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A People's History of the United States: 1492 to Present (original 1980; edition 2005)

by Howard Zinn

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9,508100304 (4.24)186
Member:mamaraby
Title:A People's History of the United States: 1492 to Present
Authors:Howard Zinn
Info:Harper Perennial Modern Classics (2005), Paperback, 768 pages
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A People's History of the United States by Howard Zinn (1980)

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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 |
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 would be attacked and vilified and slandered as an 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 despise 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 is 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 or 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! ( )
3 vote BayanX | Jul 4, 2015 |
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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.
Quotations
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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