That product? The Young Investigator’s Guide to Ancient Aliens: Based on the Hit Television Series, a book tie-in to the Ancient Aliens TV series, which carries the History Channel’s official endorsement and authorship and was released by Roaring Brook Press, a division of Macmillan, one of America’s largest book publishers. The volume is aimed at readers aged 8 to 12, though after skimming the book I’d think it’s perhaps a bit too ambitious for an 8 year old. (I wonder if grades 8-12 was what was meant instead.)
Although the book was released in July, it received no reviews on Amazon as of this writing and no mainstream media coverage that I could find. That is perhaps a good thing because the book itself is more horrifying than you’d imagine. As the book description explains:
Spanning history, from the earliest of human civilizations to the modern period, this book exposes evidence of the presence of extraterrestrials in some of our most triumphant and devastating moments.
I’ll give the Youth Services librarian Katrina Yurenka one small bit of credit, though: She recommended the book be placed in the Dewey decimal system’s 000 section for general nonfiction rather than in the science section.
The bright, colorful, and well-designed volume opens with an explanation of the ancient astronaut theory that claims it is a legitimate field of study, explaining “ancient astronaut theorist” as a job description, and canonizing Chariots of the Gods as “a major text in the field of Ancient Astronaut theory.” The volume suggests that children can aspire to grow up to be ancient astronaut theorists, and it makes use of bastardized popular anthropology to do so, referring to ancient and non-Western peoples as “primitive cultures.”
The volume, credited online to author Don Steinberg, an author of disposable nonfiction of no great seriousness, informs young readers that NASA is engaged in a conspiracy to hide the truth about aliens from the public and that Neil Armstrong helped to cover up evidence of aliens on the moon. And for a book that pretends to be a science text, it’s unusual that it stops to note that “many of us are taught to believe that God is everywhere,” just like a creationist text might. However, this book does so in order to suggest that humans associate heaven and God with the sky due to memories of ancient spaceships. The book informs readers that “it’s important to remember that myths come from somewhere, often from events that witnessed by people who invent stories to explain what they don’t completely understand.” This gross oversimplification is wrong even as an explanation for the preteen audience the book targets.
I could go on all day about the faulty claims that the History Channel foists onto children, but all of them are recycled from the Ancient Aliens TV series, with extensive quotations from Giorgio Tsoukalos but precious few references to primary sources or any way for children to learn the real story behind ancient astronaut claims. Oh, and Tsoukalos is selling autographed copies at a 100% markup.
What angers me is that the book is clearly the product of significant financial outlay. It is handsomely illustrated with gorgeous photography, which does not come cheap. It is laid out beautifully, and the pages are carefully designed to be visually attractive. Again, this kind of care doesn’t come cheap. What’s infuriating is that this is the History Channel’s only book of ancient history for children, according to an Amazon listing of their (very few) official books. This is how History employs resources that a decade ago it used to “provide teacher training sessions, grants/scholarships, public service announcements and classroom materials for New York City public secondary school teachers and students” as part of an effort to improve history education, and two decades ago used to take educating children seriously as part of its mission statement?
When the History Channel started a college course at the University of Oklahoma last year, professors objected at the pop network invading academia, but the head of the American Historical Association, James Grossman, said this spring that there was no cause for concern.
Different venues, whether they be television, commercial tourist attractions, children's books, national parks or classrooms, offer people different kinds of history. I am pleased that Americans are so eager to engage history, and fully recognize that they will engage different kinds of history in different ways. The AHA maintains standards for professional historical work. But we don't license. History Channel and other purveyors of popular histories play a vital role in stimulating and nourishing American's interest in the past. This is a good thing.
Would he therefore argue that Ancient Aliens on TV and in educational books for children are simply “different kinds of history” and ultimately good? I asked him yesterday via email, but as of this writing I haven’t heard back yet.