Sunday, December 9, 2012

A People's History of the United States

1980, 1990 HarperPerennial edition
Howard Zinn
A People's History of the United States
Bought new for $12.00
OK condition paperback

My aunt who regularly got me books as gifts gave this one for New Year's Day of 1992, writing, "With love and appreciation for your desire to know."  I remember that very little of "the people" was covered in my high school history classes, as opposed to the Founding Fathers et al.  Reading this book now though, it doesn't seem particularly earth-shattering.  I found my mind wandering quite often.  Ironically, I most enjoyed the chapters on the then two most recent decades.  Like Wolfe, Zinn would disagree with Pichaske's view that the 1970s were a lull.  He points out that while there was no longer the central issue of Vietnam, activism took many forms in the '70s.  (I had to shake my head at the use of quotation marks for "gay."  Really?  In 1980?  Or is Zinn trying to convey the novelty of the term a decade earlier?)

There is of course a certain poignancy in reading Zinn's tentative optimism in the last chapter, "The Coming Revolt of the Guards," although he was not just looking at the 1980s but at the world of "our grandchildren" and "our great-grandchildren."  He updated and did spin-offs of this book over the next three decades, dying in 2010.  The previous year, he said of turn-of-the-previous-century socialism, "Socialism basically said, hey, let's have a kinder, gentler society. Let's share things. Let's have an economic system that produces things not because they're profitable for some corporation, but produces things that people need. People should not be retreating from the word socialism because you have to go beyond capitalism."

The problem is, even within this book, socialism doesn't come across as much kinder or gentler than capitalism.  I kept thinking, "Yes, conditions were/are horrible, but socialism isn't the right answer."  Not that I know what the answer is.  I'll say more about this when we get up to Reagan for Beginners in 1984.

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