Review by Publisher's Weekly Review
According to this classic of revisionist American history, narratives of national unity and progress are a smoke screen disguising the ceaseless conflict between elites and the masses whom they oppress and exploit. Historian Zinn sides with the latter group in chronicling Indians' struggle against Europeans, blacks' struggle against racism, women's struggle against patriarchy, and workers' struggle against capitalists. First published in 1980, the volume sums up decades of post-war scholarship into a definitive statement of leftist, multicultural, anti-imperialist historiography. This edition updates that project with new chapters on the Clinton and Bush presidencies, which deplore Clinton's pro-business agenda, celebrate the 1999 Seattle anti-globalization protests and apologize for previous editions' slighting of the struggles of Latinos and gays. Zinn's work is an vital corrective to triumphalist accounts, but his uncompromising radicalism shades, at times, into cynicism. Zinn views the Bill of Rights, universal suffrage, affirmative action and collective bargaining not as fundamental (albeit imperfect) extensions of freedom, but as tactical concessions by monied elites to defuse and contain more revolutionary impulses; voting, in fact, is but the most insidious of the "controls." It's too bad that Zinn dismisses two centuries of talk about "patriotism, democracy, national interest" as mere "slogans" and "pretense," because the history he recounts is in large part the effort of downtrodden people to claim these ideals for their own. (Feb. 16) (c) Copyright PWxyz, LLC. All rights reserved
(c) Copyright PWxyz, LLC. All rights reserved
Review by Kirkus Book Review
For Howard Zinn, long-time civil rights and anti-war activist, history and ideology have a lot in common. Since he thinks that everything is in someone's interest, the historian--Zinn posits--has to figure out whose interests he or she is defining/defending/reconstructing (hence one of his previous books, The Politics of History). Zinn has no doubts about where he stands in this ""people's history"": ""it is a history disrespectful of governments and respectful of people's movements of resistance."" So what we get here, instead of the usual survey of wars, presidents, and institutions, is a survey of the usual rebellions, strikes, and protest movements. Zinn starts out by depicting the arrival of Columbus in North America from the standpoint of the Indians (which amounts to their standpoint as constructed from the observations of the Europeans); and, after easily establishing the cultural disharmony that ensued, he goes on to the importation of slaves into the colonies. Add the laborers and indentured servants that followed, plus women and later immigrants, and you have Zinn's amorphous constituency. To hear Zinn tell it, all anyone did in America at any time was to oppress or be oppressed; and so he obscures as much as his hated mainstream historical foes do--only in Zinn's case there is that absurd presumption that virtually everything that came to pass was the work of ruling-class planning: this amounts to one great indictment for conspiracy. Despite surface similarities, this is not a social history, since we get no sense of the fabric of life. Instead of negating the one-sided histories he detests, Zinn has merely reversed the image; the distortion remains. Copyright ©Kirkus Reviews, used with permission.
Copyright (c) Kirkus Reviews, used with permission.