goodbye, howard.

Howard Zinn has died, at age 87. For those unfamiliar, he was the author of comprehensive lefty-history tome A People’s History of the United States.

I first read A People’s History when I was 15 or so. I had just transferred to a new school system and hadn’t really made any friends yet, so I would spend my lunch breaks by myself, reading about the conquest of the Americas and the Triangle Shirtwaist fire and so on. Zinn, along with James Loewen (author of Lies My Teacher Told Me), showed me that written history doesn’t always have to come down on the side of the colonizers and the bosses, and that it can be compulsively readable as well.

I do have criticisms of People’s History that make me reluctant to recommend it – the lack of citations for anything (which is not to say all his claims are false, but it’s frustrating when he whips out a startling fact or statistic and there’s no way to tell where it came from), and the overuse of anecdotes are my two main complaints – but I can’t deny the influence it had on me when I was younger. Were it not for Howard and others like him, I’m not sure I’d be the Journal Of American History-subscribing geek I am today.

Hats off to you, sir. I hope that wherever you are, you’re partying down with all the radicals of yore. Say hi to Lucy Parsons for me.

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~ by Smellen on January 27, 2010.

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