People's History of the United States

by Howard Zinn

Paperback, 1995

Status

Available

Local notes

973 Zin

Collection

Publication

HarpPeren (1995), Edition: Rev&Updtd, 688 pages

Description

Presents the history of the United States from the point of view of those who were exploited in the name of American progress.

Language

Original language

English

Original publication date

1980

Physical description

688 p.; 5.25 x 1.5 inches

ISBN

0060926430 / 9780060926434

Barcode

5813

Media reviews

Covering the period from 1492 practically to the present, this illuminating opus overturns many conventional notions, not just about America's treatment of blacks, but about Native Americans, women, and other disenfranchised groups whose perspectives have traditionally been left out of the education equation.

User reviews

LibraryThing member edgeworth
A People’s History of the United States is a revisionist history text that attempts to document U.S. history as it appeared from the eyes of “the people” – the poor, the black, the American Indian, and the female; in other words, all the people who until recently had no say in how the United States was governed. It attacks the elementary-level view of American history as one full of heroes fighting for liberty, and instead paints a particularly bleak picture of oppression and control. This is a book that reminds us that Christopher Columbus personally engaged in genocide, that Lincoln did not particularly care about freeing slaves, and that the Founding Fathers created a government of, for and by rich white slaveowners.

The ultimate impression the book leaves one with is that the United States is controlled by a slim percentage of extremely rich people, that domestic and foreign policy is entirely revolved around protecting “the national interest” (i.e. corporate interest), that the government, judiciary and media all work diligently to maintain this status quo, and that this state of affairs dates all the way back to the Revolution. Most people already know this, but to see it so thoroughly and articulately documented and summarised is quite shocking.

The book is, obviously, quite biased. Zinn openly admits this, and declares that he is “not troubled by that, because the mountain of history books under which we all stand leans so heavily in the opposite 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.”

I’m not sure to what level I agree with that; I certainly thought he was stretching it at some points in the book, such as his portrayal of Native American society as a perfect harmonious utopia, or his steadfast opposition to all wars, even World War II and Korea. I do not subscribe to the belief that when arguing a point you should misrepresent, or entirely omit, the viewpoint of your opponent. If you are in the right, their arguments will ultimately be defeated; if not, perhaps you should rethink your opinion.

When describing the SS Mayaguez incident, for example, Zinn makes passing reference to “a revolutionary regime” that had recently seized power in Cambodia. That regime was, of course, the Khmer Rouge, one of the 20th century’s most incomprehensibly evil governments. Perhaps the Mayaguez incident really was all about propaganda – and Zinn makes a compelling case for that – so why avoid mentioning the Khmer Rouge? Because Zinn knows the connections a well-educated reader will draw? Because it brings up the fact that regadless of motive, rescuing the captured crew was the correct course of action? Zinn details how the crew were well-treated by their captors, as though that made it okay, despite previously discussing how the relatively happy lives of many American slaves did not make their slavery one jot less cruel.

This is just one example of many small incidents throughout the book where I found myself disapproving of Zinn’s technique. I hesitate to draw comparison to Michael Moore, because Moore is much less elegant and refined and serious than Zinn, but he’s the only comparable figure I can think of: somebody presenting a one-sided argument that might even be called propaganda, and which should not be tolerated simply because it’s propaganda for what is good and right and just.

Of couse Zinn, as mentioned above, openly acknowledges his bias and the motive behind it, and I would greatly prefer for people to read something that admits its bias rather than falsely claiming objectivity. The other important factor is, of course, that I am not the intended target for this book. A People’s History of the United States was written by an American, for Americans, in an effort to undermine the false assumptions and accepted wisdom prevalent in American culture, and particularly in American schools. As an Australian, I come from a culture where the United States is generally regarded quite poorly. Yet I could still draw parallels; although Australia is a far more egalitarian society, with a political system less corrupted by lobbyists and business interests, we too have classes, and politicans here also exploit our fears of foreigners as a convenient boogeyman. Here, too, the lower and middle classes are often bizarrely opposed to trade unions. Huge swathes of A People’s History of the United States, particularly in the late nineteenth and early twentieth century, revolve around the labor movement: the strikes, the protests, the sit-ins and the struggles. Although I also found these sections to be the most tedious, it was quite eye-opening to see a vision of the United States during a time when the poor were not held in Stockholm Syndrome with the rich.

