Lies Across America

What Our Historic Sites Get Wrong

James Loewen’s previous book, Lies My Teacher Told Me, a debunking of the twelve leading high-school American history textbooks, won the American Book Award, the AESA Critics’ Choice Award, and the Oliver Cromwell Cox Award for Anti-Racist Scholarship. It has sold more than a quarter-million copies in its various editions. Now, using the same irrepressibly honest approach and the same subversive take on all things bogus and misinformative, Loewen has identified a whole new arena for his one-of-a-kind inquiries into the way we tell our country’s story.

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.

Lies Across America offers startling revelations about sites we think we know: Valley Forge, Abraham Lincoln’s log cabin, the Intrepid. It also tells of new sites, events, and individuals that should be commemorated on the landscape but aren’t: a tombstone with a story to tell in Mississippi, a spy in the Confederate White House, the unforeseen fallout from the first nuclear missile test, the reverse underground railway, a modern “sundown” town (blacks can work there, but they'd better leave before the sun sets).

It also asks why, across our landscape, Indians are consistently, “savage” tribal names are wrong and derogatory, whites “discover” everything, and the term “massacre” is a one-way street; why war museums have selective memories, guides at FDR’s family mansion in Hyde Park are “specifically forbidden” to talk about Roosevelt’s mistresses, and James Buchanan’s house denies that he was gay. It muses about the Civil War mare in Kentucky who got an extra body part, the Polynesian King made to look like a Roman emperor on monuments in Hawaii, and the statue of a conquistador in New Mexico who lost his foot.

This book is a reality check for anyone who has ever sought to learn about America through our public sites and markers. It is destined to change the way we see our country.

Praise

“An astute, funny, yet very serious book . . . Lies Across America will make us think hard about how easily the public can be misled by a group determined to get their view of history displayed on our roadsides.”
—Robin W. Winks, Townsend Professor of History, Yale University
“An exhilarating, irreverent, often hilarious romp across our commemorative landscape, deftly mixing vivid reportage with caustic muckraking.”
—David Lowenthal, author of The Past Is a Foreign Country and The Heritage Crusade and the Spoils of History
“I would have thought it impossible for Loewen to write a book that I would find more interesting than Lies My Teacher Told Me, but he’s managed to do so.”
—Thomas Connors, professor of history, University of Northern Iowa
“A marvelous review of America’s past that will engage and delight the reader. Loewen exposes with humor and outrage the lies told by our public monuments. He is the high school history teacher we all should have had.”
—Carol Kammen, author of On Doing Local History
“A winner by any criteria: informative, stimulating, and challenging. Loewen’s wry wit is a welcome bonus, too often missing in books of this character.”
—Edwin C. Bears, former chief historian, National Park Service
“A great book, a fun book, and an important book.”
—Ira Berlin, professor of history, University of Maryland

Books by James W. Loewen

Lies My Teacher Told Me
Everything Your American History Textbook Got Wrong

James W. Loewen

Sundown Towns
A Hidden Dimension of American Racism

James W. Loewen

Lies My Teacher Told Me About Christopher Columbus
What Your History Books Got Wrong

James W. Loewen