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A People's Historian
January 27, 2010 3:40 PM   Subscribe

The Boston Globe reports that historian Howard Zinn has died of a heart attack. The pioneering radical historian is best known for A People's History of the United States.
posted by box (278 comments total) 16 users marked this as a favorite

 
Well, crap.

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posted by deadmessenger at 3:40 PM on January 27, 2010 [2 favorites]


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posted by DieHipsterDie at 3:40 PM on January 27, 2010 [1 favorite]


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posted by Shutter at 3:44 PM on January 27, 2010


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posted by gingerbeer at 3:44 PM on January 27, 2010


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posted by cell divide at 3:44 PM on January 27, 2010


Aw shit.


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posted by stenseng at 3:45 PM on January 27, 2010


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posted by Sfving at 3:45 PM on January 27, 2010


A few minutes ago I went to look up whether he was still alive. The news of his death had broken within the previous minute.

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(broken link, by the way -- his website is howardzinn.org)
posted by decagon at 3:45 PM on January 27, 2010 [1 favorite]


oh noes.
posted by allen.spaulding at 3:46 PM on January 27, 2010


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posted by papalotl at 3:47 PM on January 27, 2010


Thanks, decagon--I just noticed that. I'll let the mods know.
posted by box at 3:47 PM on January 27, 2010


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posted by idiopath at 3:47 PM on January 27, 2010


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posted by pb at 3:47 PM on January 27, 2010


He was my teacher when I was 19. Instead of sitting in a classroom, we went out into the projects to organize community food gleanings.
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posted by fullofragerie at 3:47 PM on January 27, 2010 [29 favorites]


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Wow. What a loss. What a great, great American.
posted by fourcheesemac at 3:48 PM on January 27, 2010


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posted by Mercaptan at 3:48 PM on January 27, 2010


Shit.

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posted by brundlefly at 3:48 PM on January 27, 2010


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posted by swift at 3:48 PM on January 27, 2010


Damnit.

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posted by lekvar at 3:49 PM on January 27, 2010


I was writing up a little blurb as you posted this. I'll include it here...

Howard Zinn: "His writings have changed the consciousness of a generation, and helped open new paths to understanding and its crucial meaning for our lives"


Howard Zinn has died at 87. Best known for his book A People's History of the United States and the poularization of the idea of critical pedagogy, he was also an accomplished essayist, author and playwright. People not familiar with his work may want to watch You Can't Be Neutral on a Moving Train where he discusses his early activism as a member of the faculty at Spellman College.

Sad and at the same time we were as luck to have had him as long as we did.
posted by jessamyn at 3:49 PM on January 27, 2010 [31 favorites]


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i saw him speak last year in DC at Busboys & Poets. so many people showed up that the place was too packed to let more of us in, so we had to stand outside and listen through a speaker system that was set up and watch him the glass walls. it was still such a wonderful experience.

i had never seen anyone like him before in person. i don't know how to describe it.
posted by sio42 at 3:49 PM on January 27, 2010


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posted by Joe Beese at 3:50 PM on January 27, 2010


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Best damned history book I ever read.
posted by BrotherFeldspar at 3:51 PM on January 27, 2010


The Old Left radicals are really dwindling now. Who's left that was born before 1940? Chomsky?
posted by stammer at 3:52 PM on January 27, 2010 [1 favorite]


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posted by WPW at 3:52 PM on January 27, 2010


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I'm gonna miss that guy.
posted by disclaimer at 3:53 PM on January 27, 2010


Thanks for some great history lessons. You will be missed.
posted by doctor_negative at 3:53 PM on January 27, 2010


Oh man. This is so sad.
When I first read his People's History of the United States when I was twelve, it blew my mind. It still does.

Howard Zinn, I'm going to miss you.
posted by dunkadunc at 3:53 PM on January 27, 2010 [1 favorite]


fuck.

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posted by lalochezia at 3:53 PM on January 27, 2010


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posted by jonmc at 3:53 PM on January 27, 2010 [2 favorites]


I guess the Supreme Court's recent decision had farther-reaching effects.

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I'm really, really bummed by this news. RIP Mr. Zinn.
posted by exlotuseater at 3:53 PM on January 27, 2010 [2 favorites]


A good life well lived. God speed.
posted by Abiezer at 3:54 PM on January 27, 2010


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They don't make em like Zinn anymore.
posted by Capt Jingo at 3:54 PM on January 27, 2010


Oh man. Oh man.

I produced the L.A. production of Zinn's Marx in Soho about 8 or 9 years ago, which Zinn allowed to be produced royalty-free as a fundraiser for the International Socialist Review. When I got to meet the man briefly at an event in Chicago a little while later, it was all I could do to stammer breathlessly, "Mr. Zinn, it's an honor."

Zinn, like Studs Terkel, has been one of the clearest and strongest voices for justice and decency in America for several generations. It feels trite to say that he'll be missed; I am just profoundly grateful we had him to begin with.
posted by scody at 3:54 PM on January 27, 2010 [12 favorites]




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posted by carbide at 3:55 PM on January 27, 2010


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posted by localroger at 3:55 PM on January 27, 2010


What a shame. I learned more about America from A People's History than just about any other source, and a voice such as Zinn's is needed now more than often.

