Home > History Books > A People’s History of the United States: 1492 to Present

A People’s History of the United States: 1492 to Present

November 25th, 2012

Rating:
List Price: Add to cart to see price
Sale Price: Too low to display.

Book Overview:

Known for its lively, clear prose as well as its scholarly research, A People's History of the United States 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. This P.S. edition features an extra 16 pages of insights into the book, including author interviews, recommended reading, and more.


Book Review

Read the book reviews below. If you have read , You can add your own review below.

out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 12796 user reviews
History Books Known for its lively, clear prose as well as its scholarly research, A People's History of the United States 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. This P.S. edition features an extra 16 pages of insights into the book, including author interviews, recommended reading, and more.
http://www.bookpool.org/6108-a-peoples-history-of-the-united-states-1492-to-present/

Similar Books:

  1. Empire of Liberty: A History of the Early Republic, 1789-1815 (Oxford History of the United States)
  2. A People’s History of the United States (P.S.)
  3. A Renegade History of the United States
  4. A Short History of the United States
  5. AP United States History Flash Cards (Barron’s Ap)
Categories: History Books Tags:
  1. Paul P. Rodriguez
    November 26th, 2012 at 08:30 | #1

    Rating

    This book has left several impressions on me. First, it’s hard to get through, due both to its content (disturbing) and its style (dry, with a tendency to tell each chapter in the same formulaic method).

    Aside from those two criticisms, the account is fascinating. From the beginning, you’re wretching at the accounts told of Columbus’ barbarism, and soon begin to see the propaganda the American school system has taught us as just that.

    With that said, I think it would be wise to view this in its context. It is not the be-all-end-all account of American history. It should be balanced with other perspectives. To come away believing America an evil empire I think would be to lose sight of the reality of our history: namely that despite the corruption and evil, the principles written down in our Declaration of Independence, Constitution, and Bill of Rights have lived up to their true promise and continually get closer to their ideal. An informed electorate is essential to a functioning democracy, and the facts presented here go a long way towards helping Americans confront their dark past and learn from it, rather than trying to sugar-coat it to prop us up as an honorable Christian nation with a right to arrogance. The truth is nothing to fear. Still, I recommend trying a conservative viewpoint after this, like Paul Johnson’s “A History of the American People”. That way you’ll come away with both sides of the story, rather than an overly slanted perspective. As in all things, don’t ever fear a dissenting opinion. Fundamentalism from the right _and_ left is dangerous. Keep an open mind and weigh both side’s arguments for yourself before you join a bandwagon

    After reading this book, I’ve become more skeptical of patriotism based on the founding father’s genius and benevolence, but much more proud of the achievements of regular Americans who often gave their lives fighting a corrupt government that used religion and money to support the rich and exploit the poor. Americans do have a history to be proud of, but the over-riding theme that I came away with was that it is possible for Americans to make a difference in their government and the world today. We need to take action and contribute to making this country great, not just rest on the acheivements of those who came before us and made our country what it is.

  2. Fabio
    November 26th, 2012 at 13:34 | #2

    Rating

    First of all I’m not american and I lack what Zinn often criticizes, a classic american hero-history, so my opinion on this book could be slightly different from an usual american reader review.
    One of the reasons I bought A People’s History is simply because I received a typical european education very focused on every aspect of main euro countries, say Western ones, with scarce notions about american history; for instance I was taught about the Revolution and the Intervention during the WorldWarII but not much more, and I was curious to learn something more specific especially about the epic figures of the Presidents and the Supreme Court, so I bounced on this book with absolute no clue about Zinn’s political view.
    I have just finished to read the 2003 edition, and this is what I think about this huge book,
    Pros:
    1)If you don’t feel shocked and indignated by criticizing classic american heroes such as the Founding Fathers, Lincoln, etc or by talking openly especially about their mistakes and their bad decisions or policies, the book is indeed a good approach to build a true critic sense, for it makes you ask important questions and seek difficult answers, and this is crucial in history teaching. This is indeed important I repeat.
    Cons:
    2)Zinn tried to write in a novelist-style, concentrating on a topic and climating from the least to the most important things to say about, while commenting and drawing consequences, but at the same time forgetting completely about the time-line stream, the thing that probably most gives sense to history itself.
    This can lead to a very frustrating reading, when you try to find out what happens before and what next, but you simply can’t because here he talks about 1887, a line below about 1900, five lines below about 1870 and so on.
    3)There are topics very well described along with most incomplete references, last ones especially about the ‘rich and powerful’ facts, who anyway still remain facts. So if you don’t have a classic american education it’s sometimes difficult to understand what’s going on because everything’s focused only and always on the same topics. Along with this you can’t find a single note or precise account especially about statistics and statements, so you can never be sure if you can buy what Zinn says.
    4)The last chapters of the book tend to fall either in utopistic dreams or melanconic complaining, and Zinn never gives a valid and possible alternative choice; I’ll give you just an example: you can’t criticize Clinton’s policy of reducing the deficit if you omit what are the consequences in the long run of an increasing deficit caused by social either military expenses; it’s not so easy as Zinn often says to spend money on social programs and yet promoting an economic growth while creating new jobs! In matter of fact, even if you can’t accept this on a political or moral point of view, the economy grows and creates jobs as long as the corporations earn money so they can later invest.

