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from The Textbook Letter, March-April 1998

Reviewing a high-school book in world history

World History: The Human Experience
1999. 1088 pages. ISBN of the student's edition: 0-02-821576-1.
Glencoe/McGraw-Hill, 936 Eastwind Drive, Westerville, Ohio 43081.
(Glencoe/McGraw-Hill is a division of the McGraw-Hill Companies.)

This Textbook Ranks Close to the Bottom

Charles B. Paul

The 1999 version of World History: The Human Experience is a slight revision of the 1994 version, which was the ghost of a 1990 book called The Human Experience: A World History. Over the years, the color of the book's cover has been changed from turquoise to marine blue to burgundy, but the historical narrative has remained much the same.

[Editor's note: Charles B. Paul's review of The Human Experience: A World History appeared in TTL, May-June 1990. His review of the 1994 version of World History: The Human Experience appeared in TTL for January-February 1995, under this headline: "What Process Could Generate a Book as Sorry as This One?"]

Glencoe says that the "authors" of the 1999 version are the National Geographic Society and two individuals, with the Society at the top of the list. The individuals are Mounir A. Farah and Andrea Berens Karls, who were the alleged "authors" of the 1994 version. Now they have been eclipsed by the Society. Whoever the real writers of the 1999 version may be, their principal effort has consisted of copying old material from the 1994, including numerous old mistakes. However, the 1999 book also has errors that are new.

More Maps and "Five Themes"

I don't know whether the National Geographic Society really has had anything to do with the 1999 version, but I see that the 1999 pays greater attention to geography than the 1994 did. The body of the book now contains 137 maps instead of 80. The reference atlas has been expanded. Both the reference atlas and the historical atlas have been moved from the back of the book to the front. And immediately following the atlases, there is a new section called "Geography Handbook," with a spread devoted to the familiar "five themes of geography."

Other additions to the 1999 version include its new sidebars, feature articles and illustrations. Each unit in the body of the book now has, among other things, a "Multimedia Activity," a two-page article called "The Spread of Ideas," and some new little boxes (labeled "Around the World") that cite various events -- for example, the founding of Cairo, the War of Jenkins's Ear, and the race to reach the South Pole. These items augment the many features that have been retained from the 1994 book, such as the eight literary excerpts, some of the "Skills" pages, and some of the pictorial displays called "Images of the Times." Many of the illustrations within the text are new, for many of the pictures that appeared in the 1994 book have been discarded and replaced.

All the new pictures, articles and boxes suggest, at first, that World History: The Human Experience has been heavily revised. A closer look, however, discloses that there have been comparatively few changes in the organization of the text or in the historical narrative that the text conveys. The book has the same eight units as before, and nearly all the chapters are the same too, though the numbering of the chapters has been upset by two changes: The old chapter 14, "Africa and the Americas (1500 B.C. - A.D. 1500)," has been divided into two chapters numbered 7 and 15; and the old chapter 33, "Africa and the Middle East (1945 - Present)," has been split into two chapters numbered 34 and 35. On the other hand, the old chapters 35 and 36 (the last two in the 1994 version) have been condensed and combined to make chapter 37, "The World in Transition" (which is the last chapter in the 1999 book).

There are nearly 150 major sections within the chapters, and many of these carry revised titles. Only 15 or so, however, contain new material or material that has been substantially changed. In the 108 sections that I examined closely, I noticed only a half-dozen cases in which old material had been deleted or significantly condensed. Most prominently, a passage about the Children's Crusade has disappeared, and the text about Renaissance Rome and Venice has been sharply reduced. The additions that I noticed include paragraphs about Julius Caesar, Byzantine art, Viking culture, European Jews in the Middle Ages, the earlier Brandenburg rulers, women in the arts, the King James Bible, and American prosperity after World War 2.

