A classic since its original landmark publication in 1980, Howard Zinn’s A People’s History of the United States is the first scholarly work to tell America’s story from the bottom upfrom the point of view of, and in the words of, America’s women, factory workers, African Americans, Native Americans, working poor, and immigrant laborers. From Columbus to the Revolution to slavery and the Civil Warfrom World War II to the election of George W. Bush and the “War on Terror”A People’s History of the United States is an important and necessary contribution to a complete and balanced understanding of American history.
About the Author
Howard Zinn (1922-2010) was a historian, playwright, and social activist. His many books include A People's History of the United States, which has sold more than two million copies.
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Columbus, the Indians, and Human Progress
Arawak men and women, naked, tawny, and full of wonder, emerged from their villages onto the island's beaches and swam out to get a closer look at the strange big boat. When Columbus and his sailors came ashore, carrying swords, speaking oddly, the Arawaks ran to greet them, brought them food, water, gifts. He later wrote of this in his log:
They . . . brought us parrots and balls of cotton and spears and many other things, which they exchanged for the glass beads and hawks' bells, They willingly traded everything they owned . . . They were well-built, with good bodies and handsome features . . . They do not bear arms, and do not know them, for I showed them a sword, they took it by the edge and cut themselves out of ignorance. They have no iron. Their spears are made of cane . . . They would make fine servants . . . With fifty men we could subjugate them all and make them do whatever we want.
These Arawaks of the Bahama Islands were much like Indians on the mainland, who were remarkable (European observers were to say again and again) for their hospitality, their belief in sharing. These traits did not stand out in the Europe of the Renaissance, dominated as it was by the religion of popes, the government of kings, the frenzy for money that marked Western civilization and its first messenger to the Americas, Christopher Columbus.
As soon as I arrived in the Indies, on the first Island which I found, I took some of the natives by force in order that they might learn and might give meinformation of whatever there is in these parts.
The information that Columbus wanted most was: Where is the gold? He had persuaded the king and queen of Spain to finance an expedition to the lands, the wealth, he expected would be on the other side of the Atlanticthe Indies and Asia, gold and spices. For, like other informed people of his time, he knew the world was round and he could sail west in order to get to the Far East.
Spain was recently unified, one of the new modem nation-states, like France, England, and Portugal. Its population, mostly poor peasants, worked for the nobility, who were 2 percent of the population and owned 95 percent of the land. Spain had tied itself to the, Catholic Church, expelled all the Jews, driven out the Moors. Like other states of the modem world, Spain sought gold, which was becoming the new mark of wealth, more useful than land because it could buy anything.
There was gold in Asia, it was thought, and certainly silks and spices, for Marco Polo and others had brought back marvelous things from their overland expeditions centuries before. Now that the Turks had conquered Constantinople and the eastern Mediterranean, and controlled the land routes to Asia, a sea route was needed. Portuguese sailors were working their way around the southern tip of Africa. Spain decided to gamble on a long sail across an unknown ocean.
In return for bringing back gold and spices, they promised Columbus 10 percent of the profits, governorship over new-found lands, and the fame that would go with a new title: Admiral of the Ocean Sea. He was a merchant's clerk from the Italian city of Genoa, part-time weaver (the son of a skilled weaver), and expert sailor. He set out with three sailing ships, the largest of which was the Santa Maria, perhaps 100 feet long, and thirty-nine crew members.
Columbus would never have made it to Asia, which was thousands of miles farther away than he had calculated, imagining a smaller world. He would have been doomed by that great expanse of sea. But he was lucky. One-fourth of the way there he came upon an unknown, uncharted land that lay between Europe and Asiathe Americas. It was early October 1492, and thirty-three days since he and his crew had left the Canary Islands, off the Atlantic coast of Africa. Now they saw branches and sticks floating in the water. They saw flocks of birds. These were signs of land. Then, on October 12, a sailor called Rodrigo saw the early morning moon shining on white sands, and cried out. It was an island in the Bahamas, the Caribbean sea. The first man to sight land was supposed to get a yearly pension of 10,000 maravedis for life, but Rodrigo never got it. Columbus claimed he had seen a light the evening before. He got the reward.