    In conclusion I can say I was disappointed from the book from a pure technical historic approach, but I consider anyway the book excellent, and I really mean it, to develop an independent and critic mentality, for actual national american media don’t help in this, nor the history class the way is done in american schools, all this not depending on which political party you believe in.

    My rating: 3 stars, good but not too much, don’t make the mistake neither to be too much impressed nor to consider it junk

  3. Anonymous
    November 27th, 2012 at 04:15 | #3

    Rating

    Howard Zinn’s A PEOPLE’S HISTORY is probably the most famous example of revisionist history. What is revisionist history? Well, most importantly, it is an attempt to show important historical events from the perspective of those who have not typically written history, for example women, African-Americans, poor and working-class people, gays and lesbians, among others.

    Take, for example, Zinn’s very brief analysis at the end of the book about the Clinton years. The popular press portrayed, consistently and repeatedly, the 90s as a decade of prosperity and a booming stock exchange, with poverty nowhere in sight. The 90s dawned as communism, it’s enemy, collapsed. The 90s was the alleged triumph of capitalism. But Zinn looks critically at just who “triumphed” and what kind of “triumph” it was. He gives us different “dispatches” from the 90s, voices not likely to be heard in The Wall Street Journal: workers displaced from good-wage blue-collar jobs as those jobs moved overseas thanks to free-trade agreements; welfare mothers supporting families on minimum wages because the public believes they had to “work for their check” while the defense budget soars; the degradation of public schools and services; chronic poverty among African-Americans.

    What this revisionist history of the 90s does is two-fold: 1) it creates an alternative narrative of the 90s, as a decade in which the social safety net was sacrificed to fill the coffers of the highest 1%, and 2) in creating this coutnernarrative, Zinn revealed how “constructed” this official history is, that is, that any history that claims the 90s as the “triumph of capitalism” is able do so only by ignoring and suppressing those other dispatches from the 90s.

    So the claim that Zinn is biased is, therefore, irrelevant. History, as Zinn himself claims, is constructed from an endless supply of evidence and events. The historian operates on assumptions (that is, ideology), to create history. Zinn is quite upfront that he is “anti-capitalist” and frankly, I think he bleakly illuminates the endless pain capitalism has wreaked on the majority of the population while a tiny minority lives off the fat. To point out Zinn’s bias is merely to help him make his point. The reality is that the left is aware of its ideology; the right pretends its ideology and history is merely “natural.”

  4. M. Faust
    November 27th, 2012 at 18:47 | #4

    Rating

    For several years of the last decade, I taught Advanced Placement U.S. History at a high school in northern Virginia. When I began the course, Zinn had already been assigned by my predecessor, and I needed a counterpoint to the main text (Bailey and Kennedy’s bombastic, traditionalist, and short-on-social history “Pageant of the American Nation”). Zinn’s deftly written book provided a fortunate antithesis to the “march of presidents and industrial titans” approach to American history. I found many chapters of this book to be such excellent stimulants to class discussions that I extended their use into my non-AP U.S. history classes, where students, many of whom could not otherwise have cared less about history, found themselves reading an interesting and provocative historian for the first time in their lives. Many of the best discussions I ever had with my classes (both AP and “regular”) began with assigned chapters from Zinn. From there, it was an easy step to move on to the idea of historiography (the history of how history has been interpreted) and to decoupling my students from thinking of the textbook as revealed wisdom.

