« Stop the slaughter! | Main | Gyro Gearloose, back in the workshop »

Sit levis terra

By Michael J. Smith on Wednesday January 27, 2010 10:24 PM

Howard Zinn, 1922-2010

I was always a little cranky about some of Howard's take on things. But this last Christmas, I was casting about for a present to give a 16-year-old friend of the family, a lad interested in history and politics but very naif. Zinn's famous book seemed like just the ticket.

What can you say? He fought the good fight, and probably did more good than most of us.

I'm sorry he's gone, and grateful for what he did.

Comments (12)

Me, too. Sad day.

And, out of a desire to figure this out more thoroughly, what were your gripes, MJS? I once heard a history prof say he had problems with Zinn, but it was at a meeting organizing something or other (nukes, apartheid, the Contras? -- memory fails) in the Reagan years, and wasn't elaborated.

Is it the excess of bubble gum and the lack of depth? I've never felt compelled to read enough Zinn to figure out why I wasn't more drawn to his work, after the first quick pass. I'd like to know what others think.

The main recommendation is that he did it. Others since may be more eloquent, insightful, or compelling, but at least he got the ball rolling. And when the choice was between his job and the movement, he chose the movement. Not many like him around these days.


Y'know it's been a long time since I read Zinn and my memory's a little hazy -- well, more than a little. Perhaps it would be a suitable observance in his memory to dip back in and pay him the compliment of a response.

I think I may have found it a little more moralistic and less analytical than I would have liked. But he certainly did provide a convincing counterpoise to the standard triumphalist narrative of American virtue and entitlement, and he got that counter-narrative out into a lot of people's heads. Good subversive work, and deserving of honor.


maybe little more
then the walt disney
of frontier land pink politics

and yet
rip comrade rip


I was amazed to find Peoples' History required reading on my son's suburban high-school reading list. That's an achievement!

I've read it twice and always find new things to check out further. It reads like a novel, to me. Michael Parenti is possibly a better analyst of American politics, but I'd rather have a beer with Howard ten times to one.

Michael Hureaux:

I came to prefer Richard Hofstadter, just in terms of critical analysis, and one valuable in terms of a conscientious voice that was sympathetic to the capitalist system. Always a valuable source for articles to challenge my contrarian students with, or students who find themselves repeating the Zinn line chapter and verse. Hofstadter is good for jarring Zinn inspired certainty a little.

But, in terms of simplifying a long, difficult history, Zinn is hard to beat. Accessible to even the most difficult readers, there's always at least a few copies of his book in my classroom. Ache', Howard.


maybe little more
then the walt disney
of frontier land pink politic

This is just bullshit plain and simple.

Really, the so above it all thing really get very very old.

MJS got it almost right when he said

'probably did more good than most of us.'

He did more good than ALL of you. Get over yourselves.


i know exactly what MJS is referring to - namely, howards's "let's get out the vote for the democrats!" around every election season...

with all due respect to him, he should never have made such endorsements, even if they were qualified to the nth degree. the political system that the dems prop up is responsible for many of the crimes and injustices he so adroitly documents in his book...


nevertheless, rip!

demokrat beat me to it. :/



i happen to see uncle walt as a giant of mass mythos

hardly a slight to suggest citizen zinn
is our little pink patch's version of walt

maybe you simply failed to complete
the structural translation

or maybe you have some silly middle brow notion
uncle walt is kitsch
and err zinn's pink-pop isn't

would you prefer mass market e p thompson ??

I think I may have found it a little more moralistic and less analytical than I would have liked.

Honestly, that's one of the things I liked about Zinn's work.

Leftists are always at an inherent disadvantage compared with other political writers. Leftists are not allowed to feel anything. They're supposed to be the paragons of rationality, computing away in their offices, poring over Congressional Records or rainfall averages in the Punjab, until they come up with some enormous tome stuffed to the back teeth with footnotes. Anything less, and they will be dismissed by the gatekeepers of acceptable ideologies as "unserious" or "emotional" and "irrational".

After a while, it's nice to see people who will react to the subject that they're dealing with some passion. It is acceptable to react to even the regular workings of our imperial reality, to say nothing of its most egregious manifestations, with horror and disgust. If change is going to come to the system, it's going to come through disgust, dissatisfaction, and the sheer will to get it done, not through a 30 page article in the New Left Review


i think kazin made some good points about Zinn:

but i honestly think most of kazin's angst comes from professional envy...zinn for a lot of professional historians - right and left - was an interloper. i'd argue this was partially because he was such a moralizer. so i agree with the above post that there is something to be said for the passion that zinn brought to his craft.

Post a comment

Note also that comments with three or more links may be held for "moderation" -- a strange term to apply to the ghost in this blog's machine. Seems to be a hard-coded limitation of the blog software, unfortunately.


This page contains a single entry from the blog posted on Wednesday January 27, 2010 10:24 PM.

The previous post in this blog was Stop the slaughter!.

The next post in this blog is Gyro Gearloose, back in the workshop.

Many more can be found on the main index page or by looking through the archives.

Creative Commons License

This weblog is licensed under a Creative Commons License.
Powered by
Movable Type 3.31