Howard Zinn and America as Empire

By Colin Woodward

I started reading Howard Zinn’s People’s History of the United States while I was on my honeymoon. Because, you know, Matt Damon recommended it! If you’ve watched Good Will Hunting, you’ll probably remember the scene when Damon’s character says Zinn’s book–a leftist classic–is one of the “right f—ing books.”

I’m only about 100 pages into Zinn’s book, but it’s interesting. Zinn’s agenda is just as obvious and as biased as the worst right-wing, jingoistic textbooks or monographs about American history. Subtlety is not Zinn’s strong suit. Even so, People’s History serves as a corrective to much of the history we were fed as children and continue to be fed by the “God Bless America” crowd. Zinn’s books are probably most useful to a professor who is teaching a historiography course.

This video discusses the Left-wing themes of Zinn’s work A History of American Empire. In it, he talks about America acting, much like Britain and other European countries in the past, as expanding its influence to acquire greater wealth and resources under the guise of democracy. It’s definitely food for thought.

Colin Woodward is a historian and archivist. He is the author of Marching Masters, Slavery, Race, and the Confederate Army during the Civil War (University of Virginia Press, 2014). He is writing a second book on Johnny Cash.

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