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Publisher's Summary

To take a skeptical approach to American history is not to dabble in imaginative conspiracy theories; rather, it's to reframe your understanding of this great nation's past and actually strengthen your appreciation for what makes American history such a fascinating chapter in the larger story of Western civilization. And in this bold 24-lecture series, you can do just that.

Travel back in time and examine many commonly held myths and half-truths about American history and prompt yourself to think about what really happened in the nation's past - as opposed to what many believe happened. These lectures demonstrate how reconsidering some of the most popular notions of U.S. history can yield new (and sometimes startlingly different) interpretations of political, social, economic, and military events. But more than just debunking commonly accepted accounts, you'll be able to replace these misconceptions with insightful truths. Exploring both America's history and the verdicts that have been rendered about some of its most enduring figures - including George Washington, John Adams, Woodrow Wilson, Franklin Delano Roosevelt, and many others - these lectures investigate a wide-ranging list of questions. What impact did other nations have on the American Revolution? Has George Washington always been revered as president? Do we now understand the true blunders in America's Vietnam policies and tactics?

In exploring these and other questions, these lectures prove themselves to be a delightful intellectual experience that will allow you to rethink not just the facts of U.S. history, but also their meaning.

PLEASE NOTE: When you purchase this title, the accompanying reference material will be available in your Library section along with the audio.

©2012 The Teaching Company, LLC (P)2012 The Great Courses

What listeners say about The Skeptic's Guide to American History

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    3 out of 5 stars
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    3 out of 5 stars

Muddled, selective and most damningly, unnecessary

Would you try another book from The Great Courses and/or Professor Mark A. Stoler?

No. While I can respect the attempt to a "Skeptic's" viewpoint, Prof. Stoler's style is not nearly disciplined enough to warrant further purchases. It seems that he only feels the need to preface a lecture with "Many people believe...", in order to rip down the straw man arguments. For example, one lecture addressed "Did Slavery Really Cause the Civil War?" Many people believe it was.... He proceeds to enumerate reasons it wasn't, except that it was, but not for the reason people think. Uh-huh. And he blows the lid off the myth of "Laissez-faire", making the claim that it was in fact a myth... government was PRO-business in the Gilded Age. Shocking. Most annoying may be the ultra-jingoistic views that "Most people believe" about World War II, which are predictably easy to dissemble.

If you’ve listened to books by The Great Courses before, how does this one compare?

It does not compare favorably. Understanding Japan: A Cultural History was much more informative and more pleasingly presented.

Would you be willing to try another one of Professor Mark A. Stoler’s performances?

No, particularly if the Victorian flourishes and canned applause bookending every lecture are included.

Do you think The Skeptic's Guide to American History needs a follow-up book? Why or why not?

No, he's done enough.

Any additional comments?

If you're looking for a "progressive" (don't get Stoler started on what that means) or non-traditional history of American History, you'd best look elsewhere. Even as I consider myself progressive (whatever that means), these lectures are just too selective in what is considered significant and inconvenient history is ignored.

54 people found this helpful

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24 Lectures The American History not taught.

This Great Course was very easy to follow and understand. It begins with the causes of the Revolutionary War and goes out to the Vietnam War. I especially enjoyed the parts about the Civil War and the Emancipation Proclamation and the ratings of various Presidents.

There was also a lecture on Hoover and whether or not he was helping to get the economy going and what Roosevelt did or didn't do to get us out of the Depression.

Lots of things I forgot or never knew, so this was a great learning experience.

Professor Mark Stoler is a wonderful teacher and lecturer. I am going to continue to look at some more of these courses as no matter what your age, you should keep on learning.

