Marc Cooper reviews Howard Zinn, A Power Governments Cannot Suppress, in today's L.A. Times Book Review Section. The book has strong, positive blurbs from Kurt Vonnegut, Jonathan Kozol, Michael Moore and others. Cooper finds vintage Zinn in the collection, but ultimately finds it wanting.
The publisher, City Lights Press, includes a short passage on its website in which Zinn explains his approach to history:
Zinn opens the book with an essay titled “If History is to be Creative,” a reflection on the role and responsibility of the engaged historian. “To think that history-writing must aim simply to recapitulate the failures that dominate the past,” writes Zinn, “is to make historians collaborators in an endless cycle of defeat.” “If history is to be creative, to anticipate a possible future without denying the past, it should, I believe, emphasize new possibilities by disclosing those hidden episodes of the past when, even if in brief flashes, people showed their ability to resist, to join together, and occasionally win. I am supposing, or perhaps only hoping, that our future may be found in the past’s fugitive moments of compassion rather than in its solid centuries of warfare.”
For more from City Lights, click here. Marc Cooper focuses instead on Zinn's role within the academy. Here's an excerpt:
Zinn's posture as the self-appointed scourge of American jingoism will come as no surprise to the two generations of college students who have devoured his denunciatory "A People's History of the United States." First published in 1980 and with more than a million copies in circulation, "A People's History" has been a consistent bestseller, a textbook staple and what Zinn himself has called a "counterforce" to the "mountain of history books ... so tremblingly respectful of states and statesmen and so disrespectful, by inattention, to people's movements."
The ethos of confrontation percolates throughout this new collection of Zinn's work. Maybe too much. To the degree that the book works at all to explain our recent past, it works only — and narrowly — as a partisan counterpoint to more conventional histories. Zinn's essays should be read in conjunction with more nuanced, intellectually complex and even opposing accounts. On their own, they're both a moving testament to his rather romantic, undeniably compassionate humanism and an exposé of his egregious blind spots.