Saturday, March 16, 2013

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

Title: Lies My Teacher Told Me
Author: James M. Loewen
Genre: History
Publisher: Touchstone
Published: 2007
Pages: 464

Rating: 3 out of 10

I was very excited to read this book, as the premise sounded fascinating. As an avid reader of history, I myself have, over the years, come to notice that Americans seem to be very good at glossing over the darker aspects of their history.

However, from the start, this book was a disappointment. Loewen begins his book by knocking down Helen Keller and Betsy Ross. From there, the book was dryly written. I have read textbooks that were far more interesting than this one.

A sense of arrogance graces this book from front to back cover. Loewen seems to delight in sharing what everyone else is getting wrong, appointing himself as a sort of textbook police. If he had given me the impression that this was justifiable (by showing the reader that he was passionate and knowledgeable about history, for example), it wouldn't have bothered me so much. However, I kept picturing him as a puffed-up snob, and it didn't make the book any more enjoyable.
I realize that pointing out such things as "only 2 of 12 textbooks mentioned this war..." is absolutely necessary for the subject here. But did the author have to keep including all of the little sentences about his students?
He obviously prides himself on being a good teacher, and he probably is, I am not arguing that.
But I don't think that that was the point of this book. In fact, I don't think that that has anything to do with it at all.
However, Loewen just can't resist slipping in praise about his students everywhere you turn, and with increasing frequency as the book progresses. He even quotes passages from his students essays, right alongside the quotes of presidents and world leaders.

I was hoping for stories about little-known of, or lied about, parts of American history. But the book is rather laid out in a discussion type format. It covers the subjects of Native American Indians, the Civil War, and racism most prominently, but I cannot recall a single story on any of these topics, just a lot of talking. I couldn't resist skimming this one.

In short, edifying about an interesting topic, but not a book I would ever recommend.