    Yes, this book has its faults, as many of the previous reviews point out. It is very left-leaning. It does sometimes omit factual points that do not support its line of argument. It does sometimes verge on equating the misdeeds of American leaders with the horrific malevolence of the leaders of totalitarian states. It does romanticize its heroes.

    For all that, though, this book is an excellent introduction to U.S. history if read as a contrasting voice to more traditional narratives. It is a fine and vigorous antidote to the excessively reverent tone of many high school textbooks. It conveys a sense of moral passion that is often lacking in these texts, which are typically take great pains to offend no one, particularly regarding events within living memory. Not all contemporary texts are this bloodlessly terrible, but many are. One of the best things about Zinn’s histories is that he leaves in the drama that the standard texts insist on draining out.

    “A People’s History” begins with a bold thesis, and keeps it at center stage–namely, that those with power and wealth consistently extend it to others only when the situation has reached the level of deep crisis, and only with the minimum and uppermost fraction of the discontended needed to co-opt them and defeat the dissent of the remainder, often also turning otherwise natural allies into antagonistic contenders for “table scraps” from the banquet in the process. And as Zinn argues repeatedly, this grudging and incomplete inclusion, made reality by the courage and convictions of average men and women, has been the engine that has driven most if not all extentions of both liberty and equality in U.S. history, and that this is a continuing and unfinished process, awaiting future generations of idealists possessing the courage of their own convictions. I admire this book (and this author) for inculcating this idea among young readers.

    For young adults who have an interest in U.S. history, or for parents who wish to engage their teen’s interest in history, this book is a great place to start. It also might be the start of a few conversations at home about justice, fairness, equality, morality, the probity of leaders, etc. Since it argues more from a passion for justice and equality, a sense of burning indignation, and a highly debatable point of view, those desiring balance should pair it with something less withering in its assessment toward the history of the American state. This is an excellent history for the newly interested, or for those readers looking for an alternative perspective.

  5. Shashank Tripathi
    November 28th, 2012 at 14:11 | #5

    Rating

    A quick look at the reviews for this book will tell you just how difficult it is for a reader of Zinn’s works to whistle and walk on. Either one ends up savagely dismissing him as a petty caviller, or extolling his brand of “eye opening” wisdom. I doubt I can add anything purposeful to this seemingly hot debate because I approached this book with a different intent altogether.

    I wanted this page of history to answer some of my business questions. How America came from a nowhere nation of vagrant Arawak Indian tribes just a few centuries ago to being a commerical (ok, and imperial) superpower in our times. My interest was not to equip myself with geewhiz anti-US trivia (although I picked up a fair bit on the way, tra la) but to answer the atavistic question of what promoted capitalistic thinking, meritocracy, love of freedom etc in the United states more than the rest of the planet (assuming this is true in the first place).

    And in that department, I have to say that this book left me startled. It might sound presumptuous but the quick answer is that there is nothing specific in the history or the anthropological station of US in this century and the last that may have accentuated its drive for capitalism. What’s more, America was and is, just like any other country on the planet, subject to the exact same vagaries of civilization/humanity/bigotry/dogma that make and mar an empire every few centuries or so. I also recognize why this is very difficult for Americans to identify with or agree to, specially Americans who typify the inward looking solipsism of the current generation and perhaps the last 2 or so.

    I recommend this book highly as a VIEW of historical events that are difficult to deny occured. Whether the guardians of the old order spring into an attack or not this is bound to yank a lot of people (me included) out of a langour of perspective.

    Not all books need to be read to be “liked”. Even a book that makes you constantly revulse in disagreement is worth a read for that precise reason. 5 stars from me.

