Scathing Book Reviews of A People’s History of the United States by Howard Zinn

A People’s History of the United Statesby Howard Zinnwas introduced to me in an interesting manner. I took a course on Documentary Film taught by a former 60’s radical (not exaggerating) who had us watch plenty of Soviet era documentaries and left leaning films. The assigned book? “People’s History”. For a film course. Can you tell that this was at an American University? Oh well, in the Film Genre course at least we got to watch The Green Berets. Unfortunately, we also had to watch Battleship Potemkinwhich was I’ll grant you, innovative for its time, but tedious today and more than a little intellectually dishonest.

Anyway, American History can be a messy business and our forefathers certainly made their share of mistakes and committed sins aplenty. A book that recounts these flaws certainly belongs in libraries, though perhaps not in the Kids Section as a Comic book… er Graphic Novel.but it doesn’t mean you have to like how it was written. Zinn never seriously attempts to compare the history of the USA to other nations (yeah, I know about the first chapter and that ain’t quite enough, thank you), and seems content to merely throw brickbats at Uncle Sam without any attempt at objectivity. That’s fine in a book of political philosophy, but History Books are supposed to make some attempt at objectivity, and I’ll reckon that this book’s major sales occur in college bookstores where you’re forced to buy it.

Is criticism worthwhile? Sure, but Zinn is like the loudmouthed relative at the dinner table, complaining about the food, while wolfing it down. These “People’s” Scathing Reviews of A People’s History of the United States think Zinn’s thin on thought:

The good: It’s easy to read. The bad: It’s pure revisionist historical pap.

…and:

This book was so biased I had to cut off two legs of my chair in order to stay upright.

…and:

The only good thing about this book was the 700+ pages I used as firestarter while on a camping trip.

…and:

One rarely gets to a truly vile piece of political writing, but this has to rank with MEIN KAMPF and THE COMMUNIST MANIFESTO as one of the most bloodthirsty pieces of ideological and intellectual violence ever rendered on the printed page.

…and:

For all the low-brow types out there: this book blew chunks!

…and:

What is considered vice by most historians – politically motivated inaccuracies, long-winded rants, convenient omissions, substituting partisanship for objectivity – is transformed into virtue by Zinn.

…and:

Ok, Howie, OK, I get it: USA bad, everyone else good.

…and:

This book was written for white upper-middleclass yups who want to feel a tinge of guilt at their wine-tasting parties!!!!

…and:

If Zinn is unfamiliar with the usage of footnotes, his publisher should have clued him in.

…and:

Unfortunately, there is so much crucial information left out of this book, that is it absolutely useless as a reference for Amerian History. I am sure however, that Joesph Stalin would find it quite amusing…

…and:

If you’re a red-diaper baby who hates America, Mr. Zinn’s book is right up your alley. Truly an idiotarian manifesto.

…and from the department of incoherency:

Unlike most scholars, Zinn is not afraid to rely on sources other scholars, agents of elite rule all, shy from under the guise that those sources are “illegitimate.” Well, readers of “Ranger Rick” , “Krosswords for Kids”, “Tasty Treats You Can Make in a Microwave” and the Sports Illustrated Swimsuit Issue will recognize many familiar ideas in what Eric Foner would have called “Zinn’s Magnum Opus” were Foner not so adverse to using Latin and/or afraid that people might think he has a thing for Tom Selleck (a Reagan supporter). We have no evidence that Foner has a thing for Tom Selleck, but I think it more than fair to conclude that if he did, Selleck would not reciprocate.

3 Responses

  1. Most history textbooks disgust me. They tend to be written in this snooty, attempting-to-be-friendly tone, provide an overview far too broad to consider highly pertinent details and their context, and lots of times get things just plain wrong.

    Jane Q. College Student

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