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A People's History of the United States Hardcover – April 18, 2017
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“Professor Zinn writes with an enthusiasm rarely encountered in the leaden prose of academic history, and his text is studded with telling quotations from labor leaders, war resisters and fugitive slaves. . . . [It] should be required reading.” (Eric Foner, New York Times Book Review)
"Howard Zinn's work literally changed the conscience of a generation. And the series of 'people's histories' derived from this great work have provided new understanding of who we are and what we should aspire to be." (Noam Chomsky)
"A brilliant and moving history of the American people." (Library Journal)
"A brilliantly written story about the U.S. through the lives of those too often overlooked." (Time magazine)
From the Back Cover
With a new introduction by Anthony Arnove, this edition of the classic national bestseller chronicles American history from the bottom up, throwing out the official narrative taught in schools—with its emphasis on great men in high places—to focus on the plight and struggles of those who have been largely omitted from most histories.
Known for its lively, clear prose as well as its scholarly research, A People’s History of the United States 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, the working poor, and immigrant laborers. As historian Howard Zinn shows, many of our country’s greatest battles—fights for fair wages, eight hour workdays, 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 President Clinton’s first term, A People’s History of the United States, which was nominated for the American Book Award in 1981, features insightful analysis of the most important events in our history.
- Item Weight : 1.9 pounds
- Hardcover : 752 pages
- ISBN-10 : 0062693018
- ISBN-13 : 978-0062693013
- Product Dimensions : 6 x 1.75 x 9 inches
- Publisher : Harper; Reissue Edition (April 18, 2017)
- Language: : English
- Best Sellers Rank: #15,214 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)
- Customer Reviews:
Top reviews from the United States
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For traditional and patriotic Americans who love this country and believe in its founding principles, its founding documents, and free market economy the fact that a majority of 57% say that socialism is not compatible with American values may be comforting. But the flip side is 29%, almost one-third of the Americans polled, believe that socialism IS compatible with American values. That is concerning and I think certainly explains a lot of what is happening today in our daily headlines.
How did we get here? Well, the book I am reviewing here is one big piece of that answer. Published originally in 1980, Zinn's "A People's History "has sold an estimated 4.9 million copies according to Ron Radosh, a adjunct fellow at the Hudson Institute and professor emeritus of history at the City University of New York. Mr. Radosh goes on to say that this book has also found its way into many of our schools and universities as a history text. I think that this book has caused our nation great damage.
This is not serious historical work. It is a piece of "popular culture" propaganda designed to stir up resentment. First off it is billed by its publisher, Harper Perennial, as "The Classic National Bestseller". History texts normally do not qualify as "best sellers". Their purpose is to accurately document the past using facts as much as possible, hopefully so we will not repeat our mistakes. That an accurate history text IS entertaining is a real bonus for the reader, but besides the point. History should be a work of truth, as far as possible uncolored by ideology. This is not the case with this book. To quote Eric Foner in the New York Times Book Review, " Historians may well view it as a step forward toward a coherent new version of American History." That this book is viewed as a "step forward" and a "new version" should give the reader pause as too its accuracy and purpose.
Howard Zinn was a Communist. Based on what we know to be true about people who subscribe to this world view, we cannot trust them to be truthful. According to Zinn, America is bad and has been oppressive to its people and the world since it was founded. I did not find mention of one kind or good thing America has done in its entire existence. And, like all other progressives Zinn is woefully ignorant of the permanence of human nature (something Marx hated and disputed). Pesky human nature is always the stumbling block to their plans to find unicorns.
Howard Zinn admits that he hopes his book causes a revolt of the middle class against the existing order. He freely admits this bias: "..it is a history disrespectful of governments and respectful of people's movements of resistance. That makes it a biased account, one that leans in a certain direction. I am not troubled by that, because the mountain of history books under which was all stand leans so heavily in the other direction - so trembling 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."(Page 631) I disagree with that entire premise.
This so called "history" is long on moral posturing and short on citations of fact. This is a pattern with so called "progressive historians" and Zinn is no exception. They seldom cite where their information comes from. Readers, especially students, should be promised factual historical accounts. But in these cases must take the author's word for their accuracy. Foot notes are not used, rather they list their bibliography. This is convenient for the author, but not the reader. If a student wants to check for factual accuracy there is a major time investment involved. Otherwise, the reader has to take the word of the anther. These authors often justify this approach by saying that to include foot notes would cause "clutter". Again, I quote the author: "To indicate every source of information in the text would have meant a book impossibly cluttered with footnotes.. ", and "I have gone through the following standard scholarly periodicals:" which are then listed. (Page 689)
Zinn's thoughts on the perfect society are utopian, and frightening... On page 639 he states:
"The society's levers of powers would have to be taken away from those whose drives have led to the present state - the giant corporations, the military, and their politician collaborators. We would need - by a coordinated effort of local groups all over the country - to reconstruct the economy for both efficiency and justice, producing in a cooperative way what people need most. We would start on our neighborhoods, our cities and workplaces. Work of some kind would be needed by everyone, including people that have now kept out of the labor force - children, old people, "handicapped" people. Society could use the enormous energy now idle, the skills and talents now unused. Everyone could share the routine but necessary jobs for a few hours a day, and leave most of the time free for enjoyment, creativity, labors of love, and yet produce enough for an equal and ample distribution of goods. Certain basic things would be abundant enough to be taken out of the money system and be available - free - to everyone: food, housing, healthcare, education, transportation. The great problem would be to work out a way of accomplishing this without a centralized bureaucracy... Decisions would be made by small groups of people in their workplaces, their neighborhoods - a network of cooperatives, in communication with one another , a neighborly socialism avoiding the class hierarchies of capitalism and the harsh dictatorships that have taken the name "socialism."
