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A People's History


  • Originally published 08/22/2013

    Mitch Daniels wanted to replace Howard Zinn with Bill Bennett in history curriculum

    When former Gov. Mitch Daniels was pushing to keep liberal historian Howard Zinn’s readings out of Indiana classrooms three years ago, he had a definite idea of what should be there instead: conservative education leader Bill Bennett’s review of American history.News that the new Purdue University president tried to have Zinn’s “A People’s History of the United States” kept from classrooms has sparked a surge in demand for the 1980 book at Indiana libraries. It also put Daniels on the defensive over the past month, drawing condemnations from academics nationwide and having him reiterate his support for academic freedom in higher education even as he is steadfast in his belief that Zinn is wrong for lower grades.Emails obtained by The Associated Press through a public records request show Bill Bennett had much more favor among Daniels and his advisers. In January 2010, when Daniels discovered the board of education had changed the state’s textbook rules to allow Bennett’s book, he quickly asked how soon his advisers could get copies of “The Last Best Hope” in classrooms....

  • Originally published 08/08/2013

    Zinn and Daniels Both Guilty of Sacrificing Nuance to Politics

    Emails recently obtained by the Associated Press have revealed that Indiana's former Republican governor, Mitch Daniels, now president of Purdue University, tried to ban Howard Zinn's A People's History of the United States from Indiana schools. His attempt, though perhaps clumsy, wasn't all that surprising.If history tends to be written by the victors, Zinn's alternative take on America's past sought to give voice to the vanquished, telling the story of U.S. history from the perspective of slaves, Indians, laborers and women. The book brought the Boston University historian (who died in 2010) acclaim from many on the American left. But conservatives have had him in their sights for years.

  • Originally published 02/10/2010

    The Left's Blind Spot

    Let's start with Howard Zinn and then move on. Zinn, rather unlikely for a historian, has been feted like a Hollywood celebrity, receiving encomiums from stars like Danny Glover, James Earl Jones, and of course, Matt Damon, whose character in Good Will Hunting famously brandishes a copy of Zinn's A People's History of the United States during a raucus encounter with Robin Williams. In 2003 a large crowd turned out at a celebration in Manhattan at the 92nd Street Y to mark the sale of the one millionth copy of the book. Recently, there was even a television series built around the book's themes.Why is Zinn so popular (with the general public, if not with historians, many of whom have expressed reservations about his books)? The answer is that Zinn plays the role in a self-satisfied often-uncritical mainstream culture of the seemingly attractive dangerous rebel. "If you want to read a real history book, read Howard Zinn's A People's History of the United States," Damon exclaims in the movie. "That book will knock you on your ass."

  • Originally published 02/10/2010

    Howard Zinn's Disputed Legacy

    Rick Shenkman and Michael Kazin, writing six years apart, criticized Howard Zinn's historical method, and there is much to criticize.  It's true we have seen many, many instances of people at the bottom or in the middle, the masses of people, going along with those in power or even leading the charge in the wrong direction.  History is full of people rooting against their own class interests.  We see a lot of that today.So, historians rightly have arguments with A People's History.  It is not nuanced, it is not complex enough, it is wrong in particulars.  Or maybe you think it is leads people in the wrong direction altogether, creating "the left's blind spot."  Presumably, a bottom up view of history is pretty simple and absolves the masses from their culpability in the affairs of the state.

  • Originally published 10/16/2004

    Howard Zinn: Rock Star

    Tim Goodman, in the San Francisco Chronicle (Oct. 13, 2004):Last month, Daniel Flynn, a conservative pundit, published "Intellectual Morons," a 304-page book that rips Zinn for "America bashing" and biased writing. The tome also criticizes Noam Chomsky, Gore Vidal and other intellectuals who've been critical of the United States, but it singles out Zinn for special scrutiny because of Zinn's success with "A People's History of the United States.""A People's History" has sold more than 1 million copies since its release in 1980, making it one of the most popular works on American history. Conservatives hate the book because it excoriates Ronald Reagan, gives detailed examples of U.S. imperialism, outlines practices that led to the slaughter and depopulation of Native Americans, and even questions the motives of George Washington and other Founding Fathers. (Among other things, Zinn refers to Washington as a member of the elite who personally benefited from the Constitution.)

  • Originally published 06/09/2003

    Howard Zinn's Biased History

    Who is the most influential historian in America? Could it be Pulitzer Prize winners Arthur Schlesinger, Jr. or Joseph Ellis or David McCullough, whose scholarly works have reached a broad literary public? The answer is none of the above. The accolade belongs instead to the unreconstructed, anti-American Marxist Howard Zinn, whose cartoon anti-history of the United States is still selling 128,000 copies a year twenty years after its original publication. Many of those copies are assigned readings for courses in colleges and high schools taught by leftist disciples of their radical mentor.“Objectivity is impossible,” Zinn once remarked, “and it is also undesirable. That is, if it were possible it would be undesirable, because if you have any kind of a social aim, if you think history should serve society in some way; should serve the progress of the human race; should serve justice in some way, then it requires that you make your selection on the basis of what you think will advance causes of humanity.”History serving “a social aim” other than the preservation or interpretation of a historical record is precisely what we get in A People’s History of the United States. Howard Zinn’s 776 page tome, which after selling more than a million copies, has been recently re-released in a hardback edition.

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