Howard Zinn Essay - Critical Essays

Zinn, Howard

Introduction

Howard Zinn 1922‐-

American historian, essayist, autobiographer, editor, and playwright.

The following entry presents an overview of Zinn's career through 1999.

Zinn is an outspoken political activist associated with a variety of social justice, peace, and minority rights issues. He has written a number of books on history and political science and is considered an expert on the history of civil disobedience in America. Zinn is known for A People's History of the United States (1980), an alternative account of historical events from the perspective of minorities and members of the working class; the book is often used as a textbook in high schools and universities.

Biographical Information

Zinn was born in New York on August 24, 1922, to Edward Zinn, a waiter, and Jenny Rabinowitz Zinn, a Russian immigrant. He grew up in Brooklyn where he began reading Dickens as a boy of ten. He took a job as a laborer in the Brooklyn Navy Yard and at the age of twenty, joined the army. From 1943 to 1945 he served as a second lieutenant in the Army Air Force as a bombardier, earning an Air Medal and a number of battle stars. In 1944 Zinn married Roslyn Shechter, with whom he had two children, Myla and Jeff. After the war he attended New York University on the G.I. Bill, graduating with a bachelor's degree in 1951. He earned a master's degree in 1952 and a Ph.D. in history from Columbia University in 1958. He has taught at a number of colleges and universities. From 1953 to 1956, while completing his doctorate, he taught at Upsala College in New Jersey and served as visiting lecturer in history at Brooklyn College. In 1956 he took a position as chair of the history and political science department at Spelman College, a school for black women in Atlanta. It was at Spelman that Zinn became involved in the civil rights movement along with many of his students. Despite having tenure, he was fired from his position at Spelman in 1960, and the family moved to Boston where Zinn took a history fellowship at Harvard and wrote two books on his experiences at Spelman. In 1964 he joined the faculty of Boston University as a professor of political science; his classes there were always filled to capacity by students who admired his devotion to such liberal causes as peace and civil rights. He remained at BU until his retirement in 1988, despite the best efforts of the university's neoconservative president, John Silber, to oust him in the 1980s. Zinn has also served as visiting professor at both the University of Paris and the University of Bologna and has won numerous awards including the Beveridge Prize, the Thomas Merton Award, the Eugene V. Debs Award, the Upton Sinclair Award, and the Lannan Literary Award. His best-known work, A People's History of the United States, earned the New England Book Award for nonfiction and was nominated for an American Book Award. Zinn is currently professor emeritus at Boston University and resides in Auburndale, Massachusetts, with his wife.

Major Works

Zinn's first book, awarded the Albert J. Beveridge Prize from the American Historical Association, was based on his doctoral dissertation and published as La Guardia in Congress in 1959. This was followed in 1964 by two contemporary histories, both growing out of his experiences teaching at the predominantly black Spelman College. The first, The Southern Mystique, addresses the black struggle for civil rights in the South and the white resistance to the changes effected by that struggle. The second, SNCC: The New Abolitionists, covered Zinn's experience as faculty advisor to the newly formed Student Non-Violent Coordinating Committee. In 1968, Zinn published Disobedience and Democracy, his response to “Concerning Dissent and Civil Disobedience,” a pamphlet issued by Supreme Court Justice Abe Fortas. Two years later, in an effort to inspire historians “to earn their keep in this world,” Zinn wrote The Politics of History, in which he challenged his fellow historians to document injustices in the American system. In 1973, he published Postwar America: 1945-1971, a work of cultural and political history wherein he attempted to expose inconsistencies in America's most cherished ideological beliefs.

Zinn's most famous work is his alternative history A People's History of the United States, often referred to as history written from the bottom up—that is, from the perspective of Native Americans, slaves, women, immigrants, and members of the working class. Originally published in 1980, the work was revised, updated, and reissued in 1999 as A People's History of the United States: 1492-Present. Zinn's 1994 autobiography, You Can't Be Neutral on a Moving Train: A Personal History of Our Times, concentrates on his involvement in the civil rights and anti-war movements.