120 people found this helpful

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Skeptical but Not Cynical

I was a little apprehensive about taking this course because of the title. I read many history books, and I get really tired of revisionist history and cynical professors with an axe to grind against America. Given the title, I feared running into exactly this scenario. I was happily relieved to find that not to be the case with this course. The professor's goal is to shed light on American history myths and misunderstandings, but he does so in a respectful way that does not belittle America or ignore the nation's accomplishments. For example, he points out that George Washington lost nearly every battle he fought in the American Revolution, and, thus, Washington was not an unmatched tactical general. The professor points out, though, that Washington was a strategic master who won the war without winning all of the battles by making the British situation in America unsustainable and winning enough key battles to be successful. As another example, he discusses the myth that President Franklin Roosevelt "gave away" Eastern Europe to the Soviets at the end of World War II. The professor explains that the Soviets had already conquered Eastern Europe, and, instead of surrendering territory, Roosevelt negotiated territorial concessions from the Soviets, not vice-versa. The class was fascinating and thought provoking and, thankfully, not cynical or demeaning to America.

352 people found this helpful

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Great course, some background info needed

This was overall a very good course on American History.

What it isn't: A step-by-step timeline of American historical events. It does not tell a story or chronological history as you would expect from most history lessons. It assumes you already know a step above basic American history. For example, it may reference one of the British pre-revolutionary war acts and not explain what that act is.

What it is: A detailed look at misconceptions throughout American history. Now IN these misconceptions, we still get a bit of a chronological history. For example again with the Revolutionary War, Stoler details the various reasons of discontent that led to the eventual break, and how the "Americans" reached their final, reluctant ultimatum. Through this lens, he focuses on a very specific misconception and we see the American narrative play out behind it. This course also focuses on the political realm of American history.

Pros: Stoler has a great speaking voice. This course is not boring in the least bit, and it is extremely informative. I would also consider Stoler rather objective. I definitely learned a lot and would listen to this course again!

Cons: As mentioned, this course assumes some prior good knowledge of American history. If you don't know much about a particular time period, it can be hard to follow as Stoler doesn't always explain the events themselves--he assumes you know what was going on and then debunks misconceptions. There was also a lecture or two that really just melded together because it was a long list of laws passed/political actions. (One lecture in particular about 1800's laws comes to mind.) The only reason I am giving this 4 stars rather than 5 is because a couple of the lectures fell flat.

Overall: I definitely recommend this lecture! There were only a small handful of lectures that fell flat, and the rest were fantastic. I'm sure I'll listen to this again down the road.

65 people found this helpful

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Wish my history classes had been like this

This is an academic class, and one should approach it as such. Mark A. Stoler, while not exciting as a lecturer, was better than my college professors, and made me really interested.
There really wasn't that much in his lectures that I didn't already know, but he did clarify things in many instances. And he made clear that, while history doesn't repeat itself, attitudes often are.
My boyfriend and I listened to this, one chapter each evening, at dinner, and we paused it often to discuss the material being presented. It beat the heck out of watching TV while we ate, and it actually made the time much more enjoyable than usual, as well as more sociable.
I probably wouldn't recommend this as a straight-through listen, but approach it as you would with any history class. The lectures themselves are only about half an hour each, so it is actually easier to take than the usual hour-long lecture one deals with at a college level. And there aren't constant umms and ahhs to irritate.

78 people found this helpful

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Unexpected

I thought I would be hearing a more cynical presentation and was pleasantly surprised to find that was not the case. One of the best presentations of events and facts supporting the lecturer's interpretation of those events I have ever heard.

16 people found this helpful

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Pedantic's Guide is More Like It

Pedantic is as close as I get to a substitute for Skeptic to convey that these lectures are more about splitting hairs than their stated aim of myth-busting. To hear Professor Stoler tell it, was the Jefferson-Hamilton rivalry liberal vs. conservative or democrat vs. aristocrat? Was the Civil War about slavery in the South or West? Was Gettysburg THE turning point or one of several pivotal battles? Was America isolationist and anti-imperialist or an expansionist empire? Were populists and progressives from 1900 like populists and progressives today?

The answer to these questions are .. yawn. Stoler adds lesser known detail and nuance, but he doesn't bust many myths, he just renames them. The important myths in American history transcend semantics. The shame of the Columbus myth is not that the story taught in school is a fiction created by Washington Irving in 1828, but that Columbus initiated the genocide of the native people he erroneously dubbed Indians. The shame of the way WWII ended is not that Russian intervention against Japan was unnecessary because we had the Bomb, but that dropping the bomb was unnecessary because Russian intervention had already broken the will of the Japanese army. The shame of the Civil War is that racism endures to this day.

