Original Zinn: Conversations with David Barsamian

Original Zinn: Conversations with David Barsamian

by Howard Zinn

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Historian, activist, and bestselling author Howard Zinn has been interviewed by David Barsamian for public radio numerous times over the past decade. Original Zinn is a collection of their conversations, showcasing the acclaimed author of A People's History of the United States at his most engaging and provocative.

Touching on such diverse


Historian, activist, and bestselling author Howard Zinn has been interviewed by David Barsamian for public radio numerous times over the past decade. Original Zinn is a collection of their conversations, showcasing the acclaimed author of A People's History of the United States at his most engaging and provocative.

Touching on such diverse topics as the American war machine, civil disobedience, the importance of memory and remembering history, and the role of artists—from Langston Hughes to Dalton Trumbo to Bob Dylan—in relation to social change, Original Zinn is Zinn at his irrepressible best, the acute perception of a scholar whose impressive knowledge and probing intellect make history immediate and relevant for us all.

Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly
Zinn's newest book (of more than 20 published) collects eight radio interviews conducted with the Boston University history professor emeritus between August 2002 and February 2005 by Barsamian, founder of Alternative Radio, in Boulder, Colo. Barsamian, who is clearly sympathetic to Zinn's radical views on such subjects as the war in Iraq, art and civil disobedience as political tools, Martin Luther King Jr. and the Kennedy brothers, largely poses softball questions. The octogenarian Zinn thrives on them, explaining cogently and forcefully why world peace must predominate, rather than American military might, or how artists challenge established social boundaries. In discussing domestic politics, Zinn continues his decades-long advocacy of pulling up the poor through social engineering rather than failed programs already in place. The book closes with the text of a speech by Zinn, "Against Discouragement," which he presented at Spelman College in 2005, where he had been fired in 1963 because of his crusading for civil rights. Enthusiasts who hang on Zinn's every word will enjoy this slim paperback original; newcomers may be better off starting with his more substantial work. (July) Copyright 2006 Reed Business Information.
School Library Journal
Adult/High School-A collection of eight of Zinn's interviews with Barsamian for public radio during the last decade, plus Zinn's 2005 commencement address at Spelman College. These conversations cover a range of topics, but especially late-20th-century American imperialism and the resistance and dissent that it has engendered. From an informed and steadfast leftist point of view, Zinn lashes out against the American war machine, with a particularly strong criticism of the Bush administration's invasion of Iraq. His theme is clear and persistent: we need to know the truth of what is happening and has happened in the arenas of national and international politics, and we must preserve this truth as part of our collective memory if there is to be any hope of avoiding the social injustices of the past. This is not only Zinn's theme, but also his mission in life. Whether or not one agrees with his political stance, it is hard to deny his keen intellect, vast knowledge, and passion for the rigors of scholarship. The less-formal nature of these conversations, as opposed to traditional historical writing, will be welcomed by those wanting to dip into the political history of the recent past without devoting too much time and energy to doing so. Zinn has a gift for making complex historical subjects immediate, comprehensible, and even tantalizing for average readers. There is a large measure of insight and passion in these conversations, and enough to make history and politics subjects of direct relevance to many teens.-Robert Saunderson, Berkeley Public Library, CA Copyright 2006 Reed Business Information.
Kirkus Reviews
Historian Zinn (History, Emeritus/Boston Univ.) and radio anchor Barsamian have opinionated discussions of America's history, politics and foreign policy in eight interviews from 2002 through 2005. Zinn describes America as a nation paralyzed by fear and deluded by spin on the brink of an unnecessary Iraq War-suppositions that were derided at the time but are now widely supported. He assesses the ideology and tactics of the civil-rights movement to advise today's progressives on how to merge non-violence and direct action for social change. In these interviews, Zinn sounds more impressed with everyday American heroes than famous politicians, yet he is conversant on both topics. His views cannot be easily defined by partisan politics. There are plenty of rebukes to go around, including criticism of political, corporate and media elites across the political spectrum. Zinn backs up his ideas with facts and anecdotes, so the transcripts are intellectually provocative, even when readers do not agree with the conclusions. As an interviewer, Barsamian does not exercise the same discipline. Some of his questions are sloppy. He asks if The Godfather is a good metaphor for how U.S. foreign policy operates on a mafia code, but Zinn demurs. Another question covers New Mexico's ties to atomic-bomb testing while describing past violence toward Native Americans as "perhaps even the first 9/11"; Zinn has to take time to carefully untangle the confusion. Barsamian is also supportive to a fault-there are few challenges to Zinn's ideas, even for the sake of sharpening the arguments at hand. As a set of transcripts, this is quite readable, but those new to Zinn would be better off with A People's History ofthe United States.

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Original Zinn

Conversations on History and Politics
By Howard Zinn

HarperCollins Publishers, Inc.

Copyright © 2006 Howard Zinn
All right reserved.

