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Lies Across America: What Our Historic Sites…

Lies Across America: What Our Historic Sites Get Wrong

by James W. Loewen

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8481116,532 (3.73)1
"Lies Across America looks at more than one hundred sites where history is told on the landscape, including historical markers, monuments, outdoor museums, historic houses, forts, and ships. Loewen uses his investigation of these public versions of history, often literally written in stone, to correct historical interpretations that are profoundly wrong, to tell neglected but important stories about the American past, and, most importantly, to raise questions about what we as a nation choose to commemorate and how."--Jacket.… (more)



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As an avid landmark snarfer, you can imagine my excitement at finding this book on what our historical markers, memorials, and monuments get wrong - and, occasionally, right. Some of it made me very sad. After all, much of American history can be summarized as "white people ruin everything," but there were some bright spots. And some very funny ones, like the woman in Indiana who is only remembered for moving there sans a body part. It certainly opened my eyes when reading markers and visiting monuments, and gave me new questions to ask and points to ponder. I'd never even heard of the Philippines-American war, for example, and my education about Reconstruction was much less thorough (and more biased) than I'd realized. Now I have a whole new list of places I'd like to visit and events and people I want to learn more about. Definitely recommended for anyone interested in American history, especially if you like to visit historic sites. ( )
  melydia | Nov 3, 2014 |
Lies of omission is a more accurate title. I found this book to be a little disappointing. Perhaps it's my fault for misinterpreting the subject matter. I had assumed it dealt with information that was undeniably wrong or untrue. Presenting things inaccurate in fact rather than too concise or limited in scope.

The majority of the entries are not so much out and out "lies" as they are lies of omission or representative of events the author feels are insufficiently recognized. An example of the latter would be the "lie" of a marker that mentions a place where a woman was lynched for the crime of killing a man. Although the woman is misrepresented as having been white when she was actually Spanish the author feels the bigger "lie" is that it bothers to mention the woman at all while many other lynchings (throughout the history of the country not as part of the same incident) involving men as victims are not commemorated at all.

There are representations of factual inaccuracies but most entries are "lies" only to the extent that they don't tell a complete version of the story. Not so much lies as edited (sanitized) versions. Maybe I'm being too optimistic or charitable to the average American's intelligence but I believe many of them are fairly obvious in their limitations and don't necessarily require someone pointing out that they tell only one side of a story.

Initially I found the writing to be dry and somewhat hard to connect with but as I got deeper into the book that became less of an issue. Either I became more accustomed to the author's style, or more engrossed in the subject matter. Or, quite possibly, I went in with some bias and resentment from the fact that I felt (and still do) the book had been misrepresented thus my first impression was simply wrong.

As far as the overly politically correct attitude, apologist or anti-white overtones that others have referenced... one could definitely interpret it that way. It has more to do with the underlying theme of presenting a larger picture that represents the entire story in my opinion. Although there are points where it certainly felt to me as though the author was beating me over the head with his personal ideology (even though I agree with most of it). I also found the semantics over what constitutes "discovery", "wilderness" and "civilization" to be condescending, and overly simplistic.

Some of the stronger -- and more interesting in my opinion -- passages in the book are actually related to the origins of the monuments themselves and the bias of those sponsoring them. Particularly the ones that relate to the various Confederate memorials throughout the country. Once I got around the 'beating a dead horse' aspect of repeating much of the same comments on racial injustices, prejudices, etc. that had been previously stated elsewhere in the book I found them to be highly informative as to the general attitudes of the people and times in which they were created.

All in all it's not a bad book. Is it heavy handed? Oh, yes, very much so in some parts. Is it informative? Absolutely. ( )
  Mike-L | Apr 8, 2013 |
This book does a good job of exposing disinformation on the American landscape. But on the whole I don't think it's very balanced. The section on the South is by far the largest, and a huge number of the historic sites under question relate to the Confederacy. I'm grateful to him for exposing these, although he would have done well to balance them with some lies told by the Union side. I also would have liked to see more lies regarding sites relating to American Indians, or the lack of appropriate sites.

I also agree with some critics of the book that he is sexist. For instance he actually has the gall to claim that women have historically had a higher status than men, as if men were somehow an oppressed group and women were the ruling class. And where he does talk about women being suppressed it's never by dominating men, but rather by "the social structure". Uh-huh. That's exactly the same sort of distancing he criticizes others of elsewhere. (I'm referring mostly to lie #6 here, which should be promptly torn from the book.) ( )
  owen1218 | Apr 23, 2011 |
Loewen is always a highly engaging, accessible writer. In Lies Across America, he takes what potentially could be a dull subject: historical sites, plaques and monuments, and creates a dynamic narrative of the history of the u.s. and the implications of our collective 'historic amnesia'.

by investigating the motives of a) creating the monuments to begin with and b) those who fund the monuments, loewen gives us great insight into the way that glory, memory and history is constructed in the u.s., its effects on those who are remembered as actively participating in history, and those who participated and are brushed aside.

if all tours of historic sites were as honest and engaging as loewen's research, everyone would want to visit them. i especially found the sections on reconstruction fascinating. as anyone who learned "american" history in united states knows, we are not always given the treat of such an insightful approach to the period of time after the liberation of slaves in the united states. ( )
  aguaturbia | Nov 9, 2010 |
James Loewen is best known for his breakthrough "Lies My Teacher Told Me," a scathing attack on traditional history textbooks for their superficial, nationalist, pro-imperialist views. It's fine to teach students about all the great accomplishments of the courageous people who built this country, he argues. But we're doing them, and our ancestors, a disservice if we fail to also identify how and where we went wrong.

This newer book focuses on the many historic sites (such as all those plaques that tell various historical stories at rest-stops along the Interstate) that either gloss over what really transpired at those places, or are downright dishonest. He includes at least one site in each of the 50 states.

Among this reviewer's favorites is Helen Keller's birthplace in Tuscumbia, Alabama. Visitors learn all about how she overcame her disabilities and became a national spokeswoman for disabled Americans. But there is no mention of Keller's radical politics. Since college, she was a radical socialist who fought hard for racial justice, women's rights, birth control, trade unions, and the First Amendment. The historical site managers' decision to omit the potentially controversial facts about Keller's life denies visitors an opportunity to think about complex isssues," Loewen writes. "It gives them an incomplete and, ultimately, inaccurate portrait of a fascinating, ambitious woman."

This book, along with "Lies my Teacher Told Me," and Howard Zinn's "A People's History of the United States," offer readers an important, and too often overlooked, alternative view of this country, warts and all. ( )
  msbosh | Aug 16, 2010 |
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In Lies Across America, James W. Loewen continues his mission, begun in the award-winning Lies My Teacher Told Me, of overturning the myths and misinformation that too often pass for American history. Lies Across America is a one-of-a-kind examination of sites all over the country where history is literally written on the landscape, including historical markers, monuments, historic houses, forts, and ships. With one hundred entries, drawn from every state, Loewen reveals that:
The USS Intrepid, the "feel-good" war museum, celebrates its glorious service in World War II but nowhere mentions the three tours it served in Vietnam.
The Jefferson Memorial misquotes from the Declaration of Independence and skews Thomas Jefferson's writings to present this conflicted slaveowner as an outright abolitionist.
Abraham Lincoln had been dead for thirty years when his birthplace cabin was built!
Lies Across America is a reality check for anyone who has ever sought to learn about America through our public sites and markers. Entertaining and enlightening, it is destined to change the way we see our country.
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