Not So!: Popular Myths about America from Columbus to Clinton

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Oxford University Press, 1995 - Fiction - 278 pages
In sailing westward in 1492, did Columbus defy the prevailing belief that the Earth was flat? Was Thomas Paine an atheist? Was Truman plucked from obscurity to be FDR's running mate in 1944? Are presidential campaigns nowadays far dirtier than they were in the past? Is Hillary Clinton the most
active or influential First Lady ever? Not so, says Paul Boller, in this delightfully informative look at some of the most common myths and misconceptions about the American past.
As he did in his bestselling They Never Said It, Boller provides us with a cornucopia of historical correction, debunking myths that range from the trivial--for instance, George Washington did not have false teeth made of wood (they were made of ivory)--to the pernicious (FDR did not know in
advance that the Japanese planned to bomb Pearl Harbor). We learn that most educated people in Columbus's day knew the world was round (it was Washington Irving who first portrayed Columbus as defying a coterie of flat-earthers); that Washington's famous Farewell Address was mostly written by
Alexander Hamilton; that the Pledge of Allegiance was penned by Francis Bellamy, a devout socialist, in 1892 (and it was intended as a paean to big government); that Thomas Paine was not an atheist, but a deist (as were Washington, Jefferson, and Franklin), and his Age of Reason attacked both
organized religion and atheism; that Truman was far from an obscure politician in 1944 (he had been on the cover of Time in 1943 for his Senate work uncovering waste and fraud in the war industries, and a Look magazine poll placed Truman among the ten figures who had contributed the most to the war
effort); that presidential campaigns in the old days were more vituperative than recent ones; and that several First Ladies were more influential than Hillary Clinton, most notably Eleanor Roosevelt and Edith Wilson (the latter played a crucial role in her husband's administration from 1919 to 1921,
after he suffered a massive stroke). Boller doesn't simply debunk each myth, but instead provides us with much fascinating history surrounding each case, so that the reader is treated to intriguing discussions of many singular episodes in American history, including the Kennedy assassination, the
McCarthy hearings, the events leading up to Pearl Harbor, and Watergate. And finally, if the book provides many eye-opening surprises and amusing passages, there is also a serious side of Boller's exploration of American myth. As he shows, much misinformation has been cooked up for political or
ideological reasons. By debunking these tales, Boller warns us to question what we hear and what we think we know about America and about our leaders, past and present.
The chronicles of American history are strewn with legends, fables, folklore, misconceptions, and outright lies. Patriotism has set many a tall tale in motion, but so have political partisanship and ideological zeal. For everyone who loves history--or the truth--Paul Boller has given us a candid
and absorbing look at the American past that helps us get a good sense of where we have been and who we are as a people.

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User Review  - bookmarkaussie - LibraryThing

Even though this book is 20 years old, it's still a good read with much in it to provide ammunition to counter a number of silly notions on American history. Read full review

Contents

Columbus and the FlatEarthers
3
PreColumbian America
7
The Puritans and Religious Freedom
13
Roger Williamss Soul Liberty
16
Sex and the American Puritan
19
The Second and the Fourth of July
25
George Washingtons Prayer at Valley Forge
29
George Washingtons False Teeth
33
Justice Holmes and President Roosevelt
102
Presidential Ghostwriters
104
FDR and Soviet Recognition
110
President Roosevelt and the Attack on Pearl Harbor
117
Eleanor Roosevelts Love Life
127
FDR and Yalta
135
Harry Truman and the Vice Presidency
144
Hiroshima and the American Left
147

The Founding Fathers and Democracy
35
The Declaration the Constitution and Natural Rights
39
The Religion of Thomas Paine
42
Thomas Jefferson and Sally Hemings
45
Thomas Jefferson on Government
49
James Madison and Congressional Power
52
The War of 1812 and Vietnam
55
President Fillmores Bathtub
61
William T Seward and the Higher Law
63
Uncle Tom as a Black Hero
66
Abraham Lincoln and James Buchanan
72
Abraham Lincolns Defense of His Wife
77
Abraham Lincolns Religion
79
Senator Lodge and the League of Nations
86
President Hardings Strange Death
95
Herbert Hoover and the Great Depression
98
Losing China
154
McCarthy and the Commies
161
JFK and Vietnam
167
The Kennedy Assassination
173
President Nixons Domestic Policies
183
Watergate
188
The Pledge of Allegiance
195
Presidential Salutes
198
Presidential Campaigns
204
Presidential Wives
213
Presidential Scandals
222
PresidentBashing
232
Notes
247
Index
271
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About the author (1995)


Paul F. Boller, Jr., is Professor of History Emeritus at Texas Christian University. He is the author of many popular books on American history, including the bestselling Presidential Anecdotes, Congressional Anecdotes, Presidential Campaigns, and They Never Said It (with John George).

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