A Young People’s History of the United States: Volume 1 – Columbus to the Spanish-American War by Howard Zinn (adapted by Rebecca Stefoff)
Publisher/Year: Seven Stories Press, 2007
We all need heroes, people to admire, to see as examples of how human beings should live. But I prefer to see Bartolomé de Las Casas as a hero, for exposing Columbus’s violent behavior against the Indians he encountered in the Bahamas. I prefer to see the Cherokee Indians as heroes, for resisting their removal from the lands on which they lived. To me, it is Mark Twain who is a hero, because he denounced President Theodore Roosevelt after Roosevelt had praised an American general who had massacred hundreds of people in the Philippines. I consider Helen Keller a hero because she protested against President Woodrow Wilson’s decision to send young Americans into the slaughterhouse of the First World War.
My point of view, which is critical of war, racism, and economic injustice, carries over to the situation we face in the United States today.
–from the Introduction
Howard Zinn’s A Young People’s History of the United States is a retelling of U. S. history from the viewpoints of slaves, workers, immigrants, women, Native Americans, and others whose histories are rarely included in books for young people. Volume One begins with a look at Christopher Columbus’s arrival through the eyes of the Arawak Indians and leads the reader through the protests against imperialism during the Spanish-American War.
What I thought
I am a history nerd, through and through. This small volume is a great read that I would very much recommend, if you are looking for an alternative viewpoint on U.S. history.
This book was adapted from Zinn’s A People’s History of the United States to make this history more accessible for younger readers. While I haven’t read Zinn’s original classic, I will attest to the fact that this book was easy to read and easy to comprehend. I would say this book is suitable for middle grade or high school readers. The history isn’t dumbed down, but rather it is simplified without expounding details to the umpteenth degree. The only thing I will say is that I wish there was more flow between chapters, but then again, I think that is just a consequence of condensing nearly 400 years of history into a 200-page book. I also think this book is sorely missing any citations of source material. Give young readers some credit–at least give them a bibliography!
As for the elephant in the room (Zinn’s bias), I won’t try to say it isn’t evident. I do think it is important to view history from various viewpoints, and Zinn’s is definitely an interesting one. This book would be a great teaching/learning tool for young historians, if approached with caution.
Overall, this little volume was an excellent summary of the beginning of U. S. history, told from an alternative view of the usual history textbooks. I would definitely recommend this to history lovers, young & old!