In addition to his nonfiction writings, Zinn has written three plays: Emma (1976), based on the life of Emma Goldman; Daughter of Venus (1985), produced at the Theatre for New City in New York; and Marx in Soho (1999), which imaginatively transports Karl Marx from London's Soho district in the nineteenth century to New York's Soho district in the present day.

Critical Reception

Zinn's position as a respected scholar as well as a political activist has given him a unique perspective on many of the events he covers in his books. Martin B. Duberman claims that Zinn's ability to combine theory and practice in his chronicles of the 1960s civil rights movement results in books that “are personal without being egotistical, are authoritative but free of pedantry, are passionate without being suspiciously agitated.” Erwin Knoll (see Further Reading) believes that Zinn's wide-ranging experience—not only as an activist, but also as a blue-collar worker and a World War II bombardier—“contributes to the depth of his perception in Postwar America: 1945-1971.” On the other hand, some critics have suggested that Zinn's involvement in the movements he writes about results in sentimentalism and romanticism. Margaret O'Brien, for example, believes Zinn overvalues SNCC's potential as a force for change: “It would be nice, but SNCC is not going to save the world. By suggesting it could, Zinn places SNCC's true greatness in a possible (but very doubtful) future; and he needn't have.” In his review of Postwar America: 1945-1971, Peter Michelson echoes that criticism, claiming that “the book suffers finally from political romanticism, the sort of wishful thinking that reveals the frustrating dilemma of American radicalism.” Similarly Simon Lazarus, who believes that Zinn romanticizes “the virtues of confrontation for its own sake,” questions the effectiveness of civil disobedience whose main purpose is to insult or offend majority values—a strategy he claims Zinn encourages in Disobedience and Democracy. In his review of Justice in Everyday Life: The Way It Really Works, Terry M. Perlin (see Further Reading) contends that the book “suffers from considerable naiveté,” and concludes that it is “a utopian tract, suffering from all the beauties and dangers of that format.” Some critics, however, see that naiveté in a more positive light. Harvey Wasserman, for example, refers to Zinn's “characteristic innocence” in his review of The Zinn Reader, claiming that although Zinn's book does not necessarily provide all the answers, it is “a healing read” that will make readers “feel restored, even hopeful.”

Although Zinn's books have been popular—particularly among young college students eager to hear an alternative to the sanitized versions of history taught in many high schools—they have not been favorably reviewed by most scholars. His most famous book, A People's History of the United States, is often dismissed as a fairly unsophisticated record of relentless exploitation of the downtrodden. Luther Spoehr [see Further Reading], for example, claims that Zinn's book “has no notion of process or complexity, no sense of how the terms of argument and weapons of battle have changed over time.” Michael Kammen finds that A People's History is “a synthesis of the radical and revisionist historiography of the past decade, incorporating many of the strengths and most of the weaknesses of that highly uneven body of literature.” Bruce Kuklick, meanwhile, considers the book a radical textbook and asserts that, as such, “its comprehension of issues is stunted; its understanding of materials is unnuanced,” just as they are in most textbooks. Still, the work has gone through numerous printings, was revised and reissued in a twentieth-anniversary edition in 1999, and continues to appear in a large number of high school and college classrooms. Mariel Garza accounts for the book's phenomenal sales figures by suggesting that “A People's History is a great example of product differentiation, entering underserved markets, and giving people what they want.”

