A People’s History of the United States
“You wanna read a real history book?” Matt Damon asks Robin Williams in the movie Good Will Hunting. “Read Howard Zinn’s People’s History of the United States. That book’ll knock you on your ass.” It’ll do that and more. Howard Zinn’s A People’s History of the United States has sold more than 2 million copies. And it keeps on selling. Zinn’s close friend Noam Chomsky said the book “changed the consciousness of a generation.” Zinn’s history from below approach was to foreground as he said, “the countless small actions of unknown people.” It was a sharp departure from the standard Big Man theory of history: General so and so President so and so, etc.
Recorded at Reed College.
Howard Zinn, professor emeritus at Boston University, was perhaps this country’s premier radical historian. He was born in Brooklyn in 1922. His parents, poor immigrants, were constantly moving to stay, as he once told me, “one step ahead of the landlord.” After high school, he went to work in the Brooklyn Navy Yard. During World War II, he saw combat duty as an air force bombardier. After the war, he went to Columbia University on the GI Bill. He taught at Spelman, the all black women’s college in Atlanta. He was an active figure in the civil rights movement and served on the board of SNCC, the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee. He was fired by Spelman for his activism. He was among the first to oppose U.S. aggression in Indochina. His book Vietnam: The Logic of Withdrawal was an instant classic. A principled opponent of imperialism and militarism, he was an advocate of non-violent civil disobedience. He spoke and marched against the U.S. wars on Afghanistan and Iraq. His masterwork, A People’s History of the United States, continues to sell in huge numbers. Among his many books are A Power Governments Cannot Suppress and Original Zinn with David Barsamian. Just before his death he completed his last great project, the documentary The People Speak. Always ready to lend a hand, he believed in and practiced solidarity. Witty, erudite, generous and loved, Howard Zinn, friend and teacher, passed away on January 27, 2010. His words inspire many the world over, “We don’t have to wait for some grand utopian future. To live now, as human beings should live, in defiance of all that is bad around us, is itself a marvelous victory.”