HNN – Least Credible History Books2 min read
There are several history websites that I frequent, one of them being History News Network. About a week ago, there was a request made that the readers submit books that they deemed “the least credible history books in print.” It is amazing to me that there is a large enough selection of current books in print, aside from textbooks, that are historically inaccurate. (I will get into textbooks at a later date, but much sooner than later.) That a list of books can be compiled for polling purposes is appalling. Not only are there enough books to make a list, but the fact that there were so many nominations of the same text that it could easily and effortlessly qualify as a finalist is disgraceful. At the submission of this entry, there are over 1200 individuals that have voted between the five books that were listed. The list is as follows:
- The Jefferson Lies: Exposing the Myths You’ve Always Believed About Thomas Jefferson by David Barton
- The Real Lincoln: A New Look at Abraham Lincoln, His Agenda, and an Unnecessary War by Thomas DiLorenzo
- 1421: The Year China Discovered America by Gavin Menzies
- Killing Lincoln: The Shocking Assassination that Changed America Forever by Bill O’Reilly and Martin Dugard
- A People’s History of the United States by Howard Zinn
I don’t know how there are numerous publications, such as these books, still in print. I would think that the historic community would band together, rise up, and demand for these books to be recalled. I myself haven’t had the “pleasure” of reading all of these books, but now I know which ones to avoid. If you are an avid reader of literature in the history genre, make sure you check out the poll here. There is a poll to vote on the books (vote if you have had the “opportunity” to read any of them) and reviews of the books by credible, qualified, historical professionals.
24 thoughts on “HNN – Least Credible History Books”
Hey, don’t feel too bad. We scientists can’t even get books recalled when they’re provably killing people. Meditation and sunlight are not an effective substitute for eating!
The opinions on these books are not satisfying in that they are generally not very specific, sounding like typical academic assassination attempts by jealous critics. It really makes me want to buy a couple to see if those criticisms have any merit.
On the other hand, I have wondered about the Chinese thing about arriving at the new world. It was undoubtedly possible, and, indeed, probable. But, there is no evidence of anything like that. Until there is actual evidence, it will remain a myth
I have read none of these books, and cannot say one positively way or another. When one book has a title like, “The People’s History…”, I am automatically skeptical. History is history, albeit there are different perspectives on individual events.
Now I suffer from a position that since I don’t know the critics, and therefore don’t trust them, should I buy and read what may be biased accounts?
Thanks for the article. Good blog.
Thomas DiLorenzo is insane—he’s so anti-Lincoln that I can only assume he’s John Wilkes Booth incarnated. And anything with Bill O’Reilly’s name on it should automatically be considered suspect…
Until you a.) read these books, and then b.) explain what inaccuracies they contain, and furthermore c.) provide proof that there are inaccurate, I don’t see how you can take the position that any of these books is inaccurate. The funny thing about a survey, is that it doesn’t speak to whether or not the people are correct. Take the global warming debate for instance. Advocates will endlessly tell us that more scientists agree with AGW theory than not. Who cares? A scientific experiment should be 100% fact and zero percent opinion.
Bill O’Reilly’s Killing Lincoln is a case in point. What lies does this book contain? O’Reilly is a notable and noteworthy conservative who’s achieved a great deal of notoriety, much to the consternation of liberals throughout America. It’s not hard to believe that all the votes calling his book inaccurate come from irate left-wing statists who’re completely unable to offer an honest assessment, due to their overweening left-wing belligerence and intransigent ideology. Madame Weebles’ comment was such a classic example of what I’m talking about that really she made my argument for me.
Here’s an example from Barton’s book. Let’s check out the following quote: “The other major oral tradition challenging Jefferson’s sexual morality came from Sally Hemings’ son Madison (the fourth Hemings child, born in 1805). In an article published in an Ohio newspaper in 1873, Madison Hemings claimed that in France ‘my mother became Mr. Jefferson’s concubine, and when he was called back home she was enceinte (pregnant) by him’ with Thomas Woodson.” (page 14)
Madison never said or implied any such thing. I have recently completed a book about Beverly Hemings, the slave son of Thomas Jefferson and Sally Hemings. When I read that quote, I almost jumped out of my chair. I immediately pulled my copy of Fawn Brodie’s book which contains the whole article. This is what it really says: “Soon after their arrival, she gave birth to a child, of whom Thomas Jefferson was the father. It lived but a short time. She gave birth to four others, and Jefferson was the father of all of them. Their names were Beverly, Harriet, Madison (myself), and Eston—three sons and one daughter.”
Barton said Madison claimed the child Sally bore when she returned from France was Thomas Woodson. Madison said that child died in infancy. Madison said Sally had four adult children, Beverly, Harriet, Madison, and Eston, excluding Thomas Woodson.
Google “Madison Hemings newspaper article” to see for yourself.
While facts are important, how they are “interpreted” is much more important. The same “fact” can be interpreted differently, leading to “conclusions” that are very different from each other and which color how we think about history.
For example, it is a fact that Japan bombed Pearl Harbor. What do we conclude from that fact alone? By itself, it is hard to conclude anything more than that Japan bombed Pearl Harbor.
