A People's History of American Empire

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Adapted from the bestselling grassroots history of the United States, the story of America in the world, told in comics form

Since its landmark publication in 1980, A People’s History of the United States has had six new editions, sold more than 1.7 million copies, become required classroom reading throughout the country, and been turned into an acclaimed play. More than a successful book, A People’s History triggered a revolution in the way history is told, displacing the ...

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Adapted from the bestselling grassroots history of the United States, the story of America in the world, told in comics form

Since its landmark publication in 1980, A People’s History of the United States has had six new editions, sold more than 1.7 million copies, become required classroom reading throughout the country, and been turned into an acclaimed play. More than a successful book, A People’s History triggered a revolution in the way history is told, displacing the official versions with their emphasis on great men in high places to chronicle events as they were lived, from the bottom up.

Now Howard Zinn, historian Paul Buhle, and cartoonist Mike Konopacki have collaborated to retell, in vibrant comics form, a most immediate and relevant chapter of A People’s History: the centuries-long story of America’s actions in the world. Narrated by Zinn, this version opens with the events of 9/11 and then jumps back to explore the cycles of U.S. expansionism from Wounded Knee to Iraq, stopping along the way at World War I, Central America, Vietnam, and the Iranian revolution. The book also follows the story of Zinn, the son of poor Jewish immigrants, from his childhood in the Brooklyn slums to his role as one of America’s leading historians.

Shifting from world-shattering events to one family’s small revolutions, A People’s History of American Empire presents the classic ground-level history of America in a dazzling new form.

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Editorial Reviews

From Barnes & Noble
First published in 1980, A People's History of the United States earned author Howard Zinn a National Book Award nomination, bestselling status, and plaudits for starting a "quiet revolution" in historical writing. Since then, the People's History has been published in several editions under different titles, but never before has it appeared as a graphic work. Mike Konopacki's cartoons tell the story of U.S. expansionism from Wounded Knee to Iraq. A ground-level history in a striking new form.
From the Publisher
“At the heart of this wide-ranging comics indictment of American Empire are the terrific human stories of those who have resisted—including wonderful autobiographical episodes from author Howard Zinn’s own courageous and inspiring life.”—Joe Sacco, author of Safe Area Gorazde

“Ingenious in its conception and brilliant in execution, this comics version of Howard Zinn's classic history breathes new life into the stories of people who never thought their stories would be told.  It is urgently necessary for our times: read this book and see how to raise your voice against all the forces that would drown you out.  A modern activist's primer!”—Ben Affleck

School Library Journal

Gr 10 Up -A study of empire-building by established politicians and big businesses from the 1890 Massacre at Wounded Knee through the current Iraq war. As nonfiction sequential art narrative, this stellar volume is compelling both as historical interpretation and you-are-there observation during many eras and in many climes. Konopacki melds realistic and energetic cartoons-Zinn lecturing in the present day, American and Vietnamese soldiers in the jungle, the Shah of Irana's White Revolution-with archival photos and document scraps to create a highly textured visual presentation. Each episode has its own period-specific narrator: Woody Guthrie sings about the Ludlow Massacre, a zoot suiter recounts the convergence of racial politics with popular music, and Zinn remembers his class-conscious boyhood through World War II soldiering and activism undertaken as a Civil Rights-era college professor. Politically charged, this book cana't stand alone as a history text, but it is an essential component for contemporary American government education, as well as an easy work to suggest to both narrative nonfiction and sophisticated comics readers.-Francisca Goldsmith, Halifax Public Libraries, Nova Scotia