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posted by Dee Xtrovert at 3:56 PM on January 27, 2010 [3 favorites]


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posted by Gnatcho at 3:57 PM on January 27, 2010


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posted by naju at 3:58 PM on January 27, 2010


Thank you for your invaluable contributions, Dr. Zinn.
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posted by Heretic at 3:58 PM on January 27, 2010


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posted by graymouser at 3:59 PM on January 27, 2010


man, fuck.

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posted by nadawi at 3:59 PM on January 27, 2010


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posted by mer2113 at 3:59 PM on January 27, 2010


This seriously sucks.

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posted by -t at 4:00 PM on January 27, 2010


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posted by mullingitover at 4:02 PM on January 27, 2010


It's sad we couldn't have had him around even a day longer, and heard his characteristic mix of clear-headed tallying of the disappointments alongside inextinguishable hope and humor after one more State of the Union.

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posted by RogerB at 4:02 PM on January 27, 2010 [1 favorite]


What a loss for our country and the world.

I was able to hear him speak a couple of years ago.... so intelligent, so wise...
posted by HuronBob at 4:02 PM on January 27, 2010


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posted by SansPoint at 4:03 PM on January 27, 2010


This week is lame. I'm OUT!
posted by MeatLightning at 4:03 PM on January 27, 2010


The people will mourn this for a long time.

Fuck.


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posted by Lutoslawski at 4:03 PM on January 27, 2010


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posted by Blazecock Pileon at 4:03 PM on January 27, 2010


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posted by These Premises Are Alarmed at 4:04 PM on January 27, 2010


I read your book for school, and was left unimpressed. After I left school and worked in the real world for a bit, I came back to your book.

You are responsible for turning this worker into a successful labor organizer.
posted by hal_c_on at 4:06 PM on January 27, 2010 [20 favorites]


One of my high school teachers, sensing something or other going on in my scattered brain, told me to check out The Zinn Reader. That and People's History changed my life in so many ways. Thanks for the education Mr. Zinn.
posted by naju at 4:07 PM on January 27, 2010


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posted by Senor Cardgage at 4:07 PM on January 27, 2010


Dear 2010, you suck.

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posted by jeanmari at 4:08 PM on January 27, 2010 [5 favorites]


I'm gonna go pull out A People's History of the United States and read it again.

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posted by Doublewhiskeycokenoice at 4:08 PM on January 27, 2010


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posted by khaibit at 4:13 PM on January 27, 2010


He came to talk to one of my high school history classes (I went to Brookline High, so not a far trip for him), and it was pretty amazing. He is among those who inspired a love of history in me.

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posted by rtha at 4:14 PM on January 27, 2010


I like to pretend that I started to become a liberal, and then a progressive, and then a downright utopian socialist right around the time that Bush came to office.

But secretly, it was the first few chapters of A People's History that started me on my path away from anarchic libertarianism.

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posted by muddgirl at 4:14 PM on January 27, 2010 [7 favorites]


RIP

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posted by spinifex23 at 4:18 PM on January 27, 2010


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I read A People's History when I was young: it made me realize that you could, and in fact should, read things critically and against the grain. It's informed my studies and my real life ever since. This is sad.
posted by HabeasCorpus at 4:19 PM on January 27, 2010


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posted by Blue Jello Elf at 4:19 PM on January 27, 2010


I just discussed his book in my history class today.

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posted by kylej at 4:19 PM on January 27, 2010


This makes me so sad. He was one of the greats.
posted by maurice at 4:20 PM on January 27, 2010


some people should never be allowed to die. since that will never happen, i look forward to future zinns. god knows, the world needs them.

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posted by msconduct at 4:20 PM on January 27, 2010 [3 favorites]


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posted by Chuffy at 4:22 PM on January 27, 2010


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posted by elmono at 4:22 PM on January 27, 2010


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posted by finite at 4:23 PM on January 27, 2010


This is such a bummer. It almost hurts to type this, but as he quoted Joe Hill in Voices of a People's History of the United States, "Don't waste time mourning. Organize!"
posted by history is a weapon at 4:24 PM on January 27, 2010 [5 favorites]


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posted by Flunkie at 4:28 PM on January 27, 2010


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posted by robcorr at 4:29 PM on January 27, 2010


i look forward to future zinns. god knows, the world needs them.

Democracy now with ♥ Amy ♥
posted by KokuRyu at 4:29 PM on January 27, 2010


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posted by wolfewarrior at 4:29 PM on January 27, 2010


fuck.

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posted by Theta States at 4:30 PM on January 27, 2010


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posted by jonp72 at 4:33 PM on January 27, 2010


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posted by RajahKing at 4:35 PM on January 27, 2010


This past July, Zinn came to Cambridge UK to perform "Marx in Soho." His performance was enchanting, humane, and thought-provoking. Go well, Dr. Zinn.

