Howard Zinn.

In the early aughts, I was deep in a trough of   profound, soul-crushing brokeness that seemed to stretch on forever. I had a terrible job and no money, and I’d spend a lot of my free time in the Barnes and Noble in downtown Brooklyn reading books I couldn’t afford to purchase. It was during one of those tired, hungry excursions that I discovered Howard Zinn‘s A People’s History of The United States, the angry polemic for which he’s most famous. I read most of it in a blur over the course of a day. It was didactic and preachy, and while it seemed to oversimplify bits of history, it shone lights on moments I’d never knew happened. As embarrassingly cliche as it is to say this, I’m at a loss as to another way to express it: It changed my life.

He liked to say that his book, often criticized for its shortcomings as historical analysis, was not meant to be a destination for its readers but a starting point. So it was for me. Ideology has a more complicated calculus than we often appreciate, and the timing of experiences plays an important role in how we metabolize them into our worldviews. History landed in my lap at a time when I was especially amenable to having it rile me. It almost certainly wouldn’t be that way now.



Gene "G.D." Demby is the founder and editor of PostBourgie. In his day job, he blogs and reports on race and ethnicity for NPR's Code Switch team.
  • GD,
    This is beautiful and moving.

    Thank you for the best remembrance of Zinn I have read so far.

    If you’d been hanging out at the Virgin Megastore at Union Square we would have walked right past each other, both temporarily broken.