You Can't Be Neutral on a Moving Train: A Personal History of Our Times
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You Can't Be Neutral on a Moving Train: A Personal History of Our Times

4.29 of 5 stars 4.29  ·  rating details  ·  1,605 ratings  ·  106 reviews
Howard Zinn, author of A People's History of the United States, tells his personal stories about more than thirty years of fighting for social change, from teaching at Spelman College to recent protests against war.

A former bombardier in WWII, Zinn emerged in the civil rights movement as a powerful voice for justice. Although he's a fierce critic, he gives us reason to hop...more
Paperback, 224 pages
Published September 5th 2002 by Beacon Press (first published 1994)
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Nomy
this was the book that politicized my mom when she was in her forties. i had been a rebellious, critical kid for many years, and she had been a busy, tired middle school teacher and mom. she read this book and got all excited, she made my brother, who was in high school, read it too and discuss it with her. she went on to start teaching from "a people's history," started going to anti-racist activist gatherings and workshops, organizing diversity trainings for her school, housing books-to-prison...more
shaw
Before I really knew anything about Zinn other than that he wrote A People's History, he and Noam Chomsky always blurred in my ignorant mind -- anti-war, activists, teachers, white men from the Northeast. It was easy for me to forget how Zinn worked alongside the likes of Ella Baker, James Baldwin, MLK, Fannie Lou Hamer, and Stokley Carmichael and was a teacher to Alice Walker, Marian Wright Edelman, and countless others. A humble man. . . it's amazing to see how much he has done, shared, and co...more
John Gonzalez
It's been years since I had read this book and it is shameful that one forgets any of it. This is the book that probably captures the essence of Howard Zinn as my intellectual hero.

More than an academic, Howard Zinn was the type of person that never forgot the struggle of growing up poor. He never forgot the challenges, the strife, and never lost the compassion for others even as his fortunes improved. A former bombardier, Zinn arrived at the notion that war was just a way to brutalize all thos...more
Adam
Feb 26, 2012 Adam rated it 5 of 5 stars
Recommends it for: Everyone.
Undoubtedly one of the most powerful books I've read.

My first introduction to Zinn came at the great expense, and weight, of A People's History. While I didn't have the tenacity to make my way all the way through, the idea of an alternative history book really peaked my interest in its author.

Upon my brother's return from a semester at Morehouse College, where he spent most of his time in classes at Spelman College, he eagerly dropped Zinn's memoir into my lap, insisting I take it with me to sch...more
Vaishak
Howard Zinn’s inspirational memoir is one of a kind. It traces a few anecdotes from his life’s events, but its principal thrust comes from telling the stories of extraordinary people doing extraordinary things, Howard Zinn among them. The people are extraordinary in the sense that they are ordinary people challenging the status quo, challenging oppression, putting themselves up for sacrifice for our common good.

Howard Zinn has been called many things: from being a radical to be a troublemaker, b...more
Jenn
Feb 10, 2012 Jenn rated it 5 of 5 stars
Shelves: 2012
This is very much a "preaching to the choir" kind of book so I don't expect my right wing family to read or enjoy this book. However, Howard Zinn's amazing life and support of civil disobedience gives me hope for America at large. Not everyone agrees with the mainstream and some choose to stand up for what they think is right, even when it puts them in danger. God bless you, Dr. Zinn. The world missed you terribly.
Noah
Howard Zinn is one of my heroes and this book just confirms that he led a life that is truly worth emulating. I'd read the last paragraph of this book years ago and quote the last line in every talk I give about why I run a socially conscious design firm. Read this short memoir and have your belief that our world can improve reaffirmed.
Benjamin
A very insightful, humorous, and moving memoir from someone intimately involved in American history from World War II until now. Zinn's voice comes through clearly in his writing, and he pulls no punches in discussing the various movements (especially the Civil Rights movements of the 50's and 60's) he participated in and the constant antagonism those movements faced from those who viewed them as a threat to stability and the status quo.

