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! :)
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.
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.
on April 21, 2003
Since I'm not an "academic" or historian, I can not verify every detail contained in this book as factual or not. However, to those who would suggest that the overall gist is severely biased, a cursory knowledge of history is all you need to know that indeed oppression and exploitation of minorities and women are concrete foundations upon which this country was built. Of course every empire has been forged with these same tools, and some people's ... equivalency may cause them to a sort of felicific calculus in which the USA is considered the least oppressive and violent of the great empires (Rome, Britain, Ottoman, etc.)and therefore should escape any culpability, but I don't feel that's the case.
The book to me does not equate into a simple message of "People with land, money, and power are bad, while people without land, money, and power are good" as one reviewer wrote, but rather the message that people with land, money and power will commit very [horrible] acts and propagate a terribly inequitable system to KEEP their land, money and power at a very great human cost. Call it socialism if you will, but slavery, patriarchy, and [destruction] are inescapable articles of evidence that are in fact contained in school textbooks, but are often glossed over with the "healing" lacquer of time and distance.
The reason I think this book's message is important is not because it promotes "anti-Americanism" but because these figures of history who we see as great men and heroes were in fact the same breed of creature who still live, walk, work and control human society today. The past blends seamlessly into the present and inexorably into the future, and we should never be fooled into thinking that the hideous motivations which shaped our history are safely locked into the distant past. In order to reconcile the historical injustices which have brought us where we are at and which continue to this day, we need to be very sober in our remembrance of the world we have created, and the people who were trampled on and forgotten to create "the greatest country on Earth".
Good book, give it a read.
on March 26, 2003
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."
on February 21, 2003
It's notable that many people (1 in 10?) seem to have a predictable response to this book. Given the reviews they left I'm rather dissapointed that Amazon[.com] leave them on. Not that I advocate censorship of opinions but it's rather unproductive for people thinking of urchasing this book. And it is an excellent book.
It will challenge the readers assumptions and simply tell the story of America from another perspective. It's not written denigrate America or to assassinate characters or even to imply that there were no heroic Americans. There have always been American heroes but I think we've been worshipping the wrong ones. Malcom X and Kovic are as great as Morgan and Lincon.
The poor, working classes have always been treated as expendable commodities in all systems. Medieval Europe, 20th century Russia and 21st century America all have this in common.
To quote Langston Hughes' "Harlem: A Dream Deferred"
What happens to a dream deferred?
Does it dry up
like a raisin in the sun
Or fester like a sore-
And then run?
Does it stink like rotten meat?
Or crust and sugar over-
Like a syrupy sweet?
Maybe it just sags
like a heavy load.
Or does it explode?