You Can't Be Neutral on a Moving Train: A Personal History of Our Times

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Overview

Acclaimed historian Howard Zinn has been at the center of the most important historical moments of the last thirty years, during which he has been admired both as a writer and as an important political and moral voice. Author of the epic A People's History of the United States, Zinn here applies his historian's skills to the remarkable life he himself has led. In this inspiring, personal book—which works both as memoir and as popular history of an era—Zinn brings to life more than thirty years of American social ...
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Overview

Acclaimed historian Howard Zinn has been at the center of the most important historical moments of the last thirty years, during which he has been admired both as a writer and as an important political and moral voice. Author of the epic A People's History of the United States, Zinn here applies his historian's skills to the remarkable life he himself has led. In this inspiring, personal book—which works both as memoir and as popular history of an era—Zinn brings to life more than thirty years of American social history by telling the stories behind a politically engaged life. Zinn grew up in the immigrant slums of Brooklyn and flew as a bombardier in World War II, and he writes about the ways both experiences helped shape a radical impulse, an opposition to war, and a passion for history. He writes about his first teaching job at Spelman College, where he worked with young civil rights activists including Alice Walker and Marian Wright Edelman. He paints vivid, portraits of key moments and people throughout the South in the early 1960s, where he was a chronicler and active ally of the civil rights movement. He talks about his days as a leading antiwar protester, going to Vietnam with Daniel Berrigan and testifying in his friend Daniel Ellsberg's Pentagon Papers trial. He recalls imprisonments for civil disobedience, fights for open debate in universities, his love of teaching. Running throughout this personal book is Zinn's charming, generous, engaged voice, as well as a message about history. You Can't Be Neutral on a Moving Train is Zinn's argument for hope—the stories of the people and events that inspire his faith in the possibility of historic change.
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Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly - Publisher's Weekly
Noted left-wing historian Zinn (A People's History of the United States) believes that activism and education are inextricable, and his memoir illuminates a well-engaged life. Teaching at Atlanta's Spelman College in the early days of the civil rights movement, he found allies in principled students like Marian Wright (now Edelman) and budding writer Alice Walker. He advised SNCC in Selma, Ala. He volunteered to fight the Nazis but, after Hiroshima, developed a skeptical pacifism he further exercised as a passionate opponent of the Vietnam War. Zinn's narrative is oddly disjointed: not until late in the book does he recount his youth in the slums of Brooklyn, his discovery of Dickens, Marx and Steinbeck and his post-WW II years as a laborer and a 27-year-old college freshman. If Zinn is a bit Pollyannish, he's also inspirational, arguing that, because much has changed in history, "We can be surprised again. Indeed, we can do the surprising.'' (Sept.)
Booknews
Zinn (political science, Boston U.) brings to life 30 years of American history by telling the stories behind his politically engaged life. He writes of his experiences in WWII, his work in the civil rights and anti-war movements, and his imprisonment for civil disobedience. Annotation c. Book News, Inc., Portland, OR (booknews.com)
Roland Wulbert
The hundreds of thousands who enjoyed Zinn's People's History of the United States—a book that ignores presidents, generals, and vanguards—in college will find him as engaging, open-minded, informative, politically committed, and attentive to the exigencies of writing as ever. He still refuses to preach to the choir; he still takes seriously readers who wonder out loud, "If this country is such a terrible place, why don't you leave it?" But his uncharacteristic admiration of elites here startles. After all, he knew Julian Bond, Stokely Carmichael, John Lewis, Etta Baker, Dick Gregory, Jim Foreman, James Baldwin--he knew them all. The 18-year-olds he taught at Spellman all went on to become prominent civil rights lawyers or found the Children's Defense Fund or mother the mayor of Atlanta. They're successful. He's successful. Yet oppression in America is as brutal as ever, he assures us, when he is not recounting his part in the Good Fight that ameliorated it markedly. Aw hell, he's lived a good life. Who can blame him for a little inconsistency?
Colman McCarthy
A warmhearted memoir of a teacher who committed his politically engaged life to the belief that love is a command to action.
The Washington Post
From the Publisher
A teacher who committed his politically engaged life to the belief that love is a command to action.—Colman McCarthy, The Washington Post

"A powerful, politically electric book from one of the most engaging social critics in the nation."—Jonathan Kozol

"A history and a history maker to give us hope."—Alice Walker

"A personal favorite. This autobiography by the great activist and historian...provides an eloquent, personal account of the struggles for civil rights and against the Vietnam War, and a universal paean to protest and resistance."—Matthew Rothschild, The Progressive

"Zinn explains his involvement in the struggles for civil rights, against war, and in support of organized labor by citing his 'abhorrence of any kind of bullying.' These are lively tales."—Patricia O'Connell, The New York Times

"Pick up this book! Start reading it! I guarantee you won't stop. The most influential teacher I've ever had continues to teach us about life and humanity and hope."—Marian Wright Edelman

From Barnes & Noble
The acclaimed author of A People's History of the United States brings to life more than 30 years of American social history by telling the stories behind his politically engaged life.
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780765452979
  • Publisher: Beacon
  • Publication date: 9/28/1994
  • Pages: 214

Table of Contents

Preface 2002
Introduction: The Question Period in Kalamazoo 1
Pt. 1 The South and the Movement
1 Going South: Spelman College 15
2 "Young Ladies Who Can Picket" 26
3 "A President Is Like a Gardener" 37
4 "My Name Is Freedom": Albany, Georgia 46
5 Selma, Alabama 56
6 "I'll Be Here": Mississippi 69
Pt. 2 War
7 A Veteran against War 87
8 "Sometimes to Be Silent Is to Lie": Vietnam 103
9 The Last Teach-In 115
10 "Our Apologies, Good Friends, for the Fracture of Good Order" 126
Pt. 3 Scenes and Changes
11 In Jail: "The World Is Topsy-Turvy" 141
12 In Court: "The Heart of the Matter" 151
13 Growing Up Class-Conscious 163
14 A Yellow Rubber Chicken: Battles at Boston University 183
15 The Possibility of Hope 197
Acknowledgments 210
Index 211
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Customer Reviews

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