Just over a year ago, I walked into the 1/2 price book store in Olathe, Kansas, and there I found an old, well-worn copy of a famously scandalous history book- A Peoples History of the United States. I’ve always enjoyed history. I love the idea of looking back and seeing how humanity has moved over the course of time, and so I was excited to begin this new book.
It took over a year, but recently I finally finished this 700 page history work written by the late Howard Zinn. Zinn crafted this work, not from the same perspective as most- viewing the rise from the perspective of the victor…rather, he told the story from the mouths of the losers. The ones history tends to forget.
“Peoples History” works its way from Columbus’ conquest, concludes with the 2000 election, and covers the grand scope of events in between. This book documents the relationship between America and the Indians. He talks of our history with slavery, and the women’s rights movements. He discusses the rise of unions and the use for protests. He discusses the civil rights movements (the stories we aren’t told in most school history texts…), and the major (and more often times covert) wars that the U.S. has waged throughout the years. He uncovers many rocks that are uncomfortable as an American. We see the bad that has been hidden for so long. We see that, while many elements of our history have been positive, there are many significant parts that have been negative, and have caused significant damage and harm to those who stood in the way.
This, in my opinion, is where this books importance comes into play. I deeply believe that this book is not about the politics. Sure, Zinn is a socialist, and he attempts to prove how socialism reigns supreme to capitalism. Many will toss the book aside on the knowledge of this right off…but in doing so, they risk losing something invaluable. The role of history is to educate the coming generations as to what has happened, in order that we might move forward and never repeat our mistakes. This was something that was deeply impressed on me during my time in Switzerland. During a trip, a few friends and I went to the Dachau Concentration Camp. While there, I learned that every German student is mandated to visit a concentration camp during their school years. They are shown the horrors of their country’s history, and because they see first hand the horrors of their past, they know how to avoid such evil again. History is the greatest of teachers. But history can only teach us if we’ll listen.
This is the message that Howard Zinn hopes to convey. A message of where our country has come from (good and bad) and how we can become a country that truly lives for the good of all. Not from a governmental standpoint, but as fellow Americans. It’s our right and our responsibility to look after one another. We are to care for each other, and when someone is taken advantage of, we fight until their rights are recognized.
While, as is the case with most books, I don’t agree with all the points Zinn makes, I believe he makes far more positives than negatives. Likewise, I do believe the messages that are expressed in this book are messages that are important for every person to hear.
As he wrote in his book, “The cry of the poor is not always just, but if you don’t listen to it, you will never know what justice is.”
History is the greatest of teachers, and we are charged with the responsibility of listening.
I give this book a rating of 9/10