Now add in some other facts. The oil embargo of the U.S. against Japan. The desire by FDR to bring the U.S. into the European war against the wishes of the majority of the populace.
I conclude from those facts that FDR set the oil embargo in place in hopes of causing Japan to attack us so the U.S. might come into the European war. Which is what happened. Now, can I “prove” that? No, but it is what I believe from my analysis of the “facts.” Others will have different conclusions from the same facts.
Found my way here via Dr.Pete’s place … interesting read here.
Given the name of your blog and having read the info you shared “about the author,” I was surprised by the following toward the end of your post:
“I don’t know how there are numerous publications, such as these books, still in print. I would think that the historic community would band together, rise up, and demand for these books to be recalled.” Frankly, it shocks me that someone who has a “hankering for history” would even entertain the idea of recalling any books. History is often times a fuzzy thing. Gotta’ look at events, etc from all points of view don’t we?
MY BAD … I found you via Drrick’s place. Sorry about that.
Haha, then maybe I should change my website’s name to “Hankering for Accurate History!” While I find it VERY important to look at events from all points of views, is it really a point of view if the information is fabricated? For these books to make it on the list, they must be fairly inaccurate. And as most of these authors do not have first hand knowledge of what transpired, I don’t see how their point of view can differ from proven fact. Alas, I haven’t read most of these books, I was mainly just spouting my opinion on the general idea of a need for this list.
I can only speak to 3 of the 5. Zinn is an obvious–it should probably fall into the category of historical fiction. O’Reilly–I tried to read this book–I actually even tried to enjoy it. I think I made it to about page 50. I found it to be just poorly written. Barton–even though I am familiar with him and some of his stuff this book is not one of them.
“For these books to make it on the list, they must be fairly inaccurate”
Be very careful, here. Just because there seems to be a majority of opinion for the case doesn’t meant that case is accurate. There are lots of historical precedent about how inaccurate majority opinions can be. In my opinion I need to hear specific charges and read the evidence. Just taking somebody’s word for something, even a majority opinion, triggers an instance of the greater fool theory.
I haven’t read the O’Reilly book–and don’t really have any plans to. To this list, I’d add any WW2 history written by Stephen Ambrose. The guy may have done a decent job getting veterans to tell their stories, but his shameless flag-waving and poor analyses did readers a disservice.
So, what is wrong with shameless flag waving? How about shameless American bashing?
I don’t consider the comment I made to be derogatory towards America at all. An historian should be objective in his approach to the work, otherwise you have nothing but distortions.
Pointing out Ambrose’s shortcomings is not anti-American. If you want good, objective WW2 history written by Americans, check out the first two volumes of Rick Atkinson’s “Liberation Trilogy” (the third volume has yet to be published). Or, read “Omaha Beach” by Joseph Balkoski, who not only is American but is also a strong Ambrose critic . . . probably because Ambrose plagiarized from Balkoski’s book “Beyond the Bridgehead.”
I obviously misinterpreted you comment.
I can get Kindle versions of the books, but they don’t have the photos that the paper editions have. I prefer Kindle editions, and would like to know if the photos of the hard books worth the hassel.
1421 is Menzies more credible book. 1434 is much better fiction than 1421.
Thanks to everyone for getting involved with this post! I appreciate all of your input.
And then there is the Texas School Board which rewrites history each time they order new textbooks for the millions of public school students.
It’s also important to remember that in a free society, anyone can write anything at any time, and in today’s world, even get it published.
Ya, I have gathered some research on the Texas School Board… That will be another discussion, for another date…
I’m not a historian, so I was hoping to be able to rely on expert opinion. To my shock, after reading the article and all comments, I found few substantial evidence on why certain books are not historically accurate. Most, though luckily not all of you, rather indicate that they haven’t read the book and follow it up with their political bias.
You would do yourself justice by providing some more analysis here. Take the case of Zinn’s book. It deals with unpleasant ?facts? about American history. History is written by the victors, so your short-sighted comments might be easily dismissed by a pro-Zinn crowd.
On the other hand, as a pragmatic conservative, I worry about nowadays post-modern relativism and Western self-hatred (which is far worse in Europe btw), which I suspect to be caused partly by such textbooks as Zinn’s.
But maybe we cannot dismiss their content on factorial correctness (as seems the case?), but should rather focus on its failure to compare atrocious behavior by other regimes etc (if they want to be relativistic anyway)? This is such an interesting case study, I would love to get some more insight in this.
My sincere apologies to the few commenters that actually did discuss the historical content of some of the book discussed here. In general, I was rather disappointed after reading all comments.
I mean: a simple-minded pro-Zinn crowd that gets the implication wrong
I majored in European History, and would not make a comment on American History, although I took much American history as an undergraduate and graduate student. Pop History is seldom worth reading. Peer reviewed history is, even if you disagree with it. Dianne
I started the one on Jefferson. It was pretty obvious the author had a belief about Jefferson and then went out to find quotes and anecdotes to support his thesis.
BTW Thanks for visiting my math blog.
History is always interpretted, but absolute falsehoods?? That’s a shame and yet, I don’t call for book burning. I’m like you. I live for a good history book. But we all have to take responsibility for interpretting what we read. I love the poll. Good on em!