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A People's History of the United States: Highlights from the Twentieth Century

A People's History of the United States: Highlights from the Twentieth Century

Written by Howard Zinn

Narrated by Matt Damon


A People's History of the United States: Highlights from the Twentieth Century

Written by Howard Zinn

Narrated by Matt Damon

ratings:
4/5 (319 ratings)
Length:
8 hours
Publisher:
Released:
Feb 24, 2004
ISBN:
9780060754143
Format:
Audiobook

Editor's Note

Humanistic perspective...

Zinn's iconic alternative history is an enduring look into the people, rather than the politics, that shaped the current American landscape.

Description

For much of his life, historian Howard Zinn has been chronicling American history from the bottom up, throwing out the official version taught in schools -- with its emphasis on great men in high places -- to focus on the street, the home, and the workplace.

Known for its lively, clear prose as well as its scholarly research, Zinn's A People's History of the United States is the only volume to tell America's story from the point of view of -- and in the words of -- its women, factory workers, African-Americans, Native Americans, working poor, and immigrant laborers. Here we learn that many of our country's greatest battles -- labor laws, women's rights, racial equality -- were carried out at the grassroots level, against steel-willed resistance. This edition of A People's History of the United States features insightful analysis of some of the most important events in this country in the past one hundred years.

Featuring a preface and afterword read by the author himself, this audio continues Howard Zinn's important contribution to a complete and balanced understanding of American history.

Publisher:
Released:
Feb 24, 2004
ISBN:
9780060754143
Format:
Audiobook


About the author

Howard Zinn (1922–2010) was a historian, playwright, and social activist. In addition to A People’s History of the United States, which has sold more than two million copies, he is the author of numerous books including The People Speak, Passionate Declarations, and the autobiography, You Can’t Be Neutral on a Moving Train.

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What people think about A People's History of the United States

