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A People's History of the United States: 1492–Present
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A People's History of the United States: 1492–Present

4.12 of 5 stars 4.12  ·  rating details  ·  77,670 ratings  ·  3,274 reviews
Known for its lively, clear prose as well as its scholarly research, A People's History of the United States is the only volume to tell America's story from the point of view of -- and in the words of -- America's women, factory workers, African-Americans, Native Americans, working poor, and immigrant laborers.
Paperback, 768 pages
Published August 2nd 2005 by Harper Perennial Modern Classics (first published 1980)
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(showing 1-30 of 3,000)
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Caris
Jun 20, 2010 Caris rated it 5 of 5 stars
Recommended to Caris by: Bob Cutler
Shelves: 2010
When I was young, I was taught that Columbus discovered America. He landed at Plymouth Rock and was met by the indigenous peoples of the country. Together, they celebrated the landing and had am admirable feast. To commemorate this moment, henceforth known as Thanksgiving, my classmates and I threaded dried fruit necklaces and made headbands, complete with feathers.

I was taught this same course of events all throughout elementary school. At some point along the way, though likely not through fo
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Mike (the Paladin)
Update: I took this out of the library to attempt a reread...no changes, wanted to be fair. Still don't care for it. As noted, no changes.


Oh my goodness aren't we brave to tell (re-tell) American history this way? "You've been lied to and only I have the strength of character to tell you about it"

Yeah, yeah, yeah I've heard it all before. In C.S. Lewis' Great Divorce there's a high churchman of the Church of England who's going on about how brave he was to take a secular stand and renouncing "t
...more
Billy
Aug 11, 2007 Billy rated it 1 of 5 stars  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: Someone who hates America, success, and all thats right with the world
DO NOT READ THIS BOOK! EVER! BURN IT! HOWARD ZINN SHOULD BE DRAWN AND QUARTERED IN A PUBLIC FORUM!!!

Seriously though, when I describe my highschool sophomore year history class I generally use the following sentence, "The theme of sophomore year history was: White people - bad, the downtrodden - good." Howard Zinn's "A People's History of the United States" was our textbook. I HATE THIS BOOK! His basic thesis is that America was built on the blood and suffering of the poor. And while this is def
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Megan
Jun 23, 2007 Megan rated it 4 of 5 stars  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: all Americans
I finally finished this after slogging through it for two weeks, and it was definitely worth it. Besides being a good refresher in U.S. history, particularly from a non-nationalist perspective, I learned a lot about people's movements, and the ways that people (as opposed to 'the great men of history') have created change in our country.

It's good to know that some of what Zinn covers in A People's History, even though unorthodox at the time he wrote it, has already filtered into public education
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Keely
Howard Zinn saw a problem in the world, a great bias in our understanding of history, a history written by the winners--by tyrants and industrial magnates and warmongers--and so he did something about it: he created an equally flawed and opposed bias, just as carefully constructed to prop up his own one-sided conclusion, in an act which always calls to my mind Bob Dylan's line:
"In a soldier's stance, I aimed my hand. At the mongrel dogs who teach. Fearing not that I'd become my enemy. In the in
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Jeffrey
Actually, if you're even somewhat familiar with American History (and I'm not talking about what you learned in your politically correct high school readers, even though in recent years more of the 'bad stuff' is leaking out to our high school students), there's nothing new here. So why are so many upset by Zinn? Most say they are bothered by Zinn's subjectivity (but who cares? after all, it's his book) and what some say is his "whining" tone. Hey, this will help you build your critical thinking ...more
Jim
As a reference or an additional information source, this isn't terrible (4 stars). It really does hit a lot of high points & some that other histories have left out. The writing is good. While dry, it is readable & conveys a lot of information. My copy is an old one that only goes through the Vietnam war. He has updated versions to 2003, I believe.

It is NOT a balanced view of our history & is proposed reading for schools (minus 1 star). It shouldn't be unless read with other material
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Carlton
Nov 19, 2007 Carlton added it
Recommends it for: Read cautiously
I don't know why teachers would make kids read a book about America written by someone with so little clarity. In the World According to Zinn, Americans (especially THE RICH ) are responsible for all the bad things that have happened in the last 2 centuries.If you believe as he does that America has been a net bad for the world, then by all means read this book. Hell, memorize it. If you believe that America has been a net good in the world, then read it so you can understand the damage it has d ...more
Diane
I loved this so much that I'm going to resort to hyperbole: If you read only one book about American history, let it be this one.

This is not a typical history book. Instead of telling the stories of the victors, Howard Zinn focused on those who have been oppressed in the United States. The minorities. The protesters. The downtrodden.

