People's History of the United States, A Info

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“It’s a wonderful, splendid book—a book that
should be read by every American, student or otherwise, who wants to
understand his country, its true history, and its hope for the
future.” —Howard Fast, author of Spartacus and
The Immigrants

“[It] should be required reading.”
—Eric Foner, New York Times Book Review

Library
Journal calls Howard Zinn’s iconic A People's History of the
United States
“a brilliant and moving history of the American
people from the point of view of those…whose plight has been
largely omitted from most histories.” Packed with vivid details
and telling quotations, Zinn’s award-winning classic continues to
revolutionize the way American history is taught and remembered.
Frequent appearances in popular media such as The Sopranos,
The Simpsons, Good Will Hunting, and the History
Channel documentary The People Speak testify to Zinn’s
ability to bridge the generation gap with enduring insights into the
birth, development, and destiny of the nation.


Average Ratings and Reviews
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Reviews for People's History of the United States, A:

1

Nov 10, 2009

Update: I took this out of the library to attempt a reread...no changes, wanted to be fair. Still don't care for it. As noted, no changes.


Oh my goodness aren't we brave to tell (re-tell) American history this way? "You've been lied to and only I have the strength of character to tell you about it"

Yeah, yeah, yeah I've heard it all before. In C.S. Lewis' Great Divorce there's a high churchman of the Church of England who's going on about how brave he was to take a secular stand and renouncing Update: I took this out of the library to attempt a reread...no changes, wanted to be fair. Still don't care for it. As noted, no changes.


Oh my goodness aren't we brave to tell (re-tell) American history this way? "You've been lied to and only I have the strength of character to tell you about it"

Yeah, yeah, yeah I've heard it all before. In C.S. Lewis' Great Divorce there's a high churchman of the Church of England who's going on about how brave he was to take a secular stand and renouncing "traditional" beliefs. The "person" he's talking to (who was with him at that time) calls him on it and says you were never in danger of being renounced. You were in the main stream and only pretending (or possibly fooling yourself to put the best face on it) to go against the main stream. That's what we've got here, Since the 70s it's been "fashionable" to try and "debunk" American values and heroes. This one goes right down the line from going for the worst take possible on Columbus to attacking the motives of everyone involved in the American Revolution.

You want to read this, fine. But let me suggest some balance, bias is bias no matter which side it comes from or comes down on.

I won't debate (for example) Christopher Columbus' motives here...just realize he like everyone else was a product of his times and if you read his own writings you'll find "slavery and genocide" were the farthest things from his mind.

European "industrial" culture met a hunter gatherer culture and we got the predictable result. Does anyone really think that maybe fencing off the "New World" and making it a sort of preserve for tribal culture would ever have happened? Yes there were tragedies (I am not taking them lightly, all human history is rife with tragedy) but the continual self flagellation and the "let's all hate America and feel guilty about history-ism" has gotten silly. If we can't look at it for what it is and was and then move on we'll destroy ourselves.


*******

I'm adding these review segments from other sources simply to bolster the point that what I say/said here is far from some simply biased conservative opinion (though I am generally speaking conservative). I would suggest that those who read this review and have the reaction that is common for many on the left first read the 7 pages of arguments (attacks) that are already here. Answering that same comments over and over is getting silly.

We as a people (America) are losing (giving up) the ability to think for ourselves. Many are far more likely to try and shout down any opposing thoughts rather than think about them. We are at a place where communication has almost ceased. If we don't get back to the "loyal opposition" and the ability to disagree logically and civilly we will soon reach a point of no return.

So please just think and consider what you believe.:

Judging by the History News Network’s online vote conducted in 2012, many American historians loathe Howard Zinn’s A People’s History of the United States. More than 600 historians who participated in this vote pronounced Zinn’s radical history the second “least credible history book in print.” Comments by participants in the HNN vote suggest that this negative verdict on A People’s History had an ideological dimension. Zinn’s “viewing American history through a Marxist lens is a painful exercise in tortured reasoning” complained one online critic, while another denounced A People’s History as “absolutely atrocious agit-prop.

******
Stanford Education Professor Sam Wineburg.:

"Wineburg, one of the world's top researchers in the field of history education, raises larger issues about how history should be taught. He says that Zinn's desire to cast a light on what he saw as historic injustice was a crusade built on secondary sources of questionable provenance, omission of exculpatory evidence, leading questions and shaky connections between evidence and conclusions.
Indeed, says Wineburg, while Zinn pulled his anecdotes from a secondary source, Lawrence Wittner's 1969 book Rebels Against War, Zinn ignored evidence in that same book that undermines his claim. Among the examples Zinn overlooks is Wittner's point that 24 percent of the registrants eligible for the war were African American, while the percentage of draft-evasion cases involving blacks was only 4.4 percent of the total pursued by the Justice Department. And a similar trend held with conscientious objectors. "Surprisingly few black men became C.O.s," Wittner adds.

Similarly, Zinn roots his argument that the Japanese were prepared to surrender before the United States dropped the atomic bomb on a diplomatic cable from the Japanese to the Russians, supposedly signaling a willingness to capitulate. Wineburg writes that Zinn not only excludes the responses to the cable, but also that he fails in the later editions of the book to incorporate the vast new scholarship that emerged after the death of the Emperor Hirohito with the publication of memoirs and new availability of public records, all of which support the position of Japan's resolve to fight to the last."

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KIRKUS REVIEW
"For Howard Zinn, long-time civil rights and anti-war activist, history and ideology have a lot in common. Since he thinks that everything is in someone's interest, the historian--Zinn posits--has to figure out whose interests he or she is defining/defending/reconstructing (hence one of his previous books, The Politics of History). Zinn has no doubts about where he stands in this "people's history": "it is a history disrespectful of governments and respectful of people's movements of resistance." So what we get here, instead of the usual survey of wars, presidents, and institutions, is a survey of the usual rebellions, strikes, and protest movements. Zinn starts out by depicting the arrival of Columbus in North America from the standpoint of the Indians (which amounts to their standpoint as constructed from the observations of the Europeans); and, after easily establishing the cultural disharmony that ensued, he goes on to the importation of slaves into the colonies. Add the laborers and indentured servants that followed, plus women and later immigrants, and you have Zinn's amorphous constituency. To hear Zinn tell it, all anyone did in America at any time was to oppress or be oppressed; and so he obscures as much as his hated mainstream historical foes do--only in Zinn's case there is that absurd presumption that virtually everything that came to pass was the work of ruling-class planning: this amounts to one great indictment for conspiracy. Despite surface similarities, this is not a social history, since we get no sense of the fabric of life. Instead of negating the one-sided histories he detests, Zinn has merely reversed the image; the distortion remains."

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5

Sep 01, 2016

This is one of the most eye-opening books I have ever read. The late Howard Zinn takes off the filters with which American history is taught in schools and takes an unflinching look at how the US has not been the benevolent protector of democracy that propaganda would like us to believe. Not that the founding principles were wrong - they were ideal then and with some modifications re slavery and women's rights are still relevant today - but American domestic and foreign policy has been held This is one of the most eye-opening books I have ever read. The late Howard Zinn takes off the filters with which American history is taught in schools and takes an unflinching look at how the US has not been the benevolent protector of democracy that propaganda would like us to believe. Not that the founding principles were wrong - they were ideal then and with some modifications re slavery and women's rights are still relevant today - but American domestic and foreign policy has been held hostage by Big Capital and Old Money for over two centuries. It should be made essential reading for high school seniors and college freshmen to avoid the kind of knee-jerk reactionism that resulted in Drumpf's election in 2016. The US is not a perfect country and has its share blood on its hands and conscience and ignoring that ensures that we will repeat the same errors resulting in the deaths of innocent people again and again. An absolutely critical read.

Especially in the current hagiography of praising America's past as the if there was some lost utopia to which Drumpf, Inc wants to return to "Make America Great Again", Zinn's open-eyed, factual, and documented history reveals that this is all pure right-wing propaganda. All corporate and imperialistic entities commit atrocities in order to rise and maintain power, and the US is no exception to that. Yes, there is an ideal of freedom but it is one that has to be fought for generation after generation or it will be lost forever - THAT is what Zinn's book is all about and why it is important now!

The news just gets worse every day and the truth ever more elusive. Zinn's book remains a critical assessment of American history and a reminder that all of our rights from the Constitution to Social Security to Civil Rights to the Great Society were paid for with blood and sweat and must be preserved despite the constant attacks by Drumpf and his Republican cronies. ...more
1

May 03, 2013

Howard Zinn saw a problem in the world, a great bias in our understanding of history, a history written by the winners--by tyrants and industrial magnates and warmongers--and so he did something about it: he created an equally flawed and opposed bias, just as carefully constructed to prop up his own one-sided conclusion, in an act which always calls to my mind Bob Dylan's line:
"In a soldier's stance, I aimed my hand. At the mongrel dogs who teach. Fearing not that I'd become my enemy. In the Howard Zinn saw a problem in the world, a great bias in our understanding of history, a history written by the winners--by tyrants and industrial magnates and warmongers--and so he did something about it: he created an equally flawed and opposed bias, just as carefully constructed to prop up his own one-sided conclusion, in an act which always calls to my mind Bob Dylan's line:
"In a soldier's stance, I aimed my hand. At the mongrel dogs who teach. Fearing not that I'd become my enemy. In the instant that I preach."
A staunch idealist, Zinn's standard method is to throw out the baby with the bathwater: he finds an imperfection in a plan or event, and declares that, since it it not perfect, it should be rejected, outright. There is no pragmatism, no sense of compromise, no utilitarian notion of 'the greater good' for Zinn--if there is a flaw in an action, then that action must be condemned.

