Cover image for Howard Zinn : a radical American vision
Howard Zinn : a radical American vision
Joyce, Davis D., 1940-
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Publication Information:
Amherst, N.Y. : Prometheus Books, [2003]

Physical Description:
268 pages ; 24 cm
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E175.5.Z56 J69 2003 Adult Non-Fiction Central Closed Stacks

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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.

Author Notes

Davis D. Joyce, Ph. D. (Spavinaw, OK) has taught at the University of Tulsa, Keele University (England), and the University of Debrecen (Hungary). He is Professor Emeritus of History at East Central University (Ada, Oklahoma), and teaches part-time at Rogers State University (Claremore, Oklahoma). Some of his earlier books are Edward Channing and the Great Work, The Writing of American History (with Michael Kraus) and "An Oklahoma I Had Never Seen Before": Alternative Views of Oklahoma History (editor).

Reviews 1

Publisher's Weekly Review

It may be that radical historian Howard Zinn has taught us "that objectivity is... problematic in historical writing," but a little more objectivity would have improved this study of Zinn's life and work. Zinn, now 81, is best known for A People's History of the United States, a look at American history from the point of view of the "dispossessed." Joyce comprehensively charts Zinn's life: the son of working-class Jews in New York City, Zinn served in the U.S. Army during WWII before getting his doctorate in history from Columbia. Joyce dutifully details Zinn's career as an activist/academic, his activism (for civil rights, against the Vietnam War) creating problems for him in his academic life. In fact, he was fired from Spellman College in the early 1960s for his activism, and later, while teaching at Boston University, he battled with the school's conservative president John Silber. There's little doubt that Zinn's life and work have taught and inspired many. But while Joyce (professor emeritus of history at East Central University in Oklahoma) occasionally takes issue with some of Zinn's more radical positions, such as his desire to abolish all U.S. prisons, Joyce's stated admiration for Zinn gets in the way of a balanced biography. Much of the book is based on Zinn's own recollections or those of friends and others sympathetic to him. As a result, this book's appeal is likely to be limited to the historian's fellow travelers. (Oct.) (c) Copyright PWxyz, LLC. All rights reserved