A People's History of the United States: 1492-Present

A People's History of the United States: 1492-Present

by Howard Zinn


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Product Details

ISBN-13: 9780060838652
Publisher: HarperCollins Publishers
Publication date: 08/02/2005
Series: P.S. Series
Pages: 768
Product dimensions: 5.31(w) x 8.00(h) x 1.23(d)

About 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 numerous books including The People Speak, Passionate Declarations, and the autobiography, You Can’t Be Neutral on a Moving Train.

Read an Excerpt

Chapter One

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.

Columbus wrote:

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 Atlantic—the 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 Asia—the 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

1.Columbus, the Indians, and Human Progress1
2.Drawing the Color Line23
3.Persons of Mean and Vile Condition39
4.Tyranny Is Tyranny59
5.A Kind of Revolution77
6.The Intimately Oppressed103
7.As Long as Grass Grows or Water Runs125
8.We Take Nothing by Conquest, Thank God149
9.Slavery Without Submission, Emancipation Without Freedom171
10.The Other Civil War211
11.Robber Barons and Rebels253
12.The Empire and the People297
13.The Socialist Challenge321
14.War Is the Health of the State359
15.Self-help in Hard Times377
16.A People's War?407
17."Or Does It Explode?"443
18.The Impossible Victory: Vietnam469
20.The Seventies: Under Control?541
21.Carter-Reagan-Bush: The Bipartisan Consensus563
22.The Unreported Resistance601
23.The Coming Revolt of the Guards631
24.The Clinton Presidency643
25.The 2000 Election and the "War on Terrorism"675

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A People's History of the United States: Abridged Teaching Edition 3.8 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 420 reviews.
Guest More than 1 year ago
Written with the extensive use of primary quotes allowing the reader to experience American history from the perspective of those who lived it, 'A People¿s History...' is one of the best books on American history that I have read. Zinn¿s use of language makes it exciting to read and easy to side with the oppressed groups of people throughout history. Zinn tells the story from the perspective of the underdog, which is a nice break from the normal history of the conqueror. Those who criticize the book as ¿socialist¿ need to open their minds and realize that the sugar-coated version of American history that they received during primary and secondary school was inaccurate and biased towards the status quo. Of course this is only one book, but one that is absolutely necessary to read for anyone who truly wants to understand our nation¿s past.
Guest More than 1 year ago
I'll be the first to admit that no history book offers up 'the straight facts' as our civics teachers of old would like us to believe. Books are written to educate, to entertain, and above all - thanks to publishing houses - to sell. Professor Zinn's work has managed and (with this new edition) hopefully will continue to manage to be different from the majority of history texts in the fact that it does all three of these things spectacularly well. While some readers will claim that there is a strong anti-capitalist bias, there is no denying that Professor Zinn has done his research and consequently presents a compellingly fresh view of the evolution of the United States of America. If you are offended by the idea that the founders of our great nation had more in mind than noble speeches of revolution and a burning desire for an untaxed cup of tea, then by all means, curl up by the fire with a text that will convince you George Washington never told a lie. If, however, you can accept the idea that there might be more to the story, Professor Zinn's book is an excellent place to start.
forkeh More than 1 year ago
This is the text used in my current college U.S. History class; I read it cover to cover before the class started.

It really is a well researched and captivating read. Very informative, yet intertaining.

This book has a bad wrap as being "socialist" and "antigovernment" and that may be true, however when one looks at the history of our governmental crimes and downfall, it's impossible to write anything other and a cold, clinical text without "slamming" the goverment. I also feel the need to point out that much of our history centers around socialist movements so it's really no surprize the socialist tone of the book.

Over all, Zinn is very clear about the spin, if you can even call it that, of the book straight from the title! The book is titles "A People's History Of The United States." This is a text of the have-nots. A historical book from the view of the nonaristocratic and nonpolitical society. Those of you who feel the need to put down the book because of it's perspective should ask yourselves. Am I being fair? Is Zinn really telling tails an wrongly slamming the government? Or is he telling history from a perspective which, while everyone may not understand/enjoy, is in fact historically correct and insitefull to the lives of those who were disadvantaged?