He has come out as saying that war is never a solution, that since people died, the conflict of World War II is not excusable, that the cessation of the Fascist war machine was not worth the cost. Of course, this beggars the question: what else? Is there some better solution to the problem, is there anything else that could have been done to prevent it?

Likewise, he has rejected US intervention in Korea, despite the fact that when we look at the split Koreas today--the North a wasteland of violence, malnutrition, and ignorance, the South a modern nation with a thriving economy--it is difficult to argue that, despite the deaths in that war, the intervention was not, overall, a positive.

Certainly, I am not of the camp who believes the US to be some sort of 'World Hero', that we are justified in policing the world, or in enforcing our ideals upon other nations, but neither do I buy the image Zinn paints of the US as a hand-wringing Disney villain that ruins everything it touches--the real truth of the matter is somewhere in between.

Some things which the US has done, such as our interference in Afghanistan--well on its way to becoming a modernized, self-sustaining nation in the mid-20th Century--tearing down its government, arming its warlords, and making it the staging ground for our Cold War battles with Russia--are awful examples of selfishness forced upon the world. The actions of our government and intelligence community there were not for the greater good, they were at the expense of the Afghans to our own benefit, and there are many such damning examples, but to focus solely on them is just as bad as ignoring them entirely.

Zinn has received much credit for revealing truth, for reinvigorating our education system and our view of history, but honestly, his work was a bit late for that--already, such diverse perspectives were emerging, and while it took some time for them to trickle down to Middle Schools and the public consciousness, nothing in his book was a revelation to devoted students of history.

Even those historians who were sympathetic to minority experiences and opposed to the white-washing of history tended to condemn Zinn for cobbling together a poorly-researched work which took only those parts that were convenient to his thesis and left out all else--and beyond that, twisting and misrepresenting his sources to his own ends.

But his work is sensationalistic, and work of that sort has a way of finding its way into popular discussion, whether it is accurate or not. His opponents can cite him of an example of 'all that is wrong with that point of view', while his supporters are attracted by the fact that his work tends to cast as the true heroes of history the uninvolved thinker, the academic who talks a great deal, attends protests, but does not get his own hands dirty, since in Zinn's approach, to interact directly with the imperfect world is to sully one's self.

It's hardly surprising that, in the modern age of 'Entertainment News', as represented by the vehement spewing of incoherent bias, figures like Zinn and Chomsky should become elevated. Zinn's book is like the 'documentaries' Zeitgeist , or What the Bleep Do We Know? , like Daniel Quinn's Ishmael or Hesse's Siddhartha , or the writing of Bell Hooks--all works that are fundamentally more concerned with the author's prejudice than with anything resembling fact.

In college, it's not uncommon to find folks who are devoted to all of the above--and if there's a better way than that to say "I have relatively little capacity for critical thought, but need constant confirmation of my own specialness', I don't know it. But then, such works are liable to spark off movements--not because they are accurate or well-written, but because they flatter certain preconceptions in the person who reads or watches them--meaning that the movements they inspire are not far removed from cults, centered as they are on philosophies which do not correspond to reality.

It is truly sad that, in the end, the common state of politics can be boiled down to a question like 'Do you follow rush Limbaugh, or Kieth Olbermann?', when in fact both of them are equally sensationalistic purveyors of half-truths delivered by way of ideology-filled rants. One sometimes wonders what we might achieve if we were able to think of the world in terms other than false dichotomies--but since I, unlike Zinn, am not an idealist, I shall have to accept the fact that it's simply how the human mind works, and do my best to work within that system. ...more
4

Jun 12, 2007

I finally finished this after slogging through it for two weeks, and it was definitely worth it. Besides being a good refresher in U.S. history, particularly from a non-nationalist perspective, I learned a lot about people's movements, and the ways that people (as opposed to 'the great men of history') have created change in our country.

It's good to know that some of what Zinn covers in A People's History, even though unorthodox at the time he wrote it, has already filtered into public I finally finished this after slogging through it for two weeks, and it was definitely worth it. Besides being a good refresher in U.S. history, particularly from a non-nationalist perspective, I learned a lot about people's movements, and the ways that people (as opposed to 'the great men of history') have created change in our country.

It's good to know that some of what Zinn covers in A People's History, even though unorthodox at the time he wrote it, has already filtered into public education. For instance, it was very clearly taught in my high school U.S. history course that Columbus was not the genteel 'discoverer' of the Americas but rather the wealth-obsessed leader of a genocide against indigenous people in the Caribbean.
However, we didn't cover the fact that even as late as the 1960s and '70s the U.S. government was supporting violence against American Indians. Or that 'equal protection' under the 14th amendment was granted to corporations many decades before it was granted to women. (Literally, judges declared that corporations were considered 'persons' - just as they had finally said black men were persons and not just property - and then they later ruled that the term didn't apply to women.) And we certainly didn't cover the continuous use of military forces by both corporations and government against worker protests, events like the Ludlow Massacre (a strike by miners against the Rockefeller family's Colorado Fuel & Iron Corporation), where first the Rockefeller's own hired thugs, and then the government's attempts to bring in strikebreakers, did not break the determination of the workers, and eventually the National Guard launched machine gun fire on a tent colony of workers and their families. And while we maybe mentioned the death of civilians at Hiroshima, we didn't talk about the millions of civilians killed by U.S. troops in the Philippines, Cuba, Vietnam, Laos, Cambodia, and both directly/indirectly in numerous Central and South American countries.

The gist of Zinn's book (and this is a long gist, but it's a long book): the U.S. was founded to protect the interests of the wealthy, and continuous class conflict has been suppressed regularly through the creation of nationalist sentiment, as well as through the pitting of oppressed social groups one against the other (for instance, poor blacks against poor whites, or the lower class against the middle class). Furthermore, as we have accepted 'history' as it has been given to us in school textbooks, we've allowed ourselves both to believe the myth that 'the people' are actually represented by the government, and that we have democracy, while allowing a rich elite to maintain power and help create the continuous war economy we now live in, in which we continuously say we cannot afford to provide people with jobs, food, or education, but yet somehow shell out trillions to military contractors to create weapons we should never even be thinking about using.

Some of this I had already picked up here and there, but Zinn's book is a sort of a thick concentration of it all, a thorough look at who "we" as the United States really are. While certainly not a pretty self-portrait, it does end on a hopeful note: 'the people' have created change, and we can do it again.
The catch: change has always been achieved by direct action (violent and non-violent). It has never been achieved by voting. ...more
1

Aug 11, 2007

DO NOT READ THIS BOOK! EVER! BURN IT! HOWARD ZINN SHOULD BE DRAWN AND QUARTERED IN A PUBLIC FORUM!!!

Seriously though, when I describe my highschool sophomore year history class I generally use the following sentence, "The theme of sophomore year history was: White people - bad, the downtrodden - good." Howard Zinn's "A People's History of the United States" was our textbook. I HATE THIS BOOK! His basic thesis is that America was built on the blood and suffering of the poor. And while this is DO NOT READ THIS BOOK! EVER! BURN IT! HOWARD ZINN SHOULD BE DRAWN AND QUARTERED IN A PUBLIC FORUM!!!

Seriously though, when I describe my highschool sophomore year history class I generally use the following sentence, "The theme of sophomore year history was: White people - bad, the downtrodden - good." Howard Zinn's "A People's History of the United States" was our textbook. I HATE THIS BOOK! His basic thesis is that America was built on the blood and suffering of the poor. And while this is definitely a perspective that should be considered and included in any comprehensive understanding of American history, it SHOULD NOT BE THE PRIMARY MEANS OF INTERPRETING OUR HISTORY!!!!

Zinn is one of those people who will ALWAYS find something to bitch and moan about. There are other histories out there that cover the time, and do so well, probably even delving into many of the situations and events that Zinn does. But Zinn's is book is much closer to propaganda than history. It's necessary to have a bias in your writing, but some level of impartiality is also useful.

Anyway, there's my take, do with it what you will, but when I count up the list of my most reviled books/ideas that I've ever been exposed to, Mr. Zinn's "A People's History of the United States" ranks up near the top of the list. ...more
4

May 28, 2015


In 1846, in Concord, Massachusetts, the writer Henry David Thoreau ran into a tax collector called Sam Staples, who asked for his poll tax. Thoreau declined to pay, refusing – he said – to contribute to what he regarded as the government's illegal war against Mexico. He was put in prison.

When Emerson visited Thoreau in jail and asked, ‘What are you doing in there?’ it was reported that Thoreau replied, ‘What are you doing out there?’

Howard Zinn is not in jail (he's dead), but the message to
In 1846, in Concord, Massachusetts, the writer Henry David Thoreau ran into a tax collector called Sam Staples, who asked for his poll tax. Thoreau declined to pay, refusing – he said – to contribute to what he regarded as the government's illegal war against Mexico. He was put in prison.

When Emerson visited Thoreau in jail and asked, ‘What are you doing in there?’ it was reported that Thoreau replied, ‘What are you doing out there?’