4.2
319 ratings / 90 Reviews
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  • (5/5)
    Perhaps every generation feels like its lived through particularly "interesting" times. Howard Zinn's 'People's History of the United States' confirms them all to be correct. Quite a tome, this dense book traces American history - from the arrival of Columbus to modern day - from the perspective of the average American. Read: not rich, not powerful, not white, not male, maybe not even a citizen; a version of history from the perspective of "we the people".Despite that it sat on my shelf unread for at least a year, its actually quite readable. In fact Zinn's version of American history is engaging partly because it is so different from what you learned in grade school. What is history but a compendium of facts? Well Zinn's 'People's History' demonstrates that "his"tory is indeed quite different than "our"story. An examination of the facts from the people's perspective reveals the hypocrisy of America - the story of Democracy verses the reality. Gone are the great highs we celebrated - the Boston Tea Party, the Louisiana Purchase, WWII - in 'People's History" they're all sullied. Looked at through Zinn's lens its difficult to not feel a little cynical about the governing class and a lot skeptical about their rationale for action.That said, I have renewed appreciation for what "the people" can accomplish with a little passion and creativity. Rather than progress being the result of great acts by "great men", Zinn leads us to believe that most good things have come about due to an unruly public clamoring for their rights. Evidence that indeed "Well-behaved women rarely make history".I don't regret being rooted in the idealistic image of America, but Americans should be equally versed in this side as well. For the answer to the question of 'why do they hate us?' you need look no further.
  • (4/5)
    Undeniably one of the comprehensive and sweeping accounts of American history from "the people's" perspective. The playwright, activist, and historian Howard Zinn carries the burden of writing a lucid, accessible, (and most importantly) a relevant account of U.S. history. Often when reading books touching on history you hear subtle and sometimes not so subtle worship and praise for "leaders" of men-politicians, kings, princes, barons and the like. From the perspective of most historical chroniclers it is these men who have shaped history with merely their hands and ideas. Zinn takes this formulaic approach to history and turns it on its head. With sharp analysis of foreign and domestic policy, and unabashed criticism of established historical accounts this book makes for a powerful, clarifying read.
  • (5/5)
    Constantly on my desk during college, just finished the audiobook and I'm still consider this an essential book for anyone interested in American history. Consider this the starting point to any topic or era and proceed from there onto more area focused studies.
  • (5/5)
    A must-read history of the United States for anyone who wants to truly understand the development of this country. Zinn's writing is engaging, and he tells an eye-opening version of the facts behind the childhood stories we were told in school. The European explorers and settlers of America are usually presented as heroes, but Zinn reveals the cruelty and brutality of their efforts to exterminate the indigenous population. And the rest of this history is equally enlightening. Highly recommended.
  • (5/5)
    I want to make sure my son knows this book well.
  • (4/5)
    Point blank, this book is amazing.The only reason I gave it a four instead of a five is that it's so dense and at times I found myself getting slightly bored.Other than that, however, I adore this book and consider it a must-read for all Americans.
  • (5/5)
    This book should be required reading for anyone in high school. And again in college. And again in graduate school. And again at any entry level job. You get the point.This book highlights the untold story behind history. As they say, history is written by the winners. This is the story of the losers. Read it. Soak it in. And realize that there are many more losers in history than winners. Then decide which group you're a part of....you'll never be the same again after reading this book.
  • (5/5)
    Howard Zinn tells the story of the United States from the perspective of the underdog - the Indians, slaves, women, workers, and so forth. The book is 'readable', i.e. not a ponderous diatribe. The book is also well-sourced and credible. The book is not the complete picture of the history of the United States. On the other hand, a history of the US that does not include the history that Zinn tells is certainly incomplete. A necessary antidote to the standard histories by an eminent historian.
  • (5/5)
    Most interesting, attention grabbing historical work that I've ever read. Spot on in parts, biased in parts but a very interesting read as a counter balance to the victors who write history. This one will definitely make you think.
