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A People's History of the United States: 1492-Present Hardcover – February 4, 2003

4.1 out of 5 stars 1,744 customer reviews

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Editorial Reviews

From the Back Cover

Since its original landmark publication in 1980, A People's History of the United States has been chronicling American history from the bottom up, throwing out the official version of history taught in schools–with its emphasis on great men in high places–to focus on the street, the home, and the workplace.

Known for its lively, clear prose as well as its scholarly research, A People's History is the only volume to tell America's story from the point of view of–and in the words of–America's women, factory workers, African Americans, Native Americans, working poor, and immigrant laborers. As historian Howard Zinn shows, many of our country's greatest battles–for a fair wage, an eight-hour workday, child-labor laws, health and safety standards, universal suffrage, women's rights, racial equality–were carried out at the grassroots level, against bloody resistance. Covering Christopher Columbus's arrival through the 2000 Election and the "war on terrorism," A People's History of the United States, which was nominated for the American Book Award in 1981 and has sold more than one million copies, features insightful analysis of the most important events in our history.

This new edition contains two new chapters covering the Clinton presidency, the 2000 Election, and the "war on terrorism," continuing Zinn's important contribution to a complete and balanced understanding of American history.

About the Author

Howard Zinn (1922–2010) was a historian, playwright, and social activist. In addition to A People’s History of the United States, which has sold more than two million copies, he is the author of many books, including the autobiography You Can’t Be Neutral on a Moving Train, The People Speak, and Passionate Declarations

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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 752 pages
  • Publisher: Harper (February 4, 2003)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0060528427
  • ISBN-13: 978-0060528423
  • Product Dimensions: 6.1 x 2.1 x 9.2 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 2.2 pounds (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.1 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (1,744 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #9,814 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

Format: Hardcover
For several years of the last decade, I taught Advanced Placement U.S. History at a high school in northern Virginia. When I began the course, Zinn had already been assigned by my predecessor, and I needed a counterpoint to the main text (Bailey and Kennedy's bombastic, traditionalist, and short-on-social history "Pageant of the American Nation"). Zinn's deftly written book provided a fortunate antithesis to the "march of presidents and industrial titans" approach to American history. I found many chapters of this book to be such excellent stimulants to class discussions that I extended their use into my non-AP U.S. history classes, where students, many of whom could not otherwise have cared less about history, found themselves reading an interesting and provocative historian for the first time in their lives. Many of the best discussions I ever had with my classes (both AP and "regular") began with assigned chapters from Zinn. From there, it was an easy step to move on to the idea of historiography (the history of how history has been interpreted) and to decoupling my students from thinking of the textbook as revealed wisdom.
Yes, this book has its faults, as many of the previous reviews point out. It is very left-leaning. It does sometimes omit factual points that do not support its line of argument. It does sometimes verge on equating the misdeeds of American leaders with the horrific malevolence of the leaders of totalitarian states. It does romanticize its heroes.
For all that, though, this book is an excellent introduction to U.S. history if read as a contrasting voice to more traditional narratives. It is a fine and vigorous antidote to the excessively reverent tone of many high school textbooks.
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Format: Paperback
History is, in its way, a fiction.

While it is made up of facts, things that are verifiable or at least reliably accepted as being what really happened, our understanding of history rests on a certain assumption that doesn't always hold up - that what we are reading or hearing is The Truth. It's how we learn about history when we're kids - that this happened and that happened, and that's all we really need to know.

The problem, however, is that what we got in our history books wasn't the entire story. Oh, it was true, for a given value of "true," but the historian who wrote the book did so with a specific narrative in mind, one that fit his or her perception of the past and which - more importantly - would sell textbooks to hundreds of schools across the country. The history that we get from those books is designed to appeal to the sensibilities of a populace that is already inclined to think well of its nation, and rarely deviates from the theme. While they do try to note the excesses, injustices and impropriety of the past, they tend to bury it in the glorious achievements of governments and industry.

Unfortunately, doing so means that there's a lot of history that gets left on the cutting room floor. Incidents, people, whole populations get brushed aside because either there's not enough room for them or because telling their story in detail ruins the mood that the historian is trying to set - usually one of bright optimism for a good and just nation.

There is nothing inherently wrong with this approach, either. An historian cannot practically include all of the historical viewpoints, good and bad, into a book meant to be used for only 180 days out of the year.
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Format: Paperback
THE GOOD: Professor Zinn raises important questions that test our long held assumptions about American history, and for this--the questions--the book should be read and discussed vigorously. The book is also very readible, with a flowing, yet serious style.

THE BAD: Unfortunately, the book suffers from two fatal flaws, and for this reason does not belong in a classroom (college or otherwise). First, Zinn fails to cite adequately his sources (no footnotes or endnotes), leaving the reader with only a vague sense of his source material. This is particularly unacceptable for a work that admits to be controversial. His excuse, in the preface, that the footnotes would be too voluminous, is lame at best. Witness Pulitzer winning historian McCullough's use of sources in his much acclaimed JOHN ADAMS.

Second, in presenting his evidence, Zinn fails to quantify meaningfully the culpability of those historical figures he wishes to evaluate from the 'people's' perspective, nor does he even discuss the limitations or challenges posed by the evidence, nor does he sufficiently discuss his methodology used for reaching his conclusions. Mostly, he simply cites judgments made in secondary sources. Any college student can do that, and we should expect more from a distinguished professor.

For instance, in his chapter on Columbus, he indicates that two years after Columbus landed on Hispanola the native Arawak population had nearly all died. He also cites evidence of some gratuitously harsh treatment by the Spanish-- but he does not really indicate the degree to which these events were isolated or the norm. Specifically: did the Arawaks perish as a result of systematic slaughter or from disease transmitted from Spanish soldiers?
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