A People’s History of the United States, Howard Zinn, 4 February 2003

A People’s History of the United States, Howard Zinn, 2003

“It’s a wonderful, splendid book—a book that should be read by every American, student or otherwise, who wants to understand his country, its true history, and its hope for the future.” —Howard Fast, author of Spartacus and The Immigrants

“[It] should be required reading.” —Eric Foner, New York Times Book Review

Library Journal calls Howard Zinn’s iconic A People’s History of the United States “a brilliant and moving history of the American people from the point of view of those…whose plight has been largely omitted from most histories.” Packed with vivid details and telling quotations, Zinn’s award-winning classic continues to revolutionize the way American history is taught and remembered. Frequent appearances in popular media such as The SopranosThe SimpsonsGood Will Hunting, and the History Channel documentary The People Speak testify to Zinn’s ability to bridge the generation gap with enduring insights into the birth, development, and destiny of the nation.

Bill Bigelow, “A People’s History, A People’s Pedagogy,” Zinn Education Project.

Democracy Now!, “Shows Featuring Howard Zinn.”

Bob Herbert, “A Radical Treasure.” The New York Times. 30 January 2010.

At the Hands of Persons Unknown: The Lynching of Black America, Philip Dray, 8 January 2002

At the Hands of Persons Unknown: The Lynching of Black America, Philip Dray, 2002

Philip Dray, At the Hands of Persons Unknown: The Lynching of Black AmericaThis extraordinary account of lynching in America, by acclaimed civil rights historian Philip Dray, shines a clear, bright light on American history’s darkest stain—illuminating its causes, perpetrators, apologists, and victims. Philip Dray also tells the story of the men and women who led the long and difficult fight to expose and eradicate lynching, including Ida B. Wells, James Weldon Johnson, Walter White, and W.E.B. Du Bois. If lynching is emblematic of what is worst about America, their fight may stand for what is best: the commitment to justice and fairness and the conviction that one individual’s sense of right can suffice to defy the gravest of wrongs. This landmark book follows the trajectory of both forces over American history—and makes lynching’s legacy belong to us all.

A review by Ta-Nehisi Coates“Strange Fruit”:

“If you now find yourself obsessed, in the wake of September 11, with the possibilities of other heinous acts, if you feel like a target for zealotry and extremism, if you are now doubting your government’s ability to protect you, then you are getting an idea of what it has felt like to be African-American for a good part of this country’s history.

Those parallels, and the feeling of dread, and their lingering influence on black Americans’ attitudes towards police and other authorities, are dramatically evoked in a new book by Philip Dray, At the Hands of Persons Unknown. The book is a thorough history of mob violence directed against African-Americans over nearly a century after the end of slavery, starting in 1886 and not truly ending until 1964, when the last known mob-directed lynching occurred with explicit assistance and approval from local police officials.

Dray has created a complex portrait of an American—particularly Southern—tradition of publicly murdering African-Americans, drawing on documents collected at the Tuskegee Institute known as the Lynching Archives. The typical lynching started with a fabricated report of a white woman ravished by a black man. A mob usually gathered and some previously anonymous black male was put to death in some excruciating way, thus restoring the honor of the befouled dame.”

Between the World and Me, Ta-Nehisi Coates, 14 July 2015

Between the World and Me, Ta-Nehisi Coates, 14 July 2015.

In a profound work that pivots from the biggest questions about American history and ideals to the most intimate concerns of a father for his son, Ta-Nehisi Coates offers a powerful new framework for understanding our nation’s history and current crisis. Americans have built an empire on the idea of “race,” a falsehood that damages us all but falls most heavily on the bodies of black women and men—bodies exploited through slavery and segregation, and, today, threatened, locked up, and murdered out of all proportion. What is it like to inhabit a black body and find a way to live within it? And how can we all honestly reckon with this fraught history and free ourselves from its burden?

Between the World and Me is Ta-Nehisi Coates’s attempt to answer these questions in a letter to his adolescent son. Coates shares with his son—and readers—the story of his awakening to the truth about his place in the world through a series of revelatory experiences, from Howard University to Civil War battlefields, from the South Side of Chicago to Paris, from his childhood home to the living rooms of mothers whose children’s lives were taken as American plunder. Beautifully woven from personal narrative, reimagined history, and fresh, emotionally charged reportage, Between the World and Me clearly illuminates the past, bracingly confronts our present, and offers a transcendent vision for a way forward.


Blackwater: The Rise of the World’s Most Powerful Mercenary Army, Jeremy Scahill, 8 March 2007

Blackwater: The Rise of the World’s Most Powerful Mercenary Army, Jeremy Scahill, 2007

It was the Mogadishu moment of the Iraq war. March 31, 2004: Four American mercenaries are ambushed in the Sunni hotbed of Fallujah, their jeeps set ablaze with the men inside. An angry mob drags their charred corpses through the streets, hanging them from a bridge over the Euphrates River. “Fallujah is the graveyard of the Americans!,” the mob declares in front of the cameras. Within hours, the images spread across the world. The ensuing US slaughter in Fallujah would fuel the fierce Iraqi resistance that haunts US occupation forces to this day. Who were the mercenaries killed in Fallujah and who sent them there to die?