  • (5/5)
    A fascinating look at history from the eyes of the average person. Though not always flattering, A People's History presents an often overlooked perspective of major events in U.S. history.
  • (5/5)
    Lovers of history should read this book! Zinn presents an unbiased account of history, often supported by quotations of people who were there. This book contains everything they didn't want to teach you in school! Appropriate for high school and beyond...
  • (5/5)
    Phenomenal. Astounding. Horrifying and moving. That's about as far as I can get to articulate how amazing this book is. EVERY American should read it.
  • (4/5)
    Had it been of better literary quality, I'd give this books 5 stars. As it is, this book's 4 stars come almost solely by virtue of the excellent information it presents. Read this book. Yesterday.
  • (4/5)
    A very important work in understand in American History. Though not perfect, the author creates a new narrative in weaving together various historic events. That new narrative at times seems a bit too focused on good-ordinary-people versus bad-political-elite, but worth a read nonetheless. A heavy reliance on secondary sources though, to the point where certain chapters feel like no more than a summary of various journals and other books.
  • (5/5)
    This is a powerful "alternate" history of the United States that I've long intended to read but only just got around to (I get intimidated by thick books so I went for the audiobook). Zinn presents many of the familiar stories of American history, but from the point of view of those who don't often get into the history books - Native Americans, blacks, women, and other marginalized groups. Wars are stories not of patriotism and national unity but of an average rank and file often at odds with the leadership and demonstrating this through desertion and revolt. Wars in general have seen much protest, from the Revolution where the goals of the leaders were quite different from the common agitators to the mass opposition to the War in Vietnam. From the earliest days of the American colonies there is also a divide between the elites who hold the wealth and power and the common people that comes out in many class and labor conflicts. Zinn discusses unheralded unity - such as blacks and poor whites working together for progressive farmers' movements in the South - as well as divisions within the many movements for Civil Rights and equality.At times the attitude of the author is too far left-wing for even me to handle, but largely I find this book an instructive look at American history that informs a lot of where we are today. This book is so full of detail that it's worth reading again, and the many works Zinn cites could make for a lifetime of additional reading.
  • (5/5)
    Wow! What a depressing and enlightening book! I guess I've always suspected it, but it is pretty devastating to realize that our history is one of continual violence against "the people", that is the 99%, starting with Christopher Columbus' discovery of America. And even worse is the evidence that the government has never (and I mean never) done anything or given anything to benefit those not of the 1%, except under duress. It's disheartening, too, that our new president will, no doubt, continue the shameless road we have been on for so long, without even the semblance of acting 'for the people'.
  • (5/5)
    This book was very eye-opening. I love learning about other perspectives of history. I loved that Zinn included lots on women's history.The wording is a little tough to get through, but once I really got into the book, I just flew through it.
  • (4/5)
    Excellent book but got recalled before I finished it. Should check this one out again in the future.
  • (4/5)
    This book is an interesting take on what we have all grown up to believe as accurate American history. Zinn brings the story of the downtrodden and oppressed to the forefront by explaining famous American history events through the eyes of those on the losing side. A must read for any history buff if for nothing else, to gain a new perspective of America’s foundation.
  • (4/5)
    Zinn looks at American History through the struggles of the underdog, the poor, Native American and the undesirables. While I do not necessarily agree with all Zinn's assertions I do believe that this is a must read. History usually looks at the winners and sugar coats the issues that do not fit the desired narrative. Zinn challenges the usual US history lesson and looks at little known rebellions that speak about the struggle of this nation.
  • (4/5)
    I'm slowly making my way through this book (one chapter at a time . . . and rereading them everytime I wait too long in between) to gain a picture of African American history in the United States.
  • (4/5)
    (this review was originally written for bookslut)