Clearly I’m not the best person to judge the value of this book. I certainly don’t think it’s a book you should read uncritically, nor without reading other books on American history. But it certainly has a valuable place in American political and historical discourse, and the purpose Zinn wrote it for is a noble one. Apparently he copped a lot of flak because the outlook of the book was so depressing, but I actually found his personal opinion to be quite positive, particularly in chapters towards the end where he describes his vision of the future, where the military-industrial complex has been overthrown and the American government concerns itself with all of its people, not just the wealthiest. This is not a belief I share; I look at Americans protesting Obama, a man no different from any of his predecessors except in the colour of his skin, chanting about how he is a socialist and a Marxist and a communist. I look at them and I wonder how they can possibly be so oblivious, how they can possibly not realise that all their beliefs and values have been shaped by think-tanks and politicians with the delibarate intent of keeping theem in check; no different, except in volume, from working class Australians who vote for the Liberal Party because they’re frightened of boat people. I could wish that every American would read A People’s History of the United States, but a good chunk of them would throw it aside as “communist rubbish,” and another good chunk would lap up every thing Zinn says without thinking laterally, and would then go spraypaint a local council chamber while listening to Muse. I think what I’m saying is that most people are idiots and deserve what they get from the government.

Um, I mean, it was a bit boring sometimes but a really thought-provoking book. Recommended.
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LibraryThing member timspalding
This was my school's 8th-grade textbook. (You can imagine the sort of school I went to.) I could not detest this book any more than I do.
LibraryThing member greeniezona
(this review was originally written for bookslut)

Howard Zinn readily admits that his A People's History of the United States is a biased work. What is unique about his telling of history is the direction of the bias. This is a history biased in favor of the workers (mostly female) who died when a factory collapsed, and against the owners who knew the construction was faulty and did nothing. It is biased in favor of the Indians who rebelled, and against the Spaniards who slaughtered them for not bringing them enough gold. This is a history that does not gloss over the faults of presidents, just because a few good things happened while they were on watch. This is a history that gives credit to the people who organized, the petitions that were sent, and the sit-ins that were held.

There are a few points in the book where even I, whose often knee-jerk progressive/liberalism makes my fathers teeth grind, felt that the book was *too* biased. That the expectations Zinn appeared to have were entirely unreasonable for the time periods he was talking about. Upon reflection, these points only served to make clear just how biased our objective history textbooks really are. Columbus exterminating an entire culture was just a misunderstanding. Right. Just like all the Native Americans were savages and all the slaves were resigned to their lot. Zinn provides numerous and clear counter-examples to those historical claims that I have always doubted told the true story. But what is less comfortable, is the laying bare of the weaknesses of the men I would like to like. Adams, Jefferson, Lincoln, Roosevelt. Men whom I may still choose to like, but with eyes less clouded than before.

Of course in 655 pages, it is difficult to cover comprehensively everything that happened in this country from when Columbus first set foot on some of the nearby islands to the present. One of my favorite things about this book is that it offers so much direction in the way of further reading. When many of the chapters left me thirsty for more, I didn't even have to turn to the extremely thorough bibliography in the back, many books which informed the times and which were inspired by the times were discussed in the text. Zinn's work is not an ending place. One cannot read this book and know everything there is to know about the history that was not taught to you in school. This book is a starting place. An opening door to a new way of thinking. To the realization that ordinary people have changed the history of this country time and time again. And perhaps you can too.
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LibraryThing member Widsith
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.… (more)
LibraryThing member skylightbooks
Howard Zinn is the high school teacher I wish I’d had. In interviews he describes himself as a self-taught historian even though he has a Ph.D. from Columbia. His point is that almost all of the material in his “People’s History…” had to be discovered and researched independently as none of it was ever part of his professional education. And that’s the point; this book covers history that is almost never part of the curriculum. From the first page, where he quotes Columbus advocating a policy of deception in order to enslave the natives, to the last chapter, where he documents Clinton’s quiet dismantling of the New Deal, habeas corpus, and the 1st amendment, Zinn is unrelenting in his condemnation of the myth of American History. It is, by turns, engrossing, depressing, and enraging, but it is never boring. This twentieth anniversary edition adds about a hundred pages of new material, so even if you’re already familiar with this text it’s worth having this nice cloth version of the book that taught us the true meaning of American Ingenuity. -Charles… (more)
LibraryThing member gregorybrown
I've felt kind of remiss in not tackling Zinn's famous work until now, it being the most popular (and populist) introduction to left-leaning history. (Indeed, I've heard it referred to in some circles as "Babby's First Dissident History".) Like most books you come to know first by reputation, actually reading the damn thing has been striking, both for how it meets my expectations, and how it doesn't.