Howard Zinn is not in jail (he's dead), but the message to readers is much the same. This is a big book with a big chip on its shoulder. It's not really a history of the US at all, it's a kind of ‘Marxist Companion to’ American history – but none the worse for that, and Zinn can hardly be accused of concealing his biases. He's very upfront about the fact that this book ‘leans in a certain direction’. His reading of history is one dominated by social and economic inequality presided over by governments that protect capitalist interests at the expense of people's lives. And, as you might imagine, he's not short of examples.

It's interesting that many of those who dislike this book seem almost personally offended by it. That is worrying, because it suggests that American patriotism (which is almost a state religion) has succeeded in convincing people to identify themselves with their governments, one of the things that Zinn is trying, passim, to argue against. Certainly ‘America’ as a state does not come out of this very well, but I rather doubt that Zinn believes any other countries are much better; the point is only that the US is no different.

Instead of memorable dates or acts of statesmanship, then, we have a history of the disenfranchised and the working-classes, from Columbus to the War on Terror, demolishing the fiction that the US is a ‘classless’ society and establishing the importance of protest and activism in achieving any meaningful social advances.

In some cases this means coming at the familiar stories of American history from a new angle – as is the case with the settling of North America, which Zinn sees as straightforwardly genocidal, or his account of the ‘Roaring’ 1920s, which focuses on the country's staggering wealth disparity. Sometimes again, Zinn's approach is more or less in line with traditional narratives, as for instance when it comes to the civil rights movement. And finally there are the stories in here which you don't typically see in histories of the U.S. at all, such as the rise and ultimate fall of American unionism, something I, like most people in Europe, have often wondered about.

What I love about books that focus on protest movements is that they help break down the idea that countries are monolithic, or that the behavior of a state is even moderately successful in enacting the wishes of its populace. And the US has had some of the most courageous and eloquent protesters anywhere. Emerson may not have gone to jail for his beliefs like his friend Thoreau, but consider the letter he wrote to President Van Buren in 1838, on the subject of Indian Removal. The policy, he says, is

a crime that really deprives us as well as the Cherokees of a country for how could we call the conspiracy that should crush these poor Indians our government, or the land that was cursed by their parting and dying imprecations our country any more?

Others had the presence of mind to produce this stuff on the fly. Eugene Debs, jailed for speaking out against the First World War, told his judge in court:

Your honor, years ago I recognized my kinship with all living beings, and I made up my mind that I was not one bit better than the meanest on earth. I said then, and I say now, that while there is a lower class, I am in it; while there is a criminal element, I am of it; while there is a soul in prison, I am not free.

(And critics call this an anti-American book! You're cheering over heroic Americans the whole way through – they just happen to be in confrontation with their government most of the time. It's very moving, and I was a bit of an emotional wreck for much of the three weeks I spent reading it.) The gradual emancipation of women furnishes some of the best anecdotes. Elizabeth Blackwell, a doctor who got her medical degree in 1849 from Geneva College, wrote about one of her first cases, where she called in a local physician for consultation on a pneumonia patient:

This gentleman, after seeing the patient, went with me into the parlour. There he began to walk about the room in some agitation, exclaiming, “A most extraordinary case! Such a one never happened to me before; I really do not know what to do!” I listened in surprise and much perplexity, as it was a clear case of pneumonia and of no unusual degree of danger, until at last I discovered that his perplexity related to me, not to the patient, and to the propriety of consulting with a lady physician!

It was interesting to discover that many of the radical female activists of the early twentieth century – and there were a lot of awesome women involved in anarchist syndicates and that kind of thing – were ambivalent on the question of suffrage, regarding votes as, at best, a distraction from the real issue of class warfare. Zinn is broadly sympathetic, just because he likes people who are angry; indeed activists who take a more conciliatory approach don't always come off well here. Martin Luther King's ‘I have a dream’ speech, for instance, is ‘magnificent oratory, but’ – the crucial qualification – ‘without […] anger’.

All of the book's themes come together when it discusses war. There is a bracing résumé of the US's appalling military interference in Central America, and cynical (but convincing) discussions of Korea and Iraq. On Vietnam, Zinn is even more scathing than conventional wisdom would suggest – indeed, there is a sense that self-congratulatory cultural ‘admissions’ of failure have served to gloss over the ugly realities. Consider the 660 Vietnamese civilians massacred at My Lai, for example. The soldiers of Charlie Company took their time raping and dismembering the women, rounding up and killing the children, and forcing the rest of the villagers to lie down in ditches while they walked up and down shooting them, while divisional command staff watched from a helicopter. None of the anguished, important, self-examining Hollywood treatments of the conflict have come close to facing up to this kind of thing.

War is recognised here as a class issue. ‘If there is a war,’ wrote Bolton Hall in an appeal to the working classes in 1898, ‘you will furnish the corpses and the taxes, and others will get the glory.’ Zinn encourages readers to consider what exactly is meant when politicians talk about the ‘national interest’, so often to be equated with corporate profits. But more generally, there is a welcome consideration of the justification for spending citizens' money on vast military projects instead of on ways to help those of them with no food, housing, or employment. As Eisenhower said, in a moment of rare presidential clarity:

Every gun that is made, every warship launched, every rocket fired, signifies in a final sense a theft from those who are hungry and are not fed, those who are cold and not clothed.

Welfare is one of the many issues on which both sides of the American political spectrum have united in inactivity, allowing the term itself to become almost a dirty word. (A similar process has happened with ‘socialism’.) In a 1992 survey, 44 percent of people thought too much was being spent on ‘welfare’, but 64 percent thought too little was being spent on ‘assistance to the poor’. *headdesk* Vocabulary is everything…

It's true that there is, at times, an unnecessarily conspiratorial tone here – the implication that some knowing capitalist-patriarchal cabal is deliberately manipulating events to the people's detriment. Events are manipulated to the people's detriment, but the reason is systemic rather than down to individual villains (though yes, there are some conspicuous exceptions). And the ruling classes can't win: advances in social justice or economical equality – of which there are, in fact, many – are attributed to an Establishment desire for ‘long-range stability of the system’ rather than to any humanitarian motives. Where concessions have been made, ‘the chief motive was practicality, not humanity’.

Zinn does say at one point that the American system ‘was not devilishly contrived by some master plotters; it developed naturally out of the needs of the situation’, but such reminders are only necessary because they are belied by his general stance. Still, over the 700-odd pages, I think the system is illustrated rather well. The account left me energised, fired-up. And people should be angry. As Zinn's history shows, the advances in American society have only come about because people got angry and forced the government to act. Now is certainly no time to stop.
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5

Dec 28, 2010

The ratings on this book tend to be polarized here on Goodreads, with lots of people giving it 5 or 4 stars, and quite a few giving it 1. This is because this book is upfront about where it stands politically: Howard Zinn runs with the notion that poor people tend to be exploited by rich ones. (GASP!) If you agree with this general human tendency, yet STILL believe we should teach the NERFed version of American History--where Columbus is a swell fella, the Native Americans were using the land The ratings on this book tend to be polarized here on Goodreads, with lots of people giving it 5 or 4 stars, and quite a few giving it 1. This is because this book is upfront about where it stands politically: Howard Zinn runs with the notion that poor people tend to be exploited by rich ones. (GASP!) If you agree with this general human tendency, yet STILL believe we should teach the NERFed version of American History--where Columbus is a swell fella, the Native Americans were using the land wrong anyway, and rich people have no advantages over poor ones--I'm not sure how you can reconcile these ideas.

One common critique of Howard Zinn is that this book, if taught by itself, will present a skewed version of history that inspires a general hatred of rich people. So, I fully expect these reviewers to give low ratings to every history book, including those that pretend to be objective. By giving a low rating to only the books that point out flaws in the U.S. government, these people are essentially admitting the direction of their own bias. Of course, we're all biased, whether we're writing history books or reviewing them. If I weren't politically biased towards LIKING this book, I'd probably give it a four-star rating because there were some topics I wish Zinn would've gone into that he didn't.

All historians have an agenda, so the obvious solution is to teach from two or more textbooks with conflicting views. There. Problem solved! Moving on...

I'm gonna talk about the book itself now, so that I remember to do so. Then, I'm going to get into political rant mode, because I want to talk about why Zinn and the Tea Party SHOULD be best friends if people were more rational than they are.

The Part Where I Talk About the Book:

Zinn, in the newest versions of this book, discusses U.S. history from its origins all the way up to Bush Jr.'s presidency. Throughout, he pulls no punches, questioning the motives of those in power regardless of their political party, because there's really not that much difference between the right and the left. He covers a whole lot, even considering the length of the book, and has done a lot of work since the book's original publication to add sections addressing the plight of those segments of our population that were ignored in the earliest printings. Keep in mind as you're reading this that there really WASN'T anything like this book when it was written. Before Zinn, no schools taught history from the perspective of the lower classes...in fact, most of them STILL don't. I know mine didn't. So, I think we need more historians like Zinn, willing to challenge the assumptions we make about history. Like every academic field, history should be evolving and growing more nuanced over time.

I should've known I'm incapable of actually FOCUSING on the book.

The Part Where I Talk About Other Stuff:

As those who have talked to me about politics know, I have a lot of frustration with the tea party. First off, some of them don't realize how batshit nuts Sarah Palin is. That's bad. And, that's not nearly as bad as the fact that they don't realize how batshit nuts GLENN BECK is.




