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History's Greatest Lies: The Startling Truths Behind World Events Our History Books Got Wrong [Paperback]

William Weir
4.5 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (4 customer reviews)

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Book Description

26 July 2013
History s Greatest Lies gives readers a fascinating new look at our past. The revelations in the book shock and amaze by exposing veiled motivations and convenient inaccuracies in well-documented events by established leaders that often have a continuing affect on the world. Each chapter points out a lie that is held as a common truth in history, and summarises what we think we know. Then the author shreds the lie to academic ribbons using the latest findings on each subject. Each true story sets the record straight, revealing timeless ulterior motives, and introducing important personalities who successfully (and suspiciously) avoided responsibility in common history texts.
--This text refers to an alternate Paperback edition.

Product details

  • Paperback: 288 pages
  • Publisher: Crestline; Reprint edition (26 July 2013)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 078583060X
  • ISBN-13: 978-0785830603
  • Product Dimensions: 23.7 x 19.2 x 2.3 cm
  • Average Customer Review: 4.5 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (4 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 865,442 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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14 of 15 people found the following review helpful
By Robert Morris TOP 100 REVIEWER
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. That is true of Loewen's book and it is also true of William Weir's History's Greatest Lies: The Startling Truth Behind World Events Our History Books Got Wrong. My own opinion is that there are significant differences between a lie and an opinion. For example, there is no doubt that troops led by Mexico's president, Antonio Lopez de Santa Anna, eventually defeated the Alamo's defenders led by Lieutenant Colonel William Barret Travis on March 6, 1836, but opinions are sharply divided as to what exactly happened that day and during the previous eleven days. Perhaps no one will ever know what Paul Harvey so frequently referred to as "the rest of the story."

At one point while reading this book, I expected to rate this book only Four Stars because, in my opinion, Weir sometimes confuses opinion (i.e. speculation, albeit plausible) with fact. ("History lies? Well, maybe sometimes it exaggerates, or oversimplifies." At least that's true of those who identify themselves as historians.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Perfect for the avid reader 12 Feb 2013
Format:Paperback|Verified Purchase
Terrific book for someone who loves to soak up info and read a good yarn. Thanks it was the perfect gift!
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Conspiracy Theories Alive 5 Feb 2013
Format:Kindle Edition|Verified Purchase
If you like conspiracy theories you will like this book. It tries to unveil a range of accepted historic facts as being something else. I can't say if it is one or the other, but it is an interesting read.
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4.0 out of 5 stars History's Greatist Lies 15 Oct 2013
Format:Paperback|Verified Purchase
A well written and fascinating insight into some of the world's historic major events
with an often astounding perceived account to overturn previously presented
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Amazon.com: 3.8 out of 5 stars  69 reviews
31 of 34 people found the following review helpful
1.0 out of 5 stars Sloppy research 29 July 2009
By Grace McLaren - Published on Amazon.com
Though `History's Greatest Lies' is an inspired title, this book by William Weir has two of the classic hallmarks of a book that was hurriedly written to meet a publisher's deadline.

Firstly, it is riddled with mistakes that not even a first year history major would have made. For a supposedly top quality history publication, this is unforgivable. Three examples will suffice to give a sense of how sloppy the research has been. In the Battle of Kadesh chapter, it is stated that Rameses II was the longest reigning pharaoh of ancient Egypt, at some 67 years. Even a cursory glance at any mainstream pharaoh list will quickly show that Egypt's longest reigning pharaoh was Pepi II, reigning for 94 years.

In the Nero chapter, it states that Caligula was assassinated in 49 A.D. Again, any decent revision of the text would have highlighted that Caligula was assassinated in 41 A.D. Finally, the claim that Nero was the only emperor who was declared a public enemy by the Senate. Well, he was... if you ignore Maximus, Didius Julianus, Albinus or Maxentius...

And so on and so forth.

The second clear sign of a hurried development cycle is the selection of historical events that have been described as history's greatest lies. One would be hard pressed to identify exactly how Lasseter's Reef, or Dillinger's death were earth shattering enough, revolutionary enough, or frankly even interesting enough to make a list of history's greatest lies. For more modern examples how about Watergate or Weapons of Mass Destruction... or even John F. Kennedy's stage managed Camalot façade?

