Howard Zinn: A Life on the Left

Howard Zinn: A Life on the Left

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by Martin Duberman

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Published to great acclaim in hardcover, Martin Duberman’s Howard Zinn was described by Michael Kammen in the Los Angeles Review of Books as “biography at its best, written by a master of the craft and a man who has lived the activist life and combined that with serious scholarship and innovative teaching.” For the millions moved by Howard


Published to great acclaim in hardcover, Martin Duberman’s Howard Zinn was described by Michael Kammen in the Los Angeles Review of Books as “biography at its best, written by a master of the craft and a man who has lived the activist life and combined that with serious scholarship and innovative teaching.” For the millions moved by Howard Zinn’s personal example of political engagement, here is a brilliant new biography of perhaps the most widely celebrated popular interpreter of American history and one of America’s most admired progressive voices.

“Profoundly moving and perfectly timed” (Blanche Wiesen Cook), “compulsively readable and elegant” (ForeWord), “engaging” (History News Network), and “thoughtful” (Reason Online), this fascinating account places Zinn at the heart of the signal events of modern American history—from World War II to the McCarthy era, the civil rights and the antiwar movements, and beyond. A bombardier who later renounced war, a son of working–class parents who earned a doctorate at Columbia, a white professor who taught at the historically black Spelman College in Atlanta—the author of A People’s History of the United States blazed a bold, iconoclastic path through the turbulent second half of the twentieth century. Drawing on the previously closed Zinn archives and illustrated with never–before–published photographs, Howard Zinn brings to life this towering figure—the people’s historian who himself made history, changing forever how we think about our past.

Editorial Reviews

The Washington Post
Like Zinn, [Duberman] is a strong writer who brings an easy familiarity to his subject, giving ample context for Zinn's activism and ideas, such as nimbly framing debates about historical objectivity and engagement. Nor does he shy away from thorny topics…this intelligent book reminds us of titantic moral struggles in American history and those who engaged in them.
—John Tirman
Publishers Weekly
Howard Zinn (1922–2010) was a radical activist, author of the landmark 1980 bestseller A People’s History of the United States, a bottoms-up chronicle of American injustice, racism, and hypocrisy. Admiring but occasionally critical of Zinn, Duberman (A Saving Remnant), CUNY emeritus professor of history, emphasizes that Zinn’s book made no claim to objectivity and “marked a profound shift away from the tone of triumphalism” that characterized earlier histories. Raised in poverty, Zinn served in WWII, earned a Ph.D. at Columbia, and taught at Spelman, a historically black women’s college in Atlanta, from 1956 to 1963, encouraging nascent civil right protests until he was fired for these activities. He moved to Boston University, writing and campaigning until his death. A purely American radical, Zinn had no sympathy with communism or revolution, but often appears cynical, as when he views the Bill of Rights or universal suffrage as mere concessions by the elite to pacify the masses. Duberman’s sympathetic account may lead readers to sympathize with Zinn’s stance that disparaging American freedom for not being expansive enough is preferable to glorifying it uncritically. 24 b&w illus. (Oct.)
From the Publisher

"Biography at its best, written by a master of the craft and a man who has lived the activist life and combined that with serious scholarship and innovative teaching."
—Michael Kammen, Los Angeles Review of Books

"This intelligent book reminds us of the titanic moral struggles in American history and those who engaged with them."
The Washington Post

"Owing to Duberman’s own passionate commitment to social justice and his exclusive access to Zinn's papers, his authoritative biography brings Zinn's colorful voice back to life."
ForeWord Reviews

"If you’re a fan of Howard Zinn . . . you’ll want to pick up this excellent biography."
The Progressive

"Imagine! The best of Howard Zinn and Martin Duberman between two covers. Everyone interested in A People's History and a future of justice and hope will benefit from Martin Duberman's insightful, vividly written, splendid biography. Howard Zinn: A Life on the Left is profoundly moving and perfectly timed as we regroup and reconsider our world's needs."
—Blanche Wiesen Cook, University Distinguished Professor at John Jay College and The Graduate Center, CUNY, and author of Eleanor Roosevelt

"Martin Duberman has written a fine biography. He brings us the extraordinary life of Howard Zinn, in an account that is well-informed and empathetic, sometimes gently critical, but always aware of the driving passion for direct action in the cause of social justice that was the core of Howard Zinn's being."
—Frances Fox Piven