But, more importantly, the so-called Tea Party developed at the same time that a democrat entered office, developed under the leadership of republicans, yet developed saying they were independent from this big-business-focused party, and that they were all about lowering taxes. Pardon me while I take that with a VERY BIG grain of salt. I'm still willing to be proven wrong, though, if it turns out that the tea party actually DOES want to cut taxes, and not just assist the federal government in deep-throating big business a little bit more. Until SOME political party is willing to come right out and say, "Guys, we're spending more than 500 billion THIS YEAR on the military. We could pretty much kill everything alive a few times over with the weapons we have stockpiled. Maybe it's time to think about cutting part of THAT spending instead of complaining about health care expenses." Until someone comes right out and says that, I'm not declaring my allegiance to any party.

I have yet to hear anyone willing to challenge the importance of the military industrial complex...anyone in politics, that is. A lot of normal humans think this is a pretty fucking solid place to cut spending.

The government can only be improved if we as citizens are willing to call it out when it acts in ways that are unethical. The notion that patriotism is connected to a blind faith in the current version of the political structure is foolish. Those who really believe in freedom will recognize that freedom applies to everyone, including those of us who want to examine whether or not the government is operating in our interests. After examining it, a lot of people are convinced it isn't.

That said, we're all gonna get along better when we stop focusing on the issues that we don't agree on, and focus on what we think a government should do. When we say the government is "of the people, by the people, and for the people," I think "the people" includes everyone who lives here, including those of us who didn't make any money on the bailout, and those of us who don't want to help finance murder abroad through "Overseas Contingency Operations." I would think pro-lifers would agree with me on that.

Anyway, I'm going to climb off my soap box now, but I give this book my recommendation. Read it if your American history education hasn't included enough skepticism. ...more
3

Sep 23, 2008

Actually, if you're even somewhat familiar with American History (and I'm not talking about what you learned in your politically correct high school readers, even though in recent years more of the 'bad stuff' is leaking out to our high school students), there's nothing new here. So why are so many upset by Zinn? Most say they are bothered by Zinn's subjectivity (but who cares? after all, it's his book) and what some say is his "whining" tone. Hey, this will help you build your critical thinking Actually, if you're even somewhat familiar with American History (and I'm not talking about what you learned in your politically correct high school readers, even though in recent years more of the 'bad stuff' is leaking out to our high school students), there's nothing new here. So why are so many upset by Zinn? Most say they are bothered by Zinn's subjectivity (but who cares? after all, it's his book) and what some say is his "whining" tone. Hey, this will help you build your critical thinking skills and delaing with the reality of bias (never, ever read just one book on complex issues to get it all, or at least most of the true picture) And if he does focus excessively on the rich as creators and cause of all negatives historically, well, he's not too far off (for more, read The End of Money and The Future of Civilization by Thomas H. Greco). But there certainly are positives within most existing negatives (for more read A Patriots History of the United States).

But back to all the people whining about Zinn's whining (yeah, I know, funny, huh? ;o)What frequently happens is that people respond emotionally and within that emotion analyze incorrectly, therefore, missing the mark and attacking the author (not always, but often). What is most likely affecting most people is an initial exposure to long-covered truths, something Zinn has nothing to do with. And if you love your country and you're getting pummeled by constant negatives about that country, well . . . from that emotional state you shoot missing the mark.

But there's nothing new here, and you don't have to take my word. If you're looking for different perspectives on the same material, try this short list:

Revisiting America: Readings in Race, Culture, and Conflict; Lies My Teacher Told Me: Everything Your American History Textbook Got Wrong; and to add to the fire, Noam Chomsky's Hegemony or Survival: America's Quest for Global Dominance (yes, the one Hugo Chavez shot to the top of the bestsellers list); Failed States: The Abuse of Power and the Assault on Democracy; What We Say Goes: Conversations on U.S. Power in a Changing World; ad infinitum. Basically anything Chomsky.

As for the conservative reading list, there's . . . ahhhh . . . wait a tic? I don't see anything beyond the one book mentioned above. Hmmmmmmmmmmmmm. Let me get on the phone to McCain. I'll be right back.

...more
3

Mar 12, 2017

A People’s History of the United States by Howard Zinn is a 2005 Harper Perennial Modern Classics publication.

I admit, up front, that this my first go at this book. I vaguely remember some controversy surrounding a history book that exposed the darker side of American History, and whether or not it belonged next to traditional history text in schools. However, this book came along after I graduated from high school, having been published in 1980, to the best of my knowledge, and my own children A People’s History of the United States by Howard Zinn is a 2005 Harper Perennial Modern Classics publication.

I admit, up front, that this my first go at this book. I vaguely remember some controversy surrounding a history book that exposed the darker side of American History, and whether or not it belonged next to traditional history text in schools. However, this book came along after I graduated from high school, having been published in 1980, to the best of my knowledge, and my own children used traditional history textbooks in school.

It wasn’t until I heard the state of Arkansas was trying to have this book banned from its schools, that it piqued my interest. So, I checked it out of the library just to see what was so controversial about it.

It’s been a very long time since I picked up a history textbook of any kind. So, if nothing else, this book gave me a little refresher course on historical events. But, of course, I do see why some people would find learning about the underbelly of American history disconcerting.

The history covered begins in 1492 and was updated up to 2000’s war on Terrorism.

I’d never heard about most of these ‘untold’ portions of history, but as long as they are true, I don’t see the problem with informing students of the darker aspects of their history. The important thing to note, however, is the motive behinds some of these events and one's own perception of them.

If I began looking through this book with any kind of preset ideas, it would be in favor of telling the whole truth, not just the truth that paints our ancestors in the most flattering light possible. Still, I did pick up on a ‘tone’ here and there I wasn’t so sure should exist in a book designed as a teaching tool.
Of course, one could argue, those same ‘tones’ show up in more traditional history textbooks, too, and keep in mind that my ability to access 'tones' can be wonky sometimes, apparently.

Because I checked this book out of the library, and needed to get it turned back in, I didn’t read the book like I would a novel or any other kind of book. I skipped around here and there, skimmed some areas, and spent a great deal of time on topics that interested me the most.

The point, the author seemed intent on stressing, was that the rich took power and gained much off the backs of the poor or ‘downtrodden’. I think you would have to be truly dense not to pick up on that, but again, if it’s true, then by all means, at least allow the book in the classroom as a companion to the more traditional studies.

One thing I believe is clearly under attack in our present climate, is critical thinking. To disallow this book in the classroom because it shows another side of the story, is unhealthy. Students must learn to look at the information and make informed decisions about the data presented to them. Not only that, I just don’t like the idea of banning books. If the schools feel that strongly about using the book in the classroom, then at least give them the chance to check it out of the school library.

This is not your typical ‘dry’ history text, and I do understand why some people either loved it or hated it. For me, I hate to be wishy washy, but I fall somewhere in the middle. I didn’t hate it, and while it was interesting, I didn’t feel overly impressed either.

3 stars
...more
4

Sep 15, 2017

In a country famous for its historical ignorance, Howard Zinn sold two million copies of a 700-page history book. In a country famous for its allergy to the left, Howard Zinn wrote a best-seller from a staunchly left-wing perspective. Every evaluation of his book must begin and end with this achievement. Whatever you like or dislike about Zinn, clearly he did something right.

As you set out to judge this book, you must first decide whether it is a work of inquiry or of advocacy. This distinction In a country famous for its historical ignorance, Howard Zinn sold two million copies of a 700-page history book. In a country famous for its allergy to the left, Howard Zinn wrote a best-seller from a staunchly left-wing perspective. Every evaluation of his book must begin and end with this achievement. Whatever you like or dislike about Zinn, clearly he did something right.

As you set out to judge this book, you must first decide whether it is a work of inquiry or of advocacy. This distinction has worn thin in our postmodern age, as we have become hyper-aware of the inescapability of bias. Nevertheless I think the distinction holds good in theory, however blurred it may be in practice.

An inquirer searches for the truth, even if the truth contradicts her original opinion; an advocate attempts to motivate people, to bring about some action, even if the action is somewhat vague or far-removed. An inquirer will risk dense and dry writing to get her point across; an advocate will risk simplification and generalization to get her point across. An inquirer will highlight information that her thesis doesn’t account for, and will include counterarguments and consider their merits; an advocate will minimize inconvenient information and will knock down strawmen of counterarguments.

This book is clearly a work of advocacy. And it is important to remember this, since as a work of inquiry A People’s History of the United States has almost no merit whatsoever. Zinn mostly relies on secondary sources, and makes no attempt at addressing counterarguments or at accommodating different viewpoints. His aim is not to explain American history, but to use American history to spark outrage.

Granted that this book is advocacy, we must then ask two more questions: whether it is responsible or irresponsible, and whether it is altruistic or selfish. Responsible advocacy uses careful research, seeks out unbiased sources, and acknowledges those sources; irresponsible advocacy uses lies or severe distortion of facts, or simply lies by omission. Altruistic advocacy acts on behalf of a wide swath of people, not just a narrow interest; selfish advocacy does the opposite. As an example of responsible, altruistic advocacy, Rachel Carson’s Silent Spring addresses an issue of broad concern using careful research. On the other hand, the cigarette industry’s fight against the researchers who uncovered the negative health effects of smoking was an example of irresponsible, selfish advocacy, fighting on behalf of a small group using outright lies.

