Final Exam: Zinn versus Johnson

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A History of the American People, written by Paul Johnson, as well as A People’s History of the United States by Howard Zinn, is a different sort of manner in which to better understand the events that happened from the creation of the United States, to the 21st century. While both authors tell the story of America in a similar fashion, they each put their own “brand” of sorts on it. Johnson, being British upper-middle-class, was never taught American history as a student, and this made him have a sort of child-like sense of wonder about America. He writes, “…I eventually came to American history completely fresh, with no schoolboy or student prejudices or antipathies.”
Zinn, on the other hand, was the child of immigrant to the United States and served in WWII and used the GI Bill to obtain his Ph.D. His coming from nothing as an immigrant to being one of the greatest history writers of the 20th century is truly amazing. He was raised learning about America, but he grew up in one of the toughest times in America: the Great Depression. This makes his views on America more about the people who have shaped it and molded it into what it is today.
One of the major differences between Zinn and Johnson, rather most historical authors, is that Zinn focuses more on the common folk in the creation of the United States. For instance, in the chapter, “The Other Civil War,” Zinn focuses on the Civil War that is not commonly written about. During this time, the only topic of concern for historians was slavery, but Zinn looks at the common people. This period of time started the Industrial Revolution, and not every person was focused on the war. Thousands of immigrants were looking for work, and poor working conditions and low wages led to man...

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...and Zinn is that their books complement each other very well, which makes them perfect teaching material. Zinn covers the common people well, whilst Johnson covers the bigger names such as Lincoln and Jackson. Although it is difficult, I can say that I learned more from Zinn than Johnson because a lot of what Johnson wrote I have learned over my many years of history, whereas the story of the common people is far less known and written, and is just as interesting. Overall, I learned a lot from both authors and they go together well when learning American history.

Works Cited

Johnson, Paul. 1998. A History of the American People. HarperCollins.
Zinn, Howard. 1995. A People's History of the United States. Rev. ed. Harper Perennial.
Greer, Cora. "Competing Perspectives on the Past in U.S. History Textbooks." AP Central. CollegeBoard, 3 Nov. 2009. Web. 12 May 2014.
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