Rethinking Our Past: Recognizing Facts, Fictions, And Lies In American History - James W. Loewen The lectures on this CD were recorded in 2004, before the Texas school textbook circus and before the recent upsurge in whitewashing Civil War history to make the South the oh-so-innocent victim of evil Northern aggression, and I wonder what Loewen makes of such recent developments. He ends his lectures on a hopeful note, urging his listeners to "write history on the land to represent the past accurately." (p. 75 of the accompanying "Course Guide") I can only imagine he must be feeling a certain amount of despair with the publication of such books as The Real Lincoln A New Look at Abraham Lincoln His Agenda and an Unnecessary War. But as he argues in his "Civil War" and "Race Relations" lectures, it's merely further evidence that the South may have lost the war on the battlefield but it won the war of ideas.

As usual with my Audio CD books, I listened to this in the car and didn't take notes so this review will be short and sweet (short, anyway).

Loewen is at his devastating best when he's analyzing the subjects that he's particularly interested in - namely the Civil War era and after and race relations, to which he devotes nearly a third of the 14 lectures. Their power comes from his reliance on primary sources. He quotes letters, newspapers and speeches that put the lie to the simplified, pasteurized gruel that passes for popular history (and not just in our schools).

For example, to the contention that the Civil War was not about slavery, he quotes Jefferson Davis in 1861: "(the Lincoln administration's policies would) make property in slaves so insecure as to be comparatively worthless, thereby annihilataing, in effect, property worth thousands of millions of dollars." (p. 38, "Course Guide")

Loewen is not as strong in other areas. He overgeneralizes in his discussions of prehistoric America and in regards to Socialism (a term which, for him, appears to cover everything from Stalin's Russia to British Labour). And his discussion of US foreign policy in Lecture 12 lacks the "umph" of earlier lectures because it is based on secondary sources. He's back in form in Lecture 13, "Capitalism and Social Class," when he returns to quoting the primary sources.

All is not a tale of woe, however. Loewen takes pains to highlight positive aspects of American history: What the Founders got right in the Constitution, the real progress made among the races between 1865 and 1890, the Civil Rights movement, John Logan's progress from racist to equal rights advocate, and a list of examples in the last lecture of people making the effort to learn the truth - good and bad - about their history. And it's the latter that is Loewen's point. People need to make the effort to understand their history:

1. Don't trust what you learned in school or read in books. Check it out.
2. History is a process of forgetting.
3. Modern perspectives are projected onto past subjects.
4. America's current status in the world invites a dangerous ethnocentrism.
5. Resist the process of "heroification."

Definitely worth listening to.