A People’s History of the United States

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A People’s History of the United States Study Guide

Welcome to the LitCharts study guide on Howard Zinn's A People’s History of the United States. Created by the original team behind SparkNotes, LitCharts are the world's best literature guides.

Brief Biography of Howard Zinn

Howard Zinn was born to a working-class family in Brooklyn. As a young man, he educated himself by reading the complete works of Charles Dickens and by hanging out with Communists who lived in his neighborhood. While he was a teenager, Zinn attended a peaceful protect in Times Square, and was knocked out by a police officer. The experience left a lasting impact on his thinking. Zinn fought in the Air Force during World War II, and later received an M.A. and Ph.D. in history from Columbia University. In 1964, he began teaching at Boston University, where he quickly became a beloved member of the history faculty. He was actively involved in the Civil Rights Movement and anti-Vietnam protesting. In 1980, he published his most famous work, A People’s History of the United States, which has proven enormously popular. He died at the age of 87, one of the most admired and beloved figures of the American left.
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Other Books Related to A People’s History of the United States

Another history book that covers similar territory is Lies My Teacher Told Me (1995) by James Loewen, which also takes a populist, left-wing view of history. Additionally, fans of Howard Zinn should consult the writings of his close friend and intellectual ally, the linguist and left-wing political activist Noam Chomsky. Many of Chomsky’s books have studied American history and, like A People’s History, argued that powerful, tyrannical leaders are ignoring the will of the American people. Chomsky’s bibliography is vast—he’s published well over 100 books—but many consider his masterpiece of left-wing social criticism to be Manufacturing Consent (1988).
Key Facts about A People’s History of the United States
  • Full Title: A People’s History of the United States: 1492-Present
  • When Written: Late 1970s
  • Where Written: Boston, Massachusetts, USA
  • When Published: Fall 1980
  • Literary Period: Revisionist history, left-wing history
  • Genre: Nonfiction, history
  • Antagonist: The Establishment (the elite, powerful people of the United States)
  • Point of View: Third person omniscient

Extra Credit for A People’s History of the United States

Hey, if Matt Damon loved it … . Hundreds of famous people have listed A People’s History of the United States as one of their favorite books. One of the book’s more high-profile endorsements came in the 1997 Academy Award-winning film Good Will Hunting. In one scene, Matt Damon, playing a genius, tells Robin Williams to read Zinn’s book, adding, “that book’ll knock you on your ass.” Matt Damon and Ben Affleck, the movie’s screenwriters and stars, had grown up a few doors down from Zinn’s house and were close family friends.

A memorable death-day. Howard Zinn was one of the most beloved historians of the second half of the 20th century. On the day Zinn died, however, relatively few news outlets ran stories about his passing. The reason? On the same day, an even more beloved American writer died: J. D. Salinger.