Friday, August 03, 2012

If You Don't Know History, You Won't Know You're Repeating It!: A Review of Howard Zinn's A People's History of American Empire

We all know the saying "Those who don't know history are doomed to repeat it", variously attributed to Santayana and to Edmund Burke. Rarely do we reflect upon a few things that follow from this principle:
1. If history worked out well for you, you might want to keep on repeating it;
2. If you want to repeat parts of history that didn't work out so well for others, you might want to keep them from knowing it; and
3. If you're one of the "others" who don't know history, you won't know you're repeating it!

After World War Two, combat veteran-turned-historian Howard Zinn believe that We the People of the United States have big chunks of history that we would not repeat, if only we knew them. He took on the task of writing A People's History of the United States. After more than 20 years in print (and updates as recent as 2010), is still firmly among the top 1000 books purchased in America, according to Amazon.

In 2008, Zinn worked with artists to produce a graphic-based version of this history, entitled A People's History of American Empire, which I recently finished reading. It's all still well-researched history, but in a grown-up cartoon format that is very accessible. If you are willing to entertain the notion that some parts of our adventures abroad have not been presented to you in full, and that the reaction of "natives" to our efforts to "help" them may be founded in something you don't know, then this work is for you.

Because of its resemblance to a modern "graphic novel", you'll be able to share it with your teenager, too! I enjoyed it as a modern approach to learning history, suitable to those of us who think in pictures as much as in words. Recommended!

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