Besides retaining the format and most of the historical narrative from the 1994 version, the new book disgracefully retains most of the mistakes and misconceptions that I pointed out in my review of that earlier version. It appears that Glencoe's editors have merely tried to correct some -- not all -- of the errors which could be fixed in a few minutes and which involved only a minimal amount of type. The book no longer states that modern scientists follow Aristotle's method, or that the second temple at Jerusalem had been built "only a few years before" AD 70, or that Charlemagne's rule was brief, or that the president of the United States appoints judges with the consent of the entire Congress. The definition of optics has been half-fixed (though the result is still misleading). And Glencoe has finally given us correct information about Earth's two modes of movement (rotation and revolution), about where Magellan died, about where Varennes is, and about how many national elections were held in France in 1848.

Let the Reader Beware!

Otherwise, Caveat lector. Let the reader beware! This book still has many outright errors, misleading claims and vacuous statements (including some which can be traced back to the 1990 book, The Human Experience: A World History, and which still have not been rectified). As examples:

The 1999 book, like its predecessors, falsely teaches that "scientific equipment" is a substitute for thought, and that Francis Bacon invented the modern scientific method. It credits Galileo, rather than Descartes and Newton, with the discovery of the correct law of inertia. It depicts Lamarck as the originator of the concept of the inheritance of acquired characteristics, though that concept was ancient. It retains the strange claim that Planck's quantum theory "helped Albert Einstein develop his theory of relativity." It retains a confused and incorrect description of the work of Rabelais. It falsely sets up a one-to-one correspondence between the Enlightenment and Classicism. It falsely claims that Romanticist composers were the first to write operas. It gives a distorted account of slavery in Africa, leading the student to imagine that the African slave trade was invented by Europeans and was inaugurated in the 1600s. It refers to the second paragraph of the American Declaration of Independence ("We hold these Truths to be self-evident, . . . .") as the Declaration's "beginning." And it offers as historical fact the baseless notion that in medieval times, "most Europeans" thought that Earth was flat. [See "The Flat-Earth Story -- Again" in the "Editor's File" in this issue.]

New Mistakes

Failing to correct old errors, misinterpretations and confusing mismatches is bad enough, but Glencoe's writers and editors have also added some new ones. I shall cite just the ones that seem especially glaring:

One of the most shocking additions to the 1999 book is the feature article on page 522, called "Tower Physics," which is explicitly labeled as the work of the National Geographic Society. Under a picture of a "modern re-creation" of "Galileo's famous experiment from the Leaning Tower of Pisa," we read that Galileo dropped a ten-pound weight and a one-pound-weight from the Tower, and thus "demonstrated that objects of different weights fell at the same rate." That is a legend, not history, and ranks with Parson Weems's invented tale about George Washington and the cherry tree. There is no evidence that Galileo, or anyone acting under his direction, ever performed such an experiment.

[Editor's note: To read about two other cases in which schoolbooks have conflated the Tower-of-Pisa legend with historical fact, see Lawrence S. Lerner's review of Prentice Hall's Motion, Forces, and Energy (in TTL, November-December 1992) and his review of Prentice Hall Exploring Physical Science (in TTL, September-October 1995).]

I suggest that the Glencoe writers and editors, if they have the temerity to try to produce another world-history book, should abandon any attempt to write about the history of science. They do not understand how science evolved, and they do not understand the content or import of even the most fundamental scientific discoveries.

Wasted Effort

There is a Latin saying that Repetitio est mater studiorum (Repetition is the mother of studies). After seeing how Glencoe's writers cling to the same old mistakes, though occasionally adding new ones, I would modify that maxim to say that Inscientia est mater repetitionis -- Ignorance is the mother of repetition. The 1999 version of World History: The Human Experience, like its predecessors, displays entrenched ignorance of current historical scholarship, ignorance of primary sources, and ignorance of the context of many of the events that it purports to describe. Among the high-school world-history books that I have reviewed for The Textbook Letter, this one ranks close to the bottom. All the effort and funds that Glencoe has expended on illustrations, feature articles and other appurtenances count for little when the book's text is unreliable, inaccurate and inconsistent.


Charles Paul, a specialist in cultural history, is a professor of humanities, emeritus, from San Jose State University. He has published scholarly articles on literature and music, and he has written a book, Science and Immortality, about the science and the scientists of 18th-century France.

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