    Howard Zinn readily admits that his A People's History of the United States is a biased work. What is unique about his telling of history is the direction of the bias. This is a history biased in favor of the workers (mostly female) who died when a factory collapsed, and against the owners who knew the construction was faulty and did nothing. It is biased in favor of the Indians who rebelled, and against the Spaniards who slaughtered them for not bringing them enough gold. This is a history that does not gloss over the faults of presidents, just because a few good things happened while they were on watch. This is a history that gives credit to the people who organized, the petitions that were sent, and the sit-ins that were held.

    There are a few points in the book where even I, whose often knee-jerk progressive/liberalism makes my fathers teeth grind, felt that the book was *too* biased. That the expectations Zinn appeared to have were entirely unreasonable for the time periods he was talking about. Upon reflection, these points only served to make clear just how biased our objective history textbooks really are. Columbus exterminating an entire culture was just a misunderstanding. Right. Just like all the Native Americans were savages and all the slaves were resigned to their lot. Zinn provides numerous and clear counter-examples to those historical claims that I have always doubted told the true story. But what is less comfortable, is the laying bare of the weaknesses of the men I would like to like. Adams, Jefferson, Lincoln, Roosevelt. Men whom I may still choose to like, but with eyes less clouded than before.

    Of course in 655 pages, it is difficult to cover comprehensively everything that happened in this country from when Columbus first set foot on some of the nearby islands to the present. One of my favorite things about this book is that it offers so much direction in the way of further reading. When many of the chapters left me thirsty for more, I didn't even have to turn to the extremely thorough bibliography in the back, many books which informed the times and which were inspired by the times were discussed in the text. Zinn's work is not an ending place. One cannot read this book and know everything there is to know about the history that was not taught to you in school. This book is a starting place. An opening door to a new way of thinking. To the realization that ordinary people have changed the history of this country time and time again. And perhaps you can too.
  • (4/5)
    As a reference or an additional information source, this isn't terrible (4 stars). It really does hit a lot of high points & some that other histories have left out. The writing is good. While dry, it is readable & conveys a lot of information. My copy is an old one that only goes through the Vietnam war. He has updated versions to 2003, I believe.It is NOT a balanced view of our history & is proposed reading for schools (minus 1 star). It shouldn't be unless read with other materials as it only tells part of the story. If you want to know anything about how minority groups were mistreated, you'll find it here. While accurate, the view is so unbalanced as to become nauseating after a while (minus another star). While most historians have an axe to grind, most do it more subtly than Zinn does. To the best of my knowledge, he doesn't gossip nor present any incorrect facts, he does present his facts in such a way as to slam our government at every turn. He does bring up some points that many other histories have glossed over, though (add one star). For instance, in the early history of the United States, he is very careful to point out every group not represented by the Constitution, yet makes no mention of the fact that these people were not represented before the Revolution either. It's good that he brings up the point, but not so great that he leaves the impression that they obviously should have been. It wasn't obvious to the people of that time that they should have been represented. Men of property made the decisions & always had. Women, slaves & men without property didn't get a say. That they eventually did says a lot for the foundation these men laid, which Zinn carefully avoids.So overall it is a good thing to read, but only with another history to balance it at hand.
  • (4/5)
