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Howard Zinn (1922–2010)

Author of A People's History of the United States

79+ Works 22,752 Members 251 Reviews 99 Favorited

About the Author

A committed radical historian and activist, Howard Zinn approaches the study of the past from the point of view of those whom he feels have been exploited by the powerful. Zinn was born in Brooklyn, New York in 1922. After working in local shipyards during his teens, he joined the U.S. Army Air show more Force, where he saw combat as a bombardier in World War II. He received a Ph.D. in history from Columbia University in 1958 and was a postdoctoral fellow in East Asian studies at Harvard University. While teaching at Spelman College in Atlanta, Georgia, Zinn joined the civil rights movement and wrote The Southern Mystique (1964) and SNCC: The New Abolitionists (1964). He also became an outspoken critic of the Vietnam War, writing Vietnam: The Logic of Withdrawal (1967) and visiting Hanoi to receive the first American prisoners released by the North Vietnamese. Zinn's best-known and most-praised work, as well as his most controversial, is A People's History of the United States (1980). It explores American history under the thesis that most historians have favored those in power, leaving another story untold. Zinn discusses such topics as Native American views of Columbus and the socialist and anarchist opposition to World War I in examining his theory that historical change is most often due to "mass movements of ordinary people." Zinn's other books include You Can't Be Neutral on a Moving Train: A Personal History of Our Times (1995) and Artists in Times of War (2004). He has also written the plays Emma (1976), Daughter of Venus (1985), and Marx in Soho (1999). (Bowker Author Biography) Howard Zinn grew up in the immigrant slums of Brooklyn, where he worked in shipyards in his late teens. He saw combat duty as an air force bombardier in World War II, and afterward received his doctorate in history from Columbia University. His first book, "La Guardia in Congress", was an Albert Beveridge Prize winner. In 1956, he moved with his wife and children to Atlanta to become chairman of the history department of Spelman College. He has since written and edited many more books, including A People's History of the United States, SNCC: The New Abolitionist; Disobedience and Democracy; The Politics of History; The Pentagon Papers: Critical Essays; You Can't Be Neutral on a Moving Train: A Personal History of Our Times; and The Zinn Reader (Seven Stories Press, 1997). Zinn is also the author of three plays, Emma, Daughter of Venus, and Marx in Soho. Among the many honors Zinn has received is the 1998 Lannan Literary Award for nonfiction. A professor emeritus of political science at Boston University, he lives with his wife, Roslyn, in the Boston area, near their children and grandchildren. (Publisher Provided) show less
Image credit: Photo by Robert Birnbaum (courtesy of the photographer)

Works by Howard Zinn

Voices of a People's History of the United States (2004) — Editor — 755 copies
Terrorism and War (2002) 264 copies
Howard Zinn on History (2001) 141 copies
The Politics of History (1970) 141 copies
Howard Zinn on War (2001) 133 copies
SNCC: The New Abolitionists (1965) 116 copies
Emma (1847) 84 copies
The Bomb (2010) 77 copies
Postwar America: 1945-1971 (1973) 59 copies
New Deal thought (1966) 56 copies
The Southern Mystique (1964) 51 copies
Howard Zinn on Race (2011) 45 copies
Just War (2005) 40 copies
Artburn (2003) — Preface; some editions — 30 copies
Playbook (1986) — Author — 18 copies
The Pentagon Papers: Critical Essays: Volume Five (1971) — Editor — 16 copies
LaGuardia in Congress (1969) 16 copies
The Indispensable Zinn (2012) 3 copies

Associated Works

The Iron Heel (1907) — Introduction, some editions — 1,486 copies
A People's History of the Supreme Court (1999) — Foreword — 685 copies
Encyclopedia of the American Left (1990) — Contributor, some editions — 105 copies
A Memory, a Monologue, a Rant, and a Prayer (2007) — Contributor — 105 copies
Life of an Anarchist: The Alexander Berkman Reader (1992) — Introduction, some editions — 94 copies

