Howard Zinn lived a left of center life. This is a left of center book. It’s adapted from the adult version “A People’s History of the United States.” Let me say at the outset that this book would be best suited for kids from liberal families. This book would also be best suited for kids who have already studied the basics of American history because, I suspect as part of the adaptation, bits and pieces of events are left out so a neophyte in American history might become confused.
Zinn is interested in the power equation between conquerors and those conquered, between those with wealth in this country and those without, between the rich and powerful in this country and everyone else, between this country and the countries with which we engage in war.
Instead of celebrating Christopher Columbus as the person who discovered the New World, Zinn vilifies him for his treatment of the Indians he encountered. Zinn paints a terribly grim picture of the way the US treated Indians who were here before us. His view of those who wrote the Constitution is that they were trying to preserve the position of the wealthy and powerful.
This quote sums up the book quite well: “The greatest March of economic growth in human history took place in the United States in the late nineteenth century. The wealth it produced was like a pyramid. The supporting layers, those who built the pyramid and held it up, where the workers: blacks, whites, Chinese and European immigrants, women. At the top where the new American multimillionaires.” (p171).
I was incredulous as I read about the American Revolution. According to Zinn the rich and powerful Americans redirected lower-class anger about inequality aimed at them towards the British so that they could maintain their position of power. This goes against my “We the People” view of the American Revolution. However, as I continued reading and moved into the period of time I’ve lived through, I found his telling of the story to be exactly right. I will re-examine my views about the American Revolution.
The book is fascinating and very readable. It has full page black and white photos and drawings throughout. There’s a glossary and a thorough index at the back. I wish there had been footnotes. A bibliography of books for further reading would also have been helpful.
As a testament to the power of the book, let me say that I have been reading it for a week (I read slowly), and I’m ready to go out and work to change our society so that wealth is better distributed, and so that everyone will have access to an excellent education and excellent healthcare and nourishing food and shelter that maintains their privacy.