Meet Blackwater USA, the powerful private army that the U.S. government has quietly hired to operate in international war zones and on American soil. Founded by billionaire Erik Prince, the company has its own military base, a fleet of twenty aircraft, and twenty-thousand troops at the ready, Blackwater is the elite Praetorian Guard for the “global war on terror”– yet most people have never heard of it. It was the moment the war turned: On March 31, 2004, four Americans were ambushed and burned near their jeeps by an angry mob in the Sunni stronghold of Falluja. Their charred corpses were hung from a bridge over the Euphrates River. The ensuing slaughter by U.S. troops would fuel the fierce Iraqi resistance that haunts occupation forces to this day. But these men were neither American military nor civilians. They were highly trained private soldiers sent to Iraq by a secretive mercenary company based in the wilderness of North Carolina. Blackwater: The Rise of the World’s Most Powerful Mercenary Army is the unauthorized story of the epic rise of one of the most powerful and secretive forces to emerge from the U.S. military-industrial complex, hailed by the Bush administration as a revolution in military affairs, but considered by others as a dire threat to American democracy.

Democracy Now!, Blackwater: The Rise of the World’s Most Powerful Mercenary Army, 20 March 2007.

Winner of the 2007 George Polk Book Award.

Bury the Chains: Prophets and Rebels in the Fight to Free an Empire’s Slaves, Adam Hochschild, 7 January 2005

Bury the Chains: Prophets and Rebels in the Fight to Free an Empire’s Slaves, Adam Hochschild, 2005

In 1787, a printer, a lawyer, a cleric, several merchants, and a musician first gathered in a London printing shop to pursue a seemingly impossible goal: ending slavery in the largest empire on earth. In BURY THE CHAINS: Prophets and Rebels in the Fight to Free an Empire’s Slaves (Houghton Mifflin; publication date: January 7, 2004), Adam Hochschild, author of the acclaimed and award-winning King Leopold’s Ghost, crafts a taut, thrilling account of their fight. Their crusade soon became one of the most brilliantly organized citizens’ movements of all time and resulted in the freeing of hundreds of thousands of slaves around the world.

At this point in the eighteenth century, anyone who advocated ending slavery in the British Empire was regarded as either crazy or hopelessly idealistic. Slave labor in the British West Indies, for instance, had turned sugar from a rare luxury for the wealthy into something found on millions of European dinner tables. British ships dominated the slave trade, carrying roughly half the African captives who crossed the Atlantic. Previous attempts to counter this huge and powerful industry by starting an antislavery movement in the world’s largest slave-trading country had gone nowhere. As Hochschild writes, “A latent feeling was in the air, but an intellectual undercurrent disapproving of slavery was something very different from the belief that anything could ever be done about it. An analogy today might be how some people think about automobiles.”

Command and Control: Nuclear Weapons, the Damascus Accident, and the Illusion of Safety, Eric Schlosser, 17 September 2013

Command and Control, Eric Schlosser, 2013

Democracy Now!, 18 September 2013: Thirty-three years ago [1980] …, the United States narrowly missed a nuclear holocaust on its soil. The so-called “Damascus Accident” involved a Titan II intercontinental ballistic missile mishap at a launch complex outside Damascus, Arkansas. During a routine maintenance procedure, a young worker accidentally dropped a nine-pound tool in the silo, piercing the missile’s skin and causing a major leak of flammable rocket fuel. Sitting on top of that Titan II was the most powerful thermonuclear warhead ever deployed on an American missile. The weapon was about 600 times more powerful than the bomb that destroyed Hiroshima. For the next nine hours, a group of airmen put themselves at grave risk to save the missile and prevent a massive explosion that would have caused incalculable damage. The story is detailed in Eric Schlosser’s new book, “Command and Control: Nuclear Weapons, the Damascus Accident, and the Illusion of Safety,” which explores how often the United States has come within a hair’s breadth of a domestic nuclear detonation or an accidental war. Drawing on thousands of pages of recently declassified government documents and interviews with scores of military personnel and nuclear scientists, Schlosser shows that America’s nuclear weapons pose a grave risk to humankind.

Ebony and Ivy: Race, Slavery, and the Troubled History of America’s Universities, Craig Steven Wilder, 17 September 2013

Ebony and Ivy: Race, Slavery, and the Troubled History of America’s Universities, Craig Steven Wilder, 2013

A 2006 report commissioned by Brown University revealed that institution’s complex and contested involvement in slavery—setting off a controversy that leapt from the ivory tower to make headlines across the country. But Brown’s troubling past was far from unique. In Ebony and Ivy, Craig Steven Wilder, a rising star in the profession of history, lays bare uncomfortable truths about race, slavery, and the American academy.

