A People’s History of the United States: A Brief History

A People’s History of the United States is a renowned book written by historian Howard Zinn. Published in 1980, this book offers a unique perspective on the history of the United States, focusing on the experiences and struggles of ordinary people rather than the traditional narratives of the elite and the powerful.

The Premise of the Book

The book’s premise centers around the idea that history should not solely revolve around the achievements of presidents, politicians, and military leaders. Instead, Zinn delves into the lives of native people, slaves, industrial workers, and women to present a comprehensive account of American history.

The Contents and Chapters

A People’s History of the United States is divided into numerous chapters, each covering a specific period or topic in American history. Some of the key chapters include:

The First Chapter – “Columbus, The Indians, and Human Progress”

This chapter challenges the traditional perception of Christopher Columbus as a heroic figure and explores the devastating impact of European colonization on indigenous populations.

The Second Chapter – “Drawing the Color Line”

This chapter focuses on slavery and racial discrimination during the colonial period, shedding light on the struggles faced by African Americans and the development of racism in America.

The Seventh Chapter – “As Long as Grass Grows or Water Runs”

This chapter examines the exploitation and mistreatment of Native Americans during the 19th century, particularly through the lens of the US government’s policies and its violation of treaties.

Criticisms and Praise

A People’s History of the United States has garnered both praise and criticism since its publication. Supporters appreciate Zinn’s alternative approach to American history, valuing its emphasis on marginalized voices and the exposure of injustices. Critics argue that the book presents a one-sided view and overlooks significant achievements and contributions made by prominent figures.

Awards and Accolades

Despite the controversy surrounding the book, A People’s History of the United States has received several prestigious awards for its contribution to historical literature. It has won the American Book Award and the Christopher Award for Adult Non-Fiction in 1981.

Key Figures Explored in the Book

A People’s History of the United States highlights the lives and stories of various individuals who played significant roles in shaping American history. Some notable figures discussed in the book include:

  • Christopher Columbus: The renowned explorer whose arrival in the Americas marked the beginning of European colonization.
  • Sojourner Truth: An influential African American abolitionist and women’s rights activist.
  • Abraham Lincoln: The 16th President of the United States, who played a crucial role in the abolition of slavery.
  • Helen Keller: A deaf-blind author and activist who advocated for the rights of disabled individuals.
  • Cesar Chavez: A prominent American labor leader and civil rights activist who fought for the rights of farmworkers.

These are just a few examples of the many individuals explored in the book, each adding a unique perspective to the overall narrative of American history.


Due to the extensive and detailed nature of A People’s History of the United States, this summary only scratches the surface. Zinn’s book provides a thought-provoking and alternative view of American history, encouraging readers to critically analyze the conventional narratives presented in mainstream textbooks. By emphasizing marginalized voices and exposing systemic injustices, Zinn challenges readers to think beyond the traditional scope of historical storytelling.

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