Thursday, September 26, 2013

Howard Zinn, Another Firebrand

Hot on the heels of my post about Taylor Branch comes this one about the often maligned, though not by anyone whose opinion I'd respect, Howard Zinn. It happens that I've been listening to the latest version of his 1980 classic, The People's History of the United States. I've been familiar with this book for many years but had never read it start to finish, just knew much of what it was about.

In the latest iteration of the book, Mr. Zinn reads the introduction and summarizes the highlights of his first history, now required reading in many schools around the country. Then the actor Matt Damon reads the body of the work which begins with the 1950's and the long, tragic story of the United States' entry into the Vietnam quagmire. He does a great job, never bringing his own bias to bear on the reading, simply giving us plain, simple, indisputable facts.

From Vietnam we graduate to black power, the women's movement, labor unrest around the county, Caesar Chavez and the agricultural workers' plea for better wages and working conditions, and on through the good, the bad and the ugly about our nation as it continues its attempt at becoming a democracy that is truly about "liberty and justice for all."

Throughout Mr. Zinn's long career as an historian, author, and teacher, he has been vilified for what some would call an anti-American frame of mind. He scolds us for turning Christopher Columbus into a hero, reminding readers of the devastation wrought upon the native peoples, their land and culture. Though an Army Air Corps veteran and a bombardier during World War II, Mr. Zinn decries the holocaust that was the result of the bombing of Nagasaki and Hiroshima.

His largest concern has always been the rewriting of history to suit our image of ourselves as purveyors of "truth, justice, and the American way." But it's not us, the people, that he takes to task. Rather, it's the politicians responsible for the lies, back door dealings, money grabbing, and hubris that have brought the United States to its knees so often (and may do again next week). He reminds us that, when less than fifty percent of the citizens of our country are exercising their right to vote, it's difficult to know who to blame for those who supposedly represent us.

After visiting Mr. Zinn's website I was gratified to see so many tributes (Mr. Zinn died in 2010) from around the world and was especially touched by Bob Herbert's New York Times editorial and Bill Moyers' video essay on PBS.

So, I promised to leave the dark side for awhile and read a few more upbeat books. How am I doing? Uh, huh, that's a joke. I've just finished Ishmael Beah's  Radiance of Tomorrow which I'll be reviewing for Library Journal but, as I pondered what I wanted to say, I realized that I'd simply have to go back and look through his memoir of being a child soldier in Sierra Leone, A Long Way Gone, in order to get the full impact of the debut novel.

I'm almost finished with Jhumpa Lahiri's The Lowland and have Alice McDermott's Someone on my nook for the ride back to Florida. How about you folks? Come on, what have you read lately?

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