"Howard Zinn was one of the truly great figures of twentieth-century American radicalism—an academic who shocked much of the academy by giving us a ‘people's history’ of our own country. We are fortunate that the author of this biography is Martin Duberman, himself an activist as well as an academic, who brings his passion to these pages."
—David McReynolds

"When Howard Zinn died I hoped that someone would document the extraordinary life of this extremely kind and brave man—but I never dreamed that it would be done by someone with the craft and vision of Martin Duberman. This book is destined to be a classic of twentieth-century history."
—Mark Kurlansky, author of Nonviolence and 1968

"Martin Duberman's masterful biography promises to bring the story of Howard’s life and work to new generations of readers."
—Paul Buhle, editor of A People’s History of American Empire

"A masterful biography. . . . With his typically meticulous research, Martin Duberman has ferreted out the facts and given us a complete picture, warts and all."
—Doug Ireland

Library Journal
Duberman (History, emeritus, CUNY Grad. Sch.; A Saving Remnant), acclaimed social and cultural historian, writes here about pioneering historian Zinn (A People's History of the United States), who fused an academic concern about nonelites with six decades of public action in civil rights and antiwar movements. Duberman recounts Zinn's impoverished childhood, distinguished World War II service, education at Columbia University, first professorship at Spellman College (where he rankled its president), and his later position at Boston University, where president John Silber detested him, as Duberman deliciously details. New Zinn admirers may be pleasantly surprised to learn of his early, high-profile commitment to Atlanta's antisegregation efforts and his role in founding the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee. Those already familiar with Zinn may find patronizing Duberman's editorializing on Vietnam, on differing approaches to sexual fidelity, and on the history of U.S. capitalism. Serious history students may wish Duberman had devoted more analysis to Zinn's methodology and professional legacy, although what brief attention he pays to those subjects is as deeply nuanced and sophisticated as one would expect from such a world-class historian. VERDICT An illuminating but incomplete intellectual biography, this will interest but frustrate historians and continue to charm the already charmed.—Scott H. Silverman, Richmond, IN
Kirkus Reviews
A star-struck biography of the prominent historian and activist. Howard Zinn (1992–2010) is best known as the author of the controversial A People's History of the United States (1979), written to counteract a perceived bias toward the wealthy and privileged in standard history textbooks by highlighting the contributions of those conventionally omitted. Though as unbalanced in one direction as Zinn felt the standard texts were in another, it has been widely influential in affecting the content of a whole generation of textbooks and course syllabi. Zinn presents a challenge for a biographer. During the 1960s, he worked courageously in the civil rights movement and against the Vietnam War; he was closely associated with such prominent figures as Stokely Carmichael, Tom Hayden and Daniel Ellsberg. His emotional life, however, is inaccessible; Zinn disliked discussing emotions and ruthlessly purged his archives of anything touching on feelings or relationships. Apart from an increasing attraction to anarchism, Zinn's political philosophy never evolved much beyond the conventional socialism he adopted in adolescence. Nor did he move on from the issues of the '60s to newer causes like women's and gay rights or globalization. Throughout a long academic career, he confined himself to discussing racial and labor issues and opposing various American military interventions. Consequently, little remains to a biographer but a succession of demonstrations attended, books and articles written, and feuds with two college presidents. By way of context, prize-winning author Duberman (History Emeritus/CUNY Graduate School; A Saving Remnant: The Radical Lives of Barbara Deming and David McReynolds, 2011, etc.) includes summaries of contemporaneous American history presented from a tendentious leftist viewpoint. While Duberman may criticize some of Zinn's writing as simplistic, one-sided or impractical, he clearly has no interest in challenging its fundamental political underpinnings. Recommended for readers already smitten with Zinn.

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New Press, The
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6.00(w) x 8.80(h) x 1.10(d)

Meet the Author

Martin Duberman is Distinguished Professor Emeritus of History at the CUNY Graduate School, where he founded and for a decade directed the Center for Lesbian and Gay Studies. The author of more than twenty books, Duberman has won a Bancroft Prize and been a finalist for both the National Book Award and the Pulitzer Prize. He lives in New York City.

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Howard Zinn: A Life on the Left 5 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 1 reviews.
KateInOhio More than 1 year ago
Especially for those of us who missed much of Zinn's work in the 60's and 70's, this is a very insightful walk through his life and his work. I appreciate the care taken in presenting his deep thinking and the criticisms of his work as well. This book has been my favorite winter reading!