It is worth noting, by the way, that these two values can come into conflict. In these situations the advocate is faced with a choice: What is better, to distort the truth for a worthy cause, or to tell the truth at the expense of that cause? You might say that, if dishonesty is required, the cause can’t be worthy; but the fact remains that careful scholarship is often at odds with popular success—and popular success is what advocates aim for.

I think Zinn faced just this dilemma in this book, forced to choose between a work that would satisfy academics and would sell well, and he chose popularity. Granted, given the constraints of a popular book, I think he is decently honest with his sources. And it is worth noting that Zinn is frank about his political biases and goals. Nevertheless, I think it is obvious that he relies on books—again, mostly secondary sources—that are broadly sympathetic with his views; that he selectively quotes those who aren’t; and that he questions the motivations of any who disagree with him. What we must ask, then, is this: Does Zinn’s moral aim excuse this approach?

I think, on the whole, it does. At the time Zinn first wrote this book, history books used in public schools were unabashedly nationalistic, omitting labor movements, women’s movements, civil rights movements, and pushing aside the atrocities committed against the Native Americans. In other words, the history commonly taught and known was a history of presidents and elections, wars and victories, a history that ignored large swaths of underprivileged people. Of course Zinn didn’t change this single-handedly; he was the beneficiary of an entire academic movement. But his book, by its popularity, played an important role in changing the status quo. By the time I went to school, we had units on women’s movements, labor movements, and the barbarous mistreatment of blacks and Native Americans. It is also largely thanks to Zinn, I believe, that there is a growing movement against the celebration of Columbus Day (a person who I don’t think we ought to celebrate).

It is eminently right that the injustices and oppressions and inequities of American history be laid before the public. For history is never a neutral series of facts. Every political ideology relies on some historical narrative. Thus, systematically omitting episodes of history is equivalent to squelching certain political views. And even though I am not always in agreement with its ideology, I think that the United States suffers from its lack of a strong leftist movement.

Just recently, the political power of history has been dramatically demonstrated through the conflict over Civil War statues. More and more people are coming to the conclusion, I think rightly, that having statues of Confederate generals is not politically neutral. Of course we must learn and commemorate history. But it is impossible to remember and commemorate everything. We are always faced with a choice; and this choice is shot through with ideological questions. What we choose to remember, and how we choose to remember it, is a moral issue; and I think Zinn is right to remind us of the struggles of the unprivileged and powerless against the privileged and powerful—not for their sake, but for ours.

This, in brief, is why I generally approve of this book. But I do have many criticisms.

Most superficially, I think this book suffers from a lack of organization. Many chapters feel like hasty cut-and-paste jobs, jumping from topic to topic, summarizing and quoting from different sources, without anything more than a sense of outrage to tie it together. In this way, the book is bizarrely reminiscent of a a Bill Bryson work: a hodgepodge of stories, thrown together in a loose jumble. I also think that Zinn should have highlighted more individual stories and condensed some tedious lists of movements, if only for dramatic effect.

More seriously, I think that Zinn commits the moral error of many on the left: by holding people to a stringent standard, the important moral differences between groups are minimized. This was most noticeable on his chapters on the Civil War and World War II, in which Zinn goes to lengths to undermine the moral superiority of the North and of the United States. I absolutely agree with Zinn that the North was hardly a utopia of freedom and equality (racism was almost universal), and that the United States was hardly a shinning beacon on a hill (think of the Japanese internment camps, the Dresden bombing, or the nuclear bombings). Nevertheless, I think that, with all their inequities and injustice, the Union and the United States were clearly preferable to the slave-owning Confederates or Nazi Germany. Minimizing this difference is dangerous.

I also object to the way that Zinn makes it seem as though the United States is controlled by a vast conspiracy, or that all the elements of power work together in one seamless ‘system’ (one of Zinn’s favorite words). He does, at one point, acknowledge that this system arose unconsciously, through necessity and in stages, and is not, for the most part, used intentionally by the powerful. But this, then, leads to the question: What is the difference between an unconsciously developed and unintentionally used system of control, and no ‘system’ at all?

Or consider this paragraph:
The American system is the most ingenious system of control in world history. With a country so rich in natural resources, talent, and labor power the system can afford to distribute just enough wealth to just enough people to limit discontent to a troublesome minority. It is a country so powerful, so big, so pleasing to so many of its citizens that it can afford to give freedom of dissent to a small number who are not pleased.
Zinn’s message is clear: that this is an unjust situation created by powerful people. But think about what he is saying: The United States is a country where most people are content and where the discontented are allowed to express themselves. Phrased like this, the observation looses its outraged and semi-conspiratorial edge; indeed it doesn’t seem so bad at all. I cite this only as an example of Zinn’s use of rhetoric and insinuation to make political points, a dishonest habit. Another bad habit is his tendency to question the motivation of the people he intends to criticize. Every reform or government action aimed at equality is, for Zinn, just a concession aimed at promoting the long-term stability of ‘the system.’ Again, this leads to the question: What, in practice, is the difference between a self-interested concession and an honest attempt at reform?

I also want to note that Zinn’s effort to write a “people’s” history became, at times, a thin pretense. This was obvious whenever the general opinion didn’t match his own. Zinn was not simply chronically “the people”; he consistently chooses to focus on those who shared his ideals, whether they represented the majority or a small minority. This was most obvious in the chapter on the Second World War, which focuses on the small group of people who disapproved of it. But it was a tendency throughout. Here is a typical passage:
After the bombing of Iraq began with the bombardment of public opinion, the polls showed overwhelming support for Bush’s action [Bush Sr.], and this continued through six weeks of the war. But was it an accurate reflection of the citizen’s long-term feelings about war? The split vote in the polls just before the war reflected a public still thinking its opinion might have an effect. Once the war was on, and clearly irreversible, in an atmosphere charged with patriotic fervor … it was not surprising that a great majority of the country would declare its support.
This is special pleading at its worst. The people’s opinion, when it disagrees with Zinn’s opinion, is of course not really their opinion; it is just manipulation. But when the people do agree with Zinn, it is of course their “true” opinion.

This, by the way, is another nasty habit of the left: a pretense to knowing the true interests of the unprivileged, even if the unprivileged themselves disagree with the left and among each other. Thus all the differences that divide the unprivileged—racism, sexism, xenophobia, and homophobia among the poor—are both excused and then dismissed as being superficial differences that mask a true unity, perhaps even instilled by the powerful to divide the poor. In a way this is a disrespectful view of “the people,” since Zinn apparently thinks that most people are far more easily manipulated than he is himself, and thus should be judged by a more lenient standard than the crafty powerful.

I am heaping a lot of criticism on Zinn; but I do think that, despite all this, Zinn is almost always on the morally right side: for equality, for pacifism, for democracy. And even though, largely thanks to Zinn, many of the episodes he covered in this book have made their way into school curriculums and the national awareness, I still learned a great deal from reading this. Both the Mexican-American War (which, to protest, Thoreau spent a night in jail) and the Spanish-American War (which resulted in prolonged, brutal fighting in the Philippines), two American power-grabs, still receive scant coverage in classrooms. And the long, ignominious history of U.S. intervention throughout the world, propping up dictators and plotting to topple governments, is still not widely known—and it should be.

I think Zinn has already been quite successful in changing people’s perception of history. But is this book inspiring or motivational? On the one hand, Zinn is a powerful writer whose every line carries a sense of justified outrage; and outrage, as Zinn shows, is what motivates many to fight for change. On the other, Zinn portrays movement after movement trying and failing—only about one in ten even partially succeeds, it seems—which can easily create a fatalistic cynicism. I was often reminded of the Onion article: “Humanity Surprised It Still Hasn’t Figured Out Better Alternative to Letting Power-Hungry Assholes Decide Everything.”

It’s a joke, I know, but I do wonder about this. In a way this is the issue raised—heaven help us—by Game of Thrones: Is it really better, morally speaking, to be an idealist like Ned Stark, if that leads to your defeat at the hands of less scrupulous parties? This is one of the oldest questions in politics; and the way you answer it determines, to some extent, where you fall on the political spectrum. Zinn represents one answer, and I think it is one we too often forget in our cynical age. ...more
4

Aug 10, 2014

A People's History's 750 pages can be boiled down to two statements:

1) America sucks;
2) The only way to change it is to organize.

Both of these things are true, and Zinn makes his case with comprehensive thunder - so if you're new to all this, get ready to be adorable. The extermination of Native Americans; the genocide of slavery; the systematic fight against civil rights, socialist and labor movements; all the way up to the horrors of Vietnam, Zinn shows us how America's interests have always A People's History's 750 pages can be boiled down to two statements:

1) America sucks;
2) The only way to change it is to organize.

Both of these things are true, and Zinn makes his case with comprehensive thunder - so if you're new to all this, get ready to be adorable. The extermination of Native Americans; the genocide of slavery; the systematic fight against civil rights, socialist and labor movements; all the way up to the horrors of Vietnam, Zinn shows us how America's interests have always been big business at the expense of the people. "To give people a choice between two different parties and allow them, in a period of rebellion, to choose the slightly more democratic one was an ingenious mode of control," says Zinn, and you're like oh snap.

