A People's History of the United States of America by Howard Zinn

This is the most comprehensive history book I have ever read, of any kind. Weighing in at almost 700 pages, this book takes you from the landing of Columbus all the way through the War on Terror. But this is American history from a different perspective than usually provided. It is history from the point of view (or at least with a point of concern) of natives, slaves, feminists, workers, soldiers, revolutionaries and malcontents, the poor, sick and huddled masses. It is a history that questions great men, great corporations and great wars instead of exalting them.

Howard Zinn is obviously a true scholar with a deep knowledge of our nation's history. He has an amazing ability to dig up relevant facts and documents and synthesize a cohesive view. This book is incredibly well referenced, with citations, quotations and excerpts from other sources throughout.

However, along with all the facts comes an incredibly strong set of opinions. Almost every achievement of social progress or any other action that our government has made is viewed cynically. In Zinn's view, every good thing that has happened in our history was allowed by the powerful simply to reduce the frustration of the people below a boiling point, or to divide us against ourselves. Desegregated schools are seen simply as ways to continue pitting white against black. Environmental, safety and other public-health regulations are simply a way to lull the public into a feeling of safety and let capitalism take its toll and reap its benefits. The Revolutionary War was simply a way for the upper class of the American colonies to keep more of the natural wealth of this country for themselves. Our involvement in World War II is seen as a way of extending and solidifying a global empire rather than saving the world from fanatical evil. He is most skeptical of Democratic presidents of the 20th century, seeing almost every progressive thing they did as a facade.

He puts up a powerful set of evidence to support this sort of view of history. However, I believe that almost every good action by any person is motivated by a complex network of reasons, some of them cynical and selfish, some of them pure and sincere. I doubt there could be any progress in America or anywhere without compromise and ulterior motives. Zinn seems willing to disregard anything good that America has done unless it was done with the purest of pure intents. Unfortunately, I don't see this being something we can expect out of any government run by human beings.

Still, even with it's loaded point of view, this book should be read by everyone who wants to understand American history more fully. It will definitely teach you facts you don't yet know, and expose you to opinions you have never fully considered.

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