logo
Wrong email address or username
Wrong email address or username
Incorrect verification code
back to top
Search tags: United-States-History
Load new posts () and activity
Like Reblog Comment
show activity (+)
review 2017-08-14 18:47
"A People's History of the United States" by Howard Zinn
A People's History of the United States: 1492 to Present - Howard Zinn

One late night, having been sucked into a dead end conversation with a drunk old man, it came out that I had studied history in college and that I had focused on Irish history. 

 

"Irish history!?," he shouted. "Why there wouldn't be any Irish history without the English!"

 

The "great man" theory of history had never been laid so nakedly to me before. The idea that the decisions of British monarchs were not just a major force on Irish history, but the only thing that mattered was so obviously wrong I was flabbergasted. 

 

Between the time when that old man's education and my own, the rote memorization of kings, presidents, and dates, while not completely out of style, had been supplemented by the stories of the people who lived in those times. Ethnic, social, and other groups that rose up in the 60s and 70s awoke people in and out of academia to an interest in what it was actually like to live at different times and places. They started to look not only at how Andrew Jackson dealt with Native American tribes, but in the tribes themselves, their histories, motives, home lives, and what happened after big events like the Trail of Tears. 

 

Howard Zinn's A People's History of the United States was among the first and most well-known books to come out of this new school of history. It's a survey of the entirety of European presence in the United States of America, from the landing of Columbus to — in my edition —  the bombing of Afghanistan after 9/11. Zinn tries to do this by collecting the stories of people who lived outside of the government: farmers, factory workers, Native Americans, African-Americans, women, domestic workers, miners, and so on.

 

Most of us by this time recognize the spark notes: disease and massacres against the Native Americans, slavery and stolen rights for black people, insult and deportation for Latinx, hard labor and exclusion for Chinese immigrants, and women of all ethnicities resigned to domestic servitude. These high level facts are enough to be upsetting but Zinn brings us closer in, using contemporary documents to illustrate how these played out on an individual level. What did it mean to be an enslaved black woman or a Native American family marched from their homes in Georgia to an unknown expanse in Oklahoma. These stories are even more devastating than you remember or could have imagined.

 

In a book that covers a great breadth of human experiences, going into detail requires that he move through subjects quickly. If you want a comprehensive dive into the civil rights movement or women's suffrage you will have to find more pointed books on those topics. Zinn acknowledges this weakness in the afterword, pointing out that he didn't go far enough into LGBTQ issues and the Latinx labor movements in California, for example, and he recommends some books for further reading on those issues, if you are interested. But by taking the time to explore these stories past the statistics, A People's History carries a punch that numbers and charts alone could not achieve.

 

Because of all the good that is in this book, my critiques feel minor, but there were aspects that I feel distracted from the good of the book and made it harder to finish and embrace. 

 

My first issue actually cuts both ways. Zinn doesn't bother to retread the traditional history of many subjects. He assumes you know what is taught in favor of different wars and our westward expansion or maybe he doesn't care to make other people's arguments for them. In a way, this is clarifying. How we act as a nation, or even personally, shouldn't be subject to how others act against us. In more specific terms, if an enemy targets civilians our responsibility, if we are the force for good we insist we are, to not respond in kind. Usually we might try to soften criticism against our actions by listing off the ways others have done wrong, but Zinn offers no such quarter. This does serve as a challenge because there are almost certainly causes in American history you supported and will feel slighted by when Zinn points out the cruel American actions, say in World War II, without bothering with the disclaimer that "the other guys were worse."

 

I also found that A People's History works best in the parts where the name is treated literally — as a history focused on people — rather than euphemistically — see: the People's Republic of ______. As the book starts covering the rise of populism and socialism in the early 20th century, Zinn allows himself to get pulled from the stories of people living under government decisions and in a harsh, dangerous industrial economy to the political efforts he would side with. In his defense, mass demonstrations, general strikes, and calls for government control of industries have been pushed to the margins in many books, but Zinn presents a certain kind of movement as the most legitimate. As we push into the Nixon and Reagan eras his argument really gets strained. He raises up mass demonstrations as the voice of the people, but then has to get it to jibe with the electoral victories of angry, pro-capital men like Nixon, Reagan and Bush in moments that seem to be defined by activism. He looks at elections with skepticism, noting that over half the electorate stays home. This means even the landslide electoral victories represent the votes of just over a quarter of the electorate — a fair point. He attributes this to disillusionment then says the elected act undemocratically when they take positions that go against what the people believe according to polls. It's at worst a convenient belief, at best an optimistic one.

 

Some Democrats are now playing with the idea that a true economic populist would swing working-class voters back to their party, but Zinn seems to believe that such a platform would rewire the whole system, break down the cultural and political lines that divide natural allies in the poor, working and middle classes. I think he has to believe this. Addressing many of the systemic problems would require a huge electoral mandate ... or a turning away from democracy as we know it. 

 

 

Part of his turn toward demonstrations, he acknowledges, is to offer some hope. This is a devastating book that highlights how the government has done many truly indefensible things that we now have to live with. America's is a devastating and moving history. It's also very long, and in Zinn's hands, sometimes tedious. I had to put it down for a few months — after the election — partly because it was a lot to handle and because I hit a wall.