His discussion of the strife he and his fellow professors f...more
ben
I am still a huge fan of Zinn. His writing is humble but so smart. He inspires me to do more, be more, and live bigger.
Lee Hertzler
A disturbing but important book. We need to be educated!
Heather
Easy to read
I like his fight to teach that democracy requires alternate opinions of the people.
The book is Zinn's personal explanation of how events of the civil rights movement and Vietnam war happened. It was eye opening to read his perspective.
Zinn also focuses on small acts of defiance or speaking as being important.
Laura
Nov 06, 2007 Laura rated it 5 of 5 stars
Recommends it for: anyone interested in civil rights mvt, looking for inspiration in dark political times
Shelves: biographies
Howard Zinn has been a hero of mine since I read People's History when I was an undergrad.

Lest we forget, it was not long ago that people were being beaten, shot and hauled off to prision for-- wanting to vote-- for-- wanting equal rights. Zinn tells his personal account of the Civil Rights era, what he saw, how small acts built momentum, and why we should not give up in the face of apparent 'impossibility.' He documents personal and larger social history, drawing a picture of inspiring people,...more
Seth Lynch
This is an engrossing autobiography by Howard Zinn. Through his life of activism he has shown episodes and incidents which give him hope when faced with the oppressive tyranny of government. The reasons for this hope have two main aspects, that there are people who will preserve despite the odds and that a movement for change is made up of such individuals. Change is rarely about one event, one rally, one person, it is about many small changes, it involves many failures, and at first may appear...more
Winter Branch
Sep 04, 2007 Winter Branch rated it 5 of 5 stars
Recommends it for: most people
Shelves: nonfiction
This is my favorite Zinn book. Personal life mixed with the teaching of history while making history. Most of the book centers on Zinn's life teaching in the South during the Civil Rights Movement.

check this link out (its the whole book online):
You Can't Be Neutral on a Moving Train
Sam Motes
Zinn truly did have a front row seat to history that he embraced. Zinn continues to focus on the individual and small acts that build to a crescendo of action. His involvement in civil rights and the anti war movement was eye opening. I had heard of the use of napalm on Royan but never knew Zinn was one of the American's that dropped the ordinance. That truly had a profound impact on Zinn. This was a great book and cab truly broaden ones perspective on the events that made us what we are today a...more
Nurettin Tan
Demokratım, hümanistim diyen herkesin okuması gereken bir kitap.
Graham
An entertaining, easy read. Zinn was a great writer and thinker and I personally think that anybody who lives in the US should have to read his "People's History Of The United States." In this, his memoir, the reader is offered a glimpse of the forces that shaped his thinking. It's nothing too earth-shaking, certainly lacking much of the insight for which he's better known, and can occasionally seem self-congratulatory. But it's worth reading either as an introduction to the man himself or as a...more
Allison Barnes
To call Zinn a hero wouldn't be an understatement at all - though calling him a badass wouldn't be so far off either.
This book is inspiring. The entire duration of my (very short) read through it, I wanted to do more with my life and to stand up for all the things I have very strong opinions about.
The death of Zinn was a very sad time for our nation, but we have his words and his actions to inspire us to make changes for ourselves and other generations. I have no doubt that his impact will live...more
Medic2887
Overall good read. Zinn is not afraid to pat himself on the back and seems to put himself up on a moral pedestal at several points. Aside from that, it is a great personal retrospect into the life of a political activist during the craziest times of the 19th century.

Reading this book motivated me to look at the things in my life that needed change (minuscule compared to the challenges zinn faced) and begin to stand up and make them, little or big, easy or hard.

Read it
Zoe Kipping
Zinn pens a thrilling recollection of his lifetime as an agitator and academic for social change. Recounting his years in the Student Non-Violent Coordinating Committee, the Vietnam Anti-War Movement, in Union organizing, and in knock-down drag-out fights in academia with a tyrannical university president, Zinn manages to distill a powerful message of hope from a clear and concise account of struggle from below. A must read!
Luke Peterson
Feb 20, 2007 Luke Peterson rated it 4 of 5 stars
Recommends it for: lost liberals
This guy (best known perhaps for writing A Peoples History of the United States) has a really incredible story, and this is his autobiography.

The part that stands out the most in my memory is his accounts of his work in the civil rights movement.