Kirkus Reviews
The unknown history and devastating impact of American imperial activities abroad. In this impressively ambitious, if scattered, new offering from Metropolitan's wide-ranging American Empire Project, left-wing historians Zinn (The Unraveling of the Bush Presidency, 2007, etc.) and Buhle (History/Brown Univ.; Students for a Democratic Society: A Graphic History, 2008, etc.) collaborate with graphic artist Konopacki on a graphic adaptation of key sections from Zinn's bestselling A People's History of the United States (1980). The book is imagined as a lecture on the ugly side of history, delivered by the lean, aging Zinn to a darkened auditorium, with each episode illustrated by Konopacki's almost childishly simple illustrations, sometimes crudely buttressed with grainy photographs. Occasionally, perky sidebars titled "ZINNformation" pop up to point readers to a modern analogy or an interesting bit of trivia. It's an effective technique for delivering this laundry list of despicable behavior, though at times the illustrations seem less than capable of truly rendering their subjects. After a prologue that describes the government's vengeful, knee-jerk reactions to 9/11 as "part of a continuing pattern of American behavior," the main narrative begins abruptly with the Wounded Knee massacre of 1890 and moves on to one head-shaking moment of infamy to another. Being that Zinn is most valuable for his insistence on shedding light on dark corners of American history, the book comes most alive when it is describing little-remembered episodes like the shameful American occupation of the Philippines in the aftermath of the Spanish-American War, cleverly enlisting Mark Twain's embittered, virtuallyunknown writings on the subject. The authors' thesis-that America's imperial war machine manufactures conflicts abroad to further its economic interests while stoking consumer demand and tamping down dissent at home-is not developed as fully as it should be, and current wars are strangely missing. An overly episodic but nonetheless powerful teaching tool for the next generation of anti-imperialist activists.
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780805087444
  • Publisher: Holt, Henry & Company, Inc.
  • Publication date: 4/1/2008
  • Series: American Empire Project Series
  • Pages: 288
  • Sales rank: 105,799
  • Product dimensions: 8.47 (w) x 10.87 (h) x 0.87 (d)

Meet the Author

Howard Zinn, author of numerous acclaimed histories, taught history at Spelman College and Boston University, and received the Lannan Literary Award, among many others. A People’s History of the United States was a finalist for the 1981 National Book Award. Born in 1922, Zinn died in 2010.


Mike Konopacki has collaborated on five collections of cartoons, and his work is regularly syndicated. He lives in Madison, Wisconsin.


Paul Buhle is a senior lecturer in history at Brown University and the editor of the Encyclopedia of the American Left, among other books. He lives in Providence, Rhode Island.



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Reading Group Guide

Questions for Discussion

1. One thing that sets this book apart, particularly as a work in the “graphic novel” genre, is its great variety of visual imagery. We find within these pages various photographs, maps, printed-page excerpts, diagrams, posters and poster-like advertisements, newspaper and magazine clippings, political cartoons, and, of course, many drawings both comics-based and realistic. Point out memorable examples of each of these categories.

2. What is meant in this book by the word “empire”? Discuss this key term with your fellow students.

3. Define “ghost dance.” Also, who was Black Elk? What does he mean when he states (on page 17): “The nation’s hoop is broken and scattered”?

4. The phrase “Certain White Men” appears on more than one occasion in these pages. When, and in what context, does the phrase first appear? Who does this phrase signify, both specifically and generally?

5. Eugene V. Debs makes his first appearance in this book on page 22. Who was Debs? Why was he both revered and hated? For what is he best known today? And where else do we encounter him in these pages?

6. Page 28 gives us a full-page illustration of America’s so-called “Open Door Policy,” which is said to hang on “two hinges—military and economic expansionism.” What does this policy mean? How does it work? Where has it been utilized, over the years and across the globe?

7. In the bottom panel of page 33, we see a maid (or domestic servant) waiting on a wealthy white person. It’s a scene that we find more than once in A People’s History (although in this case, given the speech balloon appearing at far right, the drawing might be ironic). Where else in this book do we see such an illustration?

8. Explain the origin of the term “yellow journalism,” as detailed in Chapter II. Also, explain why—as we find a bit later, in Chapter IV—“This Machine Kills Fascists” is written upon Woody Guthrie’s guitar.

9. What was the Sykes-Picot Agreement? For whom was the agreement named? What did it achieve? And how, per page 87, was this agreement “essentially codified” by the 1919 Peace Treaty of Versailles?

10. Who was Emma Goldman? Why is she remembered by history? We are “introduced” to her on page 101—but, actually, we’ve seen her name previously in this book. Can you find where? (Hint: It’s on a poster in the “Resistance to War” section of Chapter IV.)

