A People's History of the United States inspired a whole series of "People's History" books--A People's History of...the Third World, the American Revolution, the Vietnam War to name a few. I just started reading A People's History of the World, by Chris Harman. On the first page of the book is a poem that I think captures the spirit of Zinn and the people's histories.
Questions from a Worker who Readsby Bertold BrechtWho built Thebes of the seven gates?In the books you will find the names of kings.Did the kings haul up the lumps of rock?And Babylon, many times demolishedWho raised it up so many times? In what housesOf gold-glittering Lima did the builders live?Where, the evening that the Wall of China was finishedDid the masons go? Great RomeIs full of triumphal arches. Who erected them? Over whomDid the Caesars triumph? Had Byzantium, much praised in songOnly palaces for its inhabitants? Even in fabled AtlantisThe night the ocean engulfed itThe drowning still bawled for their slaves.The young Alexander conquered India.Was he alone?Caesar beat the Gauls.Did he not have even a cook with him?Philip of Spain wept when his armadaWent down. Was he the only one to weep?Frederick the Second won the Seven Years War. WhoElse won it?Every page a victory.Who cooked the feast for the victors?Every ten years a great man.Who paid the bill?So many reports.So many questions.
When I heard that Howard Zinn had died, the word irreplaceable came into my mind. Then I thought how ironic it is that many of us now consider Zinn, the people's historian himself, as a "great man" of history. But the difference between Zinn and most of the "great men" from whom he recaptured history, is that Zinn used his influence almost entirely to empower others. It's strange that it took a great a man to say, for the record, that we don't need "great men" to save us. We can change the world ourselves.
Near the end of his life, Zinn said, "I want to be remembered as somebody who gave people a feeling of hope and power they didn't have before." That's exactly what his writing did for me.