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Voices of a People's History of the United States Paperback – January 3, 2009

4.7 out of 5 stars 51 customer reviews

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Howard Zinn is famous primarily for A People's History of the United States, the book in which he presented alternative versions of American milestones, including Columbus's "discovery" of the New World. Voices of a People's History of the United States is the follow-up to that original landmark work, but where People's History contained Zinn's interpretations of events, Voices turns the platform over to others, in a collection of first-hand accounts, journal entries, speeches, personal letters, and published opinion pieces from the nation's history.

The purpose of Zinn's work, Voices included, is to engage in an act of political dissidence and activism. "What is common to all of these voices," Zinn and co-editor Anthony Arnove write in the book's introduction, "is that they have mostly been shut out of the orthodox histories, the major media, the standard textbooks, the controlled culture ... to create a passive citizenry." With Voices, Zinn and Arnove seek to address that malaise, showing that the impossible--slaves rising up against their slave masters, for example--is not only possible, but has occurred repeatedly throughout the country's history. "Whenever injustices have been remedied, wars halted, women and blacks and Native Americans given their due," they write, "it has been because 'unimportant' people spoke up, organized, protested, and brought democracy alive." The common thread throughout Voices is this mandate, and each selection is preceded by a brief introduction by the authors, written from a far-left perspective. (As an example, one section is titled "The Carter-Reagan-Bush Consensus.")

Voices often works better as a reference book than a sit-down-to-read title. Its early chapters--on Columbus, slavery, the War of Independence, and the early women's movement--tend to be more engaging than later excerpts, largely because a contrary point of view to mainstream mythology has been so rarely heard. The modern sections have a haphazard, "greatest hits of the left" feeling, as the book jumps from an Abbie Hoffman speech to the lyrics of Public Enemy's "Fight the Power." The problem may be inherent in the format of the book. Everything is treated equally, and a speech by Danny Glover is given as much weight as an excerpt from W.E.B. DuBois's The Souls of Black Folk. For context and background, it's best to stick with the original People's History, but to hear the words right from the speakers' mouths, there's no better resource than Voices. --Jennifer Buckendorff --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.


“Voices really captures the voices as if they were speaking right to us over the years and all the differences.It calls on us to add our own voices and, quite apart from its value as a learning tool, that may be its greatest contribution.”– Paul Buhle, Z Magazine

Voices of a People’s History of the United States should be required reading for every individual lucky enough to call America home.”– Scott Thill, Salon.com


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Product Details

  • Paperback: 672 pages
  • Publisher: Seven Stories Press; 2 edition (January 3, 2009)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 1583229167
  • ISBN-13: 978-1583229163
  • Product Dimensions: 5.5 x 1.7 x 8.2 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.8 pounds
  • Average Customer Review: 4.7 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (51 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #404,852 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

Format: Paperback
"Voices of a People's History of the United States" is a revelatory look at American history as seen through the voices of dissenters and the disenfranchised, presented through powerful speeches, letters, poetry and song...that, at best, helped changed the course of history, and at worst, went unheard because the messages ran counter to powerful interests.

"Voices" presents the thoughts and words of conscientious objectors from Thomas Paine, Frederick Douglass, Susan B. Anthony, and Langston Hughes to Malcolm X, Woodie Guthrie, Patti Smith, and Michael Moore. The book also presents the views of unheard-of non-conformists, such as escaped slaves, exploited factory workers, subjugated women, and peace activists. "Voices" has entries for nearly every period in American history and yet are topics not accounted for in the history books, beginning with Columbus' colonization of the Americas all the way to Dubya's War on Terror.

At a time when superpower nations are waging war around the world, Voices inspires the reader just as much as it roils...for the book is not only a testimony to those who have been suppressed through the ages, nor simply a showpiece demonstrating the devastating effects of hegemony, but a wake-up call and call-to-action, reminding readers that people are not as defenseless as powerful elites may have them believe. The voices presented in "Voices of a People's History of the United States" show us that, no matter what the year or the conundrum, it is indeed possible for people to defend, secure and maintain their human rights and civil liberties.

Lucine Kasbarian, author, Armenia: A Rugged Land, an Enduring People
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Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
A magnificent read! History really comes alive: from Susan B. Anthony (fabulous speech before a judge) to Patti Smith, this book is consciousness raising. Highly Recommended!

The pieces can be read in random order. I love scanning the table of contents and choosing either an era or a voice. I'm a great fan of Zinn's "Peoples History of the United States." This book, Voices, can stand alone or as a companion. "Voices of a People's History of the United States" is Magnificent!!!
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This volume is indispensible to anyone interested in American history. Zinn offers a compendium of primary resources to go side-by-side with his People's History (also a nice companion to the Radical Reader). This volume could also stand on its own as a wonderful overview of the fight for liberty and justice through American culture and political movements.

Put this at the top of your list!
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Format: Hardcover
Howard Zinn and Anthony Arnove have edited a first class reader to go with Zinn's earlier narrative, A People's History of the United States, which was first published in 1980 and has gone through several revised and updated editions. This reader is an excellent collection of primary source documents drawn from: diaries, poems, songs, speeches, letters to the editor, testimony before congressional committees, official investigations of disasters, etc. that for the most part have not gotten into the official versions of what has happened in the American past.

Zinn, the principal author, does not hide his perspective. In fact, he openly announces it in a stirring introduction.

He tells us, "When I began work, five years ago, on what would become the present volume, Voices of a People's History of the United States, I wanted the voices of struggle, mostly absent from our history books, to be given the place they deserve. I wanted labor history, which has been the battleground, decade after decade, century after century, of an ongoing fight for human dignity, to come to the fore. And I wanted my readers to experience how at key moments in our history some of the bravest and most effective political acts were the sounds of the human voice itself.

"To omit or to minimize these voices of resistance is to create the idea that power only rests with those who have the guns, who possess the wealth, who own the newspapers and the television stations. I want to point out that people who seem to have no power, whether working people, people of color, or women-once they organize and protest and create movements-have a voice no government can suppress.
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History is sometimes written with the goal of documenting the attitudes or opinions of a particular class of people, such as the intellectuals, the politicians, the scientists, or the warriors. Each of these groups has made important contributions to human accomplishment, which should not be forgotten or discarded under the guise of some egalitarian or multicultural reading of history. But when the stories of these groups are documented in history, too often other voices are deafened, and these voices represent the vast majority of historical participants. It is not enough to view history through the eyes of intellectuals, politicians, or warriors. For an historical account to be meaningful, it must offer insight into the collaborations, opinions, belief structures, and longings of those who chose not to become famous, but instead chose to indulge themselves in the unique fascinations that each historical epoch possesses.

But because most humans throughout history did not record their experiences, the historian is left wanting for accurate appraisals of these experiences. Diaries, journals, and other personal writings can assist the historian in this regard, and there have been many uses of these throughout the historical literature. It is important to remember though that because of the paucity of these personal documents, one should not be too hasty in imputing the opinions of their authors to the entire population at the time. One cannot view them as representing the "voices of the people" without establishing this with (difficult) statistical analysis.

Sometimes however these documents were written more as a catharsis, as a way of expressing, in a strong and determined way, an idea, grievance, or opposition to the status quo.
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