    There are many books about the history of the United States, so why read Howard Zinn's A People's History of the United States? The simple answer is: the approach is different from what other histories do. The title already announces that it is a 'people's history', that is a history written from the perspective of the people rather than from the perspective of the nation or the government. In Zinn's own words:"My viewpoint, in telling the history of the United States, is different: that we must not accept the memory of states as our own. Nations are not communities and never have been. The history of any country, presented as the history of a family, conceals fierce conflicts of interest (sometimes exploding, most often repressed) between conquerors and conquered, masters and slaves, capitalists and workers, dominators and dominated in race and sex. And in such a world of conflict, a world of victims and executioners, it is the job of thinking people, as Albert Camus suggested, not to be on the side of the executioners."To my mind, this approach is refreshing and I would definitely recommend to read this history. Even if you are inclined to turn to more conservative works, I think the change of perspective is essential to a deeper and further understanding of United States history. This is supported by the often superb choice of quotations to support Zinn's telling of history. To quote an example (Zinn quotes Russell Conwell, founder of Temple University, in a chapter about Rockefeller, J. P. Morgan and contemporaries):"I say you ought ot get rich, and it is your duty to get rich. ... The men who get rich may be the most honest men you find in the community. Let me say here clearly ... ninety-eight out of a hundred of the rich men of America are honest. That is why they are rich. That is why they are trusted with money. ... I sympathize with the poor, but the number of poor who are to be sympathized with is very small. ... let us remember there is not a poor person in the United States who was not made poor by his own shortcomings."4 stars for a very good history book. Definitely recommended.
  • (5/5)
    In many ways, this is not my typical five-star review. The People's History of the United States is tedious, repetitive, and an overall slog to get through. Though so much of the information provided is wholly interesting, some of the Zinn's examples are merely empty fodder and these cause the already long book to slow. Zinn was anti-oppression, and this means that sometimes he seems pro-whatever-is-being-oppressed, though I don't think this is always the case. For instance, it's easy to surmise from the many examples that Zinn is pro-socialist, but I'm not entirely sure that's true. Certainly, he backed the socialist stance when it was the voice that was being oppressed. And certainly, of the major forms of government, Zinn likely felt the most affinity with socialism. But in later chapters as well as in the conclusion, it seems that Zinn acknowledges that socialism is also a broken system—a step forward, but not the solution. Additionally, Zinn's anti-oppression position means that he sometimes illustrates a part of history from an angle that obscures some bit of inconvenient truth. This is unfortunate, because it gives the naysayers cause to spit on this book and declare it “communist propaganda” (or whatever the taboo phrase of the day is). These moments are few and far between and majority of this book is quite historically accurate, in my layman's opinion.The People's History of the United States was also difficult for me to get through because I've long studied this history and I already knew the more major events covered in this book. Perhaps many of those other narratives I've read owe their information to Zinn, but having come to this book later in my journey, I found much of the story to be old news. That's not to say Zinn doesn't provide considerable history I have not come across in my previous studies. In fact, what Zinn most convinced me of was how so many of these events that I thought were motivated by various reasons primarily (perhaps exclusively) came about because of money.The reason The People's History of the United States deserves a five-star rating is because, though it's not an enjoyable read, it is such a immense labor of love and passion for the subject. Zinn put his heart and mind into every page of this book and it shows. Even so, I was tempted to slap four stars on this book and move on until I came to Zinn's afterword. Prior to this, Zinn had merely provided over six-hundred pages of dry facts without much commentary or call-to-action. Here, in these final pages, Zinn stirred my emotions. He took all the information he'd provided and agitated it within me and said, “now what are you going to do?” It was an effective challenge.The People's History of the United States is the kind of book that is difficult to read straight through. Did I learn some things? Absolutely. But so much of what I learned has already sifted straight through my brain. This is the sort of book one who is passionate about the subject should own. It is the kind of book one should keep handy in case someone is eager to argue about the perfection of the state. It is the kind of book that should be picked up from time to time and serve as a reminder to the people of their history and the vicious circle that has been built up around them, keeping them caged for over five hundred years.
  • (4/5)
    This is quite possibly one of the densest books I have read in a long time. It is incredibly liberal and anti-Establishment.

