- Hardcover: 672 pages
- Publisher: Seven Stories Press (Oct. 15 2004)
- Language: English
- ISBN-10: 1583226478
- ISBN-13: 978-1583226476
- Product Dimensions: 15.9 x 3.8 x 23.5 cm
- Shipping Weight: 975 g
- Average Customer Review: Be the first to review this item
- Amazon Bestsellers Rank: #4,867,853 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)
Voices of A People's History of the United States Hardcover – Oct 5 2004
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Howard Zinn is famous primarily for A People's History of the United States, the book in which he presented alternative versions of American milestones, including Columbus's "discovery" of the New World. Voices of a People's History of the United States is the follow-up to that original landmark work, but where People's History contained Zinn's interpretations of events, Voices turns the platform over to others, in a collection of first-hand accounts, journal entries, speeches, personal letters, and published opinion pieces from the nation's history.
The purpose of Zinn's work, Voices included, is to engage in an act of political dissidence and activism. "What is common to all of these voices," Zinn and co-editor Anthony Arnove write in the book's introduction, "is that they have mostly been shut out of the orthodox histories, the major media, the standard textbooks, the controlled culture ... to create a passive citizenry." With Voices, Zinn and Arnove seek to address that malaise, showing that the impossible--slaves rising up against their slave masters, for example--is not only possible, but has occurred repeatedly throughout the country's history. "Whenever injustices have been remedied, wars halted, women and blacks and Native Americans given their due," they write, "it has been because 'unimportant' people spoke up, organized, protested, and brought democracy alive." The common thread throughout Voices is this mandate, and each selection is preceded by a brief introduction by the authors, written from a far-left perspective. (As an example, one section is titled "The Carter-Reagan-Bush Consensus.")
Voices often works better as a reference book than a sit-down-to-read title. Its early chapters--on Columbus, slavery, the War of Independence, and the early women's movement--tend to be more engaging than later excerpts, largely because a contrary point of view to mainstream mythology has been so rarely heard. The modern sections have a haphazard, "greatest hits of the left" feeling, as the book jumps from an Abbie Hoffman speech to the lyrics of Public Enemy's "Fight the Power." The problem may be inherent in the format of the book. Everything is treated equally, and a speech by Danny Glover is given as much weight as an excerpt from W.E.B. DuBois's The Souls of Black Folk. For context and background, it's best to stick with the original People's History, but to hear the words right from the speakers' mouths, there's no better resource than Voices. --Jennifer Buckendorff --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.
Voices really captures the voices as if they were speaking right to us over the years and all the differences.It calls on us to add our own voices and, quite apart from its value as a learning tool, that may be its greatest contribution.” Paul Buhle, Z Magazine
Voices of a People’s History of the United States should be required reading for every individual lucky enough to call America home.” Scott Thill, Salon.com
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But because most humans throughout history did not record their experiences, the historian is left wanting for accurate appraisals of these experiences. Diaries, journals, and other personal writings can assist the historian in this regard, and there have been many uses of these throughout the historical literature. It is important to remember though that because of the paucity of these personal documents, one should not be too hasty in imputing the opinions of their authors to the entire population at the time. One cannot view them as representing the "voices of the people" without establishing this with (difficult) statistical analysis.
Sometimes however these documents were written more as a catharsis, as a way of expressing, in a strong and determined way, an idea, grievance, or opposition to the status quo. The opening quotation in the book by Frederick Douglass reinforces this view, for in that quotation Douglass essentially states that power must be challenged before it can be defeated (Douglass does not want to stop with mere words though, for in the same quotation he asserts the need for physical confrontation if necessary).
It is in this light that this book should be read. It is a collection of essays and letters that reveal attitudes that are not the typical ones that one would be exposed to in United States secondary schools. Those readers familiar with the author's earlier book on United States history will appreciate this book even more, but both can be read independently of each other. This is not a book that will please the elitist historian who discounts any view of history that does not magnify the contributions of intellectuals or military leaders over and above the "common" person. It is a book for those who are genuinely interested in the moods and aspirations of the people of a given time, if only from a limited vantage point. It will certainly upset the intellectual equilibrium of anyone who holds to a view of American history that has been sanitized by the educational establishment.