Time, I think, to order my copy of The People Speak.
posted by honest knave at 4:35 PM on January 27, 2010


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posted by batmonkey at 4:35 PM on January 27, 2010


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Mr. Zinn, as much as the great man hypothesis was not your cuppa, you did actually change the world.
posted by mwhybark at 4:36 PM on January 27, 2010 [1 favorite]


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posted by sonic meat machine at 4:37 PM on January 27, 2010


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posted by strixus at 4:37 PM on January 27, 2010


Back in high-school in Mexico, a very pro-business pro-USA school, we had some of our classes taught in English. World History was taught by a beer drinking, pot smoking, yelling and cursing, sandal wearing, blues guitar playing Scottish leftist.

The school tried to rectify this next semester by hiring a nice suit wearing, ivy league educated gentleman who fluidly and softly spoke the Hardvard speak and knew all the Harvard secret handshakes then popular with the school administration.

He turned out to be a former student of Zinn; the first day of class told us to return or burn our expensive hardcover textbook and get a copy of A People's History of the United States. That was one of the best classes I have ever had. That class made me and many of my friends more critical, better readers, and inoculated us against all kinds of propaganda.


Next semester the school hired an AMERICA FUCK YEAH! old man who had been in submarine crews during some war or another, but the damage had been done. His number one lesson was that "every man has a price". His price was 4 gallons of fancy ice cream to tell us exactly what would be on the final. Just like Zinn would have predicted.

Every generation and every country should have a People's History of $COUNTRY, it would make the world a better place. I am sad to realize that I could have met Zinn if I had wanted, it is only now that he is dead that he turned from an abstraction to a real man in my mind.
posted by dirty lies at 4:37 PM on January 27, 2010 [12 favorites]


You don't have to do something heroic, just something, to join with millions of others who will just do something, because all of those somethings, at certain points in history, come together, and make the world better.

I will miss him.
posted by borges at 4:39 PM on January 27, 2010 [1 favorite]


"They tell me I am a member of the greatest generation. That's because I saw combat duty as a bombardier in World War II, and we (I almost said "I") won the war against fascism. I am told this by Tom Brokaw, who wrote a book called The Greatest Generation, which is all about us. He is an anchorman for a big television network, meaning that he is anchored to orthodoxy, and there is no greater orthodoxy than to ascribe greatness to military valor.

"I refuse to celebrate them as "the greatest generation" because in doing so we are celebrating courage and sacrifice in the cause of war. And we are mis-educating the young to believe that military heroism is the noblest form of heroism, when it should be remembered only as the tragic accompaniment of horrendous policies driven by power and profit. Indeed, the current infatuation with World War II prepares us—innocently on the part of some, deliberately on the part of others—for more war, more military adventures, more attempts to emulate the military heroes of the past.

"And what of the abolitionist generation-—the leaders of slave revolts, the conductors of the underground railroad, the speakers and writers, the likes of David Walker and Harriet Tubman and Frederick Douglass? It was they who gave honor to the decades leading up to the Civil War, they who pressured Lincoln and the Congress into ending slavery.

"Why do we use the term "greatest generation" for participants in war? Why not for those who have opposed war, who have tried to make us understand that war has never solved fundamental problems?"
The Greatest Generation? By Howard Zinn, October 2001
posted by netbros at 4:40 PM on January 27, 2010 [43 favorites]


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posted by the_bone at 4:42 PM on January 27, 2010


Aw, man, I thought last week was the worst week of the year to be a liberal!

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posted by graventy at 4:42 PM on January 27, 2010


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posted by sswiller at 4:45 PM on January 27, 2010


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posted by mjb at 4:47 PM on January 27, 2010


Aw, man, I thought last week was the worst week of the year to be a liberal! (graventy)

One of the things that people like Howard Zinn have taught me is that it's never a bad time to be a liberal. Sometimes it's hard, sure, but the times that are the "worst" are when liberals (and liberal activism) are most needed.

Seems like now is one of those times.

Now, if you'll excuse me, I'm going to figure out the best way to make a difference where I live.
posted by ocherdraco at 4:49 PM on January 27, 2010 [6 favorites]


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posted by hippybear at 4:49 PM on January 27, 2010


. . . _ _ _ . . .
posted by jabo at 4:49 PM on January 27, 2010 [2 favorites]


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posted by shakespeherian at 4:50 PM on January 27, 2010


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A thoughtful critique of A People's History from Michael Kazin, and a counter-critique from Dale McCartney in Seven Oaks Magazine are both worth a look for fans--and critics--of the book.
posted by liketitanic at 4:51 PM on January 27, 2010 [9 favorites]


He came to Greece last year and I would have normally been able to listen to both of the conversations he took part in if only I wasn't stuck on the other side of the country. Traveling was sadly not an option.

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posted by ersatz at 4:51 PM on January 27, 2010


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posted by Sublimity at 4:53 PM on January 27, 2010


"There is no flag large enough to cover the shame of killing innocent people." -Howard Zinn

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posted by MXJ1983 at 4:54 PM on January 27, 2010 [2 favorites]


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posted by clarknova at 4:55 PM on January 27, 2010


terrible news

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posted by stagewhisper at 4:55 PM on January 27, 2010


I last saw him speak in 2007 when he came as part of a lecture on Martha Rosler's photomontage series "Bringing the War Home". It was an amazing lecture (on Veteran's Day, no less; it's available for streaming here if anyone would like to listen to it.