  6. Anonymous
    November 30th, 2012 at 19:15 | #6

    Rating

    I’m going to partially disagree with the reader from Australia and agree (in part) with the reader from Key West, and probably offend both in the process. Oh well. Nothing personal, of course. What this book adds to the discussion of social history is a needed examination of long neglected issues of class in America, and how those pressing factors are often submerged in hyper-patriotism or blind faith in capitalism. That’s very important, and that still doesn’t get into the history textbooks. And the fact that Zinn is talking from the Left is, I think, not as important as the fact that his leftist perspective illuminates shadowed areas of history — Cherokee culture in the 1830s, the Great Railroad Strike of 1877 (the best section in the book), or peace movements during World War II. That’s important. The problem is that everything else he said could be found in the history textbooks I studied in elementary school, high school and college in the 1980s and 90s. Reading the book last month, I was more surprised by how much of Zinn’s work is put into American History textbooks (in an admittedly abbreviated form) than is left out. Class struggles are, by and large, omitted, but everything else — Indian genocide, the horrors of the Middle Passage, cold-hearted union crackdowns — I studied in sixth grade. Zinn is not the corrective to traditional textbooks now; he writes them. There wasn’t anything particularly radical in this book for me — nothing I hadn’t read before, anyway. Its cutting edge feels dulled by the passing of decades. And it should be noted that Zinn’s biggest flaw is that he reduces complex personalities into archetypes of what he thinks they should be — so we hear awful things about Andrew Carnegie, but nothing about his philanthropy; we read a wonderful reflection on W.E.B. DuBois, but nothing about his anti-semitism (as seen in “The Souls of Black Folk”). But you could dig up these flaws in any book as ambitious as Zinn’s. I like the suggestion that this be read in counterpoint to Johnson; I’ve been meaning to do that. Zinn’s class corrective is very important; and if he overstates the case at times, he at least makes a noise few others have bothered to sound.

  7. Wyote
    December 2nd, 2012 at 13:04 | #7

    Rating

    Even people who hate Howard Zinn admit that he’s a good scholar. But many people hate him, for sure–and you have to remember that when you’re reading some of these reviews. On the other hand, most of the reviewers seem to be communists themselves, and so their gushing reviews should surprise no one.

    I recommend the book with some reservations. Agree or disagree, perspectives like Zinn’s keep us from becoming ignorant victims of ideological propaganda.

    I recommend it because it is a great, well-informed, honest and self-conscious dissenting opinion. Anyone who wants to consider themselves educated needs to consider dissenting opinions frequently. But I have reservations. Most importantly, Zinn’s purpose is not to introduce someone to American history. He assumes his readers already know the basics. Of course, many people do not. It’s not a history of the US; it’s a series of contentious corrections to the history traditionally taught in American classrooms. (Why did the Colonies defeat the British? What caused the depression? Why did Nixon visit China? Unless you know this much, this book isn’t yet for you.)

    Some reviewers complained about Zinn’s tone. Zinn is an average writer; better than many academics but worse than any good writer.

    Other reviewers seemed to assume that either communists or far-right conservatives aren’t “students of history.” But of course some are. Zinn and Newt Gingrich are both well-informed scholars.

    (If it matters to you, I am neither communist nor right-wing; I’m just not a political thinker. I’m American, and I think Americans–all of us–can be proud and thankful; but we should recognize that our government and politicians have never been perfect. Ideologies often serve to control people, so dissenting opinions are vital for freedom’s perseverance. But democracy and moderated capitalism have often succeeded in blessing their people, while communism has evidently failed everywhere, with more gruesome histories even than capitalism.)

  8. Anonymous
    December 3rd, 2012 at 18:51 | #8

    Rating

    What some of the readers below don’t seem to get is that this book is not INTENDED to be a balanced look at American history. There IS no balanced look at history. Every historian brings his own biases and preconceptions to the table. Zinn makes this point early on in the book; and, to his immense credit, doesn’t EVER claim to be fair or impartial or balanced. This is a history from the point of view of the rest of us: the native population, the slaves, the railroad workers, the child laborers, women, factory workers, soldiers, and everyone else whose voice has not been represented or even heard through previous histories.

    Most histories are written from the point of view of the dominant affluent culture. It would naturally be difficult for the dominant culture to express the idea that their success is built on other people’s misery; nobody likes looking bad in their own eyes. However, facts are facts: Millions of natives WERE systematically driven off their lan! d and killed, millions of africans WERE kept in the most degrading forms of slavery, thousands of workers WERE beaten and killed for daring to act for a better life, etc. These WERE the conditions of life for the other side. Closing our eyes does not help.

