Michael's Reviews > A People's History of the United States

A People's History of the United States by Howard Zinn
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Feb 04, 11

bookshelves: 1980s, history
Read from December 28, 2010 to January 15, 2011

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 wrong anyway, and rich people have no advantages over poor ones--I'm not sure how you can reconcile these ideas.

One common critique of Howard Zinn is that this book, if taught by itself, will present a skewed version of history that inspires a general hatred of rich people. So, I fully expect these reviewers to give low ratings to every history book, including those that pretend to be objective. By giving a low rating to only the books that point out flaws in the U.S. government, these people are essentially admitting the direction of their own bias. Of course, we're all biased, whether we're writing history books or reviewing them. If I weren't politically biased towards LIKING this book, I'd probably give it a four-star rating because there were some topics I wish Zinn would've gone into that he didn't.

All historians have an agenda, so the obvious solution is to teach from two or more textbooks with conflicting views. There. Problem solved! Moving on...

I'm gonna talk about the book itself now, so that I remember to do so. Then, I'm going to get into political rant mode, because I want to talk about why Zinn and the Tea Party SHOULD be best friends if people were more rational than they are.

The Part Where I Talk About the Book:

Zinn, in the newest versions of this book, discusses U.S. history from its origins all the way up to Bush Jr.'s presidency. Throughout, he pulls no punches, questioning the motives of those in power regardless of their political party, because there's really not that much difference between the right and the left. He covers a whole lot, even considering the length of the book, and has done a lot of work since the book's original publication to add sections addressing the plight of those segments of our population that were ignored in the earliest printings. Keep in mind as you're reading this that there really WASN'T anything like this book when it was written. Before Zinn, no schools taught history from the perspective of the lower classes...in fact, most of them STILL don't. I know mine didn't. So, I think we need more historians like Zinn, willing to challenge the assumptions we make about history. Like every academic field, history should be evolving and growing more nuanced over time.

I should've known I'm incapable of actually FOCUSING on the book.

The Part Where I Talk About Other Stuff:

As those who have talked to me about politics know, I have a lot of frustration with the tea party. First off, some of them don't realize how batshit nuts Sarah Palin is. That's bad. And, that's not nearly as bad as the fact that they don't realize how batshit nuts GLENN BECK is.

description Glenn Beck: Professional media clown.


But, more importantly, the so-called Tea Party developed at the same time that a democrat entered office, developed under the leadership of republicans, yet developed saying they were independent from this big-business-focused party, and that they were all about lowering taxes. Pardon me while I take that with a VERY BIG grain of salt. I'm still willing to be proven wrong, though, if it turns out that the tea party actually DOES want to cut taxes, and not just assist the federal government in deep-throating big business a little bit more. Until SOME political party is willing to come right out and say, "Guys, we're spending more than 500 billion THIS YEAR on the military. We could pretty much kill everything alive a few times over with the weapons we have stockpiled. Maybe it's time to think about cutting part of THAT spending instead of complaining about health care expenses." Until someone comes right out and says that, I'm not declaring my allegiance to any party.

I have yet to hear anyone willing to challenge the importance of the military industrial complex...anyone in politics, that is. A lot of normal humans think this is a pretty fucking solid place to cut spending.

The government can only be improved if we as citizens are willing to call it out when it acts in ways that are unethical. The notion that patriotism is connected to a blind faith in the current version of the political structure is foolish. Those who really believe in freedom will recognize that freedom applies to everyone, including those of us who want to examine whether or not the government is operating in our interests. After examining it, a lot of people are convinced it isn't.

That said, we're all gonna get along better when we stop focusing on the issues that we don't agree on, and focus on what we think a government should do. When we say the government is "of the people, by the people, and for the people," I think "the people" includes everyone who lives here, including those of us who didn't make any money on the bailout, and those of us who don't want to help finance murder abroad through "Overseas Contingency Operations." I would think pro-lifers would agree with me on that.

Anyway, I'm going to climb off my soap box now, but I give this book my recommendation. Read it if your American history education hasn't included enough skepticism.
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Reading Progress

12/29/2010 page 129
17.0% "So fucking good."
01/02/2011 page 312
41.0% "God, this book is pissing me off."
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Comments (showing 1-4 of 4) (4 new)

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Brad Amen, Brother Michael.


message 2: by David (new)

David First, yes. Yes to you.

Second, I plan on reading this, definitely, but I suspect it'll just strengthen my paralyzing fear of the political climate. Jared Diamond's Collapse is doing that fairly well right now.


Michael Jared Diamond is really good for showing how hopeless resolving contradictory opinions on a lot of issues will be. (Did you get to the Australia chapter yet?) Zinn is more on the crotchety end of the spectrum, and makes his agenda much clearer. So, don't worry...they'll both inspire different types of fear.

That's good, no?


message 4: by David (new)

David No, I haven't gotten to the Australia chapter yet (I'm listening to the audiobook only in the car, so it's somewhat slow-going). I look forward to reading Zinn so that I can really consider myself a fear connoisseur. Currently I just dabble.


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