Howard Zinn A People’s History of the United States

Last updated: October 17, 2022

America's history is filled with people fighting for rights, and this American history book chronicles those stories, among many others. It starts with Columbus's arrival and takes the reader all the way through Clinton's first term. It's been updated with an introduction that discusses the book's 35-year history.

Howard Zinn A People’s History of the United States

We looked at the top American History Books and dug through the reviews from some of the most popular review sites. Through this analysis, we've determined the best American History Book you should buy.

Product Details

Key Takeaway: This classic tells the story you didn't hear in school, giving the perspectives of Native Americans, factory workers, Black Americans and more.

In our analysis of 34 expert reviews, the Howard Zinn A People's History of the United States placed 1st when we looked at the top 7 products in the category. For the full ranking, see below.

From The Manufacturer

With a new introduction by Anthony Arnove, this edition of the classic national bestseller chronicles American history from the bottom up, throwing out the official narrative taught in schools—with its emphasis on great men in high places—to focus on the plight and struggles of those who have been largely omitted from most histories. Known for its lively, clear prose as well as its scholarly research, A People’s History of the United States is the only volume to tell America’s story from the point of view of—and in the words of—America’s women, factory workers, African Americans, Native Americans, the working poor, and immigrant laborers. As historian Howard Zinn shows, many of our country’s greatest battles—fights for fair wages, eight hour workdays, child-labor laws, health and safety standards, universal suffrage, women’s rights, racial equality—were carried out at the grassroots level, against bloody resistance. Covering Christopher Columbus’s arrival through President Clinton’s first term, A People’s History of the United States, which was nominated for the American Book Award in 1981, features insightful analysis of the most important events in our history.

Expert Reviews

What reviewers liked

Adapting this gripping storytelling approach, Barton and Zinn offer audiences the illusion that they have been hoodwinked by undisclosed authorities -- Ivy League academics, textbook authors, the New York Times, eighth-grade social studies teachers, parents. They give readers the intellectual self-assurance that accompanies expertise without the slog of unglamorous study required to attain it.
Zinn has no doubts about where he stands in this "people's history": "it is a history disrespectful of governments and respectful of people's movements of resistance." So what we get here, instead of the usual survey of wars, presidents, and institutions, is a survey of the usual rebellions, strikes, and protest movements.
To a point, he helped correct mainstream popular conceptions of American history that were highly biased.
Readers for whom the story of these strikes is new and unfamiliar perceive Zinn’s account as he intended it—as an exciting tale of heroic struggle. They come away inspired by the resistance, not demoralized by the outcome.
It would be difficult to overstate the degree to which A People's History has resonated with the American public. Although its perspective is unabashedly from the far left, its reach and influence extend far beyond that quarter with more than 2 million copies in print and prominent displays in suburban superstores.
Howard Zinn’s many contributions to the American Left make his sins as a scholar forgivable—such is the usual (and understandably sympathetic) critique of this icon of revisionist history.
He framed it as an anti-textbook, an antidote to the history books that serve the needs of the established order. Having participated in the civil rights movement of the early 1960s, Zinn’s life-long goal was to give voice to the powerless, and to speak truth to power.
Stanford University’s Sam Wineburg, an expert on history education, says that it “has arguably had a greater influence on how Americans understand their past than any other single book.”

What reviewers didn't like

Haven't just revised earlier scholarship; they have snuck up from behind and bludgeoned it. In the process, they have undermined the trust and sense of common purpose that is essential to understanding our past -- and to democratic life itself.
To hear Zinn tell it, all anyone did in America at any time was to oppress or be oppressed; and so he obscures as much as his hated mainstream historical foes do—only in Zinn's case there is that absurd presumption that virtually everything that came to pass was the work of ruling-class planning: this amounts to one great indictment for conspiracy.
His view was that objectivity was neutrality, which I think is a formula for bad history. Objectivity is not neutrality; it is the deployment of evidence and building an argument based on historical logic. That’s how we engage in rational discourse. To see history as a battleground of warring perspectives is to abandon the seat of reason.
Judging by the History News Network’s online vote conducted in 2012, many American historians loathe Howard Zinn’s A People’s History of the United States. More than 600 historians who participated in this vote pronounced Zinn’s radical history the second “least credible history book in print.” Comments by participants in the HNN vote suggest that this negative verdict on A People’s History had an ideological dimension.
Wineburg's critique focuses on the part of Zinn's narrative that covers the mid-thirties to the Cold War. Among the subjects it delves into is Zinn's assertion that African Americans were largely indifferent to the outcome of World War II. That claim, Wineburg explains, is based on three anecdotal bits – a quote from a black journalist, a quote from a black student and a poem published in the black press – and excludes any evidence to the contrary.
The problem with Zinn’s work, however, is that it sometimes tries so hard to assault our complacency that it fails to offer an honest account of how political change actually happens.
It has also been attacked, both by historians, who complain of its dependence on secondary sources and anecdote, and by conservatives, who see it as an anti-American, corrupting influence on young minds.
Zinn’s book, perhaps the most successful single-volume history of the United States, also drove a stake through the heart of the enterprise. Seeing the country as divided between oppressors and oppressed, he made little room for common cause, for shared dreams, for even a common history.
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