No, my sense with this book is of an opportunity well and truly wasted. My advice, don't waste your money on it and wait for someone else to come along and take a shot at it.
72 of 84 people found the following review helpful
2.0 out of 5 stars a misnomer of a title 24 Feb 2009
By David W. Straight - Published on Amazon.com
History's Greatest Lies: The Startling Truth Behind World Events Our History Books Got Wrong. The problem is that the title is wrong. There are three main areas that the author rather too generously calls "history books". The first is folklore: folklore is not the same as history by any means. The second is media image: this is also not the same as history. Then, of course, there's actual history-book type history, and here I'm talking about mainstream history, not the propaganda put out by Muslim terrorist groups, the Klan, etc. One of the more egregious examples cited in the book is the Protocols of the Elders of Zion. You can indeed find this in lots of history books--but as an example of forgery and antisemitism. To say that history books got this wrong is to suggest that the forgery is indeed true--which is not at all what the author intends. Weir notes that a number of well-known people, including Henry Ford, believed the Protocols to be true. But by the same token, Arthur Conan Doyle believed in fairies and spiritualism, and at least one former US president believed in astrology--but so what? There are people who believe the Earth is flat, but that hardly qualifies as one of "history's greatest lies" and inclusion in this book.

A lot of the episodes in the book are folklore--such as Robert the Bruce and the spider: this children's tale doesn't qualify as history. History books have shown that the Bastille housed very few prisoners (and housed them quite comfortably, thank you): you are unlikely to find any history book (other than, say, Stalinist propaganda) that claims otherwise. But from the title of the book you could get the impression that you're getting a real revelation here, and that current history books say that the Bastille was an Abu Graib of its day.

Folklore and media imagery blend together in some of the tales of the American West. Jesse James can be seen in some movies as a heroic and noble character--a kind of Robin Hood. But movies and TV shows are not history books. The Earp gang in Tombstone is another example cited in the book--but history books have not treated the Earps kindly at all--at least not to the extent as portraying them as law-abiding and honest lawmen. Look at the entries in Wikipedia for Jesse James and Wyatt Earp--you'll see plenty of blemishes. Movies and TV usually like to have characters drawn in black and white: the good guys are good--very good, and the bad guys are bad--very bad. Someone like Tony Soprano is too confusing! I remember an episode of Richard Boone's Have Gun Will Travel back about 1960, which featured (in just the one episode) a black cowboy. This episode produced a veritable Noah's Flood of angry letters saying that this was totally unrealistic--that there weren't any black cowboys. Of course, there were indeed plenty of black cowboys--but not in the TV and movie westerns at that time, so the public assumed that they didn't exist. Folklore, media imagery, and history are not the same animal: debunking media imagery doesn't qualify as exposing one of history's greatest lies.

There are some chapters in the book which can be categorized as being actual history: some of these are interesting and worthy of inclusion, although the questions remain about who is right--history or the author.
23 of 25 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Not so much "lies" as myths and misconceptions about key figures/moments in history 27 Feb 2009
By Wayne Klein - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Paperback|Vine Customer Review of Free Product (What's this?)
Disclosure: I received a review copy of this book.

You could say that a historian's job is to wade into the raw sewage of history and try to come back with a sample of pure untainted water. It's a challenge with the effects of the passage of time, interpretation and opinion polluting the water of truth. William Weir's HISTORY'S GREATEST LIES: THE STARTLING TRUTHS BEHIND WORLD EVENTS OUR HISTORY BOOKS GOT WRONG focuses on key figures/moments in history that are common knowledge that are also common myths. I wouldn't call the events that Weir tells us about as being lies per se but myths that have occurred due to biased views and publicity (with the exception of Wyatt Earp where Earp and his biographer clearly meant to deceive the public).

The key events and people that Weir focuses on are the burning of Rome & Nero's role in it, the Robin Hood myth associated with Jesse James, Wyatt Earp's attempt to white wash his role and the events at the OK Corral, Rhames II's earl example of "spin doctoring" in Egypt and the retelling of other historical occurances that were butchered/altered with the passage of time.

Weir then goes back, examines the sleight-of-hand that some of these key figures have used to bolster their reputations and/or miscoceptions that were popularized by other writers. For example, Nero didn't fiddle while Rome was burning because the violin wasn't invented until the 16th century. While he wanted to rebuild Rome and rumors floated around at the time in the senate that he started the great fire of Rome, he didn't and was, in fact, behind a great deal of building that added to Rome's luster. Jesse James was a paranoid, vicious killer NOT a Robin Hood who gave back to the poor. Wyatt Earp, his brothers and Doc Holiday shot the Clanton's some of whom were unarmed and while the Clanton's weren't sqeaky clean, neither was Earp who tried to convince Clanton to fake a robbery to help Earp get elected sheriff. He also separated from his common law wife in favor of of actress/department store heir Julie Marcus.

