3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
on April 29, 2003
Of course this book is not meant to be read as an all-encompassing version of American history. It is meant to be read as a sidenote to the conventional American history we are taught for so many years in school. Of course it's biased, but then again the history textbooks we read in school were biased. Those books were written with an unquestioned assumption that America as a country (which is defined by its leaders in the books) has always been correct (or at least well-meaning), and has always had liberty, freedom, and justice as our main inspiration. The Revolutionary War was the perfect battle between good and evil and everyone benefitted. Loyalists were humorously tarred and feathered (never killed). Atrocities like our meddling in the Phillipines is glossed over or ignored. I also always was amused by the fact that I was forced to take about 5 years of American history from 1st-12th grade, but we always ran out of time before we got to Vietnam, Watergate, and Iran Contra. I was 13 before I found out ON MY OWN that we lost the Vietnam War!
I'll gladly read "conventional" history, but I also believe this is essential reading to go along with it. That doesn't make me Anti-American, a leftist wacko, a self-hating Communist, or whatever it is you'd like to label me and dismiss me as. I just want the full story. I just want the truth. We should all strive for that, however much it may bruise our egos and damage our pride. Admit there's room for improvement America! Read this book! :)
1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
on April 23, 2003
This book is useful for quick references to lesser-known, yet significant events in American history. For example, if one wants to know what the deal was between the US and Nicaragua or Grenada, one can take a quick look through chapter 21.
However, I write this review as a sort of sensible defense of the book. I think that it does not necessarily bash the United States. It does, as others have noted, point out our (we Americans) shameful moments when we did not live up to our own high-minded self-perceptions. As the preeminent national power in the world, it is essential that the US take stock of its entire history that we should not be so arrogant and irresponsible with our power. To dismiss this book as a polemic against the American way of life may fail to appreciate what this book has to offer. To dismiss it as a Leftist screed is to bury one's head in the sand and ignore that American democracy does not ensure a just social outcome. As no nation is perfect, as genocide has been carried out by nearly all nations at some time, so has the United States.
Contrary to some assertions, Zinn does not find that all white guys are bad. There are many references in the book to those men and women who have championed the cause of justice and brotherhood. They are as often white as American apple pie. The more useful point is that "white guys" are no more saints than others have been throughout recorded history. In fact, Zinn at one point is explicit about the score of humans sacrificed by the Aztecs (who consequently were not white). So to suggest that Zinn is saying that all Caucasians are bad is to assume but one narrow point of reference.
Like others, I find that Zinn has his bias. But what the heck, his is the counter to the bulk of history books out there that largely ignore America's unsavory and downright aggressive moments. I would think that anyone who has been reading traditional history books should get a kick out of reading something so outrageous! If people care anything for truth, they should take Zinn's book, than take a traditional (non-Zinn) text, and make some comparisons. After reading the section on the Vietnam War (an unsavory moment to say the least) I wanted to get a hold of a copy of The Pentagon Papers to see for myself if Vietnam policy was as Zinn recorded it. Nothing wrong with that is there?
At any rate, everyone has a bias no matter how many PhDs he has hanging on the bathroom wall. To Zinn's credit, he is honest about it.
12 of 14 people found the following review helpful
on July 24, 2006
An absolutely jaw dropping account of our history. Rather than including blacks, natives, women, immigrants, workers and the poor's history in this book, I would say that Zinn basically excludes rich white men's history. The difference is beyond dumbfounding, its terrifying.
Indeed, this book is as scary in its implications as it is in its accounts of history. When 95% of books, television, and music come from exactly the people Zinn omits from this book, the phrase that comes to mind is "propaganda is to democracy - what violence is to totalitarianism."
A great book exposing the bias, propaganda, racism, oppression and murdurous nature inherent in our system.
11 of 13 people found the following review helpful
on June 17, 2004
This is an excellent book when looking for the truth about America and it's history. There are many out there that claim that this book is a lot of nonesense. They do not want to look at reality.
This country was founded on blood, sweat and tears of amazing men and women. Men and Women who wanted to see their dreams live on, who wanted to be free from the tyranical rule of England. What they dreamed of, is not the reality of America. Our government is all about greed, arrogance and getting more. It does not care who it has to step on to get it. Not even it's own people. This book takes care to note that the America we were striving for did not come to fruition.
Jefferson, Adams, Washington all said when it comes to foreign policy stay out of it. We get right in the middle of it. We start wars with countries that just want us to leave them alone. We take money from our poor and give it to our rich. We let people become homeless and sick so that our American Corporations can make another buck by outsourcing our jobs. We do not take care of our old, our sick, and our poor. We think about me, me, me. How can I get more? How can I get better? Not how can I help out!
We ALL as a country need to come together and fix the wrongs that have been made. We need to say "No more!" No more to big business, No more to outsourcing, No more to cheap, expendable merchandize, No more to leaving our people in the street to starve and die! NO MORE!
