January 2005 Read

March 28th, 2007

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Howard Zinn is perhaps best known for his landmark 1980 book A People’s History of the United States which offers a chronicle of American history from Columbus through Clinton’s presidency through the eyes of “the street, the home, and the workplace.” This popular book pokes holes in traditional history’s treatment of events and people and is, if nothing else, a unique perspective on our nation’s formation and rise to power. Here is this month’s read.

Originally published in 1980, Howard Zinn‘s A People’s History of the United States tells the story of America from a grass-roots level. Zinn, a historian and social activist whose other books include You Can’t Be Neutral on a Moving Train: A Personal History of Our Times, and The Twentieth Century: A People’s History, maintains that traditional American history is very one-sided because it is presented from the perspective of the powerful- from the first Spanish conquerors to modern-day capitalist aristocrats. As an alternative, Zinn provides a storyline from the “common man” perspective- labourers, immigrants, women & children, slaves, Native Americans, the poor, etc. who made and continue to make up the vast majority of the population.

Although the balance of perspective tips way too far the other way at times, this is truly a scholarly piece of research. Spanning Christopher Columbus’s arrival through President Bill Clinton’s first term, A People’s History combines a very diverse collection of letters, diary entries, newspaper accounts, and official records with commentary and analysis. This book caused some stir in academic circles because of its attacks on traditional views of American history. Nevertheless, this book offers an important ballast to any serious student of the subject.

If you enjoy this theme, you might also find Ray Raphael’s book A People’s History of the American Revolution of interest. With a forward by Howard Zinn, this book continues the theme of the common man’s history, but focuses exclusively on the events surrounding the American Revolution.

Entry Filed under: Book Reviews

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