History, like comedy, isn't pretty (to paraphrase Steve Martin)but the facts behind the myths are often far more fascinating than the myths themselves. Weir's book is quite good focusing on a few myths and correcting them but I was a bit disappointed that he didn't tackle a wide variety of other myths including those associated with contemporary history (such as World War II, the Civil War, etc.). Weir's prose is breezy and inviting never taking for granted the intelligence of his readers.

HISTORY'S GREATEST LIES: THE STARTLING TRUTHS BEHIND WORLD EVENTS OUR HISTORY BOOKS GOT WRONG is a well written good book but I do wish that he had focused but that's no fault of Weir--that was just my expectation that he would cast a bigger net to capture a wider variety of urban myths posing as history.

This coffee table book is nicely designed with terrific illustrations, side bars on various people from history related to the events that he focuses on. If you're looking for gossip about historical figures this would be the wrong book but if you're looking to learn the truth about key figures from history often poorly painted in novels, films and other history books, you'll enjoy Weir's trip into the river of history.
11 of 12 people found the following review helpful
2.0 out of 5 stars Much like the earth, "History's Greatest Lies" is flat 12 Mar 2009
By Scott - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Paperback|Vine Customer Review of Free Product (What's this?)
William Weir is very clever. He has given his book "History's Greatest Lies" a very intriguing title. He doesn't use the term "myth" on the cover, since that is not "sexy" enough. He uses the very strong word, "lies," and he throws it up there in a huge font. I'll admit, I was hooked by the title. I have an amateur interest in history, and I'm always fascinated by learning that well-known details about historical events I've always taken for granted as truth, are in fact completely wrong. It is a great for conversation when you can inform people that no, witches were never burned in Salem in the 17th century (they were all hanged), Thomas Edison did not invent the light bulb (22 other men had patents for "incandescent lamps" prior to this), and Eve did not necessarily eat an apple (it is only referred to as "fruit" in the bible). As I said, these kinds of details fascinate me, so I assumed "Lies" would be right up my alley.

The book is very well produced. It is paperback, but uses high quality card thick paper, with nice illustrations, and a heavy fold out cover. It is divided into 15 chapters (Amazon's description incorrectly states 15-30 chapters). Each begins with 4-5 paragraph introduction, followed by a text box which displays the "lie" (referred to as a "myth" in the book), and below that a short summary of why the "lie" is incorrect. The chapter index doesn't really explain what are the specific myths, so I will list them verbatim below

1. The Emperor Nero played the fiddle while Rome burned.
2. Ramesses II alone defeated the Hittite Army in the Battle of Kadesh.
3. The Goths were hairy, grunting savages whose sole existence revolved around destroying whatever lay in their path, including the Roman Empire.
4. The perseverance of a little spider inspired Robert the Bruce to emerge from his hideout and defeat the invading English in the War for Scottish Independence.
5. Hernán Cortés was a monster responsible for the massacre that followed the Fall of Tenochtitlán, the Aztec capital.
6. The physicist Galileo was condemned and imprisoned by the Roman Catholic Church because his work conflicted with the teachings of the Bible.
7. During his midnight ride in 1775, Paul Revere warned the local militia in Massachusetts of the coming of the British.
8. The Bastille was a bastion of torture, evil, and political oppression, where innocent citizens were held by the tyrant Louis XVI.
9. Jesse James was an American version of Robin Hood, stealing from the rich and giving to the poor.
10. Lawman Wyatt Earp and his friends wiped out the Clanton-McLaury Gang of cattle rustlers who had been terrorizing the town of Tombstone, Arizona, in 1881.
11. The Phillipine War of 1899-1902 was an insurrection, and the United States' enemies were the savage "unstoppable" Muslims called Moros.
12. The "Protocols" Outline a Jewish conspiracy to take over the world.
13. Lewis Harold Bell "Harry" Lasseter claimed he found a fabulous reef of gold while lost in the Australian Outback in 1897. He was never able to relocate the reef. No one has ever found the gold, though many have tried.
14. Notorious gangster John Dillinger was shot and killed outside the Biograph Theater in Chicago on July 22, 1934.
15. Afghanistan has always been a county impossible to conquer.

