Howard Zinn – A People’s History of the United States (1980)


While this book has been sitting in my bookshelf for a while now, I just got around to reading it. When I started, I had a vague idea of what Howard Zinn was setting about to do in this book, and was therefore not overly shocked by anything written. Here, Zinn is attempting to present a history of the United States that deviates from the dominant narrative that so many grow up learning. Beginning with Columbus, Zinn exposes the great myths of the United States detailing the ways in which Indians, African Americans, women, immigrants, and the working poor, have all been oppressed an exploited by the American system, namely middle-class white men and big business.

While as a leftist Professor, and an anti-Vietnam war activist, Howard Zinn is not very objective, it does not matter. In fact the chapters written on the Vietnam War are, in my opinion, the strongest in this book. The great thing is, that Zinn proves that people do not have to be neutral to write history. Historians have this obsession with having an objective eye and remaining unbiased when writing. I, for one, have never understood this, and applaud Zinn’s embrace of his partiality. While Zinn had very string views, and I do not necessarily agree with all of them, it doesn’t matter.

The one problem I did have was that while in his attack on the dominant narrative of American history, Zinn is critical of the focus on the personalities of individual men, he does the same this while criticizing the same men. When speaking about the various Presidents, Zinn relies on their quirks and personality flaws more so than being critical of the office of the Presidency itself. It is clear that Zinn does not think that the system is working, but he puts too much emphasis on the President’s themselves.

Even though Howard Zinn passed away in 2010, this book will remain relevant for many years, and should be more widely read than it already is.

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