he evolved rapidly once he became president.

10 of 10 people found this review helpful

  • Overall
  • Timothy
  • Wellington, Austria
  • 09-02-04

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?

201 of 223 people found this review helpful

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  • Ira
  • Indianapolis, IN, United States
  • 04-13-12

I Thought everyone who could think already knew

Would you recommend this audiobook to a friend? If so, why?

Yes it is worth a read, and what is written is true, I myself thought that most already knew most of the facts within this book. You may have to plow your way though some of the book.

What was your reaction to the ending? (No spoilers please!)

The conclusion could be seen long before the ending of the book. I do go along with the idea put forth that too much is covered in the teaching of our history, and that more important than remembering dates and names would be to open up the minds of the student to what was their take on the information put before them. Teach history as an interesting story and the student will learn and take an interest in it.

Any additional comments?

History can be the most interesting class that a high school student would take. It is up to the teacher to make it so. Our present school systems do not allow our teachers to do this. Don't teach to test teach to Think!

5 of 5 people found this review helpful

  • Overall
  • Performance
  • Story

I'm a stupid white girl... 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.

71 of 86 people found this review helpful

  • Overall
  • Elana
  • MINNEAPOLIS, MN, United States
  • 08-28-11

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.

15 of 18 people found this review helpful

  • Overall
  • Lindsey
  • SuttonUnited Kingdom
  • 06-05-05

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.

26 of 33 people found this review helpful

  • Overall
  • steve
  • kearny, NJ, United States
  • 12-22-09


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!

17 of 22 people found this review helpful

  • Overall

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.

23 of 30 people found this review helpful

  • Overall

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.

31 of 42 people found this review helpful

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Eye openingly honest and amazingly insightful

As a white male who grew up with the American history books of the early 70s, this book truly hits home and is a wake-up call for anyone as oblivious as me. While I knew the books we read as kids glossed over a lot of facts and were skewed to show the good side of our amazing country, I had no idea of the extent and never thought of the impact on our society and race relations as a whole.

In addition to the facts and corrections highlighted by this book, it also provides an amazing analysis on the state of our children's education regarding US history in a way that only an insider could.

While some of the details of the industry have evolved with the rise of the internet, the ideas still ring true and the flawed teaching is still relevant today.

I highly recommend this book as a great read as well as a finely produced and narrated audio book.

1 of 1 people found this review helpful

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  • Tess
  • 01-14-12

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.

  • Overall
  • J. Watts
  • 07-31-11


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.