Book Club: A People’s History of the United States

In a case of really odd timing, Howard Zinn, the author of the book we are discussing this month, A People’s History of the United States, died yesterday at the age of 87. You can read a nice, short obit to him here. You can also find the full text of A People’s History online here, if you would like to read it.

History books are written from the perspective of the victors, not the vanquished. A People’ History is unique, in that it is the other way around. It tells America’s history “from the point of view of– and in the words of– America’s women, factory workers, African Americans, Native Americans, working poor, and immigrant laborers.” In other words, it tells the story of the people that were living it, instead of the privileged few whose views often taint the history that we are taught.
One of the biggest things that I took away from Zinn’s book was how much history really is from the point of the person telling the story. Zinn says:

“My point is not that we must, in telling history, accuse, judge, condemn Columbus in absentia. It is too late for that; it would be a useless scholarly exercise in morality. But the easy acceptance of atrocities as a deplorable but necessary price to pay for progress (Hiroshima and Vietnam, to save Western civilization; Kronstadt and Hungary, to save socialism; nuclear proliferation, to save us all) – that is still with us. One reason these atrocities are still with us is that we have learned to bury them in a mass of other facts, as radioactive wastes are buried in containers in the earth. We have learned to give them exactly the same proportion of attention that teachers and writers often give them in the most respectable classrooms and textbooks. This learned sense of moral proportion, coming from the apparent objectivity of the scholar, is accepted more easily than when it comes from politicians at press conferences. It is therefore more deadly.”

These next two points, as someone who has read, and very much loved, Friere’s Pedagogy of the Oppressed, fall very much in line with his thinking:

“My point is not to grieve for the victims and denounce the executioners. Those tears, that anger, cast into the past, deplete our moral energy for the present. And the lines are not always clear. In the long run, the oppressor is also a victim. In the short run (and so far, human history has consisted only of short runs), the victims, themselves desperate and tainted with the culture that oppresses them, turn on other victims.”

“I will try not to overlook the cruelties that victims inflict on one another as they are jammed together in the boxcars of the system. I don’t want to romanticize them. But I do remember (in rough paraphrase) a statement I once read: ‘The cry of the poor is not always just, but if you don’t listen to it, you will never know what justice is.’”

I appreciate that, while he tries to tell history from the point of the vanquished, the ones whose voices are not often heard, he still acknowledges that the victors are victims as much as the vanquished are. We are all victims of our own circumstance, and that shapes our view of the world, and our place in it.
R.I.P., Howard Zinn. And thank you.
To comment on this post, or add your thoughts to the discussion, head on over to Merda D’Artista, where Nell Gwynne is hosting this month’s discussion.
If you’re interested in joining in next month, you can head here for more details about the book club. We will be reading Panic: The Story of Modern Financial Insanity by Michael Lewis.
This entry was posted in Book Club. Bookmark the permalink. Post a comment or leave a trackback: Trackback URL.

Post a Comment

Your email is never published nor shared. Required fields are marked *


You may use these HTML tags and attributes: <a href="" title=""> <abbr title=""> <acronym title=""> <b> <blockquote cite=""> <cite> <code> <del datetime=""> <em> <i> <q cite=""> <strike> <strong>

Subscribe without commenting

  • This site contains adult content and is not intended for anyone under the age of 18. Under 18? Click here:


  • Britni TheVadgeWig

    PhotobucketI'm Britni, a snarky bitch and generally awesome person. I write about sex, love, and bullshit. If sex-positivity, discussions about BDSM and kink, queer issues, and topics that are completely inappropriate by society's standards make you uncomfortable, then this blog is not for you.
    Photobucket Photobucket
  • Because I Am a Shameless, Broke-Ass Bitch

    All donations are welcome, of course! You can always buy me something off my wishlist, as well.

  • Get Yourself Off

    Good Vibes PinkCherry Sex Toys Love yourself. Everyday. Tickle. Photobucket ER-150x250-1a_3 / JT's Stockroom
  • Photobucket
  • See My Writing At

    Photobucket Photobucket
  • Watch Them Get Off

    visit Photobucket visit
  • The What

  • The Who

  • Go Back In Time