11. This work is presented, both visually and textually, as though its main author, the great historian Howard Zinn, were delivering a lecture. Zinn is our narrator; we as readers are “attending” his lecture. But with Chapter V, we find that Zinn’s own story—his remarkable life—intersects with the very history at hand. The American story, then, includes (however partially) the Zinn story. Discuss how Zinn’s life has informed his arguments and beliefs. How has his biography has shaped his personal philosophy?

12. Just above the sequence of five photographs at the bottom of page 121, we read: “Many of our wars were launched on the quicksand of public deception.” Explain what this means, paying particular attention to the “quicksand” metaphor, and also explain how this remark applies to each of the five wars pictured.

13. Who are the two men depicted at the bottom right of page 159? Where have we seen them before in this book (as represented with these very same portraits)? What is each saying about race and the U.S. military?

14. Who are the four girls shown amid flames in the bottom-right panel of page 178? Can you tell who they are, even though they are not named specifically?

15. On page 191, in the “Manifesto of the Wounded Knee Airlift,” we read: “The frustration and disillusionment we may at times feel are only the result of a misunderstanding of our real ability to affect the course of this country’s policies.” And earlier, on page 99, we see a speech balloon along the same lines: “So you see, protest DOES work!!” Where else in these pages did you grasp this message?

16. The exact same unflattering—yet “presidential”—illustration appears on pages 193 and 204 of this book. What is the gist of this self-contained political cartoon? Name as many of the faces and logos in this illustration as you can.

17. On page 203, Zinn asks us, rhetorically, “Was there a connection between Watergate and Vietnam? Of course! It was the same policy.” What does he mean by this? And do you agree with him? Explain.

18. As a reader of this book, and as a viewer of its graphic imagery, account for the “secret agent” (or even “film noir”?) characteristics of the artwork rendered on page 238—the shading, coloring, perspectives, subject matter, silhouetting, shadowing, etc.

19. What did you make of the fact that this detailed, often disturbing (if not downright tragic) record of America’s blood-lust for money and power—that is, its ongoing quest for empire—ends with the words “a marvelous victory”? Did this seem apt, or credible, to you? Or foolish? Or ironic? Or naive? Explain.

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Customer Reviews

Average Rating 3.5
( 7 )
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Sort by: Showing all of 7 Customer Reviews
  • Posted September 1, 2014

               A People¿s History of American Empire by Howard Zinn

               A People’s History of American Empire by Howard Zinn was not exactly what I had expected it to be. First of all I did not expect the book
    to be a comic book and second of all I did not expect the book to be mostly about corruption in the government of the United States.

                I personally did not like the fact that it was a comic book because I was hoping for a more traditional book. I also found the book to
    be a little too radical for me because of his anti-government opinion. However, I did find that many of the conspiracies were very
    interesting and the book provided a lot of new knowledge that is not taught in history class.

                  If you are looking for a book that is all about conspiracy theories in an easy to read and comprehend comic book…
     this is the book you are looking for

                  If you are looking for a book of cold, hard facts about United States history…
    look elsewhere

    2 out of 2 people found this review helpful.

    Was this review helpful? Yes  No   Report this review
  • Anonymous

    Posted August 18, 2013

    Prequel to Zinn work

    Great started for people that are curious about reading Howard Zinn books.

    2 out of 2 people found this review helpful.

    Was this review helpful? Yes  No   Report this review
  • Posted April 7, 2010

    I Also Recommend:

    Pure Propaganda (i.e. stuff & nonsense)

    As a work of fiction, in which category this book rightly belongs, this is about the worst possible read there is. It would be far better to write one's own work of fiction and read that. Even an illiterate imbecile would create something of more worth. As a work of historical revisionism it is still an abysmal waste of time (although torturedly amusing so long as one remembers that the authors are attempting to force an ideologically poisonous point of view down your throat). However, this book purports to be a history and as such it would best be used by survivalists to make fires.

    2 out of 13 people found this review helpful.

    Was this review helpful? Yes  No   Report this review
  • Anonymous

    Posted December 12, 2013

    No text was provided for this review.

  • Anonymous

    Posted December 8, 2013

    No text was provided for this review.

  • Anonymous

    Posted June 23, 2010

    No text was provided for this review.

  • Anonymous

    Posted December 31, 2010

    No text was provided for this review.

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