I'm very worried for a world where Howard Zinns and Ted Kennedys and the like continue to depart, because I see no one stepping up to fill those shoes.
posted by rollbiz at 4:55 PM on January 27, 2010 [1 favorite]


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posted by John of Michigan at 4:57 PM on January 27, 2010


Can Noam be far behind?
posted by clarknova at 4:58 PM on January 27, 2010


As a substitute teacher I walk into a stranger's classroom many days a week. Whenever I see A People's History on the shelf (and I do, even in early grades!) I feel a little bit at home and a little more hopeful. I know Zinn's book is not part of the official curriculum--although I wish it were--but its presence means someone has or is or will be looking into it. Sometimes I am that someone, and my kids for that day look along with me.

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posted by emhutchinson at 4:58 PM on January 27, 2010 [3 favorites]


"There is no flag large enough to cover the shame of killing innocent people for a purpose which is unattainable." -- from Terrorism Over Tripoli

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posted by $0up at 5:00 PM on January 27, 2010


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posted by el_lupino at 5:04 PM on January 27, 2010


Bummer.
I saw him at a film festival in New Mexico [Taos] back in 1999 where he gave a talk on 'Stories Hollywood Never Tells'.
Yeah, they still don't tell those stories.

His perspective of history became sort of popular in some circles but it still seems few [MeFi readers excluded] have actually read and absorbed what he wrote.

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posted by Rashomon at 5:05 PM on January 27, 2010


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posted by orville sash at 5:10 PM on January 27, 2010


I've never done this before on the blue, but:

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posted by Emperor SnooKloze at 5:10 PM on January 27, 2010


Thank you, Mr. Zinn, for everything you did to make this world a better place.

Also, some recent writing (didn't find it on preview, sorry if it's up there)
Obama at One
Changing Obama's Mindset
posted by sleepy pete at 5:10 PM on January 27, 2010 [1 favorite]


Terrible news, indeed.

I'm very worried for a world where Howard Zinns and Ted Kennedys and the like continue to depart, because I see no one stepping up to fill those shoes.

While I too despair that there are not enough Zinns, and know his loss leaves a gaping hole, there are some who work in a similar vein. For example see Truthdig's Chris Hedges.
posted by tidecat at 5:12 PM on January 27, 2010


Zinn was a fixture at antiwar rallies all over the Boston area in the late 60s when I was there (along with Chomsky). A great speaker. Probably one of the 10 people that made the most difference in changing the American mindset about war in the Vietnam era.

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posted by ericb at 5:30 PM on January 27, 2010


In August of 2001, I was performing in a community theatre production of The Complete History of America (abridged). As a closing night present, the director gave me a copy of A People's History. He'd been stunned that I'd never read it before - indeed, never even heard of it before.

I read it during that first week of September, and it was as if this was the history book I'd been waiting for all of my life. What's that line from "Tangled Up In Blue?" "Every word felt it was written in my soul?" That's sort of how I felt. Like I knew there'd always been stuff going on that I hadn't been made aware of, and suddenly, yes, confirmed, there was stuff going on that I hadn't been aware of.

Anyhow, a few days later, 9/11 happened. In my brain, I was never one of those "9/11 changed everything" people, but I've found some stuff I wrote immediately after 9/11 which demonstrates that I must have felt that way for at least a few days. Then within weeks, Bush squandered all of the potential goodwill he could have and I was left reflecting on how easy it was to jump on the pro-Government bandwagon even for unworthy leaders. I thought a great deal about People's History that whole winter and spring.

Now, when I hear "9/11 Never Forget," in my head I hear "Howard Zinn Never Forget."

No, seriously.
posted by Joey Michaels at 5:32 PM on January 27, 2010 [2 favorites]


God bless you, Howard Zinn.

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posted by Auden at 5:34 PM on January 27, 2010


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If you want your work to change people's lives, his is an example of how to do it.
posted by heurtebise at 5:42 PM on January 27, 2010


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posted by cybercoitus interruptus at 5:48 PM on January 27, 2010


Sucks.

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posted by Sailormom at 5:49 PM on January 27, 2010


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posted by Solon and Thanks at 5:54 PM on January 27, 2010


................._____________
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_______________________

RIP to the truest of American heroes.
posted by moonbird at 5:59 PM on January 27, 2010 [4 favorites]


just awful news.

Howard, your writing went a long way toward making me the person i am today.

Thank you for that, and rest in peace sir.
posted by h0p3y at 5:59 PM on January 27, 2010


His book A People's History ... did more to broaden this Canadian's knowledge of US history than 2 years of high school courses (yep, we had almost as much American History time as we did our own.) A great historian for talking about the poorly covered aspects as well as the basics, and a good storyteller.