It's one of those books that helps bring perspective on the political movements of last century, and how the stuff we're talking about today fits in.
Kyaw Win Tun
The whole book is powerful, especially the introduction. Zinn could describe "ethnographic accounts" of civil rights movements and anti Vietnam war movements in "charged language"as his view point was "biased" towards justice, which goes hand in hand with civil disobedience. His toll of the bells for moral conflict, power of certain ordinary people's just cause, and hope is ringing throughout the book.
Ryan Mishap
Memoirs aren't as useful as autobiographies for getting a personal tour of history, but Zinn has been around some of the most important movements of the twentieth century in the U.S. and he is an able tour guide to his life. Of particular interest was his time at Spelman college and growing up in the city surrounded by socialists, anarchists, and other radicals, many recent immigrants from Europe.
Thing Two
Reading this memoir for me was a bit like reading Laura Hillenbrand's Unbroken; Howard Zinn has had some incredible experiences.

I can't say that I agree with all of his beliefs, but his optimism in the face of so much pessimistic behavior is remarkable. In Zinn's words: "If we see only the worst, it destroys our capacity to do something." Exactly, Mr. Zinn. Exactly.
Noah
Follows Zinn through his work during the civil rights era. I've always been a fan (except in high school when I called him nasty names in my history class but I was a republican then) but he walks the line in this between telling stories of a difficult and amazing time and doing it with a holier-than-all attitude. Like a more academic Michael Moore, at least on this one.
Klemens
Howard Zinn was one of the greatest minds of the 20st and 21st century. "You can't be neutral on a moving train" is one of the most fascinating biographies ever written.

"The be hopeful in bad times is not just foolishly romantic. It is based on the fact that human history is a history not only of cruelty, but also of compassion, sacrifice, courage, kindness."
Ben
A wonderful look into the life of an educator and activist who firmly believed, along with the likes of MLK, Dante Alighieri, and Elie Wiesel, that neutrality in matters of great importance only aids the oppressor. The power of Zinn is that he highlights injustices, but always gives readers hope. The documentary version is also great, narrated by Matt Damon.
Sean T
This is one of three books that I keep in my book bag at all times to keep me moving forward, to keep me inspired. Howard Zinn is my 20th Century inspiration to do the things that I do. His memoir helps me remain motivated to continue on. I recommend this to absolutely anyone interested in how to make a difference in the world.

Plain and simple.
Mk
At a talk he was giving, Howard Zinn was asked why he had so much hope, given all of the inequity in the world which he understood so well. Realizing that he couldn't respond in just a few sentences, he decided to write an autobiography of his personal involvement in social justice movement. The result is inspiring and gives me more hope.
Marc
A close up look at the early civi lrights movement. Zinn taught at Spelman in the early sixties. He takes you on an intimate journey into World War II and Vietnam. I am touched by his gentle yet powerful activisim, his praise for the authentic experience, the stories, the courage. I couldn't help but to feel inspired to take more risks.
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1899
Howard Zinn was a historian, playwright, and social activist. He was a shipyard worker and Air Force bombardier before he went to college under the GI Bill and received his Ph.D. from Columbia University. He taught at Spelman College and Boston University, and was a visiting professor at the University of Paris and the University of Bologna. He received the Thomas Merton Award, the Eugene V. Debs...more
More about Howard Zinn...
A People's History of the United States: 1492 - Present A People's History of American Empire The Zinn Reader: Writings on Disobedience and Democracy Voices of a People's History of the United States The Twentieth Century: A People's History

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“I am convinced that imprisonment is a way of pretending to solve the problem of crime. It does nothing for the victims of crime, but perpetuates the idea of retribution, thus maintaining the endless cycle of violence in our culture. It is a cruel and useless substitute for the elimination of those conditions--poverty, unemployment, homelessness, desperation, racism, greed--which are at the root of most punished crime. The crimes of the rich and powerful go mostly unpunished.

It must surely be a tribute to the resilience of the human spirit that even a small number of those men and women in the hell of the prison system survive it and hold on to their humanity.”
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“The power of a bold idea uttered publicly in defiance of dominant opinion cannot be easily measured. Those special people who speak out in such a way as to shake up not only the self-assurance of their enemies, but the complacency of their friends, are precious catalysts for change.” 35 likes
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