For one, Zinn openly sets out his project from the beginning: to understand the oppression in the past as a way to prevent it in the future. If traditional history is "written by the winners" (as the quip goes), Zinn's job is to channel the losers. He hits up most of the major events in US history, but doesn't really feel bound to telling a continuous narrative in most cases. Instead, the book serves as a sort of marginalia to the mythic past, a course-correction for our self-knowledge as an American people.

One of the problems with Zinn's scope is the pace precludes much attempts at historiography. We're shown dissenting accounts, troublesome facts without any attempt at examining whether most modern-day historians actually concur with the analysis presented. As said before, he clearly states his biases and overall project in the very first chapter. However, the reader needs to synthesize his story with the larger narratives at play—a more difficult task than he seems to admit.

And the disposition of those larger narratives is something that Zinn can be kind of squirrely about. To hear his first chapter, you'd think that the history books whitewash, or at least minimize, the atrocities and casual inhumanities of the past. But once you get into actual scholarship, at least in my experience, that tendency disappears. Zinn even implicitly admits as much, when he marshals both other historians and contemporary accounts to supply evidence for his claims. Charles Beard, who he makes into an underdog by saying he received a "denunciatory editorial in The New York Times", was actually a major influence in the field. Indeed, his economic interpretation of the American Revolution held sway for decades before being more recently (think '70s) replaced by a renewed appreciation for the ideology and ideas also at work.

Exacerbating matters is Zinn's clear pop-history approach to the subjects; he forgoes formal citations (footnotes and endnotes alike), instead throwing together a bibliography at the end of the book. Enjoy that Douglass quote and want to see whether the context strengthens or weakens it? Too bad! The scope also keeps him from complicating the story too much, or even treating some subjects in-depth. For example, the gay rights movement gets only three paragraphs in the entire 700-page book.

I know it sounds like I'm being 100% critical of the book, but there were good chunks of the book that I found pretty enthralling. The rise of workers' rights movements is something Zinn's clearly passionate about, and it comes across in his writing. (It doesn't hurt that their rise serves as welcome emotional relief after 10 chapters of horrible depravity.) I can recognize that the book probably isn't for me, as I've read about most of the material before. But as most people's introduction to left-leaning history, especially as taught in some high schools such as my own, I'm really sensitive to worries that it might f*ck up the process and unnecessarily turn people away.

To strengthen Zinn's case, we might instead revise his project slightly: to prevent the political misuse of history. As much as I hold Lies my Teacher Told Me at a skeptical distance—it seems like an even more pop version of dissident history—examining historical events from the perspective of textbooks might be more instructive in understanding how ideology is propagated through studying history. It may be that our impulse to protect children from the horrors of the past is actually ensuring that they'll be perpetuated.

Perhaps the most political use of history is in using the Founding Fathers as props to support such and such modern day policies. Zinn points out several times that he isn't trying to villify such historical figures, mindful that they swam—many upstream—in the currents of institutional racism, sexism, classism, and the like. Yet all too often, he crosses that line and condemns them directly and forcefully for their hypocrisy. Indeed, part of his project is in showing a second path, by pointing out those individuals who were able to see the bigger picture at the time, and spoke uncomfortable truths to those in power.

So we're back at the central problem: how do we reconcile Zinn's account with the complexities of the full picture? Is there a way to recognize the tremendous steps those figures took towards a better future, even with their fatal flaws? Can there be an American Exceptionalism (or even a national identity!) that doesn't celebrate genocide, imperialism, slavery, racism, sexism, economic oppression? On this question, Zinn remains silent.
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LibraryThing member riotex
This is the "alternate" side of history you may have been taught in high school. Howard Zinn does exactly what he says in presenting a history "disrespectful of governments and respectful of people's movements", and should be read in that context. Given the honest bias, this should be read after or in parallel with a more complete view of history as he does not give the larger context of US and world events, and I he presupposes a knowledge in the reader of these "larger" issues.

A well written and dense work. I would suggest the potential reader start with Chapter 23 where Zinn is more direct in his purpose where he summarizes "the Establishment cannot survive without the obedience and loyalty of millions of people who are given small rewards to keep the system going".

