A People’s History of the United States Book Summary - A People’s History of the United States Book explained in key points
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A People’s History of the United States summary

Howard Zinn

A brilliant and moving history of the American people

4 (235 ratings)
35 mins

Brief summary

A People's History of the United States by Howard Zinn is a book that re-tells the country's history from the perspective of oppressed and marginalized groups, offering insight into the complex and often violent forces that have shaped American society.

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    A People’s History of the United States
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    The genocidal treatment of America’s native people has largely been ignored by popular historians.

    For decades, American schoolchildren have been taught a lie: they have been told, year after year, about the heroic tale of Christopher Columbus, a courageous Italian who “discovered” America for the Spanish, opening the door to the “New World.” The United States even named a national holiday after the explorer, honoring his arrival on North American soil on October 12, 1492.

    But when you take a closer look at Columbus’s journal, the tale begins to darken; it depicts a man with truly brutal intentions.

    For instance, when describing the Arawak people he encountered in the Bahamas, Columbus wrote, “with 50 men we could subjugate them all and make them do whatever.”

    Unsurprisingly, that’s precisely what Columbus and the first Europeans did: they forced the native people to lead them to gold and, on the Caribbean islands where there were few natural resources to be found, they raided the native villages, raped women and put hundreds of the strongest Arawaks on boats bound for Spain, to live out the rest of their lives in slavery.

    Others who failed to produce gold or copper had their hands cut off. Over a mere three-month period, 7,000 children died, by suffocation in mines, beheading or at the hands of their own mothers to prevent their capture.

    So it was that by 1515, a population of 250,000 native people had been decimated, leaving only 50,000 survivors. By 1550, that number was just 500 and, by 1650, the Arawaks were no more.

    But that’s not what you read when you open your run-of-the-mill history book or a biography like Christopher Columbus, Mariner. Published in 1954, this book is instead a riveting, romantic adventure piece.

    What’s worse is that Columbus’s crimes against the Arawaks weren’t the half of it. The same thing happened in the seventeenth century, when English settlers landed in Virginia and Massachusetts. They completely annihilated the Powhatan and Pequot tribes, a genocidal act that has been framed by historians as “necessary” for progress.

    It’s just one example of how history is often written from the perspective of the victors and subjugators. However, as Albert Camus once said, thinking people are responsible for taking the side and perspective of the victims, rather than the executioners – and the blinks that follow will do just that.

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    What is A People’s History of the United States about?

    A People’s History of the United States (2015, first edition 1980) walks you through the United States’ past from the perspective of the marginalized, the disenfranchised and the oppressed. These blinks describe a history of uprisings, protests and activism in the face of a government built for the rich.

    Best quote from A People’s History of the United States

    Even Thomas Jefferson said that it doesnt suit women to wrinkle their foreheads with politics.

    —Howard Zinn
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    Who should read A People’s History of the United States?

    • Activists and advocates of social change
    • Students of political science and US history
    • Readers looking for a fresh perspective on the US government

    About the Author

    Howard Zinn was an influential historian and social activist who wrote dozens of popular books on human rights, politics and social injustice. He taught political science at Boston University for many years before passing away of a heart attack in 2010.

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