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  • Writer's pictureJack McDevitt

Blog #75

Not So is a book that got lost in my shelves until recently. It’s a collection of popular stories about American history that we’ve all heard which, apparently, are not true. Or at least not demonstrably true. They are described as myths by the author, Paul F. Boller, Jr. Not So was published by Oxford University Press in 1995.

I started the book a few days ago and, if I hadn’t been caught up in a writing project, would not have put it down. I’ve been surprised to learn that Puritans did not take a strong and determined stand against sex, that Senator Joseph McCarthy never found any Communists at all in the U.S. government during his witch hunt, and that there’s no serious indication that President Roosevelt knew in advance that the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor was coming but took no action to head it off because he wanted the U.S. to be dragged into war.

Was Thomas Paine an atheist? I’ve read some of his essays and an opinion was easy to come by. I may have had it wrong. Was Lee Harvey Oswald alone in the JFK assassination?

Did the Founding Fathers think democracy was a good idea? That, a week ago, would have seemed like an absurd question. Apparently I should read the two volumes on the constitutional debates that have been sitting safely in the Library of America section of my book collection.


I just realized that, while riding my stationary bike during my daily workouts, I’ve been reading another historical book that’s every bit as entertaining in much the same way. The title is They Never Said It, described as “a book of fake quotes, misquotes, & misleading attributions.” There are two authors. One is John George. You probably won’t be shocked to learn that Boller is the other one.

One of the early quotes cited is: “Eternal vigilance is the price of liberty.” I remember that from my high school –or maybe grade school—years. Thomas Jefferson. According to the authors, not only is there no evidence he ever said it, but there’s no indication any major American figure did.

Makes me wonder what else I’ve gotten wrong.

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