No matter what your political leaning, there is something for you in this book - outrage at the atrocities of the "elites", or outrage at Zinn's sometime simplistic hinting that America is run by a group of "elites" conspiring to keep everyone else down.
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LibraryThing member Thomper
A very important work in understand in American History. Though not perfect, the author creates a new narrative in weaving together various historic events. That new narrative at times seems a bit too focused on good-ordinary-people versus bad-political-elite, but worth a read nonetheless. A heavy reliance on secondary sources though, to the point where certain chapters feel like no more than a summary of various journals and other books.… (more)
LibraryThing member storyjunkie
Many thought-provoking passages, especially where the history presented intersected with the history I learned more thoroughly in school (I'm still a little vague on the general goings-on in the US between 1900 and 1919). Over-all the information and presentation are well put together, with the bias of the work unapologetic but acknowledged, which is more than I can say for a lot of the histories that Zinn wrote this work in argument to.… (more)
LibraryThing member ddelmoni
Forgot about this book until the death of Howard Zinn. Dr. Zinn did us all a favor with the "other side" of American History. It should be mandatory reading to graduate from High School and again from College! All History is written by the winners -- Zinn tells the story of the losers in America History.
LibraryThing member jimmaclachlan
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.
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LibraryThing member Zissou54
One of my all time favorites. Read it for the first time in 9th grade and completely change my worldview and has led to me majoring in History and Sociology. Highly recommended to all!
LibraryThing member ltyphair
The one history book you should read.
LibraryThing member ofstoneandice
Phenomenal. Astounding. Horrifying and moving. That's about as far as I can get to articulate how amazing this book is. EVERY American should read it.
LibraryThing member LisaMaria_C
I was assigned this work for my introduction to political science course in college. I have to admit I groaned at the very title when I saw it on the syllabus, suspecting what I was in for. And yeah, this book was about what I expected--very much a very hard left wing--no, Marxist interpretation of American history. I hated it, was scathing in my assigned paper on Zinn, and was duly marked down. I learned to parrot Zinn back on the final exam and did well. So yes, I have a grudge against the book.

But I also don’t trust it as history. You won’t find sources cited in this book--it’s a popularization, a synthesis, based on secondary sources with a very pointed agenda. It’s blatant propaganda--not history. I have heard a couple of good things about this book even from those who are opposed to Zinn politically--that it did help influence people to look beyond the “great man” triumphalist narrative of history and look at the contribution ordinary people make--and that at least Zinn is no respecter of the powers that be. I’m a little skeptical though that Zinn had much influence on creating a more diverse narrative of American history--there were a lot of true scholars, who did do original research, involved in that revolution of how we look at history. And by the way the parts I was assigned didn’t actually involve the history per se, but Zinn’s views on democracy itself--that’s what I was tested on. But reading through his villainization of America was depressing and annoying. I think it’s because I just have encountered too many Marxists in college--and life. It made Zinn’s take not enlightening and exciting but very predictable.
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LibraryThing member tacomawhite
Excellent overall history of the united states told through the viewpoint of the average citizen. Zinn debunks lots of myths of our national heros and gives a full accounting of what they actually did vice what who are brainwashed into believing they did. A must read for any one interested in an honest accounting of how this country started and what it is actually based on. This book will change your life.… (more)
LibraryThing member jhudsui
Obviously the author has an agenda and a slant but he makes them extremely explicit, and of course all history has to be written from some perspective or another. Sometimes the way isolated facts are dropped completely out of context one gets the impression that he's trying to get away with something but in the sections dealing with subjects I've read in more depth about elsewhere I spotted a lot of material that supports his agenda that he omitted, simply because there isn't enough space for everything. Ultimately it's kind of scattershot and undisciplined, but unavoidably so given the scope Zinn sets out to address. I personally would have preferred reading something with a tighter focus and more depth but as it is pretty much everyone who picks this book up will come away having learned at least something. I personally was pretty surprised by the level of direct physical violence involved in 19th century strikes and strike-breaking... apparently back then people were willing to pick up guns and shoot it out with the National Guard. That is some serious sh*t and makes modern labor look even weaker than I already thought it did.… (more)
LibraryThing member queencersei
This is a history book from the other side's point of view. The other side being Indians, blacks, women, the poor and the incarcerated. This is no flag waving Team USA history book. Zinn gives voice to the Americans who have traditionally been silenced by either corporations, the media or the government itself. Unflinching and not flattering, readers will surley look at their government much more skeptically.… (more)
LibraryThing member beccabgood1
A must-read history of the United States for anyone who wants to truly understand the development of this country. Zinn's writing is engaging, and he tells an eye-opening version of the facts behind the childhood stories we were told in school. The European explorers and settlers of America are usually presented as heroes, but Zinn reveals the cruelty and brutality of their efforts to exterminate the indigenous population. And the rest of this history is equally enlightening. Highly recommended.… (more)
LibraryThing member alspray
Perhaps every generation feels like its lived through particularly "interesting" times. Howard Zinn's 'People's History of the United States' confirms them all to be correct. Quite a tome, this dense book traces American history - from the arrival of Columbus to modern day - from the perspective of the average American. Read: not rich, not powerful, not white, not male, maybe not even a citizen; a version of history from the perspective of "we the people".

