American History: Reviewing Howard Zinn’s A People’s History of the United States
A People’s History of the United States is an endeavour to settle the unsteadiness in the existing body of work on the history of the United States—to highlight the historical facts that have been often neglected. The focus topics are poverty and gender and racial disparity in the United States history, and how the government’s workings have affected these issues. By surveying a extensive list of secondary material regarding the iconic moments that shaped the history of the country—ranging from Columbus’ arrival at the shores of the country to the United States under the Clinton government—he points out the illaudable acts of people that have been heralded as heroes in history textbooks. He thus questions the accepted trend in history books that hail certain people and events in spite of the grievous nature of their actions.
There is a usual clarity in the depiction of the travails and tribulations of the underprivileged and working class in the country and the political apprehensions caused by their circumstances. Furthermore, the book is definitely antagonistic and thus, controversial, but it intends to take a strong stand against the subversive attitude that regular history textbooks propose to inculcate. The fact that the author is an accomplished historian is evident from the amount of research that has been presented to corroborate the statements and claims made in the book. However, it is essential for the reader to gather a fair knowledge on the history of the United States from the available material, to easily understand and assimilate the author’s research and discussions.
The book begins with a chapter that deals with the matter of slavery, suppression, and genocide of the indigenous peoples that were the Native Americans (pp.1–22). The objective of the chapter is to question if such events are crucial for the advancement of human beings. The next chapter deals with the slavery that was practiced by the initial settlers, and concludes that the subjugation was unnatural and not a result of the superior prowess of the white settlers, as often the white people subjugated by poverty and the black slaves showed solidarity (pp. 23–38). The third chapter deals with the ordeal of the poor man among the early settlers and the stirrings of a revolution against the inequality (pp. 39–58). The next chapter states that the founding fathers of the country attempted to distract the public from the economic problems with war (pp.59–75). Zinn believes that this tactic is still used by the country’s leaders.
Chapters five, six, and seven cover the wars, revolutionary movements and the conditions of the Native Americans and Women (pp. 76–146). Chapter eight discusses the jingoistic approach of the United States in context to expanding its land holdings (pp.147–166). Chapters nine, ten, and eleven discuss the violence in the various revolutionary movements and the blindly capitalist approach of the United States government (pp.167–247). The next section, which includes the chapters from 12 to 24, traverses across topics that involve the occurrences in the past century. The popularity of socialist sentiments, the Depression era, the World Wars, the Vietnam War, the American phobia against communism, and the United States under the presidency of various presidents from Nixon to Clinton is discussed in great detail. Finally, irrespective of the fact that A People’s History of the United States is a history book of an academic nature, its narrative style is such that it appeals a general reader.
Zinn, Dr. Howard (2010). “Columbus, the Indians, and Human Progress.” A People’s History of the United States. New York: Harper Perennial Modern Classics.