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A People's History of the United States:…

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

by Howard Zinn

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Title:A People's History of the United States: 1492-Present
Authors:Howard Zinn
Info:Perennial (1995), Paperback, 688 pages
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A People's History of the United States by Howard Zinn (1980)


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Hair-raising, page-turning, morally challenging. Speaks frankly about the genocide of Indians, the torture of slaves, the misery of workers. Denounces wealth, capitalism and imperialism as the greatest evils. Inserts our worst deeds back into the history books from the point of view of the persecuted. Fails because of a moral single-mindedness, a "no gray" mentality overturning stones to reveal whatever vermin is hiding in an otherwise improving world. Rushes through "periods" like 1750-1830 as if not much happened in that time and only needed ten pages to recount. Then he gets up on his high horse to give 100 page sermons on Vietnam, Carter, and the civil rights movement, which he actually lived though. Quickly moves from history to propaganda. ( )
  Victor_A_Davis | Sep 18, 2015 |
Heil Zintler! Howard Zinn libels, debases, criticizes, rips and tears, and savages specifically identified peoples, economies, principles and precepts, religions, political theories, genders, movements, democracy, the rich, and particular countries. He highlights and degrades specified categories of people and things: men, families, Christians, Catholics, popes, classes, marriage, the rich, Europeans, competition, Irish, private property, Anglo-Saxons, and Spainards. But, but, there is one group that is never identified as a group or for its immense contributions to poverty, slavery, religious intolerance, financial corruption, educational inequity, the abuses of international banking, the imposed financial debt servitude of the masses, usury, and class distinction, and that is (here we go) - Jews. Howard Zinn was a Jew. The two people who praise his "classic" book on its front and back covers (2005 Harper Perennial), Eric Foner and Howard Fast is/was Jewish (and leftists). Jews are never identified as a group (other than their emigration to the hated USA) and individual Jews are never identified as Jews, unlike for instance, the Catholic Christopher Columbus who sailed for the very Catholic Isabella. (Incidentally, what the hell is Columbus doing in our history?)The people Mr. Zinn lauds in the book are largely Jew leftist criminals who, like his family, were given safe harbor, by the hated USA, from Tsarist Russia having been, oddly enough, accused of fomenting revolution and dissatisfaction for which they were forcibly expelled from the country. Jew criminals like Emma Goldman and Alexander Berkman are lauded and Jew communists like Philip Foner, Karl Marx, the IWW, the Knights of Labor, are lovingly quoted and discussed. One might contrast Zinn's dissatisfaction with the treatment of minority people in the USA with the treatment that his own country, Israel, metes out to the Palestinians - now there is a story to be outraged about. Jews have a long history of being welcomed into a country only to be subsequently expelled due to their activism and contrivance against the native people.

If David Duke or Ron Paul or Edward Griffin wrote a book like Mr. Zinn's book about Ashkenazi Jews he or she would be attacked and vilified and slandered as an (I hate this phrase for its abuse) anti-semite. Well, Mr. Zinn is a Christi-Enmitist a purveyor of Christi-Enmity not to mention an ungrateful wretch guilty of being that which we Americans hate more than anything on Earth - a rat. Mr. Zinn is a rat who assails his own people - - or, are we his own people? That is a question. Of course, because we are who we are, better than everyone else on Earth as a people, Mr. Zinn is free to be a rat and to profit from being a rat and to live like a rat king in the land of his enemies.