Principal Works

La Guardia in Congress (history) 1959

SNCC: The New Abolitionists (history) 1964

The Southern Mystique (essays) 1964

Vietnam: The Logic of Withdrawal (essay) 1967

Disobedience and Democracy: Nine Fallacies on Law and Order (essay) 1968

The Politics of History (essay) 1970

Postwar America: 1945-1971 (history) 1973

Justice in Everyday Life: The Way It Really Works [editor] (essays) 1974

Emma (play) 1976

A People's History of the United States (history) 1980; revised as A People's History of the United States: 1492-Present, 1999

Daughter of Venus (play) 1985

Declarations of Independence: Cross-Examining American Ideology (essay) 1990

Failure to Quit: Reflections of an Optimistic Historian (memoir) 1993

You Can't Be Neutral on a Moving Train: A Personal History of Our Times (autobiography) 1994

The Zinn Reader: Writings on Disobedience and Democracy (essays) 1997

The Future of History: Interviews with David Barsamian (interviews) 1999

Marx in Soho: A Play on History (play) 1999

Howard Zinn on History (essays) 2000

Howard Zinn on the Vietnam War and Other Means and Ends (essays) 2000

The Power of Nonviolence: Writings by Advocates of Peace (essays) 2002

Terrorism and War [with Anthony Arnove, editor] (essay) 2002

Artists in Times of War and Other Essays (essays) 2003

Passionate Declarations: Essays on War and Justice (essays) 2003

Criticism

Ralph Ellison (review date 8 November 1964)

SOURCE: Ellison, Ralph. “If the Twain Shall Meet.” Book Week (8 November 1964): 1, 20, 22-5.

[In the following review of The Southern Mystique, Ellison praises Zinn for providing a constructive blueprint for solving the civil rights crisis in the South.]

Howard Zinn's The Southern Mystique is yet another reminder that American history is caught again in the excruciating process of executing a spiral—that is, in returning at a later point in time to an earlier point in historical space—and the point of maximum tortuosity is once again the South.

It would seem that the basic themes of our history may be repressed in the public...

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Allan R. Brockway (review date 25 November 1964)

SOURCE: Brockway, Allan R. “Modern Abolitionists.” Christian Century 81, no. 48 (25 November 1964): 1464.

[In the following review of SNCC: The New Abolitionists, Brockway praises Zinn's hopeful account of the activities of the young leaders of the Student Non-Violent Coordinating Committee.]

Social revolutions result from a complex mixture of factors combining at a particular point in history to force change toward ends that, for all their immediate concreteness, often reach far beyond themselves. Such is the case with the Negro revolution today. And such is the case with the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee (SNCC, pronounced “Snick”), one of...

(The entire section is 720 words.)

Martin B. Duberman (review date winter 1965)

SOURCE: Duberman, Martin B. “The Fire This Time.” Partisan Review 32, no. 1 (winter 1965): 147-51.

[In the following review, Duberman contends that Zinn's two 1964 books on the civil rights movement are informed by his dual roles as scholar and active participant in the events being covered.]

Now, boy, you go to writing and write up a new day.

—Mama Dollie, Lee County, Georgia

Radicalism is returning to American life. It owes its initial rebirth to the civil rights movement, but men like Bayard Rustin and others less well-known, are now moving beyond the race problem to broad social...

(The entire section is 1455 words.)

Margaret O'Brien (review date 5 February 1965)

SOURCE: O'Brien, Margaret. Review of SNCC: The New Abolitionists, by Howard Zinn. Commonweal 81, no. 19 (5 February 1965): 616-17.

[In the following review, O'Brien maintains that Zinn overestimates SNCC's potential to effect major changes in America unrelated to racial issues.]

From February 1, 1960 when the first sit-ins occurred in Greensboro, North Carolina, to Spring, 1964, young members of the Student Non-violent Coordinating Committee moved across the South, organizing sit-ins, freedom rides, and voter registration drives. Their efforts put them on intimate terms with cattle prods, jail cells, and a cast of law enforcement officials whose style of rule...

(The entire section is 828 words.)

David P. Gauthier (review date November 1967)

SOURCE: Gauthier, David P. Review of Vietnam: The Logic of Withdrawal, by Howard Zinn. Canadian Forum 47 (November 1967): 182-84.

[In the following review, Gauthier contends that Zinn makes a well-argued case for immediate withdrawal from Vietnam, a position many critics of the war privately support.]

