Howard Zinn A People’s History of the United States

Last updated date: October 17, 2022

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Howard Zinn A People’s History of the United States

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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.

Update as October 17, 2022:
Checkout The Best American History Book for a detailed review of all the top american history books.

Overall Take

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.

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

User Summarized Score

3,212 user reviews

What experts 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.
- The Atlantic
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.
- Kirkus Reviews
To a point, he helped correct mainstream popular conceptions of American history that were highly biased.
- Los Angeles Times
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.
- Project Muse
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.
- Stanford News
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.
- In These Times
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.
- Little Village
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.”
- The Nation

What experts 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.
- The Atlantic
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.
- Kirkus Reviews
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.
- Los Angeles Times
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.
- Project Muse
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.
- Stanford News
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.
- In These Times
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.
- Little Village
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.
- The Nation

An Overview On American History Books

In school, you were handed a history textbook and told to read it. It likely had a condensed history of America, covering wars, important political figures and big events.

For those interested in history, though, the thirst for information continues long after graduation. Even children may find school textbooks inadequate if they’re really interested in learning history. Fortunately, there’s no shortage of history books, especially if you want to study a particular event or era in depth.

But what if you just want a full telling of the history of America? There are books for that, as well. The key is to find one that covers the timeframe you’re interested in studying. Some start with Columbus’s arrival, while others include the history of Native Americans before settlers arrived.

Most American history books will focus on a certain theme. This is what makes each one unique. So before you start looking for a good book, think about what interests you most. Do you want to learn more about the political climate of America throughout history, or do wars and foreign relations interest you more? Are you interested in exploring a particular theme, or would you prefer to simply read the events in chronological order, pulled together with an interesting narrative?

For younger readers, images can be a great way to break up pages of text. Many children’s history books will use compelling photos, charts, maps and other imagery to both illustrate points and keep things interesting. Also look for text that’s engaging, rather than the more serious approach usually seen in textbooks. When children see that learning history can be fun, they’re more likely to continue to want to research as they grow into adults.

The American History Book Buying Guide

  • The structure of a history book is one of the most important aspects. If possible, take a quick look at the table of contents and pay close attention to whether the story is told chronologically or separated by themes. There’s nothing wrong with either approach, but many readers find they prefer one over the other.
  • Even the best-written nonfiction book is useless if it isn’t based in fact. Look for books from authors with impressive backgrounds. A renowned historian or professor of history is better than an author with no connection to the field whatsoever. If you can, check how the author conducted research and whether information came from valid sources.
  • The publication date on the book comes into play, as well. A history of America that was published 20 years ago won’t just leave out a couple of decades of events. It may be missing the perspective that those two extra decades have brought. Some history books are updated to compensate for this lapse, but make sure the updates make the book as relevant as one published recently.
  • Regardless of where you fall on the political spectrum, you may want an unbiased telling of historical events. There are plenty of American history books that sway conservative or liberal, though, if that’s what you prefer. You can often identify them by the themes they promote in the blurb. However, the review section will often include at least a couple of readers who found the book too political on one side or the other, so browsing those can help.
  • At one time, history books painted a rosy picture of historical events. But toward the end of the 20th century, documentarians and authors began digging into the reality of events that have happened. You can still find positive, upbeat takes on American history, but you’ll probably notice those are rarer than books that are more upfront and honest.