 

For those who have been frightened by the openly antagonistic role of the current administration to immigrants, the poor, people of color, the LGBTQ community, and so on, this is great place to start reminding yourself that America has never been good to these groups and how easily it can slip from bad to worse. There are constant efforts to bury the sins of our past, by removing it from our schools, by decrying these facts as unpatriotic, but knowledge is the first step in making real change to address these deep-rooted problems. 

Like Reblog Comment
show activity (+)
review 2017-08-11 22:51
Review of Theodore Roosevelt's History of the United States by Daniel Ruddy
Theodore Roosevelt's History of the United States - Daniel Ruddy

I loved this book! What a neat idea to take pieces from Teddy's Roosevelt's writings (and he wrote more than most mortals) and turn it into a history book of the United States. Fascinating to read his thoughts and opinions, especially about individuals he did not like. Very interesting to see that he loved Lincoln, Washington, and Root and that he despised Jefferson and Bryan. Highly recommended read for anyone that is a fan of TR!

Like Reblog Comment
show activity (+)
review 2015-10-26 19:26
Review: An Indigenous Peoples' History of the United States
An Indigenous Peoples' History of the United States (ReVisioning American History) - Roxanne Dunbar-Ortiz

First off, let me say that this book is great and it is desperately needed. While I have long turned my ears to the cries of injustice, the echoes of the indigenous peoples of the Americas have rarely made the impact they do here. Why? Because we are taught so little. Because in the spectrum of U.S. history, it is relatively ancient. Because there are so few today who raise their voices and demand to tell the story. Sure, we know the stories we were told in elementary school were erroneous. We know Columbus was not worth our celebration. We know Thanksgiving is a lie. We may even know the big events: The Trail of Tears, Little Bighorn, etc. I may be speaking out of place, but I would venture to guess most of us, even those who know the history of injustice in the United States, do not know all this. Certainly, I did not.

And so this book is needed. The genocide, the broken treaties, the lies, the programs that blatantly dressed in the garments of unabashed racism (all of which continued much much longer than I had imagined)--all that is spelled out so clearly here. And I must sincerely thank the author for having the courage and insight to put it all on paper.

That said, An Indigenous Peoples' History of the United States reads a little too heavily like a textbook. And like other textbooks, it is a textbook with an agenda. In some ways, that's good, because we need a textbook that tells the other side of the story; but in the same way school textbooks imply that Indians are uncivilized brutes, An Indigenous Peoples' History... implies that the white man is savage and greedy. This angle doesn't bode well for a work that should educate, not finger point. In fact, this book does little to paint the indigenous people of North America as much more than victims; I would've appreciated learning more about their history sans the white man. If An Indigenous Peoples' History... is indeed meant to counter the school textbook, it is my feeling that it should stand as an anti-textbook and bear as little similarity to the textbook lies as possible.

Additionally, the book is repetitive at times, foreshadowing an event and then, when chronologically appropriate, retelling those details in almost the same words. Surely, this book would not have suffered from tighter editing.

Minor quibbles aside, this book is important. It may not be the most riveting story of indigenous persecution (though it has turned me onto finding some of those works), but it is likely the most complete, relatively concise work on the subject. Those interested in or who feel obligated to learn of the injustices perpetrated by the United States throughout history should consider this one an essential read.

Like Reblog Comment
show activity (+)
review 2015-10-06 15:41
Detailed and fascinating account of America’s first First Family
The Washingtons: George and Martha, "Join'd by Friendship, Crown'd by Love" - Flora Fraser

While this doesn’t flow with the feeling of a novel, source material is too scant for that, Flora Fraser has still managed to put together a fascinating, often moving, portrait of America’s first First Family, and through them a history of the Revolutionary War and the early years of the United States, including the issue of slavery since the Washingtons had enslaved people in their service. Unfortunately, very little correspondence between George and Martha Washington survives, Martha burned all that was in her possession when George died, but Fraser fleshes out their life and relationship using what there is, including diary entries, letters written to and from other people, and precise requests for clothing, cloth and other goods that the couple made to merchants.

 

The book’s meticulous details are the basis of its strength, and Fraser includes all her sources in the Notes section. I was especially interested in the opening chapters featuring George Washington as a pragmatic young man and the early days of his courtship of and then marriage to Martha. I knew least about those times, and I enjoyed encountering Martha as attractive, wealthy young widow, managing her first husband’s estates and raising their children on her own. This interlude of independence served her well when George left their home in Mount Vernon to lead the Continental Army.

 

In spite, or maybe because, of the many difficulties in their lives, including the premature death of all of Martha’s children, the relationship between the Washingtons was charmingly close, and George’s military colleagues were glad when Martha joined him at army encampments because his mood always improved when she was around. The book goes on to cover the politically tumultuous years after the Revolution, George’s two presidential terms, and the brief time the Washingtons were able to enjoy retirement from public life. The last chapter concludes with Martha’s death in 1802, three years after George passed away.

 

Source: jaylia3.wordpress.com/2015/10/06/detailed-and-fascinating-of-americas-first-first-family
Like Reblog Comment
show activity (+)
text 2014-06-28 15:55
A People's History of the United States: 1492 to Present By Howard Zinn $2.49
A People's History of the United States: 1492 to Present - Howard Zinn

Great Book! 

More posts
Your Dashboard view:
Need help?