PS and ETA, summer 2016: hello, Bernie Sanders fans! This review has gotten more likes during Bernie's run than it did before, and you are correct that it amounts to the Sanders Bible. I realize that, following HRC's nomination, you are now faced with exactly the choice quoted above. Please do keep in mind that while it is indeed an ingenious and cynical mode of control, Zinn is not suggesting that you allow the much less democratic option to win in protest. This is known as "cutting off your nose to spite your face." Suck it up and vote for Hillary. Thank you.
PPS, winter 2016: well shit

Anyway. This is a valuable book: one of the best broadsides against the Establishment ever written. But it suffers from two big problems:

First, as he says right in the title, one of Zinn's goals is to tell a different kind of history - one not dominated by individual heroes and villains, but by groups of people - movements - who come together to change the direction of American society. That's nice, but we learn best when information is presented in the form of stories, and stories work best when they have protagonists; Zinn's refusal to give us protagonists makes it hard to keep straight what's going on. (Even when protagonists do show up, Zinn often fails to put them in context: Mother Jones pops into the story a few times with zero explanation of who the hell she is.) It unfortunately makes the book feel somewhat like the textbooks you used to know and loathe during high school - just long lists of events and numbers and happenings, that make your eyes glaze over. Only a masochist would count the number of times Zinn says, "[x] people marched at [somewhere] to protest [a thing], and the police beat the shit out of [many] of them." It's a lot. I was left with a chaotic sense that lots of people have been unhappy with lots of things, and generally gotten beat up for it. This is very well-written, for a history textbook...but that's not saying much.

(Zinn's disdain for the mechanics of storytelling is also manifested in his dreadful taste in books, by the way. When he cites literature, it tends to be stuff like Edward Bellamy's boring proto-scifi Looking Backward or Jack London's awful dystopia Iron Heel - well-intentioned but terrible socialist literature. Makes you think Zinn might be a pain in the ass to have over for dinner.)

Second, Zinn's consciously biased tone ends up making it easy to disagree with him. He makes his point so many times, so persistently, that even I found myself at times wanting to argue - and I'm firmly on his team. It's just...when a guy repeats himself a thousand times one's natural inclination is to be like "Shut up." That's just how it goes. Zinn freely admits that this isa biased account, one that leans in a certain direction. I am not troubled by that, because the mountain of history books under which we all stand leans so heavily in the other direction - so tremblingly respectful of states and statesmen and so disrespectful, by inattention, to people's movements - that we need some counterforce to avoid being crushed into submission.And Zinn's right: I remember dismissing my high school textbooks out of hand because they were so clearly biased that I felt immediately that they couldn't be trusted. The problem is that although Zinn is philosophically opposite, the effect is the same. Anyone who's not already inclined to agree with Zinn will find it all too easy to dismiss his entire book, which means that A People's History is doomed to do its preaching only to the converted. Top reviews of it on Goodreads tend to be five stars or one, divided by whether the reviewer already agreed with Zinn or not.

As the converted, this still had value for me. Zinn makes the very clear point that I am exactly the problem: the former activist who's settled comfortably into the middle class and therefore deactivated. I got mine, right? I'm actually mentioned in this book: Zinn describes a Boston protest against the first Gulf War that I was at. But it's been a long time since I took to the streets. So, okay, as an extra-credit assignment in Zinn's Shitty History 101, I promise to get back out there. As long as I don't have brunch plans. ...more
1

Dec 30, 2017

If only all of us could be as perfect as Howard Zinn! Then we'd be able to get up on our high horse and look down our nose at all the miserable humanity in the world that have achieved more than he has.
3

Dec 22, 2008

As a reference or an additional information source, this isn't terrible (4 stars). It really does hit a lot of high points & some that other histories have left out. The writing is good. While dry, it is readable & conveys a lot of information. My copy is an old one that only goes through the Vietnam war. He has updated versions to 2003, I believe.

It is NOT a balanced view of our history & is proposed reading for schools (minus 1 star). It shouldn't be unless read with other As a reference or an additional information source, this isn't terrible (4 stars). It really does hit a lot of high points & some that other histories have left out. The writing is good. While dry, it is readable & conveys a lot of information. My copy is an old one that only goes through the Vietnam war. He has updated versions to 2003, I believe.

It is NOT a balanced view of our history & is proposed reading for schools (minus 1 star). It shouldn't be unless read with other materials as it only tells part of the story. If you want to know anything about how minority groups were mistreated, you'll find it here. While accurate, the view is so unbalanced as to become nauseating after a while (minus another star). While most historians have an axe to grind, most do it more subtly than Zinn does.

To the best of my knowledge, he doesn't gossip nor present any incorrect facts, he does present his facts in such a way as to slam our government at every turn. He does bring up some points that many other histories have glossed over, though (add one star).

For instance, in the early history of the United States, he is very careful to point out every group not represented by the Constitution, yet makes no mention of the fact that these people were not represented before the Revolution either. It's good that he brings up the point, but not so great that he leaves the impression that they obviously should have been. It wasn't obvious to the people of that time that they should have been represented. Men of property made the decisions & always had. Women, slaves & men without property didn't get a say. That they eventually did says a lot for the foundation these men laid, which Zinn carefully avoids.

So overall it is a good thing to read, but only with another history to balance it at hand.

Update 4Jun2014: It's agenda is obvious enough that it was runner up as the least credible history book in print.
http://www.theatlantic.com/national/a...

Update 25Aug2014: According to this, the first slave owner in the U.S. was a black tobacco farmer. In Chapter 2, Zinn states that while 'some historians think' that blacks were 'servants' (a usage that many southerners used during the Civil War) they were probably treated differently than white indentured servants. He never mentions the information in this article:
http://www.liveleak.com/view?i=ef2_13...
which states that the first black slave owner was a black man who was an indentured servant, worked off his debt to become a freeman & tobacco farmer who then wound up 'owning' his own indentured, black servant. The article goes on to further say there were thousands of black slave owners in the south, something I've never read about elsewhere. Interesting. People can just suck without reference to sex, color, or creed...
:( ...more
1

September 16, 2001

Boring, extremely biased
When I bought this book, I was in a hurry, and I assumed it would be a simple, credible, unbiased source of US history. It was not. It is sporadicaly sourced and the writing style is rather tough to read. It feeds you countless pages of leftist political propaganda. It draws far-fetched conclusions (even with the psuedo history Zinn will feed you for 500 pages). And, worst of all, Zinn spins, twists, exaggerates, downplays, and excludes vital pieces of history in order to push his rather extreme political agenda. In short, the worst book I've ever read.
1

August 14, 2000

Don't Bother with this one
This book is is nothing more than a recounting of all the dark moments in American History. These moments need to be documented and remembered, but not told all together in one breath as Zinn has presented. He seems to take pride in exposing all the ugly horrible things that have happened in our history and not presenting suppporting evidence for the contrary.
There is a brief section on the Vietnam War which seems to be more impartially documented, but the rest is a witch hunt for negativism in AMerican History.
To clearly understand the issues he writes about, I stongly advise reading other books focued on each subject-- for instance, A Womens History of the United States, A History of Black America, the sad tale of the Real Americans etc.
I honestly believe that Zinn has presented these issues in a way that will blurr proper understanding of these sad characteristics of American History
4

Sep 13, 2019

I had to wait literally two years for this book to become available at my local library. Very encouraging to see this rise of civic responsibility in my community. Every U.S. citizen owes it to the country to understand our history, and few sources can compare to Zinn's impressive A to Z. It's about as far from an impartial account as I can imagine, and with good reason: Zinn wants to highlight the history of the U.S. not through a few heroic individuals but rather the larger body of its I had to wait literally two years for this book to become available at my local library. Very encouraging to see this rise of civic responsibility in my community. Every U.S. citizen owes it to the country to understand our history, and few sources can compare to Zinn's impressive A to Z. It's about as far from an impartial account as I can imagine, and with good reason: Zinn wants to highlight the history of the U.S. not through a few heroic individuals but rather the larger body of its citizens.

I am pleased to report that a lot of his interpretation has entered America's cultural zeitgeist already. I am disappointed to report that relevant action in light of these histories remains to be seen.

Written with spirited vigor, Zinn directs his (not always engrossing) narrative to move quickly through his major points. Supporting text from primary sources is integrated well, and if anyone complains that he's cherry-picking his quotes the retort must be made that he's specifically selecting voices and focusing on events to support his argument. This is not an unbiased piece, nor is it meant to be. The Shelley quote he opens with makes pretty clear what type of action he's calling readers to.

3.5 stars out of 5. I didn't do much shopping around for editions and the one I read has lengthy sections at the end of each chapter with discussion questions or classroom guidance, so the page count is heavily padded. I also ended up first with the 1997 edition and finished the updated info from 2003 by eBook. This made my experience kind of disjointed - I would have preferred a version with the teaching materials excised. ...more
0

Aug 05, 2007

I don't know why teachers would make kids read a book about America written by someone with so little clarity. In the World According to Zinn, Americans (especially THE RICH ) are responsible for all the bad things that have happened in the last 2 centuries.If you believe as he does that America has been a net bad for the world, then by all means read this book. Hell, memorize it. If you believe that America has been a net good in the world, then read it so you can understand the damage it has I don't know why teachers would make kids read a book about America written by someone with so little clarity. In the World According to Zinn, Americans (especially THE RICH ) are responsible for all the bad things that have happened in the last 2 centuries.If you believe as he does that America has been a net bad for the world, then by all means read this book. Hell, memorize it. If you believe that America has been a net good in the world, then read it so you can understand the damage it has done to our high school and college aged generation. This man hates America. Would you have you own biography be written by someone who hates you?