Many of America’s revered colleges and universities—from Harvard, Yale, and Princeton to Rutgers, Williams College, and UNC—were soaked in the sweat, the tears, and sometimes the blood of people of color. The earliest academies proclaimed their mission to Christianize the savages of North America, and played a key role in white conquest. Later, the slave economy and higher education grew up together, each nurturing the other. Slavery funded colleges, built campuses, and paid the wages of professors. Enslaved Americans waited on faculty and students; academic leaders aggressively courted the support of slave owners and slave traders. Significantly, as Wilder shows, our leading universities, dependent on human bondage, became breeding grounds for the racist ideas that sustained them.

Ebony and Ivy is a powerful and propulsive study and the first of its kind, revealing a history of oppression behind the institutions usually considered the cradle of liberal politics.

Fast Food Nation: The Dark Side of the All-American Meal, Eric Schlosser, 17 January 2001

Fast Food Nation: The Dark Side of the All-American Meal, Eric Schlosser, 2001

Michiko KakataniThe New York Times, 30 January 2001: Eric Schlosser’s compelling new book, ”Fast Food Nation,” will not only make you think twice before eating your next hamburger, but it will also make you think about the fallout that the fast food industry has had on America’s social and cultural landscape: how it has affected everything from ranching and farming to diets and health, from marketing and labor practices to larger economic trends….

He argues that ”the centralized purchasing decisions of the large restaurant chains and their demand for standardized products have given a handful of corporations an unprecedented degree of power over the nation’s food supply,” and that as ”the basic thinking behind fast food has become the operating system of today’s retail economy,” small businesses have been marginalized and regional differences smoothed over. A deadening homogenization, he writes, has been injected into the country and increasingly the world at large….

He has…done a lot of legwork, interviewing dozens of fast food workers, farmers, ranchers and meatpackers in an effort to trace the snowballing effect that fast-food production methods have had on their work.

The resulting book, which began as a two-part article in Rolling Stone magazine, is not a dispassionate examination of the subject but a fierce indictment of the fast food industry. Mr. Schlosser contends that ”the profits of the fast food chains have been made possible by losses imposed on the rest of society,” including a rising obesity rate and an increase in foodborne illnesses (most notably, those caused by the E. coli O157:H7 bacteria, whose spread has been facilitated by the growing centralization of the meat production process).

Ghost Wars: The Secret History of the CIA, Afghanistan, and bin Laden, from the Soviet Invasion to September 10, 2001, Steve Coll, 28 December 2004

Ghost Wars: The Secret History of the CIA, Afghanistan, and bin Laden, from the Soviet Invasion to September 10, 2001, Steve Coll, 2004

Ghost Wars, which has taken [Steve Coll] twelve years to write, spells out the CIA’s covert work in Afghanistan ever since the Soviet Union invaded that blighted country in 1979. Coll recounts in detail the CIA’s encouragement and support of the Islamic jihad against the Soviets, and the consequences of this support for the rise of radical Islamists like bin Laden. Not surprisingly, the book gives particular emphasis to the critical period during the late 1990s after bin Laden established himself in Afghanistan and then, with the help of the Taliban regime, began his global jihad against the US and the West.
Coll was able to secure secret documents about the CIA’s operations. He talked not just with its officials, but with spymasters and spies in Pakistan, Saudi Arabia, Russia, and other countries. No one else I know of has been able to bring such a broad perspective to bear on the rise of bin Laden; the CIA itself would be hard put to beat his grasp of global events….

Coll’s book is deeply satisfying because it is much more than a treatise on the CIA’s performance. It covers the entire region from Saudi Arabia to Pakistan; shows where al-Qaeda and bin Laden were getting support, discussing in detail bin Laden’s complicated relationship with the Saudis, who had expelled him in 1991 but remained ambivalent about bringing him to justice; and it clarifies the battles over policy among the CIA, the White House, and the US’s principal allies. It’s an inside account written by an outsider….

Global Muckraking: 100 Years of Investigative Journalism from Around the World, Edited by Anya Schiffrin, 5 August 2014

Global Muckraking: 100 Years of Investigative Journalism from Around the World, Edited by Anya Schiffrin, 2014.

Crusading journalists from Sinclair Lewis to Bob Woodward and Carl Bernstein have played a central role in American politics: checking abuses of power, revealing corporate misdeeds, and exposing government corruption. Muckraking journalism is part and parcel of American democracy. But how many people know about the role that muckraking has played around the world?

This groundbreaking new book presents the most important examples of world-changing journalism, spanning one hundred years of history and every continent. Carefully curated by prominent international journalists working in Asia, Africa, Latin America, Europe, and the Middle East, Global Muckraking includes Ken Saro-Wiwa’s defense of the Ogoni people in the Niger Delta; Horacio Verbitsky’s uncovering of the gruesome disappearance of political detainees in Argentina; Gareth Jones’s coverage of the Ukraine famine of 1932–33; missionary newspapers’ coverage of Chinese foot binding in the nineteenth century; Dwarkanath Ganguli’s exposé of the British “coolie” trade in nineteenth-century Assam, India; and many others.