In many ways, this is not my typical five-star review. The People's History of the United States is tedious, repetitive, and an overall slog to get through. Though so much of the information provided is wholly interesting, some of the Zinn's examples are merely empty fodder and these cause the already long book to slow. Zinn was anti-oppression, and this means that sometimes he seems pro-whatever-is-being-oppressed, though I don't think this is always the case. For instance, it's easy to surmise from the many examples that Zinn is pro-socialist, but I'm not entirely sure that's true. Certainly, he backed the socialist stance when it was the voice that was being oppressed. And certainly, of the major forms of government, Zinn likely felt the most affinity with socialism. But in later chapters as well as in the conclusion, it seems that Zinn acknowledges that socialism is also a broken system—a step forward, but not the solution. Additionally, Zinn's anti-oppression position means that he sometimes illustrates a part of history from an angle that obscures some bit of inconvenient truth. This is unfortunate, because it gives the naysayers cause to spit on this book and declare it “communist propaganda” (or whatever the taboo phrase of the day is). These moments are few and far between and majority of this book is quite historically accurate, in my layman's opinion.
The People's History of the United States was also difficult for me to get through because I've long studied this history and I already knew the more major events covered in this book. Perhaps many of those other narratives I've read owe their information to Zinn, but having come to this book later in my journey, I found much of the story to be old news. That's not to say Zinn doesn't provide considerable history I have not come across in my previous studies. In fact, what Zinn most convinced me of was how so many of these events that I thought were motivated by various reasons primarily (perhaps exclusively) came about because of money.
The reason The People's History of the United States deserves a five-star rating is because, though it's not an enjoyable read, it is such a immense labor of love and passion for the subject. Zinn put his heart and mind into every page of this book and it shows. Even so, I was tempted to slap four stars on this book and move on until I came to Zinn's afterword. Prior to this, Zinn had merely provided over six-hundred pages of dry facts without much commentary or call-to-action. Here, in these final pages, Zinn stirred my emotions. He took all the information he'd provided and agitated it within me and said, “now what are you going to do?” It was an effective challenge.
The People's History of the United States is the kind of book that is difficult to read straight through. Did I learn some things? Absolutely. But so much of what I learned has already sifted straight through my brain. This is the sort of book one who is passionate about the subject should own. It is the kind of book one should keep handy in case someone is eager to argue about the perfection of the state. It is the kind of book that should be picked up from time to time and serve as a reminder to the people of their history and the vicious circle that has been built up around them, keeping them caged for over five hundred years.