Four Star review, originally posted here on November 3, 2015.
This book took me forever to finish. It’s dense, repetitive, long, and dry. I wound up basically reading one or two chapters every month or so every time I finished some other book. If you’re looking for a can’t-put-it-down page-turner, or for flowing prose, this is definitely not it.
That being said, it is definitely well worth the read. I was fortunate to go to school in the 90’s in a very good school district, and so for me, nothing in this book was particularly shocking or new. However, I think I may have people like Howard Zinn to thank for my good fortune. My understanding is that he was one of the first to get people to think about how we teach history, and how it is necessary to teach multiple views of any issue or event. It should not be scandalous or taboo to view from multiple angles, no matter who may be shed in a negative light by doing so. But I am saddened when I see modern day activists attempting to whitewash history, as was attempted by the Jefferson County, Colorado school board last year when they weighed altering the advanced history and health curriculums in their school. Who is ignorance helping? Why would anyone wish ignorance upon their children? As long as all facts are presented, and we also teach children basic reasoning skills, there should be no issue.
I could understand a fear that it is possible to teach too far in one direction. This book is extremely biased and left-leaning. Nobody denies that. But the author himself states very clearly towards the end of the book that this is not intended to be the only history book that should be presented. Rather, this is (or at least was at the time that he wrote the first edition) a companion to stand in opposition to the countless history textbooks already out there, none of which contain the full story. Should we learn that our founding fathers established a separation of church and state? Sure! That’s awesome! Should we ignore the fact that when they said “all men are created equal” they clearly just meant the white male property-owners (aka the ruling class, aka themselves)? OF COURSE! Why the hell would we NOT need to know that part? This is not radical thinking.
Anyway, I definitely recommend this book, at least as a reference guide. But I can’t give it five stars cuz 700+ pages of dry oppression is zzzzz. Let’s work on our brevity, Zinn!