Tagged

20th century (111) activism (124) America (178) American (146) American history (885) anthology (74) biography (64) civil rights (122) conspiracy (72) culture (72) disinformation (69) dystopia (68) ebook (94) essays (178) fiction (181) graphic novel (65) history (3,598) Howard Zinn (110) Kindle (102) labor (86) law (99) Library of America (86) non-fiction (1,755) own (83) political (65) political science (84) politics (994) read (157) reference (128) science fiction (77) socialism (112) sociology (82) to-read (1,435) U.S. History (126) unread (145) US history (320) USA (580) war (136) wishlist (65) Zinn (70)

Common Knowledge

Canonical name
Zinn, Howard
Legal name
Zinn, Howard
Birthdate
1922-08-24
Date of death
2010-01-27
Gender
male
Nationality
USA
Birthplace
Brooklyn, New York, USA
Place of death
Santa Monica, California, USA
Cause of death
heart attack
Places of residence
Newton, Massachusetts, USA
Auburndale, Massachusetts, USA
Education
New York University (BA|1951)
Columbia University (MA|1952|PhD|1958)
Occupations
historian
university professor
political activist
Relationships
Zinn, Jeff (son)
Organizations
Spelman College
Boston University
U.S. Army Air Corps
Awards and honors
Thomas Merton Award
Eugene V. Debs Award
Lannan Literary Award (Nonfiction, 1998)
Upton Sinclair Award (1999)
Haven's Center Award for Lifetime Contribution to Critical Scholarship (2006)
Short biography
Howard Zinn (August 24, 1922 – January 27, 2010) was an American historian, playwright, and socialist thinker. He was chair of the history and social sciences department at Spelman College, and a political science professor at Boston University. Zinn wrote over 20 books, including his best-selling and influential A People's History of the United States. In 2007, he published a version of it for younger readers, A Young People's History of the United States.

Zinn described himself as "something of an anarchist, something of a socialist. Maybe a democratic socialist." He wrote extensively about the Civil Rights Movement, the anti-war movement and labor history of the United States. His memoir, You Can't Be Neutral on a Moving Train (Beacon Press, 2002), was also the title of a 2004 documentary about Zinn's life and work. Zinn died of a heart attack in 2010, at age 87.

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Howard Zinn RIP in Radical History (September 2011)

Reviews

 
Flagged
Nickdemore | 158 other reviews | Apr 13, 2024 |
A Rorschach test, indeed. What do you think about Howard Zinn’s A People’s History of the United States? What do you assume about anyone who would read it?

Many have attempted to ban it. Many think of it as “anti-American.”

Zinn is as “anti-American” as the Preacher in Ecclesiastes is depressing and anti-life. Sure, if you’ve bought into certain narratives, and cannot countenance bursting those particular bubbles, that’s a conclusion to draw.

And, indeed, the standard story of what you were taught in school is highly criticized in this book. The author starts with an unflinching look at exactly what Columbus and his ilk did to the Indigenous people of America. Throughout is a story of well-heeled class interests preserving themselves at the expense of everyone else, and only as much ground given as necessary to keep the whole system from turning on itself. There’s nothing innocent about the United States portrayed in these pages. Its constant failure is on display for all to see.

Everyone who talks about Zinn will say he has his agenda. And he does; he’s very open about it. For that matter, every history has an agenda, because it is an attempt at creating a narrative on the basis of a series of facts, and what one decides to emphasize and what one correspondingly neglects betrays some kind of bias or angle.

If anything, the problem with this work is with Zinn’s naivete and blind spots: he is a Builder who really wants to lionize and consider special the culture of resistance in the 1960s, and he is willing to throw any other attempt at reform under the bus in so doing.

While Zinn confesses the failure of modern communist endeavors because of their priority on party over people, he maintains a Marxist conceit about “A People’s History,” as if the history of agitation and organization against moneyed interests and corporations is “the People’s History”. It would be better titled “The Resister’s History of the United States,” because that’s the tenor of the book.