In the preface to the updated edition about the Twentieth Century, Zinn wrote: "It is obvious in the very first pages of the larger People's History, when I tell ab
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Emily
Mar 27, 2008 Emily rated it 4 of 5 stars
Recommends it for: America haters
Shelves: booksofthepast
People who don't approve of Zinn's equal opportunity perspective of history love to call him an America hater. I'm sure that George W. Bush would say that he's an enemy of freedom. But the thing that I love so much about Zinn and this book is his consistent ability to portray the United States (as defined by its history) as so much more than a static, monolitichly motivated country. Traditional approaches to history tell a student that our country was founded by white Christian men with lots of ...more
Michael
The ratings on this book tend to be polarized here on Goodreads, with lots of people giving it 5 or 4 stars, and quite a few giving it 1. This is because this book is upfront about where it stands politically: Howard Zinn runs with the notion that poor people tend to be exploited by rich ones. (GASP!) If you agree with this general human tendency, yet STILL believe we should teach the NERFed version of American History--where Columbus is a swell fella, the Native Americans were using the land wr ...more
Andrew
A well written, but severely flawed historical work.
It reads more like sociology than history, with Zinn's concern for social groups and people's movements. Now, at a certain point, those areas with overlap, but for the most part he seems less concerned with getting to a historical truth than preaching a message. At that point, one has to wonder how he deals with contradictory evidence and conflicting opinions. Does he grapple with them and try to sift through all the available evidence? Or does
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John
History as it's told in our high school history textbooks is history that focuses on American leaders, whether political, military, or business. Zinn argues convincingly that we need also to see history as it happened to "the people," and that this perspective is by no means synonymous with that of America's elites. In fact, the official line in America's history and politics has been that America is basically one big middle class. Certainly, America long had a larger middle class than most of t ...more
Brian

Nobody likes to look in the mirror and see a big zit. Zinn makes us do so and a lot of people don't like that (it's not polite to point out zits). America has seen itself as perfect for a long time and we are taught that all the way from grade school through college (and every day on Fox News). People say Zinn blames America for everything. Honestly the bull shit has been so steeped the other way for so long, it forced his hand to go over the top in pointing our our flaws. The truth is probably
...more
P.J. Sullivan
Oct 11, 2012 P.J. Sullivan rated it 5 of 5 stars
Recommends it for: everyone
Shelves: history
History is about power, said Eugen Weber. This one is about the powerless majority, the humble members of society. The farmers, mechanics, laborers. The Native Americans dispossessed of their land. The slaves dispossessed of their liberty. The women and children, the rent payers, the downtrodden. This is the flip side of the elitist history you learned in school. It is not about kings or presidents, founding fathers or saviors or statesmen. It is "disrespectful of governments and respectful of p ...more
Ryan A
"Zinn will blow your hair back." Thanks Matt Damon. This book was long, drawn out and boring. Do I really care to learn about every single union leader and strike in America? No, but most U.S. History Teachers think you do. Do yourself a favor, pick an interesting sentence in the introduction and write a paper about that. Save yourself a lot of trouble.
Sam Sanford
Do you think the U.S. government's domination by business interests and the wealthy is a relatively recent development? Think the founding fathers would be appalled by the current situation? Think Republicans are responsible for tax cuts for the rich? Think Democrats are the party of the working class? Think JFK was a pretty good guy? Think U.S. involvementin WWII was morally motivated?
If you want to find out why you're wrong about all these things, if you want clear evidence that our government
...more
Brian
Why write a history of the United States when you know it is one-sided and basically propaganda? I understand his stated reasons for writing the book but I think the truth is better than "this is propaganda to fight mainstream history that I think is propaganda." Any one-sided historical accounts are not worth people's time and knowingly writing one is a waste of time. The truth remains obscured.
Rachel
This book taught me more about U.S. history than any class I ever took. I was never interested in history in school. Maybe I was just a budding socialist predisposed to reject the presidents-and-wars perspective. Maybe it was just boring.

Zinn's history is more accurate to what was actually going on than the textbooks are, and much more interesting. Viewing U.S. history as a struggle to gain and keep power on the part of the very rich, I began to see parallels with our own time, time-tested tric
...more
sydney
Jun 19, 2007 sydney rated it 5 of 5 stars
Recommends it for: historians, teachers, curious americans
Holy pignolia, this took me a long time to read.