The most considerable merit of this critique of American involvement in Vietnam is that it presents a clearly argued case for what most critics of the Vietnamese war believe but will not say—that America should withdraw now. Howard Zinn, a Professor of Government at Boston University, rejects the so-called realism of those who muffle their criticism,...

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Carl Cohen (review date 2 December 1968)

SOURCE: Cohen, Carl. “Civil Disobedience: Moral or Not?” Nation 207, no. 19 (2 December 1968): 597, 599-600.

[In the following review, Cohen praises Zinn's Disobedience and Democracy as an insightful book that should be widely read and discussed, although he challenges the bases for many of Zinn's arguments.]

Civil disobedience has become one of the most puzzling and provocative issues of the times. There are two kinds of reasons for this. First, those who have recently been engaging in disobedient demonstrations have done so, most usually, to register vehement protest against laws, acts and conditions that cry out for remedy, while remedy continues to elude...

(The entire section is 2693 words.)

Simon Lazarus (review date 7 December 1968)

SOURCE: Lazarus, Simon. “Perspective on Dissent.” New Republic 159, no. 23 (7 December 1968): 32-3.

[In the following review of Disobedience and Democracy, Lazarus charges Zinn with romanticizing the politics of civil disobedience and confrontation.]

In his widely distributed pamphlet, Concerning Dissent and Civil Disobedience, Mr. Justice Fortas condemned civil disobedience on the ground that America's formally democratic political system makes social change possible through legal means. This version of law-and-order liberalism is not invulnerable. Unfortunately, Howard Zinn's reply to Fortas succeeds mostly in inverting Fortas's principal...

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Saville R. Davis (review date 16 January 1969)

SOURCE: Davis, Saville R. “The Morality of Dissent.” Christian Science Monitor (16 January 1969): 11.

[In the following review of Disobedience and Democracy, Davis describes Zinn's reasoning as “intricate and sometimes contorted.”]

One would not look to Supreme Court justice Abe Fortas for guidance on civil disobedience, nor to author and teacher Howard Zinn, a passionate advocate of disobedience, for direction on how to preserve the American system of law. But let each one define his position and then lean toward the other, and the occasion is instructive. It is also going to make partisan readers on each side more uncomfortable. This is not a bland...

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Courtney R. Sheldon (review date 30 July 1970)

SOURCE: Sheldon, Courtney R. “An Urgent Plea to Historians.” Christian Science Monitor (30 July 1970): 5.

[In the following review of The Politics of History, Sheldon suggests that the strength of Zinn's convictions is reminiscent of those of the abolitionist William Lloyd Garrison.]

Millions of Americans ask plaintively, even desperately, why the unnerving turmoil and strife in a land of such great promise?

The answer of Howard Zinn, professor of political science at Boston University, has the searing conviction of Abolitionist William Lloyd Garrison who erupted in 1831:

On this subject (slavery) I do...

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Ralph Stone (review date September 1970)

SOURCE: Stone, Ralph. “Humanistic History.” Progressive 34, no. 9 (September 1970): 49-50.

[In the following review of The Politics of History, Stone finds that Zinn provides valuable advice to historians on making their work more relevant to the contemporary political situation.]

Howard Zinn is a radical historian. The order is important, for Zinn's perception of the present consciously shapes his outlook on the past. He argues in this book that more historians should do the same. In other words, there should be more politics in history. If so, more people might read what historians are writing. Integrating their history and their politics would also help...

(The entire section is 893 words.)

Philip Green (review date December 1970)

SOURCE: Green, Philip. Review of The Politics of History, by Howard Zinn. American Political Science Review 64, no. 4 (December 1970): 1281-83.

[In the following review, Green discusses Zinn's rejection of the possibility of achieving objectivity in historical writing.]

