I'm very interested in reading Howard Zinn's "A Peoples' History of the United States". I've heard it's a more honest accounting of American history than most textbooks.

The strongest criticisms I've seen against it are that it doesn't cite any sources (and while the author tries to explain that I still believe it's important to know where the author got his information from) and that the author ignores incidents and facts that don't support his theories.

What I'm looking for, is some kind corrections or counterpoint list for theories/ideas in the book that not might be so accurate. I'm aware of Larry Schweikart and Michael Allen's "A Patriots' History of the United States," but from its reviews it seems like that book is even more skewed than Zinn's.

I realize this may be more of an opinion question and I may be out of luck, but if there's something that can help me decipher truth from an author using some historical facts and discarding others just to get his point across, I would appreciate the heads up.

  • 3
    If you want an extensively documented overview of American history written by respected historians, I recommend the Oxford History of the United States-- though it may be several thousand more pages than you were looking for
    – two sheds
    Commented Mar 12, 2015 at 14:22

1 Answer 1


Zinn's book is not so much a history as a collection of essays in chronological order.

His book projects a modern left-wing view of events which often veers into distorted depictions that the original participants would have found barely recognizable. His facts are excellent and correct, but he omits key information and ends up portraying things in a false light. For example, when writing of the expansion of the railroads, he describes them as conducting "battles" with Indians whose "territory they had invaded". While battles certainly did occur, they were rarities. Nearly always the railroads made financial arrangements with the Indians, essentially paying protection money, to win their favor. Zinn makes no mention of this, even though this was the standard thing that happened.

Rather than use a different text book, I would recommend referring to original sources. In prior years it was hard to do this, but now with Google Books, you can instantly read contemporary accounts of history that will give you a much deeper insight into the past than any history book will. Autobiographies are especially useful and interesting in my experience. For example, one good autobiography is that of Calvin Coolidge. It is very short, but paints an indelible picture of life in turn-of-the-century Vermont.

Other good sources are "county histories" such as the History of Washington County from Its First Settlement to the Present Time by Alfred Creigh (1871). This tells the story of the place my ancestors are from. If you find the county history from your ancestors' place of origin, not only will you learn history, it will have a personal importance for you.

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