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A People's History of the United States: 1492-Present (original 1980; edition 1995)

by Howard Zinn

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9,846102290 (4.24)196
Member:tomtomorrow25
Title:A People's History of the United States: 1492-Present
Authors:Howard Zinn
Info:Perennial (1995), Paperback, 688 pages
Collections:Your library
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A People's History of the United States by Howard Zinn (1980)

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Showing 1-5 of 97 (next | show all)
This is a powerful "alternate" history of the United States that I've long intended to read but only just got around to (I get intimidated by thick books so I went for the audiobook). Zinn presents many of the familiar stories of American history, but from the point of view of those who don't often get into the history books - Native Americans, blacks, women, and other marginalized groups. Wars are stories not of patriotism and national unity but of an average rank and file often at odds with the leadership and demonstrating this through desertion and revolt. Wars in general have seen much protest, from the Revolution where the goals of the leaders were quite different from the common agitators to the mass opposition to the War in Vietnam. From the earliest days of the American colonies there is also a divide between the elites who hold the wealth and power and the common people that comes out in many class and labor conflicts. Zinn discusses unheralded unity - such as blacks and poor whites working together for progressive farmers' movements in the South - as well as divisions within the many movements for Civil Rights and equality.
At times the attitude of the author is too far left-wing for even me to handle, but largely I find this book an instructive look at American history that informs a lot of where we are today. This book is so full of detail that it's worth reading again, and the many works Zinn cites could make for a lifetime of additional reading. ( )
1 vote Othemts | Jun 28, 2016 |
on hold... or rather, I'm considering it a book I'm studying rather than one I'm reading.
  mirikayla | Feb 8, 2016 |
In the first part of the book, I heard things that just didn't make sense and it got worse as the book went on. The author uses opinions of others to back up his opinions and presents them as facts. There is a lot of hyperbole and a feeling that historically all actions were bad and all inactions were bad and so I was left with the damned if you do, damned if you don't feeling. In the end Zinn sums up saying that the book is written for the 99% of the population that isn't part of the government. Well, let me tell you, Mr Zinn, I am not a part of the 1% nor am I willing to allow you to count me to as part of your 99% that you conclude as wanting ultimately a socialist society. I know there are many wrong facts in text books, but you can't back alternate facts with single eyewitness statements or the opinions of Noam Chomsky. Sadly, I became so skeptical of certain assertions in this book that I cannot take away anything from this book without researching them on my own. ( )
  Jen.ODriscoll.Lemon | Jan 23, 2016 |
In the first part of the book, I heard things that just didn't make sense and it got worse as the book went on. The author uses opinions of others to back up his opinions and presents them as facts. There is a lot of hyperbole and a feeling that historically all actions were bad and all inactions were bad and so I was left with the damned if you do, damned if you don't feeling. In the end Zinn sums up saying that the book is written for the 99% of the population that isn't part of the government. Well, let me tell you, Mr Zinn, I am not a part of the 1% nor am I willing to allow you to count me to as part of your 99% that you conclude as wanting ultimately a socialist society. I know there are many wrong facts in text books, but you can't back alternate facts with single eyewitness statements or the opinions of Noam Chomsky. Sadly, I became so skeptical of certain assertions in this book that I cannot take away anything from this book without researching them on my own. ( )
  Jen.ODriscoll.Lemon | Jan 23, 2016 |
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 fuck 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. ( )
  gregorybrown | Oct 18, 2015 |
Showing 1-5 of 97 (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.
 

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Howard Zinnprimary authorall 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.
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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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