Today is the official “start reading” date for our A People’s Readalong of Howard Zinn’s A People’s History of the United States (although we’ll be reading this puppy until July, so it’s never too late to join in). So to kick things off, I thought I’d offer up a bit of background on both the author and the book (you know, since I forgot that part when I tried to convince you all to read the book).
Howard Zinn was a historian, political scientist, and activist. As well as a fairly prolific author of history books. After serving in WWII as a bombardier (he aimed bombs from an airplane), he attended school on the GI Bill, eventually getting his doctorate in history. In 1963, Zinn was fired from his first professorial gig at Spelman College, after he was a little too much of an activist/student mentor in the Civil Rights movement (Spelman just happens to be a women’s college in Atlanta, Georgia, and evidently Zinn wasn’t doing his part to educate young ladies in a dignified manner). He subsequently was hired by Boston University, where he taught until his retirement in 1988.
Zinn believed that the history generally taught in schools was skewed, that textbooks focused on history from the perspective of those in power, as well as those who were the victors (in college, we called this history by dead white guys). To offer up alternative perspectives, Zinn wrote A People’s History of the United States, which marches chapter by chapter through American history and tells the stories of those who are commonly overlooked. The book was a finalist for the National Book Award and is now used as a supplemental text in many history classes. Zinn died a year ago this month, and you may recall that his death resulted in some renewed interest in this book.
Zinn also wrote Voices of A People’s History of the United States which contains speeches, articles, essays, poetry and song lyrics by the people whose stories are told in A People’s History. In addition, there is also a movie version of Voices, with performances by Matt Damon, Bob Dylan, Marisa Tomei, Eddie Vedder, and Viggo Mortensen, among others. I have both of these items checked out from the library and will try to supplement my weekly readalong posts with info from both of these works.
And in case you’re wondering just what exactly is in the book, here is the Table of Contents:
- Columbus, The Indians, and Human Progress
- Drawing the Color Line
- Persons of Mean and Vile Condition
- Tyranny is Tyranny
- A Kind of Revolution
- The Intimately Oppressed
- As Long As Grass Grows Or Water Runs
- We Take Nothing by Conquest, Thank God
- Slavery Without Submission, Emancipation Without Freedom
- The Other Civil War
- Robber Barons And Rebels
- The Empire and the People
- The Socialist Challenge
- War Is the Health of the State
- Self-help in Hard Times
- A People’s War?
- “Or Does It Explode?”
- The Impossible Victory: Vietnam
- The Seventies: Under Control?
- Carter-Reagan-Bush: The Bipartisan Consensus
- The Unreported Resistance
- The Clinton Presidency and the Crisis of Democracy
- The Coming Revolt of the Guards
- The 2000 Election and the “War on Terrorism”