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James W. Loewen (1942-2021)

We mourn the loss of our friend and colleague and remain committed to the work he began.

Loewen’s Writing Made a Difference

betsy ross

Loewen’s books probably have made his biggest influence. Luke Abaffy interviewed Loewen about his writing years ago; the interview tells something about the overall flow of his work.

Loewen's books, including foreign editions, as of 4/2020

Loewen’s first book, The Mississippi Chinese, was based on his doctoral dissertation, finished in May, 1968. It won very good reviews, especially from well-known author Robert Coles, and came out in a paperback edition, with a new afterward, in 1988. Chris Choy and two other directors made a documentary film, Mississippi Triangle, based on it in 1987.

Loewen recounted in print the “aha experience” – really an “Oh no! experience” – at Tougaloo College that led to his decision to create a new textbook for Mississippi’s required ninth-grade course in Mississippi History. (For another account, see Teaching What Really Happened, 2-7.)

This book contains down-to-earth suggestions for lawyers (and judges and those who work with them) about how to construct and use surveys, various simple statistical tests, and other techniques for proving that something real happened, not just due to chance.


Loewen’s bestseller. If you haven’t read it, try it. It might surprise you. As one reader reported, “I could never decide if you were a Republican or a socialist.”

Derived from Lies My Teacher Told Me and intended for middle- and high-school classes in social studies, civics, and U.S. history. Included in the book is a detachable poster to go up on the classroom wall in early October. It contains quotations from various textbooks in U.S. history, each paired with a quotation from a primary source showing the quote to be precisely wrong. The book gets into deep issues such as why do textbooks lie and teaches the key term “historiography.” Don’t miss the long paragraph telling what we never learned about Vasco da Gama.

Lies Across America book cover collage

Lies Across America

Did you know that the automobile was invented in rural Wisconsin? That a Texas preacher beat the Wright brothers by a year, in a plane inspired by the word of God? That Abraham Lincoln was born in a cabin in Kentucky built 30 years after his death? Those things never happened, of course, but the landscape commemorates them anyway. Did you know that the South seceded over states’ rights? That Columbus proved the earth was round? That Indians massacred 295 westbound pioneers in Idaho? Those things never happened, either, but the landscape commemorates them too.

Conversely, the landscape leaves out what DID happen or get it wrong, often deliberately.

The second edition (2019), completely revised, also shows what you can do about these falsehoods by giving examples of people who have sparked change.

Loewen recorded these fourteen lectures in 2005, partly to treat topics not covered in Lies My Teacher Told Me and Lies Across America, and partly to “untether” his conclusions about the past from the bad high school textbooks and historic sites analyzed in those books.

When Loewen began this research, he expected to find about 10 sundown towns in Illinois (his home state) and perhaps 50 across the country. Instead, he found about 506 in Illinois and thousands across the United States. This is their story; it is the first book ever written on the topic.

This book calls K-12 teachers to teach history, civics, and social studies in a new way. It offers specific ideas for how to get students excited about history, how to get them to DO history, and how to help them read critically. It also helps teachers tackle difficult but important topics like the American Indian experience, slavery, and race relations. It also has some general K-12 teaching ideas, such as how and why to expect good performance from every student.

It sold well for Teachers College Press, so Loewen revised it, adding a new chapter, “Truth,” helping teachers deal with the assaults on truth and rationality mounted by the Trump administration and by media tailored to slim sectors of subscribers who already agree with their content. The cover of the second edition is marked by the addition of Lassie to the incongruous assortment of Americans pictured crossing the Delaware.

Astonished at how many otherwise informed Americans had never read any
of the statements as to why the Confederate states seceded, Loewen went to the Library of Congress and found that almost no books included any of these documents. So, with a co-editor, he got out a collection of them all, along with other crucial sources about the Confederacy before and after its creation. It debuted just in time, just before the sesquicentennial of secession.

In 2019, The New Press brought out a “young readers” edition of Lies My Teacher Told Me for middle-school students or anyone who finds the “adult” version too challenging. The book’s launch sold out Busboys and Poets in DC. Kirkus gave the new edition a glowing review. Rebecca Stefoff adapted it, but Loewen read and approved every word and made some changes himself. The material is not dumbed down; only the words and sentences are shorter.

After receiving a medical diagnosis of Stage IV muscle-invasive metastatic bladder cancer in February, 2019, Loewen realized that he probably would never finish the three volumes (!) of memoirs he had planned: Living on the Color Line, Life at Gender Gap, and At Home on the Range, the last a how-not-to cook-book. So instead he threw himself into a bagatelle, a little book, Up a Creek, With a Paddle: Tales of Canoeing and Life. It is a how-not-to book, a record of paddling fiascos, leavened with some sociological reflections and the closest Loewen could come to ideas for a worthwhile life. If you visit the publisher and put in the code “Tales,” you get a 40% discount.

LMTTM (Graphic Novel)

Lies My Teacher Told Me (Graphic Novel Edition)

We are excited to announce that Nathan Powell, who did the famous graphic novel trilogy of John Lewis’s autobiography (see above), for which he won the National Book Award, is already at work doing a “graphic novel” of Lies My Teacher Told Me.