So, approaching land, they were met by the Arawak Indians, who swam out to greet them. The Arawaks lived in village communes, had a developed agriculture of corn, yams, cassava. They could spin and weave, but they had no horses or work animals. They had no iron, but they wore tiny gold ornaments in their ears.
This was to have enormous consequences: it led Columbus to take some of them aboard ship as prisoners because he insisted that they guide him to the source of the gold. He then sailed to what is now Cuba, then to Hispaniola (the island which today consists of Haiti and the Dominican Republic). There, bits of visible gold in the rivers, and a gold mask presented to Columbus by a local Indian chief, led to wild visions of gold fields.
On Hispaniola, out of timbers from the Santa Maria, which had run aground, Columbus built a fort, the first European military base in the Western Hemisphere. He called it Navidad (Christmas) and left thirty-nine crewmembers there, with instructions to find and store the gold. He took more Indian prisoners and put them aboard his two remaining ships. At one part of the island he got into a fight with Indians who refused to trade as many bows and arrows as he and his men wanted. Two were run through with swords and bled to death. Then the Nina and the Pinta set sail for the Azores and Spain. When the weather turned cold, the Indian prisoners began to die...
Table of Contents
Introduction Anthony Arnove xi
1 Columbus, the Indians, and Human Progress
2 Drawing the Color Line 23
3 Persons of Mean and Vile Condition 39
4 Tyranny Is Tyranny 59
5 A Kind of Revolution 77
6 The Intimately Oppressed 103
7 As Long as Grass Grows or Water Runs 125
8 We Take Nothing by Conquest, Thank God 149
9 Slavery Without Submission, Emancipation Without Freedom 171
10 The Other Civil War 211
11 Robber Barons and Rebels 253
12 The Empire and the People 297
13 The Socialist Challenge 321
14 War Is the Health of the State 359
15 Self-help in Hard Times 377
16 A People's War? 407
17 "Or Does It Explode?" 443
18 The Impossible Victory; Vietnam 469
19 Surprises 503
20 The Seventies: Under Control? 541
21 Carter-Reagan-Bush: The Bipartisan Consensus 563
22 The Unreported Resistance 601
23 The Coming Revolt of the Guards 631
24 The Clinton Presidency 643
25 The 2000 Election and the "War on Terrorism" 675
Most Helpful Customer Reviews
Insightful history of the United States through the viewpoint of the oppressed. If you are intelligent and want some thought provoking history of US, then this book is for you. If you are easily manipulated by sound bites and political catch phrases where you don't learn the full history or truth behind them then I would challenge you to open your mind and get some education from this book. American history has a darker side to it, whether you care to admit it or not.
Thank you Howard Zinn: for not being a coward. For telling the truth about our History in the United States through the eyes and experience of the people. So much of our 'History' is edited, and re-invented for ulterior motives. Mr Zinn was a wonderful Teacher and I am deeply grateful that he wrote his books. I want to read everything he has written.
If your interested in the truth of U.S. history then this books for you.
Wonderful prose. Unlike normal history books whose rendition of United States history prefers the glossy and romanticized look back, this book touches on truths not always given.
This book presents the injustices the U.S. has been involved in, and there's absolutely nothing wrong with acknowledging it. In fact, I would argue actively ignoring any injustices we have made is dangerous. We are not above scrutiny.