Here is part of an interview of Howard Zinn and Talk show host Dennis Prager:

DP: I believe that we [Americans:] fought in Korea in order to enable at least half of that benighted peninsula to live in relative freedom and prosperity; the half that we did not liberate is living in the nightmare, almost Nazi-like, condition of the North Korean government. Why don't you see that as a great good that Americans did?

HZ: I think that your description of the North Korean government is accurate. It's sort of a monstrous government. But when we went to war in Korea the result of that war was the deaths of several million people. And I question whether the deaths . . . were worth the result. . . .

DP: If America had never intervened, do we both agree that Kim Il-sung, the psychopathic dictator of North Korea, would have ruled over the entire Korean peninsula?

HZ: I think that's probably true.

DP: Do you believe that that would be a net moral or immoral result for the Korean people and the world?

HZ: That would have been an immoral result, but the result of the war itself was also immoral -- I'm talking about the killing of several million people. And what I'm suggesting is that the answer to . . . tyrannies like that is not war, which in our time always involves the massive killing of innocent people. . . . I think we have to find ways other than war to get rid of dictatorships and tyrannies.

DP: I would love that. But this is where we often consider people on the Left, at best, to be naive. . . . Let's talk about that naivete. You believe that there would have been another way to get rid of the Korean communists -- whom we both agree are monstrous -- as opposed to the Korean War. . . . This is the naivete of the Left, that ugly things can be gotten rid of in sweet ways.

HZ: Not sweet ways. I wouldn't say that. And I wouldn't say either in totally peaceful ways . . . by struggle and resistance but not by war. We have historical examples of what I'm talking about. The Soviet Union, Stalinism, was not overthrown by war. . . . Stalinism was really replaced, in time, by the Russian people themselves. . . . What I'm suggesting is that there are a number of places in the world where we have had tyrannies that have been overthrown without war. . . .

DP: Yes, there are. No one would deny that. And there are historical examples of where war is the only way to achieve a moral end.

HZ: Well, I'm not sure that's the only way.

DP: Was there another way to have gotten rid of Hitler?

HZ: In the case of WWII, I don't know what it would have taken to get rid of Hitler. We certainly had to resist him, we certainly had to get rid of him. . . . What bothers me most today is that people use WWII as an example for what we should do today. It's a very different situation.

DP: No, we use it as an example of where war is the moral choice. Are you prepared to say that war is ever the best moral choice?

HZ: No.

DP: Never. Not even against Hitler?

HZ: Well, I'm not sure about WWII.

DP: Wow . . .

Entire transcript at:
http://dennisprager.townhall.com/talk...
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5

Nov 06, 2019

In this epic tome, Howard Zinn seeks to look at the history of the United States through new eyes. So many historians, and even more textbooks, have a traditional view of American progress throughout the centuries, though Zinn seeks to examine it all through the eyes of the people who were part of it. Though many of these people might have been left out of the limelight, this view of American history enriches the already hearty dialogue about progress and regression under the banner of America, In this epic tome, Howard Zinn seeks to look at the history of the United States through new eyes. So many historians, and even more textbooks, have a traditional view of American progress throughout the centuries, though Zinn seeks to examine it all through the eyes of the people who were part of it. Though many of these people might have been left out of the limelight, this view of American history enriches the already hearty dialogue about progress and regression under the banner of America, as well as provide the reader with something complex about which to ponder when they consider events etched onto the American psyche. Beginning his discussions as far back as Columbus and is first encounters with the Indigenous, Zinn explores the language and cultural barriers that created a situation of dominance by the Europeans in which they were able to turn things to their advantage. These early swindling are by no means a shock to the knowledgeable reader, but their impact resurfaces much later in the tome, during discussion of social outrages of the 1960s and into the present time. Zinn also touches on the creation of the slave trade and how it turned an entire race on its head, sold and loaded up from African ports and left to live lives of endless servitude with no chance of ever seeing the light of freedom. Again, Zinn’s discussions fuel a flash forward in which race relations in America were strained to the point of bursting, where Caucasians could and would not see fellow African-Americans as equal or worthy of any fair treatment. Working through some of the nuances of creating a formal country and the early settlements of the United States, Zinn takes some time to explore the Civil War, where blood was shed and a country torn apart. However, he also hints at the fact that there was another war brewing, in which social groups were on the rise. Economic inequality began to push many to the brink of starvation and death, while the few pulled the strings and got richer. This strain fostered a push for social changes, or at least the strength of the social movement, which included strikes, labour disputes, and even violent clashes with the established business class. Such a mentality continued through the devastation of the Depression, and heralded in a new saviour in the form of FDR. Under his New Deal, America sought to dig itself out of the trenches, if only to ensure everyone had enough to eat and could survive with targeted government handouts. War and its fallout continued to fuel the American machine, for it was not only the defeat of the Axis powers, but ideological skirmishes in Korea and Vietnam that brought the country headlines around the world. Zinn chooses to focus a great deal on Vietnam, as it was surely an indelible mark on the American psyche, which took a devastating blow with the loss of this military engagement. Zinn pushes through to new cultural and gender clashes in a country that was still trying to heal from the divisions developed in Southern Asia, with the rise of the women’s movement, as well as those who supported gay rights. America was changing faster than it could react to all that was placed before it. Zinn continues from there, weaving together the tapestry that was the people’s history, seen through their eyes and fought using their own battle plans. Brilliant in its delivery, Howard Zinn brings history to life in a thorough and captivating manner. Recommended for those who want some alternative perspectives to the way things developed, as well as the reader who has a passion for long tomes that educate with every page flip.

I chose to read this book after devouring one that Zinn influenced by Peter Irons, whose focus was strictly the Supreme Court of the United States. As with that tome, Zinn chooses the areas on which he wishes to expand and takes his time developing the detailed analysis. There is so much to say, though the chapters seem to flow naturally into one another, showing the story is all interconnected in some way. The reader is able to learn a great deal about America through the eyes of Howard Zinn, though the author does not pull any punches. He calls things out as he sees them and challenges the narrative norms that have been inculcated into the minds of many for centuries. His choice to look at the ‘little guy’ or leave the traditional narrative on the side is to be applauded, not only because of the perspective, but also because there is a great deal of rich history to uncover. Zinn dazzles with his attention to detail and frank comments, many of which make sense to the open-minded reader. With thorough discussions come longer chapters, all of which tell an important perspective of the American story. Dense in some spots, Zinn seeks not to entertain as much as educate, which requires long backstories at times to prove a point. It will be a dedicated and determined reader who makes their way through this piece, through I am sure none who last the marathon will be disappointed that they chose to patiently make their way through this well-paced narrative.

Kudos, Mr. Zinn, for a stunning look at America from the other side of the coin. I can only hope to find more of your work as interesting as this piece proved to be.

Love/hate the review? An ever-growing collection of others appears at:
http://pecheyponderings.wordpress.com/

A Book for All Seasons, a different sort of Book Challenge: https://www.goodreads.com/group/show/... ...more
4

Mar 27, 2008

People who don't approve of Zinn's equal opportunity perspective of history love to call him an America hater. I'm sure that George W. Bush would say that he's an enemy of freedom. But the thing that I love so much about Zinn and this book is his consistent ability to portray the United States (as defined by its history) as so much more than a static, monolitichly motivated country. Traditional approaches to history tell a student that our country was founded by white Christian men with lots of People who don't approve of Zinn's equal opportunity perspective of history love to call him an America hater. I'm sure that George W. Bush would say that he's an enemy of freedom. But the thing that I love so much about Zinn and this book is his consistent ability to portray the United States (as defined by its history) as so much more than a static, monolitichly motivated country. Traditional approaches to history tell a student that our country was founded by white Christian men with lots of money and connections and that since then everything of value that has gone on here was contributed by those men. It tells us that you must be one of those men to be significant, to be a worthwhile citizen of the United States. Zinn and his colleagues of other inclusive historians fight against exactly that idea. They write about women, Native Americans, labor activists, homosexuals...all these groups of people who have long been considered insignificant in the forming of our more perfect union. Zinn isn't an America hater, he's a man who wants to tell its true story, one that fleshes out the beauty and mistakes of our national past, portraying a much more dynamic country than traditional history allows.

Written in the 70's, this book admitedly now lacks some of the radical quality it possessed when it was published. Still, it's in that list of books that truly changed out country and the way Americans think and I love it for that.
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4

August 2, 2001

Good scholarship, worthwhile
Even people who hate Howard Zinn admit that he's a good scholar. But many people hate him, for sure--and you have to remember that when you're reading some of these reviews. On the other hand, most of the reviewers seem to be communists themselves, and so their gushing reviews should surprise no one.

I recommend the book with some reservations. Agree or disagree, perspectives like Zinn's keep us from becoming ignorant victims of ideological propaganda.

I recommend it because it is a great, well-informed, honest and self-conscious dissenting opinion. Anyone who wants to consider themselves educated needs to consider dissenting opinions frequently. But I have reservations. Most importantly, Zinn's purpose is not to introduce someone to American history. He assumes his readers already know the basics. Of course, many people do not. It's not a history of the US; it's a series of contentious corrections to the history traditionally taught in American classrooms. (Why did the Colonies defeat the British? What caused the depression? Why did Nixon visit China? Unless you know this much, this book isn't yet for you.)

