from The Textbook Letter, May-June 1999

Reviewing a high-school book in world history

Human Heritage: A World History
1999. 712 pages. ISBN of the student's edition: 0-02-663895-9.
Glencoe/McGraw-Hill, 936 Eastwind Drive, Westerville, Ohio 43081.
(Glencoe/McGraw-Hill is a division of the McGraw-Hill Companies.)

Are We Having Fun Yet?

William J. Bennetta

The 1995 version of Human Heritage: A World History was described in two reviews -- one written by William Weber, the other by Charles Paul -- that ran in The Textbook Letter for March-April 1995. Both reviewers commented favorably on the 1995 book's geographic content, but both found Human Heritage unacceptable as a world-history textbook.

William Weber said that the 1995 Human Heritage didn't deserve to carry the subtitle A World History, because it paid little attention to anything besides the history of the West. He also found that it was pedagogically obsolete, that it made little effort to help students build their intellectual skills, and that too many of the exercises presented to students were fanciful or unrealistic or unworkable.

Charles Paul said that Human Heritage lacked coherence and continuity. He saw some commendable passages here and there, but he observed that the book's text was degraded by serious omissions, by many errors of fact, and by a style of prose that blended "peculiar diction, muddled phrasing, and a propensity to raise questions without answering them." The 1995 Human Heritage, Paul said, represented "an attempted compromise between tradition and faddism," and the attempt was a failure.

The 1999 version of Human Heritage is, for all practical purposes, interchangeable with the 1995. The text and illustrations that appeared in the 1995 book have been recycled, virtually unchanged. Obvious errors remain uncorrected, incomprehensible passages remain incomprehensible, meaningless sentences remain meaningless, and the book still is laden with traditional fictions and faddish pretensions that are downright silly.

On the traditional side, for instance, Human Heritage is still peddling Christian religious lore -- including the notion that Jesus was born in Bethlehem -- as history [see note 1, below].

To comply with current fads, Human Heritage continues to offer multi-culti absurdities, such as the fancy that the Australian aborigines "have always lived in harmony with their environment" [note 2]. Ugh!

Instead of rectifying the many defects of content and presentation that made the 1995 Human Heritage unacceptable, Glencoe's writers and editors have devoted their talents to decorating the 1999 book with new gewgaws. Some of these are "Multimedia Activity" items, including four in which the Glencoe writers cynically pretend to give instructions for finding information on the Internet [note 3].

Most of the new decorations, however, are boxed items that have been tossed into the page-margins, under the rubrics "Then . . . & Now" and "Fun Facts." A "Fun Facts" box on page 353, for example, tells us that Mongols entirely destroyed Kiev, and that the only building which was left standing was the cathedral of Saint Sophia. Reading the "Fun Facts" box on page 450, we see that Martin Luther had a close call with a lightning bolt, and that this led him to abandon the study of law and to enter a monastery.

Are we having fun yet?

Sampling the Pages

My statement that the 1999 version of Human Heritage is practically interchangeable with the 1995 version rests on a formal sampling of pages. In both the 1999 version and the 1995 version, the body of the book has 667 pages. To search for differences, I have randomly selected 63 pages in the body of the 1999 version (starting with page 3 and ending with page 667), and I have compared each of them with the like-numbered page in the 1995 version. Here are my findings:

After I finished my formal sampling of pages, I did some casual reading of the 1999 Human Heritage. As I toured its fun-filled pages, I noticed three more things that must be remarked here:


  1. No one knows where Jesus was born. The common notion that he was born in Bethlehem reflects a story in the Gospel of St. Luke -- a story that is highly anomalous because, unlike most tales about Jesus, it contains claims which can be tested against historical facts. Such testing shows that the story is fiction. A detailed examination of this matter will appear in a forthcoming issue of The Textbook Letter, as one of several articles that will show how schoolbooks endorse religious superstitions and disseminate fake "information" about the history of religious sects. [return to text]

  2. Glencoe's harmonious aborigines appear in a "Culture Close-up" spread on pages 48 and 49. When William Weber reviewed the 1995 Human Heritage, he said that the "Culture Close-up" items would "probably do more to mislead students than to teach them." That is certainly true of the Australian-aborigine "Close-up," which is laughable. It includes the harmony nonsense, a picture-caption that has nothing to do with the adjacent picture, and a caption which declares that the newly arrived aborigines hopped from their canoes and discovered "the eucalyptus tree," as if there were but one. In reality, Australia has more than 700 species of eucalypt, comprising seven major groups. [return to text]

  3. The instructions are absurd and useless, for they will be quite incomprehensible to anyone who does not already know how to conduct an Internet search. Moreover, the Glencoe writers flagrantly promote the delusion that anything which shows up on the Internet is legitimate information. They don't warn the student that the Internet is loaded with bogus Web sites which dispense phony "information" concocted by pressure groups, hucksters and crackpots. [return to text]

  4. See "She Wasn't My Mother" in The Textbook Letter for November-December 1998. [return to text]

William J. Bennetta is a professional editor, a fellow of the California Academy of Sciences, the president of The Textbook League, and the editor of The Textbook Letter. He writes often about the propagation of quackery, false "science" and false "history" in schoolbooks.


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