In one of my favorite "Peanuts" strips (collected in The Complete Peanuts 1965-1966), Lucy is sitting in front of the TV with a mug in her hands. Linus asks her "Well, how do you like the hot chocolate I made for you?" Lucy replies "It's terrible! It's too weak! It tastes like some warm water that has had a brown crayon dipped in it." Taking the mug back, Linus tries a sip. "You're right," he says. "I'll go put in another crayon."
That's what my reaction to this book is like. I'm very receptive to historical "revisionism," and works by authors who overturn Received Wisdom, from Harry Elmer Barnes to Thomas E. Woods, have honored places on my shelves. So I was surprised and disappointed to see that when William Weir had the chance to expose "History's Greatest Lies," he chose ... Robert the Bruce? Jesse James and Wyatt Earp? I consider myself relatively well versed in history, but I don't think I've ever even heard of Harold Lasseter and his alleged "reef of gold." Admittedly, some of the "great lies" -- like those involving the Bastille or "The Protocols of the Elders of Zion" -- are well-chosen, while the look at the Philippine Insurrection at least has contemporary relevance. But still, there are so many "great lies" he could have chosen that would have made this book more challenging and thus more interesting: the lie that the New Deal ended the Depression, for example. Something about Opus Dei or "Pope Joan." The origins of the phrase "rule of thumb" (nothing to do with wife-beating). Or what Erik von Kuehnelt-Leddihn in The Menace of the Herd, or Procrustes at Large called "The Great Error of the [Twentieth] Century" -- the idea that National Socialism was a rightist, "conservative" movement instead of what the Nazis themselves said it was, a leftist ideology born out of the French Revolution.
On a more fundamental level, as some other reviewers have noted, Weir lacks a consistent definition of "lie." Some of his "lies," like the aforementioned "Protocols of the Elders of Zion," were deliberate and malicious fabrications. Others, like Nero fiddling, are urban legends or popular misunderstandings. Still others are merely stories not usually told as fully as, or with the interpretation that, this author would prefer. "Lie" implies an intent to deceive that just isn't there in many of these instances.
For what it does cover, "History's Greatest Lies" is well-written, well- and colorfully-illustrated, and holds the reader's attention from chapter to chapter. But to be really satisfying, it could have used another crayon or two.
There is no shortage of books now in print that correct what their authors perceive to be distortions of historical facts such as Lies My Teacher Told Me: Everything Your American History Textbook Got Wrong in which James Loewen offers what he believes to be the "truth" about various subjects that include Christopher Columbus, the first Thanksgiving, Margaret Mitchell's Gone with the Wind, Abraham Lincoln and John Brown, and the War in Vietnam. When authors use the term "lies," they suggest intent. … more
Lies = No. Commonly believed Myths = Yes While the title is a bit misleading the history that it delivers is well thought facts. Some of the "lies" are pretty widely known to be myths i.e. Paul Reveres' ride, John Dillinger's "Death:, and that Jesse James was not some sort of Robin Hood. Other snippets of history are lesser known and the "lie" is a little more engrained. What "Histories Greatest Lies" is a bit of misnomer … more
A better title for William Weir's latest volume might be "History's best-known lies," given that most of the misrepresentations detailed here have been thoroughly aired in the past. Anyone who has read a little beyond school books or tuned in to PBS from time to time knows that Nero didn't own a fiddle, that Wyatt Earp was a questionable character, that the Protocols of the Elders of Zion was a fake, and on and on. Unfortunately, the author utilizes pull-quotes throughout … more