Friday, July 20, 2007

A People's History of the United States

This book was the first one on my classical literature list, and I could not have picked a better book to begin with. Howard Zinn begins with Columbus coming to the America’s in 1492 and re-tells American history – only through the eyes of the oppressed. For example, he tells the history of Columbus through the eyes of the Native Americans. The history of slavery is recalled through the eyes of African Americans. The Vietnam war through the eyes of the Vietnamese and others who protested at home.

This book included so many aspects of American history of which I had never heard. For example, I had no idea that in November of 1969, Indians attempted to occupy Alcatraz island as one of many vain attempts to protest the atrocities that had been done to them over the past 400 years. A group of about 78 Indians tried to take over Alcatraz and claim it as a reservation. The offered to buy Alcatraz with glass beads and red cloth – the same price paid to Indians for Manhattan Island over three hundred years earlier. However, the Indians were quietly and forcibly removed by federal agents and the whole ordeal was never really publicized.

Zinn’s sweeping recount of American history leaves one breathless at the amount of oppression created and perpetuated by the United States, specifically the wealthy elite who control government policies and action. This book is a must read for history lovers, especially those who have always heard “traditional” accounts of American history. In the first chapter of the book, Zinn writes a quote that I already posted, but it is so good I am going to post it again (I have been thinking about it non-stop since I read it):

“The cry of the poor is not always just, but if you don’t listen to it, you will never know what justice is.”

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