ISBN: 0060844256

Chapter One

Can the System be Fixed?

Kgnu, Boulder, Colorado

August 8, 2002

I want to start with something from F. Scott Fitzgerald's Great Gatsby, a novel about the Roaring Twenties and the excesses that characterized that period just before the Great Depression. Fitzgerald wrote, "They were careless people. . . . they smashed up things and creatures and then retreated back into their money or their vast carelessness, or whatever it was that kept them together, and let other people clean up the mess they had made."

It's interesting that you should quote Fitzgerald. The twenties have much in common with what we are seeing today. Then there were governments in power that insisted on distributing the wealth of the country in such a way that the rich got richer and the poor were stuck where they were or got even poorer. Wild speculation took place. Vast fortunes were made, while people in poor areas of cities were struggling to pay the rent and put food on the table. It was capitalism run amok. Interestingly, Pope John Paul II, in an interview in an Italian newspaper, talked about "savage, unbridled capitalism." That's what we saw in the twenties and that's what we are seeingtoday. Except that today it is even more unbridled, more savage. And it is running amok on a global scale. It is causing havoc in various countries. Here in the United States many people are in desperate circumstances without medical care, adequate housing, and education.

Why is it that crime in the streets has historically attracted much more attention than what Ralph Nader calls crime in the suites, white-collar crime?

There are several reasons. The people who define crime are connected to those in the suites. They are the ones who say what it is. If somebody holds up a store or robs someone on the street, of course those are crimes. If somebody robs consumers of millions of dollars or robs workers of their lives because of unsafe work conditions, that's not crime. That's business. The media constantly focus on mayhem being done by ordinary people. But what is being done by the corporate giants usually doesn't get into the media until it explodes in a wave of scandals as we have now. There are other reasons for the emphasis on street crime over corporate crime. Street crime is overt, whereas the corporate variety is secret. It is therefore important to have some individuals point out what is being done in secret. At the turn of the century, they were called muckrakers. People like Lincoln Steffens and Ida Tarbell exposing the doings of the Standard Oil Company. In the twenties, there was Fiorello LaGuardia, a congressman from East Harlem, who criticized the rich because the poor in his district were struggling to make ends meet. And today we have our muckrakers. There's Jim Hightower and Barbara Ehrenreich. Ralph Nader has long fought corporate crime. We need to seek out the information that the muckrakers of our time are putting out so that they we aren't completely ignorant of what is going on.

To provide more historical context, how would you compare the current era to that of the robber barons in the late nineteenth century? And explain who they were.

There is a remarkable book by Matthew Josephson entitled The Robber Barons. They were the great corporate executives and moguls of the late nineteenth century, such as the Vanderbilts, Hills, and Harrimans who controlled the railroads; the Carnegies and Mellons who controlled steel and aluminum; the J. P. Morgans who worked out deals by merging companies and making huge profits thereby. They were the people who manipulated the money market. The robber barons owned the factories where workers toiled for fourteen hours a day. They were the counterparts of what we have seen in the twentieth and now the twenty-first centuries: the CEOs making enormous sums of money and laying off their workers without taking care of their health insurance; leaving the workers in the lurch when they are fifty or sixty years old, after having lost their retirement benefits. These are the robber barons of today.

One of the fastest-growing groups entering the job market are people in the fifty-five- to seventy-year-old age bracket who have to go back to work to support themselves.

What is interesting to me is how the word security is bandied about by the government. In the name of security, they fingerprint and keep tabs on people and pick them up in the middle of the night, especially noncitizens and even some who are citizens. A large part of our national wealth is being given to the military budget. And it is all being done in the name of security. While the security of people in their daily lives is being taken away from them. Real security is the security people need when they get to the age when they want to stop working. Or the security that all people need to be able to deal with their medical problems without incurring huge bills that they can't pay. The security of having work when you are able to work. And there are things to be done in the country. The security that children need to grow up in healthy environments. That kind of security is simply put aside while the militarization of the country goes on.

Is the current crisis of capitalism a systemic one?

It is systemic in the sense that it is not just an aberration that will pass if and when a few corporate crooks go to prison. The stock market may go up again. But the fundamental sickness of the system remains. By that I mean that even when the stock market is up and even when the worst excesses of the corporate system have been slightly corrected, fundamental problems remain. And those are the maldistribution of wealth, with one percent of the country owning 40 percent of the wealth; huge salaries at the top; people struggling below; homeless people; many Americans living in inadequate housing, unable to pay the rent.


Excerpted from Original Zinn by Howard Zinn Copyright © 2006 by Howard Zinn. Excerpted by permission.
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Meet the Author

Howard Zinn (1922–2010) was a historian, playwright, and social activist. In addition to A People’s History of the United States, which has sold more than two million copies, he is the author of many books, including the autobiography You Can’t Be Neutral on a Moving Train, The People Speak, and Passionate Declarations

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