Little seems to delight historian James W. Loewen, author of Lies My Teacher Told Me, more than picking apart the cherished myths of American history. Few Americans study history after high school--instead, Loewen writes, they turn to novels and Oliver Stone movies to learn about the past. And they turn to the landscape, to roadside historical markers, guidebooks, museums, and tours of battlefields, childhood homes, and massacre sites. If you were to trust those sources, Loewen suggests, you would learn, erroneously, that the first airplane flight took place not at Kitty Hawk, North Carolina, but at Pittsburg, Texas. "It must be true--an impressive-looking Texas state historical marker says so!" Loewen chortles.
In these entertaining pages, Loewen takes a region-by-region tour of the United States, pointing out historical oddments as he travels. For example, a massacre of white pioneers by Indians commemorated in Almo, Idaho, never took place, Loewen continues; neither did many other such events. Indeed, he insists, "throughout the entire West between 1842 and 1859, of more than 400,000 pioneers crossing the plains, fewer than 400, or less than .1 percent, were killed by American Indians." And if you were to visit Helen Keller's Georgia birthplace, over which a Confederate flag flies, you would get the impression that Keller had been an unreconstructed daughter of the Old South, whereas she was in fact an early supporter of the NAACP. And so on.
After finishing Loewen's alternately angry and bemused exposé, readers will likely never trust a roadside historical marker or tour guide again--which may prompt them to turn to history books to check things out for themselves. As well they should. --Gregory McNamee [via]