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posted by HumanComplex at 6:14 PM on January 27, 2010


Bloody motherfucking hell. RIP sir, the world is a better place for your efforts. Advocacy in the face of unrelenting apathy and opposition is a terrible and thankless job, but you did it well.
posted by ooga_booga at 6:15 PM on January 27, 2010


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posted by beccaj at 6:17 PM on January 27, 2010


I will never forget reading "A People's History" for the first time. It changed how I looked at society and was the driving behind my choice to get a history degree.
posted by nestor_makhno at 6:20 PM on January 27, 2010


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posted by genehack at 6:21 PM on January 27, 2010


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This is upsetting.
posted by mkim at 6:23 PM on January 27, 2010


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posted by longdaysjourney at 6:27 PM on January 27, 2010


I was thinking about Howard Zinn just yesterday after seeing some NYPD cops who were being honored as "heroes" at the stock exchange after returning from, what, maybe a week's service in Haiti.
I don't disparage what they did but they went there for a few days and then returned, while many others are serving there, unarmed, under-equipped and underfed.

Our priorities are so skewed these days. I too wonder where the next generation of sane but committed lefties are. RIP, Mr. Zinn.
posted by etaoin at 6:32 PM on January 27, 2010


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posted by Jon_Evil at 6:33 PM on January 27, 2010


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(Please Chomsky live until 110. PLEASE)

I interviewed Zinn two years ago. Incredible to talk to a true hero, a true radical, a true human.

Long live Howard Zinn.
posted by gcbv at 6:43 PM on January 27, 2010


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posted by diogenes at 6:48 PM on January 27, 2010


I enjoyed teaching with your book. And my students loved it as well.

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posted by iamkimiam at 6:57 PM on January 27, 2010



Every generation and every country should have a People's History of $COUNTRY, it would make the world a better place.


I mean, every country could. What Zinn did for that book was synthesize many, many historical monographs in order to produce his narrative. Any dedicated researcher and lively writer could do that. More should, but I want to be clear, as a historian, that I don't think this has to be a pipe dream. I'm not going to be the person to embark on that project for many reasons, but you (yes, YOU) absolutely could do it.
posted by liketitanic at 7:01 PM on January 27, 2010 [3 favorites]


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posted by Brody's chum at 7:05 PM on January 27, 2010


I'm sorry he's gone. And I'm sorry that he didn't live to see a time in which his compassion and advocacy for the poor and the voiceless, and the message that they, too are American, wouldn't be considered "radical". Politicians like to talk about "ordinary Americans", but that's code for "people like you". Reading Zinn is one of the best ways to find out that our current perception of the "mainstream" in thought, culture, lifestile and beliefs is mostly a very recent invention, and that there is very much more to this country than you've been taught.

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posted by George_Spiggott at 7:13 PM on January 27, 2010 [1 favorite]


Around 1992, when I was a sophomore in high school, Howard Zinn came to my hometown (San Juan, Puerto Rico) for some sort of lecture or event. This was, in and of itself, an unusual occurence. But then my US history teacher invited him to come to my tiny school and give a talk, and maybe because my teacher actually used A People's History as a text book in class, Zinn accepted the invitation. He gave a short lecture and took questions. He was engaging and gracious, and I still remember that as a high point of my high school days. He was even cool enough to stop by one of the class periods my teacher had later that afternoon and do more of a personal Q&A session, but it wasn't my particular history class period and my teacher wouldm't let me sneak in. Bummer.

RIP, Mr. Zinn.
posted by DrGirlfriend at 7:14 PM on January 27, 2010


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posted by cjelli at 7:14 PM on January 27, 2010


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posted by Unioncat at 7:19 PM on January 27, 2010


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posted by cooker girl at 7:21 PM on January 27, 2010


Zinn's wife passed away in 2008, he's gone to join her. Another hero leaves the planet.

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posted by dbiedny at 7:23 PM on January 27, 2010


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posted by Capybara at 7:25 PM on January 27, 2010


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posted by tarantula at 7:25 PM on January 27, 2010


Reading his book did more to open my mind and make me question beliefs I held dear than just about anything in my life. If more people read A People's History, I'd like to believe the country would be a better place. It's pretty sad that it isn't part of high school history courses, and that you have to find a decent university teacher who uses it.

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posted by Ghidorah at 7:28 PM on January 27, 2010


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posted by demonic winged headgear at 7:28 PM on January 27, 2010


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posted by Korou at 7:31 PM on January 27, 2010


Don't mourn.

Organize.
posted by AsYouKnow Bob at 7:33 PM on January 27, 2010 [4 favorites]


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posted by Ironmouth at 7:35 PM on January 27, 2010


I am so grateful to Howard Zinn. Thank you, thank you, thank you Howard.
posted by serazin at 7:36 PM on January 27, 2010


A voice of reason I sought out often to try to make sense of this shitty world....goodbye.

