Skip to main content

Book report: A People's History of the United States

A People's History of the United States by Howard Zinn is probably one of the most cynical takes on American history ever written.  It is blatantly and openly biased, intentionally seeking to tell the stories that the author feels aren't told through the traditional narrative of US history.  Despite being openly antagonistic A People's History is full of citations from first hand and second hand sources as well as quotes from other published history texts.  In other words it takes many of the bleakest points in American History (chattel slavery, native genocide, worker suppression) and does a great job proving that, yes, things really were "as bad as all that."  

On the whole I'm happy to read a starkly different telling of US history, especially in relation to our foreign policy.  Zinn leaves little doubt around the imperialistic ambitions of many of the United States military conflicts (especially the  Mexican American and Vietnam Wars).  He implies that every armed conflict the US has engaged in, including the revolutionary war and WWII had imperialistic motivations.  I find this a bit of a stretch but the arguments are compelling nonetheless.

The one major problem I have however is that A People's History delves to deeply into a mentality of class warfare.  I don't think it too outlandish to say this book is read a bit pro-communist.   Too much of this classist snobbery, "us v. them" mentality has polluted our national dialogue with its false dichotomy.  It’s stink of what Lord Baden-Powell would call cuckooism.  It may be naive, but I can’t help but think pitting the proletariat squarely against the bourgeoisie is a recipe for violence and disaster.  In a happy society mutual respect should flow freely between classes.  This sort of idealistic outlook seems impossible in the US, but I won’t be party to fanning the flames of class warfare.  

This being said, the book tells a heroic tale of the labor movement in the US.  When you read about ladies working with toxic material, working 60+ hour weeks and being paid in company scrip (imagine working at Walmart and being paid in store credit), a system that resembles slavery much more than a free market exchange, the problem is clear.  The unionizing and strikes that took place around the turn of the century were clearly necessary.  You have to be some kind of special plutocratic libertarian to be ok with that level of mistreatment.

Ultimately A People’s History attempts and is successful in portraying the overall story of US history from a different perspective, one with fewer heroic and altruistic characters.  With something as complex as the history of our country it is important for citizens to know every fact available, shaded in every hue.  This book is biased, but its bias is so clear that the message and the history both are not lost.  

As my kids get older and are ready to intellectually and emotionally understand the darker parts of our past (beyond the simple “people did some bad things”) I’d likely use parts of this book as supplemental readying for homeschooling.


Popular posts from this blog

Favorite Things: May 2018 Edition

New series of monthly (my intentions at least) things I'm really enjoying...
Ride ReportRide Report is an app which uses your phone's location data to automatically keep track of your bike rides.  For each ride it asks you a simple survey "How was your ride."  After collecting enough survey data from rides Ride Report can generate a map showing the worst and best rides for a city.  Some cities are even using this data to make better transportation decisions.  
I'm not sure if this app will work at a smaller scale for a city like The Dalles, but the idea is very cool.  The more people the use it the more helpful it will be.  At this point I've only ever said my rides were great and being the only user in town this is very unscientific. I highly recommend using this app for fun and better city planning or at least better informed fellow cyclists.

LibbyLibby is an app which allows you to borrow ebooks through your local library.  For some reason it is much easier f…

A Special 2018 Kind of Father's Day Message

I've been seeing a fair bit in the news coverage lately about federal policy changes which have resulted in children being separated from their parents at the border of the United States. In the short amount of time that these policy changes have been in place the US has separated at least 2,000 children from their parents. This is leading to the erection of tent cities to house children because the re-purposed Walmarts we have been housing immigrant children in are near full capacity. This according to the President of the American Academy of Pediatrics, as well as anyone with common sense, is horrible for the mental and emotional health of children.

As a father and a US citizen I'm outraged by the trauma these children are experiencing at the hands of the federal government.  And things have taken an even more irritating turn.  Our Attorney General, who is quoted as saying the KKK  "were OK until I learned they smoked pot," cited the Apostle Paul in defense of th…

How to not dread running.

It’s warming up and the sun has been shining (kind of). You could almost say it was running season.  I have to admit however, at the when it first started warming up this year I was dreading starting to run.  Memories of last year's misery haunted me and I was seriously contemplating giving the whole thing up.  Ultimately I did give running one another shot.
So how are things going this year?Pretty darn well actually. Better than ever even! This year I’ve earned PRs for every distance Strava keeps track of, I haven’t suffered any injuries and I’m genuinely enjoying myself. This is much better than last year. Last year I had a short and fairly miserable season, plagued with injuries.

Last year I had a few goals tied up with running. I wanted to run longer and faster than I ever had. I had really detailed goals for each week of the summer, how far I should be running and at what pace. I tried to make sure I never broke the “10% rule” adding too much distance each week, but this still