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A People's History of the United States by…

A People's History of the United States (1980)

by Howard Zinn

Other authors: See the other authors section.

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There are many books about the history of the United States, so why read Howard Zinn's A People's History of the United States? The simple answer is: the approach is different from what other histories do. The title already announces that it is a 'people's history', that is a history written from the perspective of the people rather than from the perspective of the nation or the government. In Zinn's own words:

"My viewpoint, in telling the history of the United States, is different: that we must not accept the memory of states as our own. Nations are not communities and never have been. The history of any country, presented as the history of a family, conceals fierce conflicts of interest (sometimes exploding, most often repressed) between conquerors and conquered, masters and slaves, capitalists and workers, dominators and dominated in race and sex. And in such a world of conflict, a world of victims and executioners, it is the job of thinking people, as Albert Camus suggested, not to be on the side of the executioners."

To my mind, this approach is refreshing and I would definitely recommend to read this history. Even if you are inclined to turn to more conservative works, I think the change of perspective is essential to a deeper and further understanding of United States history. This is supported by the often superb choice of quotations to support Zinn's telling of history. To quote an example (Zinn quotes Russell Conwell, founder of Temple University, in a chapter about Rockefeller, J. P. Morgan and contemporaries):

"I say you ought ot get rich, and it is your duty to get rich. ... The men who get rich may be the most honest men you find in the community. Let me say here clearly ... ninety-eight out of a hundred of the rich men of America are honest. That is why they are rich. That is why they are trusted with money. ... I sympathize with the poor, but the number of poor who are to be sympathized with is very small. ... let us remember there is not a poor person in the United States who was not made poor by his own shortcomings."

4 stars for a very good history book. Definitely recommended. ( )
  OscarWilde87 | Aug 23, 2018 |
I don't know that I'll ever be able to read this book cover-to-cover, but Howard Zinn's take on US history is enlightening (while exhaustive).
  justagirlwithabook | Jul 31, 2018 |
Oof. ( )
1 vote simonspacecadet | Jul 29, 2018 |
Excellent book but got recalled before I finished it. Should check this one out again in the future. ( )
  gabarito | May 13, 2018 |
What is it reading this book makes me so angry? It has something of being deceived by a friend. Growing up in Germany a highlight for us kids was the arrival of a CARE packet sent by a family-friend who had fled to the USA in the 30s („the uncle in America“). He lived in the land of milk and honey, the land one could only dream of where people celebrated Christmas in warmly glowing picture-postcard houses half buried in snow. Later Kennedy appeared as the hero in shining armour who was slain by dark forces (he is still widely regarded as such in Germany). Then the Vietnam war shattered this dream world and the US emerged as the deeply troubled and divided country it is. For a while Hollywood and the cowboy films perpetuate the myth of Good versus Evil and the Good always wins - enjoyed as the myth that it was it didn’t fool me or anybody around me. (A Manichaean world view taken by successive US governments persists: „Axis of Evil“; this coupled with a missionary self-perception promoted by big business.) This is just fiction of course, to deceive the gullible, reality is not that simple. Decent young men carry out commands to shoot women and children in Vietnam, hard-working men - many no doubt deeply caring for their families - produce bombs that kill indiscriminately in far-away countries … The US: is it then the country of the free that proclaims “Give me your tired, your poor / Your huddled masses yearning to breathe free.”? At times and for some, yes!, but more often a life of squalor and wretchedness awaits the wretched; their lives are overlooked, silenced, discarded as troublesome and unimportant. Zinn gives them a voice. He does not claim to write ‘objective’ history: ‘objective’ history writing does not exist, he says and he is right: „behind every fact presented is a judgement“. Zinn lifts the class interest hiding under the veil of ‘the national interest’. A few people decide on wars in which millions are killed and maimed in the name of ‘national interest’. Nationalist fervour is instilled in children - more so in the US than in European countries - so they become pliant tools in the hands of the few.

The US - the ‘land of the free’ - the country the nationalists are so proud of, how much of it’s true history is taught in schools? That the landing of Columbus initiated a genocide until the last Indians were herded into reservations to rot? That founding proclamation „all men are created equal“ really is meant to say: „All white men of property are created equal“, excluding all women, the poor, the dark-skinned? That the wealth of the new Nation was built on slave-labour? That freeing of slaves did not stop the racism (not even the election of the first black president)? That the country has always been governed, right from its founding, by a small clique of the wealthy and powerful, an oligarchy who try their utmost to hide behind the fiction of ‘democracy’? That the industrial-military interests made the US a global imperialist power, the only one with military bases all over the world? That there may never have been a day in the last hundred years when the US was not involved in a military conflict, overt or covert and - if possible - kept secret from its citizen not that successive UK governments - Tory or Labour - behave differently )? That under the legal principles established at the Nuremberg Trials, many of the US presidents - not just Bush - as well as their close collaborators should stand trial for ‘war crimes’ and ‘crimes against humanity’ like Kissinger who - hight of irony - received the Nobel peace price (Harold Pinter, in his award lecture for the 2005 Nobel literature price made good for this error of judgement https://www.nobelprize.org/nobel_prizes/literature/laureates/2005/pinter-lecture.html )?

Zinn wanted to write this book, he says, „to awaken a greater consciousness of class conflict, racial injustice, sexual inequality, and national arrogance“, the accumulation of wealth and political power in the hands of a few, „the poisoning of the press and the entire culture by money.“ But Zinn does not give up hope: he writes about the bravery in the fight against injustice, ‘revulsion against the endless wars’, women who ‘will no longer tolerate abuse and subordination, protest against police brutality, directed especially at people of colour’, …

The book closes with the Clinton presidency. Obama, elected with so much hope for a fundamental change, disappointed - not always for lack of trying (e.g. failure to close Guantánamo and failure to provide universal health care for everybody). But Obama widened the Afghan war, multiplied the DRONE warfare; on the positive side rapprochement with Iran and Cuba. Zinn gives his view of the Obama presidency in an interview (9 Oct. 2009) available here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=1cDFmMDKhww
Indispensable reading for anybody interested in the US - and who can afford to shut their eyes and stick their head into the sand? (III-18) ( )
  MeisterPfriem | Mar 26, 2018 |
Showing 1-5 of 108 (next | show all)
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.

» Add other authors (3 possible)

Author nameRoleType of authorWork?Status
Howard Zinnprimary authorall editionscalculated
Arnove, AnthonyIntroductionsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Stubel, ToniTranslatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
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To Noah, Georgia, Serena, Naushon, Will-and their generation
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Arawak men and women, naked, tawny, and full of wonder, emerged from their villages onto the island's beaches and swam out to get a closer look at the strange big boat.
While some multimillionaires started in poverty, most did not. A study of the origins of 303 textile, railroad and steel executives of the 1870s showed that 90 percent came from middle- or upper-class families. The Horatio Alger stories of "rags to riches" were true for a few men, but mostly a myth, and a useful myth for control. — chapter 11
One percent of the nation owns a third of the wealth. The rest of the wealth is distributed in such a way as to turn those in the 99 percent against one another: small property owners against the propertyless, black against white, native-born against foreign-born, intellectuals and professionals against the uneducated and the unskilled. These groups have resented one another and warred against one another with such vehemence and violence as to obscure their common position as sharers of leftovers in a very wealthy country. — chapter 24
Capitalism has always been a failure for the lower classes. It is now beginning to fail for the middle classes. — chapter 24
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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.

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

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Seven Stories Press

2 editions of this book were published by Seven Stories Press.

Editions: 1609803515, 1609802810

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