  9. Alex Degus
    December 3rd, 2012 at 23:04 | #9

    Rating

    I have noticed a lot of critics saying that this book neglects to mention America’s achievments, that it is biased, liberal, radical, revisionist, communist..ect. But the point that these people are missing is that this book is intended to be biased. It is intended to be read as a supplement to the standard textbook American history. For my High Schol U.S. history course, we read this book as well as a more traditional and general text. This allows us to view American history with a very open and critical mind. It allows us to question history as well as the historian reciting it. What Mr. Zinn is trying to do is give us an alternate perspective upon America. A perspective that many of us are blind to. This book is to read with an open mind. Not with a liberal or conservative one. Whether you agree with Howard Zinn or not (I know I have disagreeded with him many times during the course of this reading as well as been in total concensus with) this book provides insight into America’s past that many people need to hear. One certainly shouldn’t jump to the conclusion that this book is the true American history because it is a very specific and biased one. The book should be read with a traditional history in mind. But one should also not disregard the ideas that this text has to offer. Obviously it has flaws. It was writen by a singal person with his own perspective on America. But every history book I have ever read (as a high school student that is many) has its flaws and its bias. That doesn’t invalidate what information it has to offer though. I believe this book should be a standard in classrooms to be read with a more standard U.S. text.

  10. Wyote
    December 4th, 2012 at 01:01 | #10

    Rating

    Even people who hate Howard Zinn admit that he’s a good scholar. But many people hate him, for sure–and you have to remember that when you’re reading some of these reviews. On the other hand, most of the reviewers seem to be communists themselves, and so their gushing reviews should surprise no one.

    I recommend the book with some reservations. Agree or disagree, perspectives like Zinn’s keep us from becoming ignorant victims of ideological propaganda.

    I recommend it because it is a great, well-informed, honest and self-conscious dissenting opinion. Anyone who wants to consider themselves educated needs to consider dissenting opinions frequently. But I have reservations. Most importantly, Zinn’s purpose is not to introduce someone to American history. He assumes his readers already know the basics. Of course, many people do not. It’s not a history of the US; it’s a series of contentious corrections to the history traditionally taught in American classrooms. (Why did the Colonies defeat the British? What caused the depression? Why did Nixon visit China? Unless you know this much, this book isn’t yet for you.)

    Some reviewers complained about Zinn’s tone. Zinn is an average writer; better than many academics but worse than any good writer.

    Other reviewers seemed to assume that either communists or far-right conservatives aren’t “students of history.” But of course some are. Zinn and Newt Gingrich are both well-informed scholars.

    (If it matters to you, I am neither communist nor right-wing; I’m just not a political thinker. I’m American, and I think Americans–all of us–can be proud and thankful; but we should recognize that our government and politicians have never been perfect. Ideologies often serve to control people, so dissenting opinions are vital for freedom’s perseverance. But democracy and moderated capitalism have often succeeded in blessing their people, while communism has evidently failed everywhere, with more gruesome histories even than capitalism.)

  11. Wyote
    December 6th, 2012 at 01:49 | #11

    Rating

    Even people who hate Howard Zinn admit that he’s a good scholar. But many people hate him, for sure–and you have to remember that when you’re reading some of these reviews. On the other hand, most of the reviewers seem to be communists themselves, and so their gushing reviews should surprise no one.

    I recommend the book with some reservations. Agree or disagree, perspectives like Zinn’s keep us from becoming ignorant victims of ideological propaganda.

    I recommend it because it is a great, well-informed, honest and self-conscious dissenting opinion. Anyone who wants to consider themselves educated needs to consider dissenting opinions frequently. But I have reservations. Most importantly, Zinn’s purpose is not to introduce someone to American history. He assumes his readers already know the basics. Of course, many people do not. It’s not a history of the US; it’s a series of contentious corrections to the history traditionally taught in American classrooms. (Why did the Colonies defeat the British? What caused the depression? Why did Nixon visit China? Unless you know this much, this book isn’t yet for you.)

    Some reviewers complained about Zinn’s tone. Zinn is an average writer; better than many academics but worse than any good writer.

    Other reviewers seemed to assume that either communists or far-right conservatives aren’t “students of history.” But of course some are. Zinn and Newt Gingrich are both well-informed scholars.

    (If it matters to you, I am neither communist nor right-wing; I’m just not a political thinker. I’m American, and I think Americans–all of us–can be proud and thankful; but we should recognize that our government and politicians have never been perfect. Ideologies often serve to control people, so dissenting opinions are vital for freedom’s perseverance. But democracy and moderated capitalism have often succeeded in blessing their people, while communism has evidently failed everywhere, with more gruesome histories even than capitalism.)

