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Publisher's Summary

"A wonderful, splendid book - a book that should be ready by every American, student or otherwise, who wants to understand his country, its true history, and its hope for the future." (Howard Fast)

For much of his life, historian Howard Zinn chronicled American history from the bottom up, throwing out the official version taught in schools - with its emphasis on great men in high places - to focus on the street, the home, and the workplace.

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 Zinn shows, many of our country's greatest battles - the fights for a fair wage, an eight-hour workday, 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' arrival through President Clinton's first term, A People's History of the United States features insightful analysis of the most important events in our history.

©2009 Howard Zinn (P)2009 HarperCollins Publishers

Critic Reviews

"Zinn's work is a vital corrective to triumphalist accounts." ( Publishers Weekly)

What listeners say about A People's History of the United States

Average Customer Ratings
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  • Overall
    3 out of 5 stars
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    2 out of 5 stars

Why is everything a bummer?

I knew what to expect to a degree. Zinn is definitely to the left of the political spectrum and I honestly found his recounting of the colonial New World and early America to be refreshing. It wasn't necessarily a simpler time and politicians were never all that great. This book came out in 1980 and it's interesting to see what was a radical idea then (Columbus was a bad guy) is now well accepted. But when he got into WW2 the constant degrading of anything American finally got to me. I don't think he says one positive thing the whole book. If a positive outcome occurs, then it's glossed over because the real intent was actually bad. He repeats several falsehoods about WW2 and leaps over a pile of positives to focus on one negative. At that point I had to stop listening.

The narration is fine though. I don't know why people are so critical of it. Zinn's son is a perfectly good narrator and I had no problems with the editing. I'd like the content too if it wasn't so downbeat. There are some things he had an absolute right to be negative about (slavery, union busters, treatment of Blacks for 400 years) but even when things were positive he views them in too critical of a light.

121 people found this helpful

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    5 out of 5 stars
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An effective advocate for a suppressed perspective

It certainly challenges the traditional narrative for US History. In my opinion, it was absolutely fascinating, tragic, and eye-opening. One of my all-time favorite books. Offers a completely different perspective on US History, that left me with a much greater appreciation for being an American, despite it shining a light on pieces of our history that are much more complicated and messy than the story that’s traditionally told.

89 people found this helpful

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    1 out of 5 stars
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A history book for people who have read no other history

I understand the argument Zinn explicitly makes that basically “everyone has a bias” and that there is no “true” unbiased history. But I do believe that there are history’s that do not CONSCIOUSLY insert their bias and purposefully skew facts and information to tell an external narrative they want to tell. This is not that book.
Zinn at multiple times explicitly recites false information that all supports the same narrative he has running throughout the book. These errors all run in the same direction and it is hard to imagine are not tied to Zinn holding the external narrative of the book as a higher priority than recounting history itself. The moments that come to mind while writing this are the US firebombing at Dresden. Zinn reports the casualty figures of Nazi propaganda of the time. These figures have been refuted as false by multiple studies done after the war, including studies by the German government. There is no reason for these figures to appear in this book.
The second one that stuck in my head was the execution of Julius and Ethel Rosenberg. Zinn used this example to bolster the idea of Cold War hysteria in the US (something that actually did exist). Problem is, when the Soviet Union fell, it was found the Rosenbergs 100% were involved passing secrets to the Soviets. And 100% were traitors. I understand the Soviet Union had not yet fallen when this was first written and at the time there was room for doubt. But there have been multiple revisions released since, why has this section not been revised or removed?

Overall, the book lacks any stats, very few mentions of policy (that 100% did exist, but for some reason wasn’t focused on), and no discussion of overarching trends. Ultimately, the book is 98% a collection of random individual accounts of many different situations. This is fine and expected to bring color to a history book to try and immerse you in the times. But as the entire substance of a “history” book I do not understand how a random collection of personal experiences are supposed to prove any point on a national/global scale.

I found myself only being interested/intrigued in the parts of the book I had no prior knowledge of, and when I came across sections of the book I know a lot about I completely lost interest and felt like I was being read to by an ideologue that was purposefully obscuring the history to try and prove an external political point. It took me halfway through the book to realize the only reason I did not feel like that 100% of the time was that some sections of this history I was ignorant to and could not pick out what was being obscured.
I recommend any one who reads this book to approach it with that manner, if you find errors in sections you know about, you should wonder what is misinformed in the sections you don’t.

In the end, reading this as a “history” book (even with agreement on history being biased) is a stretch. Zinn himself concludes the book by giving his intentions. This is a book to restructure society, education, relations, class, etc. It should be considered a political screed as much or more than it is a typical history book.

64 people found this helpful

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    5 out of 5 stars
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This should be a textbook

This book gives a raw description of the United States' history. It doesn't lionize the founding fathers or other American historical figures; rather, it shows them through a more objective lens. Excerpts of this book should be taught throughout American history classes. It highlights perspectives and events that tend to not get much mention in US history.

64 people found this helpful

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Anti American/anti capitalism.

It must be a joke to call this a “peoples history”. It is an obvious attack on the image of America and Capitalism.

