R.I.P. Howard Zinn

As you may have heard, the historian and activist Howard Zinn passed away last night in Santa Monica. You can read the AP obituary on the NPR website, which of course mentions his A People’s History of the United States.

Published in 1980 with little promotion and a first printing of 5,000, A People’s History was — fittingly — a people’s best-seller, attracting a wide audience through word of mouth and reaching 1 million sales in 2003. Although Zinn was writing for a general readership, his book was taught in high schools and colleges throughout the country, and numerous companion editions were published, including Voices of a People’s History, a volume for young people and a graphic novel

At a time when few politicians dared even call themselves liberal, A People’s History told an openly left-wing story. Zinn charged Christopher Columbus and other explorers with genocide, picked apart presidents from Andrew Jackson to Franklin D. Roosevelt and celebrated workers, feminists and war resisters.

I believe his last published piece is this contribution to a Nation forum on Obama’s first year. He did not sound optimistic in the least.


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