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Howard Zinn, RIP

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2/1/2010 6:54:57 AM
Posted: 8 years ago
Howard Zinn died last week. He was a well-known leftist American historian.

The other day I was surprised to learn that Zinn's best selling book, A People's History of the United States, and Zinn as a historian, received some devastating criticism in a review published in Dissent, a leftist magazine. The final paragraph of the review reads:

"No work of history can substitute for a social movement. Yet intelligent, sober studies can make sense of how changing structures of power and ideas provide openings for challenges from below, while also shifting the basis on which a reigning order claims legitimacy for itself. These qualities mark the work of such influential (and widely read) historians on the left as Eric Hobsbawm, E.P. Thompson, Gerda Lerner, C.L.R. James, and the erstwhile populist C. Vann Woodward. Reading their work makes one wiser about the obstacles to change as well as encouraged about the capacity of ordinary men and women to achieve a degree of independence and happiness, even within unjust societies. In contrast, Howard Zinn is an evangelist of little imagination for whom history is one long chain of stark moral dualities. His fatalistic vision can only keep the left just where it is: on the margins of American political life."

If I interpret the last sentence correctly, the author is asserting that Zinn's project did not help the American left in practice. For a political activist which Zinn was, that is not a nice legacy.

Has anyone read any of Zinn's books or articles? If so, what is your opinion of Zinn as a historian?