Tuesday, December 07, 2004

Not as Democratic as You Thought

A People's History of the United States
This was easily the most interesting history I've ever read. Why? Imagine reading a history where 90% of the US historical figures you've ever been taught to admire and revere in high school history turned out to be a bunch of filthy bastards. That's what you get from this book. Well, they may not be that bad, but Zin focuses more on how figures such as Jefferson, Lincoln, FDR, Columbus, Andrew Jackson, etc. helped to repress, or just exterminate, minorities and the lower classes so that the upper classes could thrive. That's really what this book is about: oppression of "inferior" classes in the United States throughout the country's history.

Zin certainly has his own viewpoint and has chosen what he's going to focus on. He does not deny that these leaders have done good things as well, but he rightly points out that a history that covers everything would be pretty much impossible. Hence, he chooses to focus on the downtrodden and the way US history has treated them. One does not so much doubt his facts or statistics either. His assertions are well-supported by numerous writings of both famous and more anonymous figures who were actually there and in the trenches as well as by facts and statistics from various government agency archives. Again, the only thing to keep in mind is that he uses these statistics to his own advantage. Like any other historian, Zin's point of view is not the objective "truth." No one can supply that.

The only real criticism that I have about the book is best exemplified by the chapter "The Upcoming Revolt of the Guards" where Zin lays out his theory for the only way to truly change the Capitalist system to a more people-friendly system. While I have no objection to the overtly socialist ideals he sets forth, I am critical of his argument (or lack thereof really). Instead of providing us with justification and reasoning as to why this is the course of action we ought to take, he instead engages in the same shallow rhetoric for that brief chapter that makes The Communist Manifesto a less-than-convincing document. Besides, while I make no claim that history should not be argumentative or prescriptive (it always has been and always will be), I don't like it to be so blatant about it.

All in all, Zin's A People's History is a great and illuminating look at the repressed side of American history that everyone should be aware of, whether they agree with Zin's point of view or not.

1 Comments:

At December 15, 2004 at 1:56 AM, Blogger Joel said...

Hmm, sounds like I need to read this book. I know I'd heard of it before, but I don't think I ever read a full description of just what it was about. Certainly sounds interesting.

 

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