Monday 1 July 2024

"A People's History of the United States" by Howard Zinn - book review

This is another book on my list of Books to read after Finals recommended to me by Roman Krznaric 20-odd years ago. And boy was it a good one! It's a history of the United States of America told from the perspective of the small people: the Native Americans forced off their ancestral land by Christopher Columbus and the other invaders from Europe; the African slaves whom the colonizers brought over in huge numbers and treated terribly; the labourers in the mines and factories of the industrial era; the women who were denied the right to vote or live on an equal footing with men; the young men who didn't want to fight imperial wars in Europe and Vietnam; the poor, the non-white whose interests are frequently ignored by the government.

I don't read much history, but I've read enough to know that this is not how most history books are framed. It's mind-blowing, powerful, and inspiring. It taught me so much that I didn't know about American history - much of it shameful, regretful, and violent. It's an important revision of the myth of the Founding Fathers, who created a strong central government to protect their (rich, white) interests at the expense of the ordinary people.

The narrative is told chronologically and really gathers pace as it reaches the more familiar history of the 20th century. It's shocking how often the US government has resorted to violence to solve its problems: whether that's removing Native Americans and Mexicans from fertile land that it covets for its expanding population of white immigrants; suppressing the collective action of striking labourers asking for better pay and working conditions during the period of the robber barons (Rockefeller, J. P. Morgan, Vanderbilt, Carnegie, and others); opposing Vietnam War protestors; or exerting imperial control over Central and South America, and its other interests all over the world.

I'd love to read a similar history about the UK. Any recommendations?

This 2014 Kindle edition of the book (originally published in 1980 but updated multiple times between 1995 and 2003) was littered with typographical errors, which I duly reported via the Kindle interface. It doesn't seem to have been properly edited, or it was scanned by an OCR without being fully checked by a human.

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