    While I LOVE the idea of telling the story of group's whose voices are traditionally left out, I was disappointed in some of the voices that were left out still. Although he mentions them in the Afterword, he completely dismisses any fights for Latino/Hispanic rights, or anything on the rights of homosexuals. Instead, he focused a lot on African American, labor, and women's movements. And while those are valid stories worth being told, he says it is because he is not familiar with Latino/gay rights movements. This just brings one question to my mind: Isn't that the point of writing a book like this...to uncover the stories that are not covered traditionally?

    But, that aside, this is a very thorough book. For the critics who say that he is bias, hell yes he is. But so is every author of any textbook that teachers give their students. It's time for a revision of our history books. It may not inspire patriotism, but it will spur thought. It is only a matter of what we want as a society, a people of unthinking, super patriotic people, or a society of those who question their government and think for themselves. (This is obviously NOT the desire of those in power...)

    Anyone interested in knowing some of the alternate histories of the United States, this book is for you. However, I caution you to take the reading slowly. This is a nonfiction history book, and it is not a quick read. Somehow I managed it in 2 months--a feat I deem a miracle. Read this book a little at a time...
  • (4/5)
    Fascinating stories you didn't hear in high school about American history told from alternative points of view.
  • (5/5)
    The classic history of America from the vantage point of the people you don't hear about in the textbooks. Zinn writes a narrative that is complete and very readable. At times shocking and appalling this book gives a new perspective on American history.
  • (4/5)
    A People’s History of the United States is a revisionist history text that attempts to document U.S. history as it appeared from the eyes of “the people” – the poor, the black, the American Indian, and the female; in other words, all the people who until recently had no say in how the United States was governed. It attacks the elementary-level view of American history as one full of heroes fighting for liberty, and instead paints a particularly bleak picture of oppression and control. This is a book that reminds us that Christopher Columbus personally engaged in genocide, that Lincoln did not particularly care about freeing slaves, and that the Founding Fathers created a government of, for and by rich white slaveowners.The ultimate impression the book leaves one with is that the United States is controlled by a slim percentage of extremely rich people, that domestic and foreign policy is entirely revolved around protecting “the national interest” (i.e. corporate interest), that the government, judiciary and media all work diligently to maintain this status quo, and that this state of affairs dates all the way back to the Revolution. Most people already know this, but to see it so thoroughly and articulately documented and summarised is quite shocking.The book is, obviously, quite biased. Zinn openly admits this, and declares that he is “not troubled by that, because the mountain of history books under which we all stand leans so heavily in the opposite direction – so tremblingly respectful of states and statesmen and so disrespectful, by inattention, to people’s movements – that we need some counterforce to avoid being crushed into submission.”I’m not sure to what level I agree with that; I certainly thought he was stretching it at some points in the book, such as his portrayal of Native American society as a perfect harmonious utopia, or his steadfast opposition to all wars, even World War II and Korea. I do not subscribe to the belief that when arguing a point you should misrepresent, or entirely omit, the viewpoint of your opponent. If you are in the right, their arguments will ultimately be defeated; if not, perhaps you should rethink your opinion.When describing the SS Mayaguez incident, for example, Zinn makes passing reference to “a revolutionary regime” that had recently seized power in Cambodia. That regime was, of course, the Khmer Rouge, one of the 20th century’s most incomprehensibly evil governments. Perhaps the Mayaguez incident really was all about propaganda – and Zinn makes a compelling case for that – so why avoid mentioning the Khmer Rouge? Because Zinn knows the connections a well-educated reader will draw? Because it brings up the fact that regadless of motive, rescuing the captured crew was the correct course of action? Zinn details how the crew were well-treated by their captors, as though that made it okay, despite previously discussing how the relatively happy lives of many American slaves did not make their slavery one jot less cruel.This is just one example of many small incidents throughout the book where I found myself disapproving of Zinn’s technique. I hesitate to draw comparison to Michael Moore, because Moore is much less elegant and refined and serious than Zinn, but he’s the only comparable figure I can think of: somebody presenting a one-sided argument that might even be called propaganda, and which should not be tolerated simply because it’s propaganda for what is good and right and just.Of couse Zinn, as mentioned above, openly acknowledges his bias and the motive behind it, and I would greatly prefer for people to read something that admits its bias rather than falsely claiming objectivity. The other important factor is, of course, that I am not the intended target for this book. A People’s History of the United States was written by an American, for Americans, in an effort to undermine the false assumptions and accepted wisdom prevalent in American culture, and particularly in American schools. As an Australian, I come from a culture where the United States is generally regarded quite poorly. Yet I could still draw parallels; although Australia is a far more egalitarian society, with a political system less corrupted by lobbyists and business interests, we too have classes, and politicans here also exploit our fears of foreigners as a convenient boogeyman. Here, too, the lower and middle classes are often bizarrely opposed to trade unions. Huge swathes of A People’s History of the United States, particularly in the late nineteenth and early twentieth century, revolve around the labor movement: the strikes, the protests, the sit-ins and the struggles. Although I also found these sections to be the most tedious, it was quite eye-opening to see a vision of the United States during a time when the poor were not held in Stockholm Syndrome with the rich.Clearly I’m not the best person to judge the value of this book. I certainly don’t think it’s a book you should read uncritically, nor without reading other books on American history. But it certainly has a valuable place in American political and historical discourse, and the purpose Zinn wrote it for is a noble one. Apparently he copped a lot of flak because the outlook of the book was so depressing, but I actually found his personal opinion to be quite positive, particularly in chapters towards the end where he describes his vision of the future, where the military-industrial complex has been overthrown and the American government concerns itself with all of its people, not just the wealthiest. This is not a belief I share; I look at Americans protesting Obama, a man no different from any of his predecessors except in the colour of his skin, chanting about how he is a socialist and a Marxist and a communist. I look at them and I wonder how they can possibly be so oblivious, how they can possibly not realise that all their beliefs and values have been shaped by think-tanks and politicians with the delibarate intent of keeping theem in check; no different, except in volume, from working class Australians who vote for the Liberal Party because they’re frightened of boat people. I could wish that every American would read A People’s History of the United States, but a good chunk of them would throw it aside as “communist rubbish,” and another good chunk would lap up every thing Zinn says without thinking laterally, and would then go spraypaint a local council chamber while listening to Muse. I think what I’m saying is that most people are idiots and deserve what they get from the government.Um, I mean, it was a bit boring sometimes but a really thought-provoking book. Recommended.
  • (4/5)
    This is the "alternate" side of history you may have been taught in high school. Howard Zinn does exactly what he says in presenting a history "disrespectful of governments and respectful of people's movements", and should be read in that context. Given the honest bias, this should be read after or in parallel with a more complete view of history as he does not give the larger context of US and world events, and I he presupposes a knowledge in the reader of these "larger" issues. A well written and dense work. I would suggest the potential reader start with Chapter 23 where Zinn is more direct in his purpose where he summarizes "the Establishment cannot survive without the obedience and loyalty of millions of people who are given small rewards to keep the system going".No matter what your political leaning, there is something for you in this book - outrage at the atrocities of the "elites", or outrage at Zinn's sometime simplistic hinting that America is run by a group of "elites" conspiring to keep everyone else down.