The purpose of Howard Zinn's excellent collection of essays on history and historiography is to draw attention by both analysis and precept to “the consequences in action of historical writing. The meaning … of a writer will be found not just in what he intends to say, or what he does literally say, but in the effect of his writing on living beings.” (p. 279) “The Politics of...

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William L. O'Neill (review date June 1973)

SOURCE: O'Neill, William L. “Optimistic Activist.” Progressive 37, no. 6 (June 1973): 57.

[In the following review of Postwar America: 1945-1971, O'Neill contends that there is little that is new in Zinn's revisionist history of the postwar years.]

This book demonstrates how important timeliness is to a polemic. Few readers of The Progressive are likely to disagree with political scientist Howard Zinn's description of American foreign policy, or his denunciations of racism, sexism, militarism, and assorted other blights. But neither are they likely to find much that is new to them. The revisionist histories such as those by Gabriel Kolko and Lloyd C....

(The entire section is 506 words.)

Peter Michelson (review date 28 July 1973)

SOURCE: Michelson, Peter. “Armchair Revolution.” New Republic 169, nos. 4 & 5 (28 July 1973): 24-6.

[In the following review of Postwar America: 1945-1971, Michelson praises Zinn's critique of liberalism, but ultimately finds his account of postwar politics a romanticized version of events.]

If it is true, as one wit said, that a liberal is a radical with a wife and two kids, then that tells us a whole lot about the millstone around the neck of American radicalism. Picture the liberal of the last few weeks. He gets home from his $20,000 a year job, kisses his wife, plays ball for 10 minutes with his kids, eats dinner, and then tunes in the PBS “gavel...

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James T. Patterson (review date September 1973)

SOURCE: Patterson, James T. Review of Postwar America: 1945-1971, by Howard Zinn. The Journal of American History 60, no. 2 (September 1973): 513-14.

[In the following review of Zinn's account of the postwar era, Patterson faults Zinn for neglecting various aspects of social and cultural history, among them issues involving women and families, religious developments, ethnic conflict, and urban problems.]

No self-respecting publishing firm these days can hold up its head unless it tries to capture the college market (students, that is) by promoting a series of short books on American history. Howard Zinn's book is part of such a series, billed as the History of...

(The entire section is 582 words.)

Michael Kammen (review date 23 March 1980)

SOURCE: Kammen, Michael. “How the Other Half Lived.” Washington Post Book World (23 March 1980): 7.

[In the following review, Kammen finds A People's History a largely unsuccessful attempt to synthesize the body of revisionist historiography of the 1970s.]

Howard Zinn has earned his medals as a radical academic and social activist. He served nobly in the civil rights movement during the 1960s and subsequently became an outspoken critic of our tragic involvement in Vietnam. He is now in the news because the president of Boston University, where Zinn is a professor of political science, is trying to fire five tenured faculty members who led a strike last fall...

(The entire section is 1061 words.)

Bruce Kuklick (review date 24 May 1980)

SOURCE: Kuklick, Bruce. “The People? Yes.” Nation 230, no. 20 (24 May 1980): 634-36.

[In the following review, Kuklick claims that while A People's History is a radical textbook, it exhibits many of the problems common to textbooks in general.]

Howard Zinn admits that “a people's history” is not the best description of his work, and I've tried to understand it by figuring out what would be the best description. The book is clearly about the oppression of the people: there are eloquent renditions of the destruction of Indian culture and rich analyses of the torment of the slaves, their revolts and their degradation after the Civil War. There are long...

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Oscar Handlin (review date autumn 1980)

SOURCE: Handlin, Oscar. “Arawaks.” American Scholar 49 (autumn 1980): 546-50.

[In the following review of A People's History, Handlin refutes the accuracy of many of the historical facts presented in Zinn's book.]

This is a book about Arawaks.

Once upon a time, people remarkable for their belief in sharing and for their hospitality lived blissfully without commerce; they relied exclusively on the natural environment for sustenance. They valued the arts, and accorded each sex freedom and dignity. Ages before the Arawaks, the Mound Builders, also devoted to the arts, had occupied the same continent. And from across the ocean came blacks out...