  12. Anonymous
    December 6th, 2012 at 17:06 | #12

    Rating

    THE GOOD: Professor Zinn raises important questions that test our long held assumptions about American history, and for this–the questions–the book should be read and discussed vigorously. The book is also very readible, with a flowing, yet serious style.

    THE BAD: Unfortunately, the book suffers from two fatal flaws, and for this reason does not belong in a classroom (college or otherwise). First, Zinn fails to cite adequately his sources (no footnotes or endnotes), leaving the reader with only a vague sense of his source material. This is particularly unacceptable for a work that admits to be controversial. His excuse, in the preface, that the footnotes would be too voluminous, is lame at best. Witness Pulitzer winning historian McCullough’s use of sources in his much acclaimed JOHN ADAMS.

    Second, in presenting his evidence, Zinn fails to quantify meaningfully the culpability of those historical figures he wishes to evaluate from the ‘people’s’ perspective, nor does he even discuss the limitations or challenges posed by the evidence, nor does he sufficiently discuss his methodology used for reaching his conclusions. Mostly, he simply cites judgments made in secondary sources. Any college student can do that, and we should expect more from a Harvard professor.

    For instance, in his chapter on Columbus, he indicates that two years after Columbus landed on Hispanola the native Arawak population had nearly all died. He also cites evidence of some gratuitously harsh treatment by the Spanish– but he does not really indicate the degree to which these events were isolated or the norm. Specifically: did the Arawaks perish as a result of systematic slaughter or from disease transmitted from Spanish soldiers? If only, say, 20% were slaughtered and the rest died from disease, our moral judgments would be different than if the case were reversed. This historical method characterizes his use of examples throughout the book: anecdotal pieces without proper context. To the extent Zinn fails to quantify or even discuss the problems of quantification (however crudely) he is really just putting on a slight of hand. He invites the unsuspecting (or unsophisticated) reader to adopt inferences that might not be warranted or which the reader’s emotions might have predisposed her.

    Hence, though well written and fascinating for the questions it raises, the book fails to make its case stick and can be misleading. Read it, but with extreme caution, and try to recognize the slights of hand for what they are. It’s a pity: his inquiry is important, but his method undermines his case.

  13. N. Aviles
    December 6th, 2012 at 23:01 | #13

    Rating

    While there is no doubt that Mr. Zinn is a communist at heart, there is also no doubt that Zinn’s view and presentation is very entertaining not to mention pretty factual. Let us not fool ourselves here my friends, every writer who writes about politics or history is going to have a bias and that bias is going to present itself in that author’s work.

    I am a Republican, born again Christian and I had no problem with Zinn’s views, simply because I am a realist. For years we were fed that nonsensical view of Christopher Columbus being a pious man coming to the Americas to bring salvation and religion to the indigenous people or simply just omitting the facts in American history studies that would show a very negative side of our founding fathers.

    (THIS IS NOT UNPATRIOTIC)

    I don’t agree with everything Mr. Zinn has said in this book but it is refreshing to see history told more correctly so than in our public school system which are suppose to educate not indoctrinate.

    To my dear republican brethren out there, do not feel that you have to put our fore fathers on a pedestal in order for you to feel patriotic and zealous for your country. The reason I can be a conservative Republican and still agree with a lot of what Zinn has to say is (1. I do not allow a party to think for me, I always keep an open mind, without an open mind we are no different then the followers of David Koresh and other cultic fanatics. (2. We have come a long way in this great country of ours and have much to be proud of regardless of your race or back ground. Let us not view things as liberal or right wing, just be open minded and sift through the facts in different history books and find the truth somewhere in the middle.

    I recommend this book. 4 out of 5 stars (-1 star for the indoctrinating tone)

  14. K. Mills
    December 7th, 2012 at 20:48 | #14

    Rating

    First of all, it’s important to keep in mind that this isn’t a history textbook. It’s more a lengthy editorial refuting all those Hooray For America history books we suffered through in school. Its purpose is to be as biased to the negative/socialist as your schoolbook was to the positive/capitalist. The point here is that if you’re new to the subject of American history, this wouldn’t be a good choice.

    For the most part, these pages ring depressingly true. If you ever look at the state of America today and shake your head in bafflement, People’s History will clear it up for you. There is no mistake being made now that hasn’t been made numerous times before, for exactly the same reasons.