This is a dangerous pipe dream. To implement such a vision there first would have to be a complete overthrow of the existing order as Zinn indicates. This would necessarily entail theft of private property, violence against dissenters, and then a decent into chaos and misery of the very people he want to help. This is what happens every time there is revolution and socialism is implemented in place of the old order. There have been no historical exceptions that I am aware of.
Socialism, or whatever you want to call it, has failed miserably every time it has been tried and is nothing new. The Pilgrims tried it in the 1600's and it caused death and privation then. Whatever the new (Plymouth) colony produced was to be put into a common warehouse, with each individual getting one equal share. All the land, buildings and end products were communally owned. But this system gave no incentive to the most creative and industrious among the settlers to work any harder than anyone else.
The book rambles without a logical structure, unless you are a progressive who thinks of people divided by class, race, sex, gender, sexual preference, other grievances and so forth. He does follow a timeline of sorts, but is not very consistent. Frankly, it is a poorly written book and really more of a novel or book of opinion. Zinn makes no bones about his biases but that does not make the book any more readable or valuable. Communism is snake oil and Zinn is a poor salesman. This is not history and should not be taught as such in public schools. But it has been and is. I now understand better why a generation of people hate America and want to transform it. And that in itself is a shame.
This book actually starts off really great! Zinn starts out warning the reader he will not be taking a neutral stance and says he will view history only from the oppressed. He then starts off doing just that, watching the invasion of the Americas from the point of view of the natives, the revolution from the poor, slavery from those enslaved, etc etc etc. All good stuff, and I really enjoyed these parts. It was a great look into all the atrocities that have been dealt in the name of civilization, and a fresh remainder of the human cost to get us where we are today. It was also a solid reminder that just because something is law, or generally accepted, doesn't mean it is right, and we need to constantly challenge our perspectives.
But then, something really sinister happened. Zinn slowly but surely slid this book from a history of the oppressed to outright propaganda against anyone rich and anything capitalist.
It starts slowly, around the point where the poor felt taken advantage of by the rich as America was being colonized. My BS meter started ringing as I noted how Zinn would change how he described the poor and the rich. The poor were always broken down into individuals, with history and struggles aplenty, and there transgressions against each other deflected to others. Meanwhile, the rich and powerful were always described in blocks, as one mass thinking-breathing unit that plotted and schemed to keep the poor down. Let me provide some examples of both.
Apparently, according to Zinn, poor whites only discriminated against blacks because the rich told them to. Apparently, according to Zinn, poor whites invading Indian land was only due to rich people forcing them to. Apparently, according to Zinn, non-land owning whites were only given the right to vote so the rich could keep exploiting them. Apparently, according to Zinn, all the reforms passed to give workers the right to vote around the 1900 mark was only down so to stop the poor from rioting so the rich could continue exploiting everyone. Apparently, according to Zinn, everything any rich or powerful person ever did in their life was done as a concentrated act of evil to hurt those without money. It's insane the mental hoops this guy jumps through to make good acts, like giving workers rights and people the vote, seem like nothing but a evil tool used by the wicked rich to hurt people! I mean, come on!
The level of bias grows and grows as the book goes on, until about 50% I just hit the end of my tolerance. At this point, all the fighting the workers have been doing for rights and respect in the workplace is starting to bear fruit, and Zinn calls every win an evil deed JUST because it keeps the "capitalist system" propped up.
I mean, I know that sounds like a dumb thing to say, but he really does this. A rising middle class? A buffer for the rich to keep the poor down! The right to vote? A tool to make the poor complacent! Racism? Engineered by the rich to keep the poor divided! Are you poor and did something bad? Guess who Zinn feels is really to blame . . .
So I'm just done. Call me a wicked capitalist, but I just can't see how touching money suddenly sucks out all your humanity and hooks you into the rich-and-powerful hive mind, deserving of death. And I certainly don't want to waste my time reading a book by a guy who's trying to force that viewpoint on me, under the guise of a "history" book.
Top reviews from other countries
This is the "People" of the title. America has a lot to be proud of as a nation but in order to burnish their reputation, the unsavoury aspects of their politics have been buried under patriotism as extreme as anything we have had in the UK. In their quest to get to the top, they have behaved in an appalling way. While it is obvious that for many, this is of no consequence, "the end justifying the means" there is no justification for burying the truth.
The author exposes a lot of the shocking behaviour which is as bad as anything we have seen all in the pursuit of American self interest.
On a general note, books like this and those written by other historians who think it is equally important to tell the story of ordinary people too are far better than the old text books many of which are hardly one step above propaganda.
Only that their treatment of their people has been more brutal than our's has been.
It is absolutely ridiculous spending over fifty percent of their GNP on arms, mind you what do we need two aircraft carriers for? and then building up the national debt by importing goods from China that could be produced in the US, and therefore creating more jobs.
And creating more money to be available for spending on welfare, and the infrastructure of the country.
"I wonder who they are, the men who really run this land........."
As an Irish person, this has enabled a more positive view of my country in recent decades.
And so I have always been positively disposed towards the US, a country I have visited many times and been in probably half the states.
This book provides a convincing and totally more negative perception.
And definitely worth reading!