Home World Issues Howard Zinn, and the popular history of the U.S.
Howard Zinn, and the popular history of the U.S. Print E-mail

"Zinn's work exemplifies an approach to history that is radical, regardless of its subject or geographical location. He tells us the untold story, the story of the world's poor, the world’s workers, the world’s homeless, the world’s oppressed, the people who don’t really qualify as real people in official histories. Howard Zinn painstakingly unearths the details that the powerful seek to airbrush away. He brings official secrets and forgotten histories out into the light, and in doing so, changes the official narrative that the powerful have constructed for us. He strips the grinning mask off the myth of the benign American Empire. To not read Howard Zinn, is to do a disservice to yourself."— Arundhati Roy

Howard Zinn grew up in the immigrant slums of Brooklyn where he worked in shipyards in his late teens. He saw combat duty as an air force bombardier in World War II, and afterward received his doctorate in history from Columbia University and was a postdoctoral Fellow in East Asian Studies at Harvard University.

His first book, LaGuardia in Congress, was an Albert Beveridge Prize winner. In 1956, he moved with his wife and children to Atlanta to become chairman of the history department of Spelman College. His experiences there led to his second book, The Southern Mystique. As a participant-observer in the founding activities of the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee, he spent time in Georgia, Alabama, and Mississippi, and wrote SNCC: The New Abolitionists. As part of the American Heritage series, he edited New Deal Thought, an anthology. His fifth and six books, Vietnam: The Logic of Withdrawal, and Disobedience and Democracy, were written in the midst of his participation in intense antiwar activity. In 1968, he flew to Hanoi with Father Daniel Berrigan to receive the first three American fliers released by North Vietnam. Two years later came The Politics of History. In 1972, he edited, with Noam Chomsky, The Pentagon Papers: Critical Essays. In 1973 appeared Postwar America. In 1974, he edited Justice in Everyday Life.

In 1980 came his epic masterpiece, A People's History of the United States, "a brilliant and moving history of the American people from the point of view of those who have been exploited politically and economically and whose plight has been largely omitted from most histories" (Library Journal). Through the 1980s and’90s, Zinn continued to write books—including Declarations of Independence: Cross-Examining American Ideology, Failure to Quit: Reflections of an Optimistic Historian, and You Can’t Be Neutral on a Moving Train: A Personal History of Our Times—and in this period also wrote three plays: Emma, Daughter of Venus, and Marx in Soho. As the lasting impact of A People’s History set in, the monumental work inspired publication for many different audiences: La otra historia de los Estados Unidos brought Zinn’s words to Spanish-speaking audiences in 2001; a companion book of primary sources edited with Anthony Arnove, Voices of a People’s History of the United States, was published in 2004; and in 2007 young adults were exposed to the historian’s ideas through the two-volume A Young People’s History of the United States, adapted with Rebecca Stefoff (with a single-volume edition released in 2009). An audio CD, Readings from Voices of a People’s History of the United States, and a documentary film, The People Speak!, have brought the historic words of Zinn’s subjects to multimedia audiences. Other recent Zinn books include Howard Zinn On History, Howard Zinn On War, Terrorism and War with Anthony Arnove, The Unraveling of the Bush Presidency and A Power Governments Cannot Suppress.

Goodbye, Howard, Goodbye,
You were a regular guy
Who did great things
You'll always be the apple of our eye
Your loss forever stings

Howard Zinn 1922-2010

 

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