A People¿s History of the United States is a revisionist history text that attempts to document U.S. history as it appeared from the eyes of ¿the people¿ ¿ the poor, the black, the American Indian, and the female; in other words, all the people who until recently had no say in how the United States was governed. It attacks the elementary-level view of American history as one full of heroes fighting for liberty, and instead paints a particularly bleak picture of oppression and control. This is a book that reminds us that Christopher Columbus personally engaged in genocide, that Lincoln did not particularly care about freeing slaves, and that the Founding Fathers created a government of, for and by rich white slaveowners.The ultimate impression the book leaves one with is that the United States is controlled by a slim percentage of extremely rich people, that domestic and foreign policy is entirely revolved around protecting ¿the national interest¿ (i.e. corporate interest), that the government, judiciary and media all work diligently to maintain this status quo, and that this state of affairs dates all the way back to the Revolution. Most people already know this, but to see it so thoroughly and articulately documented and summarised is quite shocking.The book is, obviously, quite biased. Zinn openly admits this, and declares that he is ¿not troubled by that, because the mountain of history books under which we all stand leans so heavily in the opposite direction ¿ so tremblingly respectful of states and statesmen and so disrespectful, by inattention, to people¿s movements ¿ that we need some counterforce to avoid being crushed into submission.¿I¿m not sure to what level I agree with that; I certainly thought he was stretching it at some points in the book, such as his portrayal of Native American society as a perfect harmonious utopia, or his steadfast opposition to all wars, even World War II and Korea. I do not subscribe to the belief that when arguing a point you should misrepresent, or entirely omit, the viewpoint of your opponent. If you are in the right, their arguments will ultimately be defeated; if not, perhaps you should rethink your opinion.When describing the SS Mayaguez incident, for example, Zinn makes passing reference to ¿a revolutionary regime¿ that had recently seized power in Cambodia. That regime was, of course, the Khmer Rouge, one of the 20th century¿s most incomprehensibly evil governments. Perhaps the Mayaguez incident really was all about propaganda ¿ and Zinn makes a compelling case for that ¿ so why avoid mentioning the Khmer Rouge? Because Zinn knows the connections a well-educated reader will draw? Because it brings up the fact that regadless of motive, rescuing the captured crew was the correct course of action? Zinn details how the crew were well-treated by their captors, as though that made it okay, despite previously discussing how the relatively happy lives of many American slaves did not make their slavery one jot less cruel.This is just one example of many small incidents throughout the book where I found myself disapproving of Zinn¿s technique. I hesitate to draw comparison to Michael Moore, because Moore is much less elegant and refined and serious than Zinn, but he¿s the only comparable figure I can think of: somebody presenting a one-sided argument that might even be called propaganda, and which should not be tolerated simply because it¿s propaganda for what is good and right and just.Of couse Zinn, as mentioned above, openly acknowledges his bias and the motive behind it, and I would greatly prefer for people to read something that admits its bias rather than falsely claiming objectivity. The other important factor is, of course, that I am not the intended target for this book. A People¿s History of the United States was written by an American, for Americans, in an effort to undermine the false assumptions and accepted wisdom prevalent in American culture, and particularly in American s
In American schools, we are fed a specific narrative about our past that is accepted as sacred canon. While true, it leaves out much else of what is true, and so our "understanding" of how we arrived at this point is skewed. This book helps to correct that, by filling in some of the missing chapters. This should be a required text in our schools, for it details much more of what makes us Americans. I had the privilege of meeting Howard Zinn before he passed away, and he was brilliant, compassionate, articulate, and caring about our society. This book stands as only one of the gifts he has given us, and is highly recommended.
... I would not recommend THIS particular edition if you already own a previous one. The cover is different -- sturdier, more of a card stock than regular paper. There is also a new P.S. Guide at the back of the book. Otherwise, the content is identical to the previous edition. My reasons for the five-star rating and "very good" review headline are because I have to agree with what other reviewers have said: This is the way U.S. History should be taught in our schools.
More a socialist critique of American history than a history of America. Author excludes or distorts facts that do not support his point of view. Often presented to students in history classes as the "real" but suppressed history of Americia by history professors who share author's perspective.