In conclusion, it's a great book that everyone should take the opportunity to read. Though I also think, because of it's perspective, it is innappropriate to base one's entire historical education/opinion on.
Guest More than 1 year ago
We learn our history through our textbooks. But it is controlled and limited. We are taught what only what they want to teach. Often times the struggles of the daily lives of those whom are affected the most are never heard or limited to a paragraph in a chapter of a history book. This is their voice. A different perspective that should make us all rethink our 'proud' american history. I recommend this to anyone who wants to extend their knowledge beyond the textbooks.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
I think the most important think to keep in mind (and I do think this is a wonderful book) is that it IS one perspective, it IS informative--and then you really ought to go back and read more traditional histories of the US. Because either way you need to be well-rounded, and you simply cannot be without a basic knowledge of American history in the first place. This would build on that nicely. I would suggest reading some other non-fiction on American history instead of just one book. Read a good book about Ben Franklin, read a book about the Constitution or the Civil War. Because everyone in American belongs to one "Cry Me a River" group or another. And it's EASIER to read about that and forget that the founding of this country is also very exciting. Lewis and Clark and the railroad and all the rest of it. You just need to approach this from more than one direction.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
This is a refreshing take on history from the point of view of the people of America who acted as a catalyst to change, rather than from that of the leaders and the government that acted on it. It is quite inspiring and is a testament to the power one person's words can carry. Highly recommended.
geronimoFG More than 1 year ago
A fundamental, precious book not only for American People, especially including also central and south American People, but also worldwide. Based on the precise, detailed reconstruction of the other side of the History, from the point of view of victims, clearly uncover the true nature of the dominating class and the mechanisms of accumulation of capital. Especially timely rigth now where many federal resources are allocated to save corporations first.
ironguardWB More than 1 year ago
While I knew that the history books used in schools did not tell the whole and truthful version of events throuhout history, I was mildly shocked by the information in this book. The author presents an eye opening view of the buliding of a country on the backs of its people in a not to kindly fashion.Through out history people have been exploited, and trod upon for the good of corporate america. When the populus becomes restless and tries to better thier position in any county, the people in power will try to prevent it in any manner posible, legal or not, as shown in this book. While we live in which I believe is the greatest country in the world, This book shows we could do better, The skirts of liberty and justice are not lily white. This book should be required reading in all schools along with the regular curiculum and let the reader decide.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
the sad but unfortunately true version of our history.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Open-minded readers will prophet from Professor Zinn's account, and historians may view it as a step toward a coherent new version of American history. Prophet? Really? Mistakes like this in the review do not bode well for the book itself.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
A comprehensive review of everything that happened in America, told from the perspective of the people who didn't write history. There's so much to this book that I've already forgotten since reading it, but it really is the history of the US told as if the American people were important and not just some obstacle great men had to overcome to build this country. I can't recommend it enough.
Larry Marsden More than 1 year ago
I love this book. I've already read the text book & have a hard copy in my library for my kids, but now i'm downloading it on my Nook so that i may have it at hand @ all times for moments of research when necessary - it's THAT important to me! To thpse who qiestion Zinn's scholarship & veracity ? what do YOU have to offer - the same junk history that clearly a bold - faced lie? PLEASE!! Gimme a break & step off. *****!
Janice Torres More than 1 year ago
I've been wantin this book for awhile and was so glad i got it for my Nook! i was disappointed,however, to see all the negative remarks for this. This book is willing to deal with the REALITY of how our nation came about and refuses to sugarcoat it or wrap its wording in patriotism for the sake of offending a few americans hiding behind rose-colored glasses. Just because you see our country as the perfect place, does not mean it does not have unforgiveable acts behind it. I applaud Zinn for stepping forward into real history instead of writing another misguiding 'based on a true story' about the US.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Makes an excellent gift for an advanced highschool student or university student of American history.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