    Zinn is truly in his element during America’s earlier history, and from Columbus through Vietnam he succeeds wonderfully in his goal to create a masterpiece of contrarian bias. He paints a vivid and important picture of a country built on genocide, slavery, oppression, and war; railing endlessly against the `corporate elite’ and sympathizing with the common worker, minorities, etc.

    Unfortunately, those sympathies sometimes degenerate into outright romanticizing. His statement that indigenous people’s wars were more ritualized than violent has been thoroughly debunked, the working man was taken advantage of for so long because his lack of cohesiveness and racism were easy to manipulate, and many of our enemies (i.e. the North Vietnamese) weren’t the swell guys Zinn makes them out to be.

    All this bias makes for brilliant, eye-opening stuff, but it also creates a bizarre disconnect. In reading Zinn’s interpretation of our history, there is no sense at all of progress. The country he describes would have collapsed beneath the weight of its own corruption and brutality. And yet, here we are, two hundred years later, the only hyperpower on the block. Seems like he might have left a few things out…

    After Vietnam, Zinn seems to get completely lost. As we push into an era where most of our oppressive hobgoblins have been slain and the interests of the corporations have largely merged with those of the working man, the narrative gets a little forced.

    An example from page 652: “In the early 90s…the American system was out of control-a runaway capitalism, a runaway technology, a runaway militarism, a running away of government from the people it claimed to represent. Crime was out of control, cancer and AIDS were out of control. Prices, taxes, and unemployment were out of control. The decay of cities and the breakdown of families was out of control.”

    Is that how you remember the nineties? Geez, I feel lucky to have just survived.

    From page 640: “The United States, with 5% of the [world's] population, consumed 30% of the world’s production. But only…the richest 1% of [Americans] benefited.”

    Oh, come on. I actually know a guy on the Fortune 400 and I can personally guarantee you that when he sits down for dinner he doesn’t eat a six point three million steaks. Nor does he own forty eight million pairs of bikini briefs. And his car does not consume six hundred thousand barrels of oil for every mile it travels.

    Zinn then gets downright loopy with his idea that there is a brewing revolution of the middle class in America against that pesky Corporate Elite. His theory seems to be that the problems of the middle class stem from the fact that we are being kept down by the man. Not sure where he’s going with this. Is he saying that our, uh, desperation is derived from the fact that, as average Americans, we can only afford two SUVs that we don’t need instead of two thousand like Bill Gates?

    His answer to our horrifying condition is to increase tax rates on the wealthy to 90%, do away with defense spending (which he always refers to in dollar numbers instead of percentages to make it seem like it’s 95% of the budget) and give it all to the poor. The fact that he thinks this would work in the U.S suggests that he didn’t read his own book.

    Bottom line? It’s one of the best books I ever read, but only because of the mountain of God Bless America propaganda that it attempts to balance. As a stand-alone history book, it wouldn’t be worth the paper it’s printed on.

    So maybe it deserves 5 stars, but I had to knock one off for all that aging hippy `let’s start a commune and wear hemp’ nonsense at the end. Particularly because Zinn missed an amazing opportunity to explore thoroughly what he only hinted at: that our oppressive tendencies haven’t gone away, they’ve just been refocused on the goal of becoming (sigh) the Robber Barons of the world. I suppose, though, that line of reasoning would force him to acknowledge that his beloved working-man is just as willing to work Cambodian children to death for a sweet pair of sneakers as Rockefeller was willing to work American children to death for a gold plated toilet…

  15. Anonymous
    December 9th, 2012 at 14:41 | #15

    Rating

    A great many people who have reviewed this book seem to be surprised and appalled that Zinn has focused on the dark side of the American story. This should have been painfully obvious from the title- The ‘PEOPLES’ History of the United States. I’m more surprised that so many people have reserved so much invective for an author who dares to write a history from the perspective of the marginalized majority of this country- a large group who haven’t always been on the recieving end of the American dream.

    Yes, this book is biased, but so is every flag waving history book I was forced to read when growing up. Kudos to Zinn for providing a counter balance to tear jerking stories of honest, kindhearted pilgrims searching for religious freedom.

    This book will be hard for some to swallow- especially those who have been raised on the jingoistic pap that many of our educational institutions call history. But this book is important and a must read for the serious student of American history. The old cliche’ that ‘history is written by the victors’ is true and this book is the voice of those who were under the boot. Read it!

Comments are closed.