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Charles Glass (review date 24 October 1980)

SOURCE: Glass, Charles. “The Other US.” New Statesman 100, no. 2588 (24 October 1980): 27.

[In the following excerpted review, Glass claims that despite its limitations, A People's History provides information on groups omitted from standard textbooks.]

A People's History of the United States, … attempts, in its author's words:

to tell the story of the discovery of America from the viewpoint of the Arawaks, of the Constitution from the standpoint of the slaves, of Andrew Jackson as seen by the Cherokees, of the Civil War as seen by the New York Irish, of the Mexican war as seen by the...

(The entire section is 435 words.)

Erwin Knoll (review date February 1991)

SOURCE: Knoll, Erwin. “Down to the Roots.” Progressive 55, no. 2 (February 1991): 40-1.

[In the following review of Declarations of Independence, Knoll praises Zinn for offering new ways of thinking about issues of social and political justice.]

Howard Zinn is a radical in the true sense of that much-abused word. In discussing the most important issues of public policy, he gets down to the roots, deep down to the bedrock questions: Why do we believe what we believe? How much of what we believe is true? Why are things the way they are? Whose interests are served? How should things be changed to serve the common interests of suffering humanity?

...

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George Scialabba (review date 13 May 1991)

SOURCE: Scialabba, George. “U.S. History: By the People, For the People.” Christianity and Crisis (13 May 1991): 155-56.

[In the following review, Scialabba dismisses Declarations of Independence as “mostly authorial commentary.”]

The erudite essayist Walter Benjamin once proposed writing a book that would consist entirely of quotations. Fifty years later, in 1980, the earnest activist Howard Zinn actually wrote something approximating such a book. But while Benjamin envisioned an exquisite collage, cunningly composed and intricately ironic, Zinn produced an immense, ingenuous epic, a monumental saga of human brutality and bondage: A People's History...

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Howard Zinn and Jack McEnany (interview date summer 1991)

SOURCE: Zinn, Howard, and Jack McEnany. “The Politics of War.” Humanist 53, no. 1 (January-February 1993): 13-17.

[In the following interview, originally conducted in the summer of 1991, McEnany questions Zinn on American participation in various wars throughout history, from the Revolutionary War up to and including the Gulf War.]

The following extracts are from an interview with Howard Zinn … professor emeritus of history at Boston University. The interview was conducted in the summer of 1991 by Jack McEnany as part of a video project entitled The Gulf War: Is This Any Way to Run an Empire? (See note at the end of the article for further details on...

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Michael Kazin (review date December 1991)

SOURCE: Kazin, Michael. Review of Declarations of Independence, by Howard Zinn. Journal of American History 78, no. 3 (December 1991): 1034-35.

[In the following review, Kazin praises Zinn's exposure of the fallacies associated with conventional historical truths despite the weakness of some of his arguments.]

Howard Zinn writes the type of history scholars are supposed to disdain. “For me,” he writes, “history could only be a way of understanding and helping to change (yes, an extravagant ambition!) what was wrong in the world.” This book is the committed radical's latest attempt to scour the past for lessons to instruct those who might transform...

(The entire section is 636 words.)

Mark A. Graber (review date spring 1992)

SOURCE: Graber, Mark A. Review of Declarations of Independence: Cross-Examining American Ideology, by Howard Zinn. Political Science Quarterly 107, no. 1 (spring 1992): 187-89.

[In the following review, Graber calls Zinn's book successful in terms of its critique of American ideology, particularly in the sections on U.S. foreign policy.]

Thomas Jefferson thought that the tree of liberty needed to be watered with blood every so often. Only through intermittent reenactments of the revolution, he believed, would American ideals retain their vitality. Howard Zinn's latest book offers a valuable alternative for a nuclear age. “Whatever in the past has been the...

(The entire section is 632 words.)

