Top critical review
Is This American History?
on December 20, 2002
Those who read A People's History of the United States 1492-Present may think that Howard Zinn is the embodiment of a modern day Karl Marx. Despite Zinn's socialistic views, this comparison is, perhaps, a little extreme; however, it's fairly obvious that Mr. Zinn does not support America's capitalistic-based system. In all fairness to Mr. Zinn, I'm sure he, like many Americans, simply long for a more egalitarian socioeconomic structure that is absent the huge chasm between rich and poor that defines our country today.
Given this backdrop, one should expect that A People's History of the United States 1492-Present is not a typical high school history lesson. One of Mr. Zinn's objectives in this book is to correct a long-standing wrong. The wrong, according to Zinn, is that traditional American history is biased and one-sided because it is presented from the perspective of the conqueror, statesman, capitalist, and aristocrat. To correct this wrong -- to achieve a balance of understanding -- Mr. Zinn presents his history lesson from the perspective of the conquered, the governed, the laborer, and the commoner - that is, "the People."
Because Zinn believes that most accounts of history are so one-sided, favoring the privileged classes, A People's History of the United States 1492-Present is equally if not more biased, favoring the downtrodden rather than the well to do. Partisanship is the only way to balance the scales of history. Therefore, readers can expect extensive coverage of the darker days of America's past (e.g., slavery and Vietnam) including many detailed stories documenting the struggles of Indians, Negroes, laborers, women, and children.
An unfortunate side effect of this approach is that Zinn is also extremely critical of the people, events, and ideas that fuel our patriotic pride. For example, Columbus is not presented as the explorer who discovered America, but as a perpetrator of genocide; the founding fathers are not portrayed as true patriots or revolutionaries, but self-centered aristocrats concerned only with preserving their wealth and status in society; Lincoln was motivated not by desegregation or Negro rights, but by political advancement; World War II was not a battle against fascist communist regimes, but a mechanism to preserve the power and wealth of the elite (did the U.S. government know off, and actually allow unfold, the bombing of Pearl Harbor as Zinn implies?).
Zinn's wrath of the U.S. sytem will likely shake the foundation of of many citizens' nationalistic beliefs, leading them to ask, "is this country so great after all?" If fact, Zinn is so critical at times, that one may ask is there anything good about America? The consequence of this is that Zinn comes off as anti-American.
If you're not familiar with Mr. Zinn or his perspective on things, I recommend you read pages 8-11 first, then Chapter 24, and then the Afterward. You may want to also visit his web page. Doing this will expose Zinn's beliefs and motivations, and allow readers to place Zinn's stories in the proper context.
The key to enjoying and benefiting from this book is to understand the author's point of view from the beginning: People with land, money, and power are bad, while people without land, money, and power are good. This book is biased -- those who want a complete version of U.S. history will not get it here. Instead, readers must draw from both traditional and nontraditional (ala Mr. Zinn) accounts of America's past to formulate their own opinions and beliefs - that is, to achieve their own balance of understanding. From this standpoint, A People's History of the United States 1492-Present is a must read.