Jul 18 2012

Barton’s “Jefferson Lies” Voted Worst History Book in Print

I had heard about this contest run by the History News Network to find “the least credible history book in print,” and I had heard that David Barton’s recent bestseller The Jefferson Lies had taken the “prize,” but I didn’t expect this to get as much attention as it’s getting. I am, of course, thrilled to see that major newspapers like the New York Times and the Wall Street Journal are picking up the story. And Barton certainly can’t claim that this contest he just “won” had a liberal bias, considering that Howard Zinn’s People’s History of the United States came in a close second.

Read more from the New York Times.


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  1. 1

    Sure he can clain bias. In fact I bet he will. Otherwise he’d have to admit his book is a craptastic work of fiction.

  2. 2

    Actually I’m a bit shocked. I was expecting Zinn to “win”, given that there were at least two conservative polemics, and no other left-biased competition. Thought it would be a classic vote split.

    Congrats to David Barton for the epic fail.

  3. 3

    He can always blame it on satan or the demons.

    Xians have all purpose (if invisible) excuses for everything.

  4. 4
    Chris Rodda

    I’ve actually never read Zinn’s book. I don’t read many modern history books. I really only read the occasional biography if one comes out by a good historian about an historical figure who I’m interested in. I mostly read primary sources, especially a lot of old newspapers. I think old newspapers are one of the best sources for studying history, but you have to know what bias, if any, each newspaper had to put together the real story, just like today.

  5. 5
    Pierce R. Butler

    It’s been years since I read PHotUS, but at the time I concluded that it could’ve been a pretty decent book, if only given a title that didn’t set up such excessive expectations.

  6. 6

    David Irving and Harun Yahya (a.o. holocaust deniers) seem to be in print…
    Did Barton win against them as well or were books like those not accepted in this ‘contest’?
    Perhaps only books by american authors?

  7. 7

    Judging from the comments (disclosure: I voted for Barton), a lot of people were voting not just because of the worst history, but by the harm the book either has, or has the potential to do. Barton’s is worse because he has a larger credulous audience.

    I’m sure there’s cultural and selection bias among the population that participated as well, though.

  8. 8
    F [is for failure to emerge]

    Books in which the site readership participating in the poll had an interest. Being largely a US readership, and narrowed down to five books, and closing in on election time as we are, I find the list to be hardly surprising. (And did I mention that this is a university-run history site in the US? I mean, people from every country might have a self-interest bias, but, um, US.)

    And I doubt Yahya is even on the radar of US historians. He’s not even that amusing to atheists for any length of time. Still, a dangerous idiot.

  9. 9
    d cwilson

    I guess this means we can expect the History Channel to do a special on Barton’s book really soon.

  10. 10

    I read and liked Zinn’s book. He does good research and documents back to source materials what he says. Those few times he gets something wrong it is pretty easy to figure out what he got wrong. You, I, may not agree with the meanings and arguments he makes with those facts but he isn’t just inventing quoted and stories to back his preferred narrative.

    Barton’s ass has to hurt him because he has a habit pulling large, sharp-edged, lies out of it. There is very little documentation of where he got his quotations and those few times he gets the quotes right he completely mis-characterizes the point the author was making.

    Zinn is a historian with liberal sympathies and tendency to favor labor. Barton is a ideologue who makes up lies and dresses them up as history to prop up his ideology.

  11. 11

    To be fair, I have not read Barton’s book and therefore won’t comment on it, but I have seen Barton give incredible, outrageous, face-palm-inducing interviews and talks. I have formed my opinion that he is a willfully deluded fool based on that evidence.

    Zinn on the other hand, was certainly not deluded. His “People’s History” is not unbiased, of course; it takes a stand based on a particular point-of-view and it expresses a decidedly minority opinion about he thinks should be the correct interpretations of historical facts–BUT Zinn’s boook IS based on FACTS. Agree with Zinn or not, Zinn’s thinking, unlike Barton’s, was a product of eveidence from our shared, objective reality.

    It is a shame to mention Zinn and Barton together. The only similarities between the two is that they have written books in a common language.

  12. 12
    Reginald Selkirk

    And I doubt Yahya is even on the radar of US historians. He’s not even that amusing to atheists for any length of time.

    The fishing lure was hilarious, but yes, it wore off quickly.

  13. 13
    Ace of Sevens

    I think it helped Barton a lot that the other people made poorly-supported arguments, but he outright made up support.

  14. 14

    Although I have not read Barton, I am totally surprised that Howard Zinn could ever be mentioned in the same sentence as Barton if the reviews of Barton’s book are accurate.

    Howard Zinn was a respected historian, a Unitarian, and a freethinker, who purposefully wrote in a style that would attract the non-academic to enlightened historical viewpoints that formerly had been stiffled by the prejudiced or the powerful. Thus, some of his works lack the depth of the typical academic historical tome, but his heart was in the right place and he served a noble purpose as an historian, an author, and an activist. I once met him at a very small peace rally hundreds of miles from his home and can testify that he seemed to be a gentle man who put the principles of freedom and justice that he wrote about into practical application in his personal life. As one historian and Unitarian to another, “Dr. Zinn, your works and your life provided (and still provide) an inspiration to those in the historical profession and to freethinkers and lovers of freedom and justice. Thanks for standing up for the downtrodden, the poor, and those unable to speak out for themselves. You are missed.” Dr. Jenny Mantilla

  15. 15

    ::cone of shame:: I own Zinn’s and Barton’s books ad I love Zinn’s book. In my defense I read Zinn’s book as a teenager and not as a skeptic. I guess I learned my lesson… (I bought Barton’s book for a little classic opposition research.)

  16. 16

    There is always money to be made by exploiting the credulity of ignorant people, desperate to believe, and Barton has made a lot of it doing exactly that. Given the man’s lack of education, Barton may as well be calling himself an astronaut as a historian.

  17. 17

    In my defense I read Zinn’s book as a teenager and not as a skeptic. I guess I learned my lesson…

    No defense required. Zinn is a respected historian. His work is based in evidence and he may come to conclusions that aren’t popular in the US but, frankly, he’s not even that left wing compared to the rest of the world.

    Zinn grew up in a poor immigrant family in New York, volunteered in the Second World War, got his degree on the GI bill, marched for civil rights and against the Vietnam War. He was a great American – the best of his generation.

    He is the sort of person that made America worth someting. Never, ever, link his name with that jackass Barton. Zinn wrote to enlighten, to shine a light on a part of US history that’s been overlooked but that actually happened. Barton is a liar.

  18. 18

    PZ told me to come over and give congratulations. And well deserved congratulations they are. You are the person who revealed to me that David Barton is a lying toad. Thank you for your hard work in exposing this charlatan.

  19. 19

    Sorry, link is to article “A little victory against a wingnut” on Pharyngula.

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