Some reviewers complained about Zinn's tone. Zinn is an average writer; better than many academics but worse than any good writer.
Other reviewers seemed to assume that either communists or far-right conservatives aren't "students of history." But of course some are. Zinn and Newt Gingrich are both well-informed scholars.

(If it matters to you, I am neither communist nor right-wing; I'm just not a very political thinker. I'm American, and I think Americans--all of us--can be proud and thankful; but we should recognize that our government and politicians have never been perfect. Ideologies often serve to control people, so dissenting opinions are vital for freedom's perseverance. But democracy and moderated capitalism have often succeeded in blessing their people, while communism has evidently failed everywhere, with more gruesome histories even than capitalism.)
4

Feb 18, 2017

I read this for my American History course in college. Really enjoyed it!

4****
2

Jan 20, 2008

A well written, but severely flawed historical work.
It reads more like sociology than history, with Zinn's concern for social groups and people's movements. Now, at a certain point, those areas with overlap, but for the most part he seems less concerned with getting to a historical truth than preaching a message. At that point, one has to wonder how he deals with contradictory evidence and conflicting opinions. Does he grapple with them and try to sift through all the available evidence? Or does A well written, but severely flawed historical work.
It reads more like sociology than history, with Zinn's concern for social groups and people's movements. Now, at a certain point, those areas with overlap, but for the most part he seems less concerned with getting to a historical truth than preaching a message. At that point, one has to wonder how he deals with contradictory evidence and conflicting opinions. Does he grapple with them and try to sift through all the available evidence? Or does he dismiss them as constraints brought on by more traditional/biased/capitalist thinking?
The most irksome thing about this work, however, is its over-reliance on secondary works. Normally, when a person wishes to "rewrite the history" of a nation/group/period, they go to primary sources from the time (letters, diaries, newspapers, etc). However, in the bibliography, very few original primary sources can be found. Instead what one finds is a list of books Zinn used to bolster his beliefs about American history. Indeed, since this book takes secondary works and synthesizes the information, Zinn's "A People's History of the United States" is a tertiary book of history, and not a very good one, at that. ...more
3

March 16, 2000

A good sounding concept, but to much propaganda
Zinn starts out with a good idea and concept but unfortunately lets it all slip away as every chapter repeatedly turns into a manifesto of anti-establishment politics. Suddenly, everything that ever happened in American history is wrong and the US is nothing but a machine for exploiting the masses in favor of the privileged few. There are some fair points and issues brought out by Zinn, but they end up being obfuscated and devalued by his manifesto-like approach to the subject. The main points I took from this book:
1) This book should not be the first American history text one reads. It is a good and useful read if one has already read one of those standard texts that Zinn so much detests. I am not saying this because I am trying to ideologically bias readers before they stumble upon the truth according to Prof. Zinn, but simply because of the way Zinn's book is written. It is not really a history, but rather a collection of chapters each pointing out the bad in US history. Thus, one should read a more elementary text first before reading this one.
2) Prof. Zinn is so adamant in trying to show how everything that ever happened in US history is basically a ruling class conspiracy where this same ruling class is always careful to give just enough freedom and satisfaction to the oppressed to keep them from revolting. However, since he is well informed about this conspiracy I am surprised he devotes absolutely no time to maybe show us the intricacies of how it actually worked. If this conspiracy has been functioning so well since the founding fathers, I am curious to find out how all these people got it going in the first place. Did the founding fathers have a secret meeting we don't know about where they hammered the details of their conspiracy and then promised to keep in touch over their mobile phones? Instead all we get is quotes, quote and more quotes, about how so and so has been abused and mistreated. While I do not doubt the truthfulness of these, after a while the point of each gets lost as Zinn rarely offers any analysis in between. My favorite example is the chapter on Labor Unions where he keeps going with his quotes forever, and then when the time finally comes for him to offer some analysis and opinion he can only come up with a weak sentence that goes something like this: "There were other people with better and more noble ideas (i.e. on how to organize a society), but unfortunatley the time was not right for them to be heard". What people? What Ideas? Where? Why?. Zinn leaves this to dogma, all we get to know is that what happened was wrong.
3) As some have written in their reviews here, it is useful to read both Zinn and Johnson. They are diametrically opposite in ideology, but I did find Johnson more structured in his approach. You may agree or disagree with Johnson, just as you may with Zinn, but I feel that Johnson presents his interpretations of events in a better way. He does not inudate the reader with quotes, which seems to be Zinn's strategy. Finally both authors finsih their books with some heavy opinionated drivel. Johnson becomes borderline racist in his denial of some of America's problems, while for Zinn everything is a problem that can only be solved by Zinn's utopian vision of cooperating communities where we all hold hands together and live hapily ever after. The last chapter of the book suggesting a derivative of hippie communes to organize a society is laughable.
Anyway, despite all of these disagreemnts I do think that Zinn brings a lot of issues forward that one should think seriously about. America is and in many ways has been unfair to many of its underprivileged people and races. But so have many other countries, actually I challenge Zinn to name one that hasn't. However, that does not make everything that America has ever accomplshed or developed into wrong. Thus, 3 stars for the subject matter, no stars for presentation and how it was covered.
5

Sep 29, 2007

History as it's told in our high school history textbooks is history that focuses on American leaders, whether political, military, or business. Zinn argues convincingly that we need also to see history as it happened to "the people," and that this perspective is by no means synonymous with that of America's elites. In fact, the official line in America's history and politics has been that America is basically one big middle class. Certainly, America long had a larger middle class than most of History as it's told in our high school history textbooks is history that focuses on American leaders, whether political, military, or business. Zinn argues convincingly that we need also to see history as it happened to "the people," and that this perspective is by no means synonymous with that of America's elites. In fact, the official line in America's history and politics has been that America is basically one big middle class. Certainly, America long had a larger middle class than most of the rest of the world, but as Zinn points out, we are "a middle class society governed for the most part by its upper classes." And what we see time after time (as in the present day) is that those who govern us have worked consistently for their own class first and for the country-as-a-whole second.

Zinn takes a hard look at the slaughter of the native Americans, at the exploitation of blacks and poor whites, at the alliance between government and business interests, at the struggles for the abolition of slavery, for labor rights, for civil rights, for women's rights... and over and over we see politicians taking action, passing and enforcing legislation only when popular movements force them to do so. Not simply when the electorate that voted them into office wants it, but when the people demand it in ways that cannot be easily ignored (as the polls more or less can when both parties are so similar on many basic issues). Voting, in fact, can be seen as consitently as a device for making people feel empowered while changing little.

I'll let Zinn speak for himself a bit.

“My viewpoint, in telling the story of the United States, is different: that we must not accept the memory of states as our own. Nations are not communities and never have been. The history of any country, presented as the history of a family, conceals fierce conflicts of interest (sometimes exploding, most often repressed) between conquerors and conquered, masters and slaves, capitalists and workers, dominators and dominated in race and sex. And in such a world of conflict, a world of victims and executioners, it is the job of thinking people, as Albert Camus suggested, not to be on the side of the executioners.”

Zinn puts himself consistently on the side of "the people," inasmuch as there can be said to be such a group--certainly it's not a unified group, and Zinn recognizes this. Still, Zinn would argue, the diversity represented by "the people" have more in common with one another (as much as they have been prevented from seeing it) than they do with the elites who run the country.

Fair warning: it's a long read, and pretty dense. Definitely not what we used to call "drunk-on-the-beach reading." In fact, if you want to read a book that shares some insights with this book without the exhaustive focus, you might start with James Loewen's _Lies My Teacher Told Me_. Really, these are two books that should be read by anyone who wants to understand our country and its history. If it's true that "those who do not learn from history are destined to repeat it," then I think a necessary corollary is that "those who don't know the truth about history are doomed to repeat it." ...more
5

Sep 29, 2009

History is about power, said Eugen Weber. This one is about the powerless majority, the humble members of society. The farmers, mechanics, laborers. The Native Americans dispossessed of their land. The slaves dispossessed of their liberty. The women and children, the rent payers, the downtrodden. This is the flip side of the elitist history you learned in school. It is not about kings or presidents, founding fathers or saviors or statesmen. It is "disrespectful of governments and respectful of History is about power, said Eugen Weber. This one is about the powerless majority, the humble members of society. The farmers, mechanics, laborers. The Native Americans dispossessed of their land. The slaves dispossessed of their liberty. The women and children, the rent payers, the downtrodden. This is the flip side of the elitist history you learned in school. It is not about kings or presidents, founding fathers or saviors or statesmen. It is "disrespectful of governments and respectful of people's movements of resistance." Always on the side of the people, it does not claim to be a "balanced" account of history. It IS the balance. It provides what is missing from other histories. A must read if you want a balanced understanding of American history.

This book is class conscious, not nation conscious. It discusses America's major wars, but only to challenge their legitimacy and decry how they supplanted class issues with nation issues. This book is populist. It celebrates examples from American history of powerless groups that organized to protect themselves from the powerful. This book believes in the virtue of disobedience. It calls for and hopes for non-violent revolution in an America that is "a system in deep trouble." "Capitalism has always been a failure for the lower classes. It is now beginning to fail for the middle classes." Alienation is spreading upward.

A brilliant interpretation of American class struggle from the arrival of Christopher Columbus to the 1980s.



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