➲ A People's History of the United States: 1492 to Present Read ➺ Author Howard Zinn – Motyourdrive.co.uk

A People's History of the United States: 1492 to Present chapter 1 A People's History of the United States: 1492 to Present , meaning A People's History of the United States: 1492 to Present , genre A People's History of the United States: 1492 to Present , book cover A People's History of the United States: 1492 to Present , flies A People's History of the United States: 1492 to Present , A People's History of the United States: 1492 to Present 0e637650eba2e 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


10 thoughts on “A People's History of the United States: 1492 to Present

  1. says:

    Update I took this out of the library to attempt a rereadno 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 herejust 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.


  2. says:

    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 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.


  3. says:

    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 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.


  4. says:

    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 Further, 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.


  5. says:

    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 sopho year history class I generally use the following sentence, The theme of sopho 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.


  6. says:

    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 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, isa 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 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 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 r sum of the US s appalling military interference in Central America, and cynical but convincing discussions of Korea and Iraq On Vietnam, Zinn is even 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 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.


  7. says:

    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 textbooks with conflicting views There Problem solved Moving onI 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 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 classesin fact, most of them STILL don t I know mine didn t So, I think we need historians like Zinn, willing to challenge the assumptions we make about history Like every academic field, history should be evolving and growing 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, 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 Until SOME political party is willing to come right out and say, Guys, we re spending 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 complexanyone 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.


  8. says:

    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 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 , read The End of Money and The Future of Civilization by Thomas H Greco But there certainly are positives within most existing negatives for 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.


  9. says:

    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 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 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


  10. says:

    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 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 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 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 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 easily manipulated than he is himself, and thus should be judged by a 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.


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