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posted by pdxjmorris at 7:41 PM on January 27, 2010


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posted by treepour at 7:46 PM on January 27, 2010


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I had the privilege of protesting the Iraq war with him in Boston and watching him speak during several of the events. The world has lost an important voice.
posted by VulcanMike at 7:50 PM on January 27, 2010


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Howard Zinn, Presente!
posted by jammy at 7:56 PM on January 27, 2010 [1 favorite]


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posted by homuncula at 7:58 PM on January 27, 2010


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posted by dsword at 7:59 PM on January 27, 2010


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posted by ropeladder at 7:59 PM on January 27, 2010


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posted by CitoyenK at 8:06 PM on January 27, 2010


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posted by kookaburra at 8:10 PM on January 27, 2010


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Sorry to hear about his passing. This is the only history book my kids actually enjoyed reading.
posted by garnetgirl at 8:13 PM on January 27, 2010


Years ago, Mr Corpse worked at a coffee shop in Boston. Howard Zinn came in:

Mr Corpse: I read A People's History in college -- and look at me now!

Professor Zinn: That's not my fault.
posted by The corpse in the library at 8:20 PM on January 27, 2010 [7 favorites]


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posted by cashman at 8:25 PM on January 27, 2010


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posted by l33tpolicywonk at 8:30 PM on January 27, 2010


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posted by immlass at 8:32 PM on January 27, 2010


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posted by omnidrew at 8:34 PM on January 27, 2010


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I can honestly say that his amazing memoir, You Can't Stay Neutral on a Moving Train, changed my life.
posted by lunasol at 8:49 PM on January 27, 2010


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posted by drowsy at 8:50 PM on January 27, 2010


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posted by 0of1 at 8:52 PM on January 27, 2010


This is sad news indeed.
posted by dejah420 at 8:54 PM on January 27, 2010


Wikipedia alerted me to this great commencement speech he gave in 2005 at Spelman College called "Against Discouragement." Read it and follow his words:

"The lesson of that history is that you must not despair, that if you are right, and you persist, things will change. The government may try to deceive the people, and the newspapers and television may do the same, but the truth has a way of coming out. The truth has a power greater than a hundred lies. I know you have practical things to do -- to get jobs and get married and have children. You may become prosperous and be considered a success in the way our society defines success, by wealth and standing and prestige. But that is not enough for a good life...

...My hope is that whatever you do to make a good life for yourself -- whether you become a teacher, or social worker, or business person, or lawyer, or poet, or scientist -- you will devote part of your life to making this a better world for your children, for all children. My hope is that your generation will demand an end to war, that your generation will do something that has not yet been done in history and wipe out the national boundaries that separate us from other human beings on this earth."

posted by lunasol at 9:02 PM on January 27, 2010 [3 favorites]


A thoughtful critique of A People's History from Michael Kazin, and a counter-critique from Dale McCartney in Seven Oaks Magazine are both worth a look for fans--and critics--of the book.

I've seen the Michael Kazin piece before. It's accurate in its depiction of Zinn's work as flat and monochromatic. Dale McCartney's piece is an astonishingly bad defense. The best I can say for him is that he's upfront in what he's about: a dismissal of "the academic tradition of objectivity (read: liberalism that favors white men)". This is nothing more than an embrace of any available popular narrative, no matter how shallow and simplistic, that serves one's ends. His analogy to the film, The Great Escape, is apt but hardly convincing. The historian Joseph Vance may find the movie to be important in Canadian's memory of the event, but there's at least two different senses of the word "important" muddled up here. It is important for those who are inquiring into what Canadians remember of the prison break as that's the most common source, but that hardly means that it did anything important at all. Of course that distinction hardly matters to McCartney, or Zinn, they're preaching. Yes, some of us do indeed "find the power of the film, and Zinn's book, coupled with their inaccurate or political recounting of history, troubling", but at least with the movie you know you're expecting a performance, it's understood that the story will come first - historical record be damned. That this is his point of comparison says a lot.
posted by BigSky at 9:24 PM on January 27, 2010 [1 favorite]


I've never read Zinn - I always just figured that as a student of New Zealand history I already knew what he had to say, about war, about power, about politics, and that our historiography had already accommodated all that. But some of the quotes in the thread make me think I should have a look.

It's always worth while hearing from someone who actually cares about people.

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posted by Dandeson Coates, Sec'y at 9:52 PM on January 27, 2010 [1 favorite]


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posted by kozad at 9:53 PM on January 27, 2010


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posted by interim_descriptor at 10:48 PM on January 27, 2010


Here's to you, Mr. Zinn. Thank you.
posted by goofyfoot at 11:00 PM on January 27, 2010


so, so, so sad

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posted by Surfurrus at 11:01 PM on January 27, 2010


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posted by MillMan at 11:06 PM on January 27, 2010


How odd. As I left work, I had to chose between Zinn's People's History of the US or a biography of Mohammad (pbuh) as my subway reading material on my way to watch the State of the Union Address. I almost picked Zinn, but grabbed In the Footsteps of the Prophet instead.

As it way, I had no time to read before I got all haraam.


