With Howard Zinn, contemporary American academia found its court historian. Zinn, who died January 27 at 87, was like a gigantic echo chamber, accurately reproducing—and actively reinforcing—every left-wing cliché with which the academy has abetted its sense of election these past several decades. . . . Zinn's biography tells us that he was the author of "more than 20 books." But only one matters: A People's History of the United States. Published in 1980 with appropriately modest expectations—it had, I read somewhere, an initial print run of only 5,000 copies—the book went on to sell some 2 million and is still going strong. Its Amazon sales rank as of February 1, 2010, was 7. Seven. That's a number most authors would climb over broken bottles to achieve 30 days after their books were published. Here it is 30 years on.(via the WSJ, natch)
How to explain such phenomenal success? The publisher had doubtless assayed the book's intellectual merits and proceeded accordingly. Left out of account was the presumption of its political message. The extremity and consistency of that message—that America is and always has been an evil, exploitative country—guaranteed its success among the tenured radicals to whom we have entrusted the education of our children. More to the point, this history "from the perspective of the slaughtered and mutilated" nudged out all other contenders for the prize of becoming the preferred catechism in American—that is to say, anti-American—history.
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