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One of the most popular alternative histories of America is A People's History of the United States by Howard Zinn. Originally published in 1980, this "new left textbook," which looks at American history "from below" - i.e., from the perspective of the disenfranchised and marginalized - has sold one million copies. This magnum opus is just one of the fifteen books that Howard Zinn has contributed over more than five decades, and at age 80 he continues to write and remains very actively engaged as a historian, ...
One of the most popular alternative histories of America is A People's History of the United States by Howard Zinn. Originally published in 1980, this "new left textbook," which looks at American history "from below" - i.e., from the perspective of the disenfranchised and marginalized - has sold one million copies. This magnum opus is just one of the fifteen books that Howard Zinn has contributed over more than five decades, and at age 80 he continues to write and remains very actively engaged as a historian, activist, and enthusiastic proponent of radical social reform. For those who value the diversity of American voices and appreciate the importance of radically different viewpoints outside the mainstream, Howard Zinn is a national treasure.
This first-ever biography of Zinn traces in broad strokes the story of his life, placing special emphasis on his involvement in both the Civil Rights movement and the Viet Nam War protests. Besides discussing the major shaping events of his life, biographer and historian Davis Joyce summarizes each of Zinn's books within the context of his life, analyzes the evolution of Zinn's ideas, and concludes with a preliminary assessment of his life's work.
Joyce argues that Zinn's views are radical because they seek to bring about fundamental change in the political, social, and economic order. No armchair historian, Zinn has spent his whole life working for change, and he firmly believes that the American system needs to change radically to realize its own ideals. In a crucial passage from A People's History, Zinn boldly declares his agenda:
"I prefer to try to tell the story of the discovery of America from the viewpoint of the Arawaks, of the Constitution from the standpoint of the slaves, of Andrew Jackson as seen by the Cherokees, ... of the rise of industrialism as seen by the young women in the Lowell textile mills...."
Though some would label Zinn's positions anti-American, Joyce contends that Zinn's approach is rooted in the very ideals upon which the United States was founded, especially as embodied in the Declaration of Independence. His life has been motivated by the vision of what America could be, as opposed to what it actually is, and has been dedicated to the struggle to make that vision a reality. Joyce also considers how Zinn fits into the new left, radical school of historical writing of the 1960s and beyond.
For anyone who has ever been moved by Howard Zinn's unique vision of a better, more inclusive, and egalitarian American future, this biography will be an indispensable resource.
|The Life and Writings of Howard Zinn: A Brief Chronology||23|
|1||Growing Up Class-Conscious, 1922-1956||27|
|2||The South and the Movement, 1956-1964||47|
|3||You Can't Be Neutral on a Moving Train, 1964-1973||81|
|4||You Can't Be Neutral on a Moving Train, 1973-1988||135|
|5||Failure to Quit, 1988-Present||185|
|6||Howard Zinn's Radical American Vision: A Preliminary Assessment||231|
Posted April 21, 2005
If you want to read a book that will make you think, try Davis D. Joyce's biography of the unconventional and controversial historian and activist: Howard Zinn, A Radical American Vision. Joyce paints a picture of an engaging, perplexing man who almost perfectly fits the definition of radical: someone who favors drastic political, economic and social reforms. Zinn is a Democratic socialist who believes basically in an equal distribution of wealth and doesn't seem to like any government, not an existing one anyway. He comes mighty close to being an anarchist. He also apparently believes there is no such thing as a just war. Yet Zinn is a family man who cares for the poor, the downtrodden and minorities and he is a man with the courage of his convictions. According to Joyce, he has been arrested nine times, mainly for supporting racial integration and opposing the Vietnam War. He also has been a popular teacher who drew large crowds to his classes at Boston University. His first teaching job was at Spelman College, a school for African American women in Atlanta, Ga., where he began his fight against segregation. He is considered the leader of the New Left historians, and is strongly admired by the other members of that group, as well as by many of his students. Joyce, a retired history professor himself, is to be commended for bringing us this first biography of a man who wrote what many consider the classic alternative history of the United States, 'A People's History of the United States.' In the interest of full disclosure, I should say that Joyce is my cousin. His book is short (268) pages, but covers the broad outlines of Zinn's life and a detailed look at his writing, his ideas and his activism. For those who are unfamiliar with Zinn, Joyce's book is likely to stimulate an interest in a history that is written 'from the bottom up' rather than 'from the top down.' Zinn prefers to write about the unsung people and some of the unsavory episodes in American history which he thinks are often ignored in more traditional histories. For those who know his ideas, but oppose them, it is likely to provoke an attempt to refute his arguments. For those who support Zinn's positions, it may provoke an attempt to try to spell out ways to achieve Zinn's radical vision. As pictured by Joyce, Zinn is an idealist and a utopian who believes all governments are corrupt and should be overthrown and power put in the hands of the masses. He does not specifically call for an armed revolution, but rather would try to accomplish it by 'demonstrations, marches, civil disobedience; strikes and boycotts and general strikes; direct action to redistribute wealth, to reconstruct institutions, to revamp relationships, creating....a new culture of sharing, of respect, a new joy in the collaboration of people to help themselves and one another.' He does not say, at least it is not reported here, how all of that would be organized, enforced and managed (dare I say governed). Now that could provoke some thought.Was this review helpful? Yes NoThank you for your feedback. Report this reviewThank you, this review has been flagged.
Posted January 19, 2005
Howard Zinn A Radical American Vision is an interesting read and a useful resource for people who seek a deeper understanding of the man, his work, and his historical perspective. Davis Joyce has written a thorough biography on Zinn that should be read by anyone with a heartbeat, a brain, and hope for a better world! You can't be neutral on a moving train. Thank you Aunt Cookie.Was this review helpful? Yes NoThank you for your feedback. Report this reviewThank you, this review has been flagged.