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posted by orthogonality at 11:17 PM on January 27, 2010 [1 favorite]


It was a Zinn quote that set me on a lifelong practice of storing up wise words. For this alone he has always had an honored place in my heart. For the lives he has changed, I am glad that he has an honored place in our history. Let us all honor him by working to make him proud.
posted by stoneweaver at 11:21 PM on January 27, 2010 [1 favorite]


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posted by nelsonbradley at 11:28 PM on January 27, 2010


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posted by lupus_yonderboy at 11:29 PM on January 27, 2010


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posted by brujita at 11:32 PM on January 27, 2010


As it happens, I'm in the middle of reading "A people's history..." right now. It's a flawed polemic at best, but that's exactly what one ought to expect of a work that seeks to redress the balance away from the self-serving histories of wars and 'great men' that can be easily found elsewhere.
posted by pharm at 12:54 AM on January 28, 2010


Oh, and RIP Howard Zinn: you will be missed.
posted by pharm at 1:01 AM on January 28, 2010


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Thumbs down to January 2010. Thumbs DOWN.
posted by paddysat at 1:26 AM on January 28, 2010 [2 favorites]


Crap.

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posted by monocultured at 1:41 AM on January 28, 2010


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posted by vacapinta at 2:22 AM on January 28, 2010


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Howard Zinn's been on my mind a lot lately. As I read a history of my city, I've been wrestling with it because it only highlights the handful of elites who made their fortune here, but skips over the hundreds of thousands who struggled to make a life for themselves, and really define what Chicago is today. I'll never read history the same way. Thank you Mr. Zinn.
posted by Sreiny at 2:39 AM on January 28, 2010


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posted by one teak forest at 2:40 AM on January 28, 2010


We have lost a brilliant, thoughtful man, whose work has changed many lives (including those of several of us here in this post).

While I don't think the mood can be lightened, I feel compelled to share with you this wonderfully spot-on piece from McSweeneys:

Unused Audio Commentary By Howard Zinn and Noam Chomsky, Recorded Summer 2002, For The Fellowship of the Ring (Platinum Series, Extended Edition) DVD, Part One.
Zinn: Don't forget the Black Gate. The Black Gate, which, as Tolkien points out, was built by Gondor. And now we jump to the Orcs chopping down the trees in Isengard.

Chomsky: A terrible thing the Orcs do here, isn't it? They destroy nature. But again, what have we seen, time and time again?

Zinn: The Orcs have no resources. They're desperate.

Chomsky: Desperate people driven to do desperate things.

Zinn: Desperate to compete with the economic powerhouses of Rohan and Gondor.
posted by tzikeh at 2:46 AM on January 28, 2010 [3 favorites]


This is really too bad. Here's to truth in history-- all the truths in history.
posted by threeants at 3:52 AM on January 28, 2010


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posted by lordrunningclam at 4:38 AM on January 28, 2010


It's a flawed polemic at best, but that's exactly what one ought to expect of a work that seeks to redress the balance away from the self-serving histories of wars and 'great men' that can be easily found elsewhere.

No reason you can't counter one polemic with something more thoughtful and nuanced, I would have said.

Problem with Zinn is the same problem with Tacitus- he seems incapable of seeing any shade of gray. He's writing history with a chip on his shoulder, which may be emotionally satisfying - just look at all the dots! - and is in consequence unfortunately narrow. He's not utterly useless, but he should never be considered a one stop shop source of all truth any more than the texts he was reacting to should be. And which I fear for many people - he is.

Seconding the toast to all the truths in history.
posted by IndigoJones at 5:40 AM on January 28, 2010


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posted by lunit at 6:15 AM on January 28, 2010


The Old Left radicals are really dwindling now. Who's left that was born before 1940? Chomsky?

Grace Lee Boggs (b. 1915) and Pete Seeger (b. 1919) come to mind - there are definitely others.
posted by ryanshepard at 6:16 AM on January 28, 2010


Thank you Mr. Zinn.

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posted by waraw at 6:27 AM on January 28, 2010


I was saddened when I heard this, and then I spent a few minutes thinking about how much he directly and indirectly shaped my outlook. He gave me important important reference points to expand my knowledge and was one of those people that made me want to dig deeper and ask more questions. Now I'm even sadder about his passing, but so grateful for the influence he had.
posted by Slack-a-gogo at 6:47 AM on January 28, 2010


The People's History is the book that made me decide that I had to major in history; it was the book that made me realize that history was relevant and there was another way to tell the same story. A few years after college I had the opportunity to attend a benefit dinner/celebration of David Dellinger and Howard Zinn was there speaking from the podium and then just mingling with the crowd. I went up to him and tried to tell him all that he had meant to my development as a student and as a liberal. His thanks was sincere and honestly heartfelt and just getting the chance to stand next to such a great man is something that I will never forget.