Paul Buhle (review date 21 November 1994)

SOURCE: Buhle, Paul. “He Shall Not Be Moved.” Nation 259, no. 17 (21 November 1994): 623-25.

[In the following review of Zinn's autobiography, Buhle asserts that You Can't Be Neutral on a Moving Train is not Zinn's best work, but insists that it is nonetheless an engaging and entertaining book.]

I have always imagined that historian Howard Zinn somehow took part in the multitudinous radical movements of the 1840s-50s, campaigning for abolition, women's rights, dress reform and nonviolence. A rare Jew among Yankees and African-Americans, he would have commanded the platform with figures like Susan B. Anthony and Frederick Douglass, held his own against...

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Matthew Rothschild (review date January 1995)

SOURCE: Rothschild, Matthew. Review of You Can't Be Neutral on a Moving Train, by Howard Zinn. Progressive 59, no. 1 (January 1995): 37-8.

[In the following review, Rothschild contends that Zinn's autobiography presents an eloquent record of his activism in the civil rights and anti-war movements.]

Here's a personal favorite. This autobiography by the great activist and historian (who wrote the pioneering multicultural history. A People's History of the United States, long before the term “multiculturalism” was in vogue) provides an eloquent, personal account of the struggles for civil rights and against the Vietnam war, and a universal paean to...

(The entire section is 956 words.)

Maurice Isserman (review date September 1995)

SOURCE: Isserman, Maurice. Review of You Can't Be Neutral on a Moving Train, by Howard Zinn. Journal of American History 82, no. 2 (September 1995): 834-35.

[In the following review, Isserman calls Zinn's autobiography “lucid and unpretentious.”]

Howard Zinn arrived at Spelman College in Atlanta, Georgia, in August 1956 to take up duties as chair of the department of history and social science. He tells us in his memoir, You Can't Be Neutral on a Moving Train, that he had not sought out a job at a “Negro college,” and he certainly had no sense that he was arriving in the Deep South just in time to witness the beginnings of the civil rights...

(The entire section is 527 words.)

Howard Zinn and David Barsamian (interview date July 1997)

SOURCE: Zinn, Howard, and David Barsamian. “Howard Zinn.” Progressive 61, no. 7 (July 1997): 37-40.

[In the following interview, Barsamian questions the 75-year-old Zinn about his social and political activism, his teaching career, and his writings.]

Howard Zinn is a model of the activist scholar. His classic work, A People's History of the United States, has sold more than half a million copies and is widely used in college and university classrooms. A project to develop A People's History into a TV series is under way.

Zinn grew up class-conscious in a poor immigrant family. “We were always,” he recalls, “one step ahead of...

(The entire section is 4286 words.)

Harvey Wasserman (review date March 1998)

SOURCE: Wasserman, Harvey. “Radical Mensch.” Progressive 62, no. 3 (March 1998): 43-4.

[In the following review of The Zinn Reader, Wasserman applauds the hopeful tone of the essays in Zinn's collection.]

Howard Zinn, with characteristic innocence, introduces his pathbreaking essay The Southern Mystique, about breaking the color line in Atlanta in the 1950s, like this:

“I did not deliberately seek employment in a black college. I was only vaguely aware such an institution existed. …”

To say that Zinn is unique in the panoply of American writer-teacher-activists is to vastly understate his importance....

(The entire section is 788 words.)

Mariel Garza (review date July 1999)

SOURCE: Garza, Mariel. “Alternate History.” Reason 31, no. 3 (July 1999): 15-6.

[In the following review of the twentieth-anniversary edition of A People's History of the United States, Garza describes the phenomenal sales record of Zinn's alternate history and the support it has received from rock stars and movie actors.]

One of the ironies of capitalism is that socialism sells, especially when plugged by millionaire movie stars and rock idols. That helps explains surging sales for A People's History of the United States: 1492-Present, a leftist chronicle by Boston University professor emeritus Howard Zinn. Originally published in 1980 and revised in...

(The entire section is 396 words.)