Children's Literature - Debbie LevyZinn's A People's History of the United States made an immediate impact when it was published more than two decades ago. Oft-ignored segments of society, including women, African Americans, American Indians, and workers were front and center in Zinn's alternative to traditional history books; politicians and American businesses were usually the villains. Now the historian/activist and Stefoff have created a young adult version of the best-selling, adult-audience original. The second volume opens at the dawn of the 20th century and provides readers with Zinn's account of U.S. history through the elections of November 2006. (Volume I covers pre-colonial days through the 19th century.) Throughout, Zinn's version of events hews to a consistent message: "Right down to this day, government has been used to serve the needs of the wealthy and powerful. . . . The Establishmentthe club of business leaders, generals, and politicianshas always managed to keep up the pretense of national unity, with a government that claims to represent all the people." Class struggle is the central force in U.S. history. Zinn's perspective may be a helpful corrective to books (and teachers) that present the United States as a "Shining City Upon a Hill" (to quote Ronald Reagan's famous speech). But ultimately, this book is so consistently on-message and on-mission that it loses credibility. The very last sentence of the narrative describes the victory of the Democratic Party over the Republicans in the House of Representatives and the Senate in November 2006 as "a rare democratic moment in the recent history of the nation." It's a catchy characterization. But is it history? Reviewer: Debbie Levy
The classic alternative history of the US retold for young adults.
Children's Literature - Pat ShermanAdapted from Zinn's adult-audience People's History of the United States, this book is sure to generate controversy. Zinn is quite clear about his intention to debunk some of the beloved myths of American history. The question, however, is whether he is replacing those myths with others. Class conflict has surely had an important role in American history, but does it account for every development and event? And is it as simple as rich against poor, as Zinn so often implies? It is not that Zinn is purely polemical, no matter what his critics may charge. He is a highly respected historian who has completed, literally, volumes of research. The chapters about the American Revolution and its aftermath are especially good, as is the story of the expulsion of Native American tribes from their homelands in the southeast. No one can dispute that great injustices were done to enormous numbers of people in the name of liberty. The problem here may be that this book is simply too short and tightly condensed to give readers a genuine sense of Zinn's historiography. Though sources are cited in the text, there are no footnotes and no bibliography, an unfortunate lapse in a book designed to provoke questions. While this is a worthwhile supplementary text for history courses, it leaves a lot to be desired.
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