But it was worth it. Zinn takes you from Columbus's arrival in North America all the way up to the crazy (read: corrupt) 2000 presidential election, highlighting the stories that don't normally get told in history textbooks or mainstream media. It's a "people's history," so he tells Vietnam from the POV of the protesters, industrialism from the workers, slavery from the slaves, etc. I learned a lot of new (and disturbing) aspects of American histo
...more
Cedar
One of the most poorly written pieces of propaganda I've ever had the misfortune to read. I'll give it this: it filled in a few blindspots in my knowledge of history. There were several major events that I could swear I never learned about in history classes. (Perhaps because my high school history teacher was also the football coach and gave extra credit on exams for guessing the point spread of the upcoming game, but that's another story.) Other than that, reading this book was like pulling te ...more
Ryan
I read this book for my AP United States History class required summer reading. I borrowed/recieved it from a friend who had a copy and had taken the class already. A hefty little read it appeared far to borish and complex--a weeks long read at least, and most likely I felt I'd end up trudging through the book word by word without an soul or passion for the text. Begrudgedly I opened up the book and began to run my eyes across the first few sentences. I was completely aghast at the bitter-tone, ...more
Stephen
0.5 to 1.0 stars. The quintessential history book for American's who hate America. My biggest problem with this book is not its existence but that it is too often introduced to young people, not as an alternative viewpoint, but as a "primary" guide to American history. As someone who encourages free and open debate and believes America's greatest virtue is the ability of its people to criticize its leaders and speak freely about all issues, I think it is important to have books like this, inaccu ...more
Jake
You can't review Howard Zinn's "A People's History of the United States" without first declaring your own political bias, so here's a brief summary of mine:

I grew up in a Communist-sympathizing household in Park Slope, that most liberal of all left-leaning Brooklyn neighborhoods. My father had a clear, if sometimes simplistic world-view: the rich were evil, and whatever side of an issue they were on, good people should be on the other side. Like most children, I rebelled, and by college, my poli
...more
Meghan Davison
I like the book, because, well, I know that I should like it. After all, if it’s good enough to get a shout out from Good Will Hunting, it should be good enough for me. And of course, I find Zinn’s project of telling an alternative history admirable and important. But here’s the thing: I don’t really like the book. I kind of felt like Zinn essentializes all of the subaltern figures of history as mostly good, righteous people (for example, the poor racist southern farmer isn’t that bad; he was ju ...more
Blake
Oct 24, 2008 Blake rated it 1 of 5 stars
Recommends it for: Only someone who has a critical enough eye to see through Zinn's garbage
This book is a farce. While I think some of chapters on early American history have value, the closer the book gets to your lifetime the more you scratch your head and ask WTF. Reading Mr. Zinn's version of American history would lead you to believe that the United States of America is the most cruel, inhuman, and evil place on the planet. It has been so long since I had this one forced down my throat in high school, but what I recall most vividly was discussing the chapters on Vietnam in class. ...more
Nick
An extremely readable, powerful, and provocative book. The Peoples History of the United States is a must have companion text for anyone studying American history.

The commonly taught historical perspective comes from the top of the pyramid: the government and the economic and social elite. Zinn's work refocuses that perspective to those at the middle and bottom of the pyramid: the working class and the disenfranchised lower classes. This previously unexplored vantage point allows the reader to
...more
Robb
This is one of those books that I pick up on occasion and read another chapter. Want to know what REALLY happened in this country's history...minus the varnish and bullshit? Some of the names will be familiar, but this ain't your high school history book...
Steve
Aug 30, 2009 Steve rated it 5 of 5 stars
Shelves: other
I read Zinn in an English class during the spring semester of my first year in college. I was taking "Chief American Writers I" with Krista Walter at Loyola, and she had us reading Zinn, along with Catharine Maria Sedgwick's "Hope Leslie" (which I didn't like), James Fenimore Cooper's "The Last of the Mohicans" (which I liked), and the "Heath Anthology of American Literature, Volume 1" (which had both pieces I liked and disliked). Zinn's book was the most interesting history book I had read to t ...more
Krista
This is a history book intended to tell the stories that don't get told. It isn't centered around typical heroes or presidents or nationalistic jingoism. It tries to tell the "people's history"

Yeah, it's biased. Zinn admits as much.

Yeah, it's negative. Zinn admits as much.

And, yeah, if it's the only history you read, you come away with one viewpoint and, perhaps, a bit of bile in your mouth. But it shouldn't be the only history you read. It should be the history that helps balance the prevalent
...more
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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...
You Can't Be Neutral on a Moving Train: A Personal History of Our Times 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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“The memory of oppressed people is one thing that cannot be taken away, and for such people, with such memories, revolt is always an inch below the surface.” 105 likes
“Nations are not communities and never have been. The history of any country, presented as the history of a family, conceals the fierce conflicts of interest (sometimes exploding, often repressed) between conquerors and conquered, masters and slaves, capitalists and workers, dominators and dominated in race and sex. And in such as world of conflict, a world of victims and executioners, it is the job of thinking people, as Albert Camus suggested, not to be on the side of the executioners.” 86 likes
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