Unfortunately the bias is so strong that the facts have to be in question. And conclusions in many circumstances are made of unknowable topics. There are many dark secrets that America holds. Many atrocities committed. But there are many wonderful accomplishments as well. This book is just a tool to garner dislike for American powers and capitalism.

It needs a new title.

20 people found this helpful

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The Invisible Hand in American Politics

Howard Zinn lived from 1922 till 2010, meaning that his life encompassed nearly a quarter of all American history. In short, this history is Zinn’s attempt to explain the economic forces that have influenced American politics since before the founding of this country and that still exist today in more subtle forms. The book’s central thesis is that most (if not all) American wars were fought not in the name of democracy, but in order to achieve American economic dominance abroad and at home. Zinn’s history is unapologetically socialist, but his research and arguments are strong enough to survive any discrediting claims of bias on his part. Agree or disagree with Zinn, the ideas in this book are well worth the thought and consideration asked for.

As for the narration, this audiobook is read by Howard Zinn’s son, Jeff Zinn. Jeff is very clear, but also a bit dry at times. Still, the respect and passion he has for his father’s legacy shines through. Highly recommended.

76 people found this helpful

  • Overall
    2 out of 5 stars

Amateur hour in the production booth

This has to be the most poorly produced audiobook of all time. With a work of this length - roughly 35 hours - I understand there are several challenges in putting everything together, but here it's like whoever was doing the recording wasn't even trying. Consider. 1) Starting sometime between the 90 minute and 2 hour mark, a number of obvious and jarring cuts, with the narrator dropping out suddenly, and then resuming speech in the middle of a different sentence. This issue seems to settle down after roughly the 5 hour mark. 2) Different audio levels for different recording sessions. After a cut, the narrator returns notably louder or quieter, and with a different level of white noise in the background. 3) At the 5 hour and 46 minute mark, the narrator says "hold on", and then engages in a conversation with the recording engineer, and this was never edited out of the final product. This means the publishers didn't listen to this audiobook even one time for quality control before putting it out in the wild. Shameful, and this is a product of unacceptably low quality. 2 stars for the wealth of content and Jeff Zinn's effort in recording well over 30 hours of speech, but minus 3 stars for a final product that could have been put together better by a motivated middle schooler.

811 people found this helpful

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Revisionist Drivel

Zinn goes out on a, what’s smaller than a limb? In his attempt to be Eduardo Galeano he finds himself more so like Alexandre Dumas if he had championed the poor and downtrodden. Wonderful stories, very little historical veracity. Worth a laugh for those who study history, but not much more.

16 people found this helpful

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Biased View of History

What could have made this a 4 or 5-star listening experience for you?

If the book had been a non-biased view of history. It was well written from the point of view of a very Liberal, Un-American author. He does make some good points but is so biased that I doubt the accounts of history to be accurate.

What was most disappointing about Howard Zinn’s story?

As I said ... biased ... biased ... biased. So liberally biased that I stopped listening about half way through.

What three words best describe Jeff Zinn’s performance?

Was pretty good.

What character would you cut from A People's History of the United States?

The Author.

Any additional comments?

I should have read other reviews in which case I would not have ordered the book.

31 people found this helpful

  • Overall
    4 out of 5 stars

Horrible Editing Ruins Experience

I was looking forward to listening to this audiobook, but as I worked my way through it, the horrible production quality ruined the experience for me.

Jeff Zinn's narration is fantastic, the subject matter interesting, but there are numerous spots where the audio editor chopped off half of a word. On a long car trip, these jarring "jump cuts" were too much to tolerate. Did nobody quality-check this audiobook before releasing it?

542 people found this helpful

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  • Michael Rowan
  • 10-03-19

Tough going

Well written and narrated. Tough going though and quiet depressing throughout. Should be called tales of misery of the United States

1 person found this helpful

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    5 out of 5 stars
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  • Sören
  • 08-26-18

Very interesting

I would recommend this history book, this is the version of you hardly ever hear about. The history of struggle of people at the bottom of society.

1 person found this helpful

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    5 out of 5 stars
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  • Anonymous User
  • 11-20-20

Must read

A really great book. Fascinating peformance.
Sometimes the audio had minor editing problems. Must read.

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    5 out of 5 stars
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    5 out of 5 stars
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  • bilal
  • 08-12-20

best book i ever read

i highly recommend this book for students of history.
an honest history of united states.

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    5 out of 5 stars
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    5 out of 5 stars
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    5 out of 5 stars
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  • Ray Glasheen
  • 08-10-20

A brilliant book

This book is a must read/listen for anyone who wishes to look beyond the white veil of American history. A retelling of the country’s history taken from the viewpoint of those unlucky to be on the side of wealth and power. It is an incredibly important book that has at many times horrified and inspired me. Brilliantly researched and written, while also accessible to both occasional readers and academics.

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    3 out of 5 stars
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  • Amazon Customer
  • 01-13-20

Great book. Awful performance/production.

Audio levels change throughout. Reader sounds like it's the first time they read the material.

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    5 out of 5 stars
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  • P Padhi
  • 11-22-18

Essential reading for everyone

This book should be on everyone’s reading list , people both inside and outside the US. The reason for this statement will become evident in the course of reading this masterpiece. To the critics, to err on the side of humanity is no error at all.