The legend became fact, they printed the legend...but where to find the stories behind the legends?
April 5, 2006 10:00 PM   Subscribe

Watching "Assume The Position, Mr. Wuhl" on HBO made me hungry for more debunking of legends and myths that we often accept as fact and history. My problem is, I'm not sure what to search for in seeking such material.

Please recommend authors, books, websites, movies and TV shows like this one that I might whet my appetite. FYI: I already watch "Penn & Teller's Bullshit" and "Mythbusters". I need more! Books especially. Help? Thanks!
posted by weirdoactor to Grab Bag (16 answers total) 3 users marked this as a favorite

Just some obvious ones:, and All excellent.
posted by apple scruff at 10:23 PM on April 5, 2006

Well, there's always this. Arm yourself with a salt shaker, 'cause you'll need more than a grain.
posted by BitterOldPunk at 10:29 PM on April 5, 2006

Response by poster: Okay; I need to clarify. I'm not looking to have urban legends debunked or to read conspiracy theories about how the fluoride in the water system has nanites in it that make us want to shop...I'm more interested in the debunking of historical legends. Specifically how the pop culture of the day creates the history of tomorrow.

Some examples from the show:

- Columbus did not seek to prove the world was round; he wanted a western route to India. The whole "he wanted to prove the world is round" thing was from a book by Washington Irving; which is sort of like learning about our geopolitical and military history from reading Tom Clancy.

- Paul Revere only rode 19 miles to warn that the British were coming, roughly from Boston to Cambridge; Israel Bissel rode from Boston to Philly, about 350 miles. But Longfellow didn't think that "Israel Bissel" was such a great name to wrap the flag around just before the Civil War, but "Paul Revere" is easier for the propaganda machine, yes?

Here's his quiz for more insight into what I'm looking for. I hope that HBO picks it up as a series.
posted by weirdoactor at 10:49 PM on April 5, 2006

Best answer: One of the items on the quiz, "George Washington was the first president of the United States," isn't really false, but has more to do with when you decide to start counting Presidents--with the Article of Confederation, or with the Constitution in 1789. Most historians go for the latter, and quite sensibly I think.

But anyway, to answer your question, I've heard good things about The Politically Incorrect Guide to American History.
posted by Brian James at 11:03 PM on April 5, 2006

Best answer: I think that An Underground Education : The Unauthorized and Outrageous Supplement to Everything You Thought You Knew ... may be up your alley, although it's a little breezy. A lot of debunking, a lot of neat factoids, but best of all, a lot of explanations of how and why the various legends and myths were propagated in the first place.
posted by Alvy Ampersand at 11:08 PM on April 5, 2006

Best answer: Bill Bryson's Made in America is about the origins of American English, but also has a lot of historical info you won't find in the average textbook. Many myths debunked.
posted by azuma at 11:24 PM on April 5, 2006

Best answer: It's not a source, but a small anecdote..

George Washington's cherry tree story -- that was also made up posthumously by a biographer.
posted by provolot at 12:39 AM on April 6, 2006

Best answer: The author of Lies My Teacher Told Me also has a website.
posted by TedW at 7:07 AM on April 6, 2006

Best answer: I second and third "Lies My Teacher Told Me."
posted by planetkyoto at 7:28 AM on April 6, 2006

I also love "Lies My Teacher Told Me." It is a great book. Easy to read. One of the things I like about it, is that besides just debunking a lot of common historical "facts" it also goes into some of the structural issues around why these myths and untruths are perpetuated in the educational system.
posted by bove at 8:32 AM on April 6, 2006

I have not read The Politically Incorrect Guide to American History, but it has a rap as being primarily an apologia for the Confederacy.

Here's a very harsh piece from Reason about it.
posted by Chrysostom at 10:31 AM on April 6, 2006

Best answer: Lots of good suggestions in this thread. However, I would suggest not wasting your time on An Underground Education -- "a little breezy" is way too soft a criticism; I thought it was full of sensational misinformation. However, for general knowledge, the similarly-titled An Incomplete Education can't be beat.
posted by Rash at 1:07 PM on April 6, 2006

Seymour Hersh's The Dark Side of Camelot (1997), specifically about the Kennedy family.

Look for a used copy of it—and any other title, FWIW—on ABE.
posted by cenoxo at 10:13 PM on April 6, 2006

Late to the party here--posts scroll off AskMe so fast!

Avoid like the plague The Politically Incorrect Guide to American History. It is a P.O.S. and should be titled The Factually Incorrect Guide to American History. The Reason piece linked above is spot-on.
posted by LarryC at 12:01 PM on April 16, 2006

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