If you think that this great country is great, you need to look again. Look at how a new world order is in the making. Look at how we're losing our middle class. Look at how we're losing our freedoms, our privacy, and our right to choose. The direction we're moving in is not the one that I want to go in, and I know if our founding fathers were alive to see this they'd be taking the next boat out to parts unknown.
We need to take responsibility for what we have done, what we continue to do, and what we need to do. We need to apologize for stealing this land. We need to apology for having Mrs. Smith's only son Johnny killed in a War we had no business being in. We need to apologize to the middle easterners and get the hell out of their (see that? THEIR) country. We need to stop spending money on surveys and studies on things no one cares about and start spending more money on Education, Medical Costs, Prescriptions, Creating Jobs for our Citizens. We need to pay attention to America and it's people. Zinn points this out every step of the way in his book.
THIS IS A MUST READ!
This is for the man from the Soviet Union - true Communism is not what you had in the Soviet Union. To say that Marx's doctrin did not pan out in the USSR would be like saying that you used Apples in a Cherry Pie and couldn't understand why it wasn't a Cherry Pie. The USSR called it Communism but it wasn't. It was more of a Dictatorship with some Capitalism thrown in (Yes, I did say Capitalism - if you don't believe me go read some more history).
on May 30, 2003
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.)
on May 27, 2003
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.
on May 17, 2003
This was an excellent book because it offered me an angle to observe American histroy from which I had not previously been completely aware of. Although Zinn's views can sometimes go too far, I do think that even in the event of going too far he brings in new ideas that would provoke the reader into thinking about their veracity and therefore entering into a dialogue that does not always happen when reading. If you do not like liberal views this book is worth reading just to aquaint yourself with what the other side thinks and therefore strengthen your views from attacks; if you are liberal this book was written for you to salivate over. The many unmentioned or little mentioned groups of US history are given space in this book: women, blacks, unions, poor, etc. I found that I learned more about what is lamentable about America's past along with a greater appreciation for where America has come to be and where it still needs to go. A great thought provoking book that should be read by all Americans.
on May 14, 2003
I always hated history all through school. I was so tired of hearing about how great every American was and the candy coated version of American history most students are fed from the begining of their public school education. When I was a junior in high school (a Catholic High School) my amazing, awesome history teacher gave us a photocopy (illegal, yes I know) of the first chpater of this book. He had to give us a photocopy of the book because the book had been banned from the educational program by the PTA because it was "Communist Prodaganda." He told us "I am giving this to you because I want you to that the book I am supposed to use is in no way 100% accurate. I want you to do your own research and draw your own conclusions about how America started." He was nice enough to give me his copy of the Peoples History, I read it like a novel. Since then I have become very passionate about American History. So passionate that it is my college major. This book is important, brilliant and an essential book to every American. I'm sure almost everyone remembers being asked in school "why do we study history?" and I'm also sure we all remember "because we have to know where we come from, history repeats itself." It's times like these that this rings so, so true. History is repeating itself as we speak, and we if we aren't educated on the truth of our history and our present, we are doomed to not have a future.
on May 2, 2003
Yes, this book will teach you everything your grammar school teacher forgot to mention about the history of the United States, the events leading up to its creation, but also the subsequent events that brought us to the current so-called war on terrorism. My only gripe is that with every page, I lose faith in humanity more and more. But that's of course, no fault of Zinn's. The fault lies with human greed and the desire for power. When I read the newspapers today, I think, will things ever get better? Will the lies and deception finally be revealed and will our civil liberties be reinstated so that we can have some faith in this country once again? But then I read this book and discovered we've been doing this for centuries. So why would it stop now?
We can't change history (although many have succeeded in rewriting it), but we can change the history we make. So, you can read your grammar school history books and stay comfortably ignorant, but something will keep nagging at you, something just won't seem right in all that you read and all that you're told by the powers that be. And then you'll say to yourself, I need to know the truth. When you get there, read this book. This will be the start of your learning the truth - uncomfortable yes, but the truth nonetheless. And then, pass it on to all your friends who also desire to know the truth, and who truly want a better America that promises life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness for ALL its citizens and residents. And then together, we can all make the changes necessary to accomplish this worthy task.
And that's your homework for the rest of your life. Class dismissed.
on May 1, 2003
This is my second reading of Zinn's classic account of American History. Please be forewarned! This book will likely make you uncomfortable about what our past was. No matter. In the end when all is said and done we are a product of what we were and judging by what America is today we have done very well.
Zinn gives you a perspective on history that is different from other scholars (ex. Samuel Eliot Morison). There is the good, the bad and the plain very bad. Ther are no glossy pictures and maps.
The writing is crisp and the text is peppered with anecdotes. This is not a "leftist" view of American history. All nations have their skeletons. This book bares it all.
How amazing is America! In spite of all we have made tremendous progress. Some reviews have categorized Zinn as a "leftist" with an axe to grind. I found no such bias. Instead I suspect the author's love for his country shows by his precise depiction of our past.
This is a book that will require some honest introspection. An excellent work that needs to be read by all Americans.