First it was The O'Reilly Factor for Kids, then Help! Mom! The Reds are Invading Finland! Now comes the latest salvo in the war for little hearts and underdeveloped minds—only this time it's from the other side. In Sunday's Times Book Review, Walter Kirn reviews Howard Zinn's entry into the young adult market, with A Young People's History of the United States, "a condensation and simplification," writes Kirn, "of his already quite condensed and simple" bestseller A People's History of the United States.
Kirn offers the following summary:
The colonial upper classes had a problem: keeping the lower classes down. They solved it by hypnotizing the middle class with "the language of liberty and equality." This trick caused the middle class to ignore the plights of black slaves, poor whites and Indians and to fight King George. Our nation was born. Is history really this simple? Yes. Yes, according to Howard Zinn…
And Zinn on slavery:
Writing about abolitionism, Zinn leaves the impression that freeing the slaves was not enough—they had to be freed in the right way. And since giving grand speeches and waging a civil war wasn't the right way, apparently, it shouldn't surprise us that blacks slipped backward again a few years later—and most whites slipped with them. That's because the real trouble was "capitalism," which is the system that Lincoln was a tool of and which, as the 19th century progressed (predictably, ineluctably worsened, that is), made tools of nearly everyone. Though not Thomas Edison. Edison was cunning. He "didn't just invent electrical equipment," Zinn reminds us, "he marketed it as well."
At the new Times Book Review blog, Dwight Garner wonders if Zinn qualifies as "a secular god," seeing as all of his clever friends seem to think he is. Having not read from the Zinn oeuvre, Garner is soliciting advice from his readers, though he might want to start by having a look at Dissent editor Michael Kazin's scathing review of A People's History: "…Zinn's big book is quite unworthy of such fame and influence. A People's History is bad history, albeit gilded with virtuous intentions."
Yes, yes…at least his heart's in the right place.