Relying upon uniquely American and Western European principles such as freedom, liberty, democracy, private property, a free press, competition, and , the solely Christian notion of the value of the individual human being, Mr. Zinn attacks and ridicules the White European Males who gave him, a member of a hounded group, the opportunity to live and to think and to write, freely. Mr. Zinn is a collectivist-socialist-communist-atheist (all failed precepts) who clearly hates the Anglo-Saxon people who gave him and his people safe harbor. (You are welcome, Jewish People.) I know that for every Jew like Mr. Zinn there are Jews like Seymour Hirsch and Israel Shahak, but Mr. Zinn's the guy who wrote this damnable book. It is reminescent of the Monty Python's "What have the Romans ever done for us sketch" in the Life of Brian (oddly enough, again, about Jews dissing another culture). You know Mr. Zinn how about: food and food distribution (no one starves in the USA), electicity, telephones, airlines, automobiles, shelter/housing, protection from anti-semitism, freedom, liberty, flush toilets (Mencken said the American bathroom was our greatest gift to the world), the internet, free education, uncensored movies, books, speeches, thought, open immigration so refugees of repressive regimes can have the benefit of what WE (not you) created and so on. It could be much worse. You (if you were not fortunately dead) could be back on your birthright soil , your homeland, on the steppes of Russia dodging Kulaks and Cossacks and Huns and Mongols, like in the old days, or, maybe Putin's Army, if it was today.

Throw out Voltaire, John Locke, Rene Descartes, Edmund Burke, Francis Bacon, Thomas Jefferson, Jean-Jacques Rousseau, Thomas Paine, Alexis de Tocqueville, John Jay, John Stuart Mill, Montesquieu and where do the "rights" of men exist and where are they actively implemented and enforced, other than in Christian-based White Wonderland. (Western Europe, America). It is not debatable. Millions prove the point daily as they walk , afraid and hungry, from Central America or Somalia or Syria just to be near the White Male Civilization Mr. Zinn so ardently detests and debases.

There is, of course, always more than one perspective to any historical event or period. Versions of the truth tend to evanesce as time passes. However, Mr. Zinn, doing what he criticizes White Christian Men of doing, selectively crafts his story including the good stuff and ignoring that which controverts his position. A single example is his writing about the Iroqouis nation of Native Americans. They, he gushes, were happy collectivists living in harmony with Earth and smilingly raising their children (did you know, they never hit their kiddies!) and generally whistled zippity-do-dah all the day long. Except that is not their whole story. For instance.

"Of all the North American Indian Tribes, the seventeenth-century Iroquois are the
most renowned for their cruelty towards other human beings. Scholars know that
they ruthlessly tortured war prisoners and that they were cannibals; in the
Algonquin tongue the word Mohawk actually means flesh-eater ... ", Scheimann,
David: 'Adoption or Entree", Ohio State University; See also, Stueck, Adam, "A Place
Under Heaven: Amerindian Torture and Cultural Violence in Colonial New France,
1609-1729, Marquette University, e-Publications@Marquette, Dissertations 2009,
based upon contemporary French writers who informed that the Amerindians
customarily tortured, burned, and ate their enemies as part of an endless cycle of
revenge and retribution, or as simple blood lust".

Mr. Zinn's book is "popular" history meaning that it is not a work of scholarship and it contains ridiculous citations to movies, novels, and comedians, and Hollywood personalities and stars, and newspapers. It is the type of superficial book written for TV watchers, and video game players, and NY Times readers, people with short attention quotas addicted to bright lights and loud sounds, which proliferate in our society. Think Paul Krugman and Ann Coulter and Charles Krauthammer and Bill O'Reilly. "A People's History of the United States" bears more resemblance to L. Ron Hubbard's "Dianetics" and Wallace Fard Muhammad's "The Supreme Wisdom" and Joseph Smith's "Book of Mormon" than it does to works by Bruce Catton or Joseph J. Ellis or Edward Gibbon, Bernard DeVoto, or, Hugh Thomas.

It bears repeating that the collectivist Eden Mr. Zinn is selling died as a notion and as a reality years ago.Perhaps he missed the utter collapse of the Soviet Union and all of communist Eastern Europe and China (still pretending, but clearly capitalist), Vietnam, and on a smaller scale in Latin America. It is not so much that Mr. Zinn is a critic of all that we are as a People, it is that he is a second rate critic that I cannot abide. Heil Zintler! ( )
2 vote BayanX | Jul 4, 2015 |
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. ( )
3 vote Widsith | Jun 26, 2015 |
I want to make sure my son knows this book well. ( )
1 vote aegossman | Feb 25, 2015 |
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. ( )
2 vote Thomper | Nov 21, 2014 |
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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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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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