Two consecutive lectures argue that Hoover wasn't THAT bad and FDR wasn't THAT great. Even if Stoler was convincing (he did not convince me), why bother making a case that Hoover was merely bad rather than worse, that FDR was merely good yet still worthy of top-5 all-time status? To spend an entire lecture on WWII myths, splitting hairs over how to share credit with Britain and Russia for defeating the nazis, arguing that appeasement was not a cause for war so much as Hitler's unappeasability, and reminding us that fascist dictators did not usurp power but were popularly elected, and yet not once mention the Holocaust? To run a fine-tooth comb over issues like Manifest Destiny and the record of Andrew Jackson and barely mention the devastating impact they had on Native Americans?

On the plus side, Stoler does question Woodrow Wilson's reputation (though not far enough in condemning his re-institutionalization of racial segregation and his military interventions in the Americas and even Russia). He does make favorable cases for several figures forgotten by history (though HBO already rehabilitated John Adams). He does achieve his prime myth-busting goal in a lecture demonstrating that the US has been much more warlike throughout history than we like to believe (and not as successful as we pretend). He is at his best when viewing his subject through the prism of economics, consistently showing us across all lectures how government and big business have always been in bed, for better and for worse.

I am a skeptic of major proportions when it comes to American history. I listened to Lies My Teacher Told Me, a snappy fact-filled exercise in myth-busting. I listened to Untold History, a jaw-dropping in-depth look at what has been swept under the rug so as not to dust up a more acceptable telling of recent history (undeterred by its 30-hour run time or figurehead presence of Oliver Stone). I was hoping for a third dose of appropriately revisionist history, drawn by the Skeptic in the title, but I am left with a bad case of split ends.

14 people found this helpful

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Not everyone's cup of tea but certainly mine.

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

I loved it! It is long as hell, and there were parts I was less interested in, but I really liked the professor's voice and pace, and general outlook. This approach to history is sorely needed, mainly that our view of it is ridiculously colored by the present, and requires a continuously skeptical approach because of this. The naysayers reviewing it were hoping for more/expecting something different from the word "skeptic" in the title, so read their reviews, but I didn't expect anything more than some observations by a guy who studies these things, not a debunking of every myth ever. So I was happy. Also his voice. I have abandoned perfectly good books because I hate the narration. They all seem to come from the same farm that trains people to say that xyz drug "may not be right for everyone; symptoms may include vomiting, diarrhea, shortness of breath, suicidal ideation and hallucinations" etc. in the most mellifluous Stepford Wife voice possible. Those people need to GO.

57 people found this helpful

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    5 out of 5 stars

This is how history should be taught

This is how history should be taught -- not with presumption of knowledge, but with more questions and the attempt to answer such questions with all available data currently known, while still acknowledging that much still needs to be learned. Also a relief to not hear how "good/bad" events or figures were in general, as if such subjectivity can be written as fact. Rather different perspectives were approached, and what was "good/bad" for whom, from which perspective, and in consideration of which goals/intentions.

22 people found this helpful

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How surprised do you think you will be?

I think I was hoping to hear some really earth-shaking, recently discovered history. Not so much. For example, I thought my feelings about the Civil War (that it really was about slavery ) would be challenged. But except for some substantial nuances, I was mostly reinforced. The deprivations that the Revolutionary Army suffered through I at least had some knowledge of. The way that the Great Depression lasted until WWII has already been well documented.
So even though I self-identify as a skeptic, I thought I would really be challenged. OTOH, it did fill in a lot of holes in my knowledge so I'm happy to have made this purchase.

33 people found this helpful

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  • Seth
  • 04-30-17

Mind blowing!

This is so mind opening that it should be required EARLIER in education. If I was a high school history teacher I would teach history based on these lectures.
American history is so unclear compared to what out politicians claim and even our early education books teach us.
If you think you know the founding fathers, you better listen to these lectures and get educated.

1 person found this helpful

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  • Jan
  • 08-05-15

I expected more

This is not overly critical of the U.S. And it's only a very light intro into the topic.

1 person found this helpful