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posted by Bango Skank at 6:54 AM on January 28, 2010


"To be hopeful in bad times is not just foolishly romantic. It is based on the fact that human history is a history not only of cruelty, but also of compassion, sacrifice, courage, kindness… And if we do act, we don’t have to wait for some grand utopian future. The future is an infinite succession of presents and to live now as we think human beings should live, in defiance of all that is bad around us, is itself a marvelous victory." -Howard Zinn, The Optimism of Uncertainty.
posted by lunit at 7:10 AM on January 28, 2010 [3 favorites]


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posted by effwerd at 7:16 AM on January 28, 2010


I have this really weird, intense memory of sitting at my PC playing Civilization, totally steamrolling the shit out of Spain, while listening to Zinn on NPR talking about FDR (where he surprised me by saying, in the end, that despite his imperfections he thought Roosevelt really did care about the people and wanted to ease their suffering). I totally zigzagged from being really caught up in what Zinn was saying to thinking that he'd be kind of disgusted with how much I was enjoying crushing those AI Spaniards.
posted by COBRA! at 7:23 AM on January 28, 2010 [1 favorite]


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posted by SageLeVoid at 7:28 AM on January 28, 2010


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posted by sa3z at 7:43 AM on January 28, 2010


My mother taught me to always question authority. Howard Zinn taught me how and why. Together, they blew the walls out of my world and changed my life for the better - and for the worse. One cannot unsee what one has seen, especially when one deliberately looks for it.

I will not see their like again.

A monumental, unfathomable loss. I thought 2009 was bad, but so far 2010 has shredded that record and it's not even February yet.

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posted by perilous at 7:50 AM on January 28, 2010 [2 favorites]


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posted by ahimsakid at 8:00 AM on January 28, 2010


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posted by nicepersonality at 8:01 AM on January 28, 2010


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posted by transporter accident amy at 8:06 AM on January 28, 2010


I knew Howard and spent time with him because of my job, he bought me a donut and a cup of coffee once and listened to me rattle on about my life and actually paid attention. He was a kind and gracious man. He also spoke truth to power (a phrase I find annoying and often untrue, but in his case was the actual fact). He was a powerful intellect, a fucking mensch from Brooklyn and he loved you all very much.
posted by Divine_Wino at 8:54 AM on January 28, 2010 [6 favorites]


IndigoJones: Problem with Zinn is the same problem with Tacitus- he seems incapable of seeing any shade of gray.

I hear endless carping about Zinn but never any specifics.

All of "A People's History" is online for free. You're welcome to point out sections that are factually incorrect, or that you feel are incorrectly "black and white".

If you have an honest argument backed by facts, bring it out. Otherwise, I'll note that Zinn was one of the great historians of our time, you're just some guy on the Internet, and ignore you.
posted by lupus_yonderboy at 9:19 AM on January 28, 2010 [9 favorites]


thank you for everything

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posted by toodleydoodley at 10:06 AM on January 28, 2010


I can honestly say that A People's History of the United States is the greatest book I've ever read on the history of anything. A mind like Zinn's doesn't come around very often, he will be missed.
posted by grapefruitmoon at 10:06 AM on January 28, 2010


“From death springs life and from the graves of great patriots springs a great nation”
Patrick Henry Pearse (Irish patriot and Poet, 1879-1916)
posted by empty vessel at 10:10 AM on January 28, 2010


Otherwise, I'll note that Zinn was one of the great historians of our time, you're just some guy on the Internet, and ignore you

Wow, you read Zinn closely, huh?
posted by Bookhouse at 10:53 AM on January 28, 2010


This is a damn shame. If he could've made it another 10 years to report on the travesties of today....

Here's to the old-time, populist progressives. May their days be unnumbered.

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posted by palindromic at 11:51 AM on January 28, 2010 [1 favorite]


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posted by jokeefe at 11:53 AM on January 28, 2010


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posted by Smart Dalek at 12:36 PM on January 28, 2010


Wow, you read Zinn closely, huh?

I've only read the one book but I read it very closely indeed. He paints American history as pretty black - and it is, endless slaughter of the indigenous people and neighbors, and callous and dishonest treatment of the the working poor.

To deal with one criticism above, I don't think Zinn denied that the poor and people of colour are surprisingly conservative; his point was that their interests are naturally aligned, but that the people in power play them off against each other to great effect.

I'm very opening to discussing Zinn's work; to carp generically about it without presenting any corroborating evidence isn't very nice.
posted by lupus_yonderboy at 1:42 PM on January 28, 2010 [2 favorites]


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posted by streetdreams at 3:11 PM on January 28, 2010


One of the Americans Who Tell the Truth, Zinn certainly will be missed.
posted by LeLiLo at 5:01 PM on January 28, 2010


damn.
posted by jake1 at 8:14 PM on January 28, 2010


Damn. I just learned this.

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posted by humannaire at 11:20 PM on January 28, 2010


>: One of the Americans Who Tell the Truth, Zinn certainly will be missed.

Heh. That guy's my neighbor.
posted by dunkadunc at 11:27 PM on January 28, 2010


(not Zinn, but Rob Shetterly.)
posted by dunkadunc at 11:28 PM on January 28, 2010


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posted by Effigy2000 at 1:36 AM on January 29, 2010


An interview with Howard Zinn on Anarchism: Rebels Against Tyranny.
posted by lunit at 7:15 AM on January 29, 2010


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posted by dopeypanda at 1:34 AM on January 30, 2010


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posted by jlbartosa at 7:45 PM on January 30, 2010


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