This first-ever biography of historian and activist Howard Zinn traces in broad strokes the story of his life, placing special emphasis on his involvement in both the Civil Rights movement and the Viet Nam War protests. Besides discussing the major shaping events of his life, biographer and historian Davis Joyce summarizes each of Zinn’s books within the context of his life, analyzes the evolution of Zinn’s ideas, and concludes with a preliminary assessment of his life’s work.
Joyce argues that Zinn’s views are radical because they seek to bring about fundamental change in the political, social, and economic order. No armchair historian, Zinn has spent his whole life working for change, and he firmly believes that the American system needs to change radically to realize its own ideals. In a crucial passage from his bestselling A People’s History of the United States, Zinn boldly declares his agenda:
“I prefer to try to tell the story of the discovery of America from the viewpoint of the Arawaks, of the Constitution from the standpoint of the slaves, of Andrew Jackson as seen by the Cherokees, … of the rise of industrialism as seen by the young women in the Lowell textile mills.”
Though some would label Zinn’s positions anti-American, Joyce contends that Zinn’s approach is rooted in the very ideals upon which the United States was founded, especially as embodied in the Declaration of Independence. His life has been motivated by the vision of what America could be, as opposed to what it actually is, and has been dedicated to the struggle to make that vision a reality. Joyce also considers how Zinn fits into the new left, radical school of historical writing of the 1960s and beyond.
For anyone who has ever been moved by Howard Zinn’s unique vision of a better, more inclusive, and egalitarian American future, this biography will be an indispensable resource.