There’s a lot of things in the history with which to grapple. You learn quite quickly how police today are far nicer to citizens and others than they were in the past. This does not mean police today are nice; it means what was done by police in action against citizens and others in the 19th and early 20th centuries were abominable. Zinn is probably not wrong in how he characterizes the Constitution as enshrining sufficient federal power to advance the interests of the wealthy and the merchants. He’s also probably not entirely wrong that whatever the government has given to assist labor or the less than advantaged is done with a view to maintaining societal stability: just enough is given so that the people don’t rise up in sufficient revolt to overthrow the system.

You’d thus think he would be hard on corporations and those who advanced their interests, and you would not be wrong. He is not a fan of Nixon or Reagan. But it would seem most of his invective comes against those in the Democratic party. He conflates Carter with Reagan and Bush as perpetuating a militaristic, pro-corporate administration. He has no love for Bill Clinton. These are all betrayers of the leftist cause.

Thus, this history is probably more offensive to moderate to centrist leftists than anyone on the right. For Zinn it has always been not enough and never for the right reasons. The diminishment of the efforts of Progressivism in the beginning of the 20th century is notable. Likewise his attempts at casting FDR and the New Deal down from the way it was exalted by many on the left.

This attempt at re-framing what was done in the 1900s and 1930s-40s would be more tolerable if similar skepticism was maintained about what happened from the 1960s onward. Yes, the forms of resistance he talked about are real enough, but none of them were as significant as he would like to imagine. He has a naive confidence in polling about what Americans say they want, trusting their general desires even though the moment said general desires get translated into substantive policy they lose support. People are more invested in the status quo than Zinn would care to imagine.

And the fruit of everything 1960s was not nearly as transformative as Zinn would postulate. The work as written clearly had an arc which was to end with 1992 and the 500th anniversary of Columbus, and discussions of Clinton and the early War on Terror were added later. Zinn died in 2010 and so there would be no real grappling with the 2008 economic crisis and its fallout, with the Obama phenomenon and then Trumpism. Zinn never delves into the “dark side” of populism, the Huey Longs or those like Trump who will emphasize populist themes even though all he does is to the advantage of those with wealth like himself. From the perspective of 2024 it’s hard to maintain the naive confidence that all the resisting Zinn talked about in the second half of the twentieth century really lead to as much transformation as he would have liked to see. And that which was accomplished he takes for granted or again sublimates under the premise that it was only granted to keep things from getting out of hand.

And thus, in the end, this history of the United States really does not give enough credit to many of the changes which have been made, nor to the aspirations of the nation, even recognizing how the reality has always fallen far short of those aspirations. Much of what is in this history are facts, things which actually happened, and they do need to be grappled with in terms of our legacy. The United States is not the force of good we would like to imagine it to be, but should that mean we should just give into the cynicism and not appeal to the better angels of our nature?

The ways Zinn worked to try to change things, apparently, did not work well enough for him or us. What he would like to imagine seems more remote than it was when he was writing. His methods thus did not get us to that imagined better place. Maybe there was more to the reform movements than he would like to give credit; maybe the post-war generation didn’t have all the answers the way they imagined they did. And as the Boomer generation has demonstrated, the only thing worse than idealism is frustrated idealism gone reactionary.
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deusvitae | 158 other reviews | Jan 21, 2024 |
This book was amazing because he is not afraid to say unpopular things and be extra critical of the way our country is run. What i liked most, besides this being an amazing anti war propaganda book, is that Zinn never fell into the trap of "capitalism is bad so communism is good". He was able to be critical of the problems of both systems and urged readers to be critical as well.
 
Flagged
mslibrarynerd | 3 other reviews | Jan 13, 2024 |
This is like the liberal answer to reader's digest, not a history book.
 
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audient_void | 5 other reviews | Jan 6, 2024 |

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