cover image Howard Zinn: A Life on the Left

Howard Zinn: A Life on the Left

Martin Duberman. New Press (Perseus, dist.), $26.95 (384p) ISBN 978-1-59558-678-0

Howard Zinn (1922–2010) was a radical activist, author of the landmark 1980 bestseller A People’s History of the United States, a bottoms-up chronicle of American injustice, racism, and hypocrisy. Admiring but occasionally critical of Zinn, Duberman (A Saving Remnant), CUNY emeritus professor of history, emphasizes that Zinn’s book made no claim to objectivity and “marked a profound shift away from the tone of triumphalism” that characterized earlier histories. Raised in poverty, Zinn served in WWII, earned a Ph.D. at Columbia, and taught at Spelman, a historically black women’s college in Atlanta, from 1956 to 1963, encouraging nascent civil right protests until he was fired for these activities. He moved to Boston University, writing and campaigning until his death. A purely American radical, Zinn had no sympathy with communism or revolution, but often appears cynical, as when he views the Bill of Rights or universal suffrage as mere concessions by the elite to pacify the masses. Duberman’s sympathetic account may lead readers to sympathize with Zinn’s stance that disparaging American freedom for not being expansive enough is preferable to glorifying it uncritically. 24 b&w illus. (Oct.)