I wish I had had this list before ordering the book, because if I could see the subject matter, I might not be as apt to purchase it. In my opinion, very few of these have I ever even heard of, and even fewer am I actually interested in. I have a decent knowledge of history, but I'm fairly young, and I would consider my knowledge of world history maybe slightly higher than the average American's. I don't find half of these events noteworthy. A good 25% of them are not even really myths, and probably 20% of Mr. Weir's "truths" are not even facts, but opinions. For instance:

4. This sounds like a children's tale. Since I'm not European, I have never heard of this tale regarding Robert the Bruce, but upon hearing it, it sounds the same as the old "Washington chopped down a cherry tree" myth. I doubt many people in Scotland really believe this actually happened.
5. I know who Cortés was, but I have never heard of the Fall of Tenochtitlán before.
6. Weir states that the "reality" was that Galileo's trial for heresy was the culmination of a campaign to discredit him by his enemies and inflamed by Galileo's own hubris. Well sure, maybe that's the culmination of his trial, but it doesn't change the fact that he was still imprisoned for heresy.
7. Weir's reality regarding Paul Revere is that "before Revere was able to warn the militia, he was captured by the British." Okay, I never knew that. It still doesn't change the FACT that Paul Revere DID warn the local Massachusetts militia of a British invasion. That is not a "myth," as Weir claims. It is interesting that Revere was one of several riders, and there are much more to the details of his ride than most people probably know about, but he did still warn of the British invasion. How is that a "lie?"
9. I don't imagine anyone actually considers Jesse James as "an American Robin Hood." If I stopped 10 people on the street I doubt any of them actually believe that Jesse James gave money to the poor. Where is Weir coming up with these myths?
10. Being a fan of Tombstone, this is maybe one "myth" that Weir convinced me of. However, the only reality that is really noteworthy is that Earp did not "wipe out" the entire gang. They did still kill several rustlers at the OK Corral. The additional details however make this one of the only really interesting facts I will take out of this book and remember.
13. I have never heard of, and don't really care about some Australian guy who claimed to find treasure. I hardly consider that a noteworthy historical event from the last 100 years, much less, "history." How did Weir decide this was one of "history's greatest lies?" Is this huge in Australia or something? I would think El Dorado would be bigger than this.
14. Now this one is just ridiculous and where I stopped reading the book. Weir cites Dillinger's death as the "myth." He states the reality is that "many people no longer believe it was Dillinger who was killed, but a small-time criminal named Jimmy Lawrence." He doesn't even say it WASN'T Dillinger, he says that "many people" believe it wasn't. What kind of stupid reality is that? Unless you are prepared to unequivocally state that Dillinger was not shot, then provide evidence to support this, I do not consider his death to be a "lie."

There is a huge amount of potential with the subject matter for a book entitled "History's Greatest Lies." Unfortunately, Weir picks all of the wrong subjects, and then does an awful job at presenting them. The chapters were too long. Weir starts a chapter with the myth, supposedly debunks it by page 2, then spends the next 10 pages discussing related, but not relevant information. It's like if I used page one to explain that Nero did not actually play a fiddle while Rome burned, then on pages 2-10 said "oh yeah, and here's some other information about Nero and his life, but it doesn't really have much to do with the actual myth." You will be much more intrigued by looking up each of these subjects on Wikipedia. This is probably the only instance where I have ever read a book and thought that I could have done a better job writing it. I would suggest any potential readers not be taken in by the title, and perhaps read a sample of the book on Google Books first (they have a large amount of it available). And if you have an interest in American myths, pick up the much better A People's History of the United States: 1492 to Present (P.S.) instead.
2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
1.0 out of 5 stars Underwhelming. 6 Jan 2014
By Dave Hoeltje - Published on Amazon.com
Knowing what a sucker I am for anything history, my favorite ex sister-in-law gave this to me for Xmas and I dove right into it almost immediately. Yawn. What a sad waste of a good idea. There are no footnotes with just a bibliography at the end and a sizeable portion of the text and conclusions are put forth in an almost casual, trust me, I know what I'm talking about manner. And as noted in at least one other review here, many of the subjects presented are so historically inconsequential that their inclusion is mystifying. It's perhaps also worth noting that of the 61 total reviews published here 42 of them are from "Amazon Vine" members (they get free preview copies in exchange for leaving a review) and of those, a full 40 give the book 3-5 stars, with the vast majority of those in the 4-5 star category. Hardly a fair representation of the reading public. My suggestion is to skip this snooze inducing pseudo approach to quasi history and read a real history book instead. If you want someone's opinion or "take" on historic events there are plenty of pseudo "history" shows on cable but on the plus side there were no commercials to skip over, just paragraphs.
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