Despite that it sat on my shelf unread for at least a year, its actually quite readable. In fact Zinn's version of American history is engaging partly because it is so different from what you learned in grade school. What is history but a compendium of facts? Well Zinn's 'People's History' demonstrates that "his"tory is indeed quite different than "our"story. An examination of the facts from the people's perspective reveals the hypocrisy of America - the story of Democracy verses the reality. Gone are the great highs we celebrated - the Boston Tea Party, the Louisiana Purchase, WWII - in 'People's History" they're all sullied. Looked at through Zinn's lens its difficult to not feel a little cynical about the governing class and a lot skeptical about their rationale for action.

That said, I have renewed appreciation for what "the people" can accomplish with a little passion and creativity. Rather than progress being the result of great acts by "great men", Zinn leads us to believe that most good things have come about due to an unruly public clamoring for their rights. Evidence that indeed "Well-behaved women rarely make history".

I don't regret being rooted in the idealistic image of America, but Americans should be equally versed in this side as well. For the answer to the question of 'why do they hate us?' you need look no further.
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LibraryThing member piefuchs
A book with a grand and noble goal - which was only achieved for a portion of the book. I found the first of the book quite boring and lacking ample context. Much of it seemed simply like a catalogue of activism - strikes, moments of civil disobedience etc. What it all left me wondering was - well in spite of all that, look where we are now?

The book took a substantial turn for the better when it entered the 20th century. In particular he introduces and expands upon a general thesis that I happen to strongly agree with. What people crave is stability, what they want to appear to want is justice and morality. What government does is protect the elite, what it wants to be perceived as doing is providing justice and security. When the oppression of a group of people by the elite leads to instability for the general populous, then the government must act. The resulant action must be enough to stop the perception of instability, yet it can never be enough to really take power away from the elite. His description of how that dynamic plays out over and over through out the twentieth century, leading to gradual and real change without a fundamental power shift is excellent. The chapters on the civil rights movement and the Vietnam war, are very strong. One area where the book was weak was in placing what was happening in the US in context with other countries. He mentions women's sufferage being attained with minimal comment on parallel movements in other countries. Areas where gains in the US are later and weaker than other countries could benefit from explanation. What is it about the US people that they ended up being the only western democracy without universal health care?

The 1st edition ended in 1980 with subsequent new editions (I read 2003). He should have stop with the coherernce of the 1st edition. I found the added chapters out of place, somewhat gratuitious, and consequently annoying. Large portions are simply critiques of US foreign policy and reads like a political history and the notion of the people, and why they failed to care, is largely lost.

My last complaint is that with very few exceptions he leaves out popular culture as both influence and activism.

All that being said, worth reading.
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LibraryThing member alexgalindo
Undeniably one of the comprehensive and sweeping accounts of American history from "the people's" perspective. The playwright, activist, and historian Howard Zinn carries the burden of writing a lucid, accessible, (and most importantly) a relevant account of U.S. history. Often when reading books touching on history you hear subtle and sometimes not so subtle worship and praise for "leaders" of men-politicians, kings, princes, barons and the like. From the perspective of most historical chroniclers it is these men who have shaped history with merely their hands and ideas. Zinn takes this formulaic approach to history and turns it on its head. With sharp analysis of foreign and domestic policy, and unabashed criticism of established historical accounts this book makes for a powerful, clarifying read.… (more)
LibraryThing member annbury
NOT the standard version of American history you learned it school. Instead, Zinn does just what he says, and presents U.S. history from the viewpoint of ordinary, non-famous, people -- mostly of them poor. On top of this, Zinn imposes his own (very strong) viewpoint: from the left, the w-a-a-y left. At times, this can drive a more middle of the road reader into talking back (no, Howard, modern capitalism is not entirely a plot). It is, however, an invigorating antidote to the standard view of American history.… (more)
LibraryThing member ljhliesl
I'm still enjoying this and have no problem with the author's perspective or technique. The audio format is problematic, however. In the first eight-hour chunk, there was a significant stretch of silence and then the narrator asking whether he's still live (or something). That should have been edited out. The narrator, Jeff Zinn, I assume is Howard Zinn's son. He pronounces the Schuykill River as "Shooler." Don't these production companies have the spoken equivalent of a copyeditor?

ETA that the next time the Schuykill came up the narrator improved it to "Skooler." The first time he mentioned the president who came between Cleveland's two terms, he said "Harris." Also, god help me, he sang a song, a dirge that arose from farmers getting the short end of the plough.
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LibraryThing member pjsullivan
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 to 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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Pages

688

Rating

(1989 ratings; 4.2)
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