So many people disdain this book for being "Marxist" and "Anti-American."  I'm surprised readers are unaware of this when they first purchase this.  It's supposed to document an account of U.S. history seen from the perspective of the marginalized.  For this reason many aspects of history are overlooked, but it's impossible to be comprehensive.  Zinn plainly states what he wishes to accomplish with this narrative, and he does just that.  The whole point is to mention what traditional U.S. surveys leave out.  It's a great read for anyone interested in the trials and tribulations of the poor and powerless in U.S. history.  
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Do yourself a favor and skip this one. The only positive thing I can say about this is that I didn't pay for it. It was a buy two and get one free deal. If you want to read fictional American history a more entertaining choice would be anything by Harry Turtledove. At least his fantasies are believable.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
"Until the lion has his own historian the tale of the hunt will always glorify the hunter." ~ African Proverb -- The beauty of Professor Zinn's book is he writes U.S. History from the perspective of the vanquished rather than the victorious. He writes of the suffrage movement from the perspective of the women involved. He writes of the Long Trail of Tears from the perspective of the Indians. He writes of the labor movement from the perspective of laborers. In his authoritative and well cited factual account of U.S. history, he enables the reader to consider ulterior motives for war and other actions advanced by our government and by those who influence our elected politicians. In short, Professor Zinn enables the reader to become a critical thinker. I highly recommend this book! ~ Joe Orawczyk
DN73 More than 1 year ago
I just recently discovered this book and it was an eye opener, highly recommend this to anyone who is interested in American history. A view of America far too little known.
JulieAMN More than 1 year ago
Wow, what an eye-opening read. If I had had this text book for American History I may have gotten much higher grades. It gets into the real depth of just how we got where we are today in this country. You may think that Zinn is very negative, but keep reading. He does present a silver lining.
Guest More than 1 year ago
discard the review below. Clearly the individual either did not read the book or read it through a thoroughly discriminating lens / with a completely closed mind. Zinn does not claim originality, his goal is to put in print the possible other side and open the readers eyes to another interpretation of American History. He does so in a very readable manner. Enjoy-
Guest More than 1 year ago
Suck it up and dare to have the courage to examine the history of America, warts and all. I also recommend Walking the Trail, One Man's Journey Along the Cherokee of Tears by Jerry Ellis. The book, a Native American Classic, has been in print for fifteen years and was nominated for a Pulitzer and National Book Award.
Guest More than 1 year ago
Howard Zinn's prophetic and accurate account of the history of the United States of America is a required reading for any living human, American or not. It should be stated that prophetic is indeed correct in this instance. Professor Zinn has merely retold the accurate historical truths of American history. In doing so, he has foretold history for the future generations, unless of course, we make an effort to change human condition.
Guest More than 1 year ago
I am 44 years old, and never before had I read a history book that told it unbiasly, I regret that I wasn't taught from this book as a youngster. It brings history alive not just from one perspective, but from all perspectives and that is what history should be about from the past to the present and even into the future it should be representative of all people involved to write otherwise is simply deciding for all of us -Zinn allows you to judge and decide. I believe we as a people we're not looking at who was wrong or right just tell it as it was....as it happened. This book is recommended for all ages especially our younger generation..They find it very lively (the olden days with a cool twist on it).
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Amazing, mind altering. Must own for any history buff.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Clearly the author presents his view of American history which is not very pretty because his purpose is to build a case against capitalism and the American system of government. It's not a pretty picture because he choses to make it as dark and ugly as possible. America is not perfect, no country is, but America has a history to be proud of, where freedom and opportunities abound for those motivated to succeed. The author neglects to mention any of that, rather choosing to dwell on all that is negative in US history.