So I recently sat down and quickly read through Howard Zinn’s A People’s History of the United States. This has gotten some good reviews and I generally like this type of history–history of the downtrodden, economic history more than wars and such.
But I didn’t find this one especially compelling. It is quite a litany of woes, but although the woes are real enough, the analysis and context is either lacking or unconvincing. Zinn is trying to make the case that capitalism and democracy have consistently been and still are being corrupted by powerful interests. There is certainly such a case to be made. But while things have gone and continue to go wrong, not everything has gone wrong. In fact, some things have gone quite spectacularly right–general increases in life expectancy and the standard of living, for example–particularly as compared with much of the rest of the world or the United States of centuries or decades ago. Informed only by Zinn’s book, one would think that there had been no improvements at all. Knowing that there are, the book’s concerns come across as hysterical rather than compelling. I don’t mind a certain amount of ideology mixed with my history, but not when it moves the author to omit important threads of analysis.