A People's History of the United States

Howard Zinn

A People's History of the United States



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Howard Zinn’s modern history of the United States of America is told through the eyes of the poor, the underprivileged, and the oppressed. These people built the country from the ground up with their toil, their blood, and their taxes, but their stories are almost never told in the history books we read in school. From the landing of Columbus to the Clinton presidency, Zinn tells the compelling and exciting story of the events that have shaped modern American society, which we often accept as unchangeable and set in stone. The first edition of the book was published in 1980, and was then republished in 1995, 1998, and 2003, when new chapters were added on more recent history. Zinn’s book is a timeless classic, which is a crucial read for anyone wanting to understand the mechanisms of power that continue to shape Western society.

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Analysis and key concepts


The official history on the conquest of the Americas, and the Native Americans, is one-sided and overlooks most of the atrocities that were committed in the one-track minded pursuit of financial gain


The instability of the years leading up to the revolution, and the subsequent Constitution, was exploited and never truly resolved


Expansionism towards Mexico served the interests of the upper classes and land speculators


Slavery, abolitionism, and civil war


The rise of the private railway, banking and economic monopolies


Foreign expansionism, from Cuba and Hawaii to the Philippines, exploited and weakened the poor, and favoured trade, which only benefitted a powerful few


There were frequent reforms during the years of progressivism at the beginning of the 20th century, but in most cases, they were enacted to prevent unrest and insurrection, rather than to change the system


The prosperity resulting from America’s entry into the war was not distributed equally, and those with the most capital reaped the greatest profits


Most Americans – capitalists, communists, Democrats, Republicans, the poor, the rich, and the middle class – all agreed that the Second World War was a people’s war




Take-home message

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Many useful tips to:

  • Discover a new way of interpreting modern history.
  • Understand the deeply rooted interdependence between power and inequality in social dynamics.
  • Analyse history from a new perspective.

Born in 1922, Howard Zinn was a historian and activist. He was the son of Jewish immigrants, and grew up in Brooklyn until he joined the Air Force during World War II and fought in Europe. He later returned to the United States of America, and received a doctorate in History at Columbia University. He was a respected researcher, who described his ideological stance as somewhere between anarchism, socialism, and democracy. He was also a staunch pacifist, and was among the first to speak out publicly against the war in Vietnam. Zinn was also a tireless advocate for the protection of human rights. He was married for sixty-four years, and passed away in 2010.

Publishing house:

Harper Perennial