Megan's Reviews > A People's History of the United States: 1492-Present

A People's History of the United States by Howard Zinn
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's review
Jun 23, 2007

really liked it
bookshelves: non-fiction, history, favorites
Recommended for: all Americans
Read in June, 2007

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. For instance, it was very clearly taught in my high school U.S. history course that Columbus was not the genteel 'discoverer' of the Americas but rather the wealth-obsessed leader of a genocide against indigenous people in the Caribbean.
However, we didn't cover the fact that even as late as the 1960s and '70s the U.S. government was supporting violence against American Indians. Or that 'equal protection' under the 14th amendment was granted to corporations many decades before it was granted to women. (Literally, judges declared that corporations were considered 'persons' - just as they had finally said black men were persons and not just property - and then they later ruled that the term didn't apply to women.) And we certainly didn't cover the continuous use of military forces by both corporations and government against worker protests, events like the Ludlow Massacre (a strike by miners against the Rockefeller family's Colorado Fuel & Iron Corporation), where first the Rockefeller's own hired thugs, and then the government's attempts to bring in strikebreakers, did not break the determination of the workers, and eventually the National Guard launched machine gun fire on a tent colony of workers and their families. And while we maybe mentioned the death of civilians at Hiroshima, we didn't talk about the millions of civilians killed by U.S. troops in the Philippines, Cuba, Vietnam, Laos, Cambodia, and both directly/indirectly in numerous Central and South American countries.

The gist of Zinn's book (and this is a long gist, but it's a long book): the U.S. was founded to protect the interests of the wealthy, and continuous class conflict has been suppressed regularly through the creation of nationalist sentiment, as well as through the pitting of oppressed social groups one against the other (for instance, poor blacks against poor whites, or the lower class against the middle class). Furthermore, as we have accepted 'history' as it has been given to us in school textbooks, we've allowed ourselves both to believe the myth that 'the people' are actually represented by the government, and that we have democracy, while allowing a rich elite to maintain power and help create the continuous war economy we now live in, in which we continuously say we cannot afford to provide people with jobs, food, or education, but yet somehow shell out trillions to military contractors to create weapons we should never even be thinking about using.

Some of this I had already picked up here and there, but Zinn's book is a sort of a thick concentration of it all, a thorough look at who "we" as the United States really are. While certainly not a pretty self-portrait, it does end on a hopeful note: 'the people' have created change, and we can do it again.
The catch: change has always been achieved by direct action (violent and non-violent). It has never been achieved by voting.
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03/12 marked as: read

Comments (showing 1-7 of 7) (7 new)

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elita This is a great review of this great book. It should really be required reading for high school seniors.

J.C. wow I'm impressed, two weeks. it took me months to read that thing and I was forced to put it down numerous times. by the end I was skimming the last 150 pages.

message 3: by Van (new) - rated it 4 stars

Van Excellent review of an important book.

message 4: by Morgan (Turbo) (last edited Sep 03, 2010 12:48PM) (new) - rated it 4 stars

Morgan (Turbo) Two Weeks! No way! Get outta here! I've been reading for almost a year now and only on page 589.

Megan Turbo wrote: "Two Weeks! No way! Get outta here! I've been reading for almost a year now and only on page 589."

Yep, just two weeks. Though I was in grad school at the time, so reading many pages very quickly was sort of my job. And this was during the summer when I didn't have any required reading, and even then I mostly got through it because finishing the book was my main preoccupation for that period - at the time it felt like it was taking forever.

message 6: by Zach (new) - rated it 1 star

Zach Thompson You want the truth about our 'peoples' American history read that history from those that lived it in their OWN words not. For instance I've been reading Columbus' OWN account of his journy's, and being such a devoted and spiritual Catholic as he was he expresses that his first and foremost goal was to bring European's Catholic faith to a new part of the world where ever he might actually land.

message 7: by Kevwe (new)

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