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A People's History of American Empire

The American Empire Project, A Graphic Adaptation

Howard Zinn; Paul Buhle; Mike Konopacki

Metropolitan Books

A People's History of American Empire Download image

ISBN10: 0805087443
ISBN13: 9780805087444

Trade Paperback

288 Pages



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An American Library Association Great Graphic Novel for Teens Nominee
A School Library Journal Best Adult Book for Teens

Since its publication in 1980, A People's History of the United States has had six new editions, sold more than 1.7 million copies, become required classroom reading throughout the country, and been turned into an acclaimed play. A People's History triggered a revolution in the way history is told, displacing the official versions with their emphasis on great men in high places to chronicle events as they were lived, from the bottom up.

Now Howard Zinn, historian Paul Buhle, and cartoonist Mike Konopacki have collaborated to retell, in fitting comics form, a most immediate and relevant chapter of A People's History: the centuries-long story of America's actions in the world. Narrated by Zinn, this version opens with the events of 9/11 and then jumps back to explore the cycles of U.S. expansionism from Wounded Knee to Iraq, stopping along the way at World War I, Central America, Vietnam, and the Iranian revolution. The book also follows the story of Zinn, the son of poor Jewish immigrants, from his childhood in the Brooklyn slums to his role as one of America's leading historians.

Henry Holt has produced this video, narrated by Viggo Mortensen, to accompany the book:


Praise for A People's History of American Empire

"Over the past 25 years, anyone coming to radical conclusions about the U.S. and its history has likely traveled through the pages of at least one Howard Zinn book. A People's History of the United States is undoubtedly the most popular, widely read radical analysis of U.S. history. First published in 1980, it has sold more than 1.7 million copies, become required reading in many high school and college classrooms and spawned several offshoot projects—most notably, the primary source reader Voices of a People's History of the United States. Now, Zinn, along with cartoonist Mike Konopacki and historian and activist Paul Buhle, has delivered a new book that is sure to delight and enlighten activists, radicals and those newly come to left-wing ideas . . . Though the book would be worth it simply for an animated retelling of A People's History, it achieves an added layer of significance by weaving Zinn's own personal history into the narrative. Zinn is shown growing up the son of poor Jewish immigrants in Brooklyn, N.Y.; going to demonstrations with young Communists; enlisting in the Air Force to fight fascism in Europe, only to witness (and challenge) the pernicious racism against Blacks within the U.S. military; and engaging in his later civil rights and antiwar activism as a college professor. The comic book becomes more than just a brilliant depiction of the history of U.S. imperialism; it is also a fitting tribute to Zinn himself. Readers will gain a newfound admiration for a man whose life has spanned the majority of the past century, and whose involvement in the history goes well beyond the role of historian. The release of this book could not be more timely. During an election year in which much is being promised, especially in regards to withdrawal from Iraq, this book serves as a reminder that the empire has never backed down except in the face of mass resistance."—Zach Zill, Socialist Worker

"This is an illustrated history of America's often deadly meddling around the globe. It's written mostly in Zinn's voice, though he shares the duty. Black Elk tells the story of Wounded Knee, Mark Twain offers commentary on the Moro Massacre in the Philippines and Daniel Ellsberg describes leaking the Pentagon Papers during the Vietnam War . . . The drawings aren't the only things that are black and white in this book. The book is leavened by autobiographical vignettes. Zinn, a product of Depression-era Brooklyn, said he became a radical after being cracked on the noggin by a police officer's nightstick at an antifascism rally. He later served as a bombardier in World War II and tells of once dropping napalm on German soldiers and, he learned later to his horror, French civilians . . . The illustrations are simple and emotive, matching the often grim material. But the value in this book, like its forebear, is that it tells interesting stories worth knowing, from the 1914 Ludlow Massacre in Colorado to zoot suit culture in postwar Los Angeles. Turns out you really can learn things from comics."—Michael Hill, Associated Press

"The historian Howard Zinn, historian and writer Paul Buhle and Capital Times cartoonist Mike Konopacki have set out to tell the tale to a broader audience. And they are doing so in grand populist style: with a lush graphic adaptation of Zinn's groundbreaking text, A People's History of the United States . . . Utilizing the sections of Zinn's 1980 book dealing with the imperial thrust of American leaders from the country's founding to the present day, cartoonist Konopacki and editor Buhle offer up A People's History of American Empire. Buhle does a remarkable job of placing the history in a contemporary setting—using the device of Zinn's writing of a response to the events of 9/11 for the Progressive magazine. Employing the historian's words from the Progressive piece he wrote after the attacks, Buhle lets Zinn explain that George Bush's determination to turn tragedy into an excuse to invade and occupy sovereign countries was a repeat of old mistakes rooted in what Zinn called ‘the old way of thinking' . . . Zinn serves as an all-knowing guide, with assistance from Mark Twain and Eugene Victor Debs, among others. With the wise words of these appealing American figures as touchstones, readers are transported via Konopacki's brilliant visuals—sometimes traditional comics, sometimes collages of his own drawings, photographs, newspaper headlines and ephemera of empire—through the murderous westward expansion of the new American state into Indian country, the Spanish-American War, the invasion of the Philippines, Vietnam, the ‘dirty wars' in Central America and the current crisis. This is an intensely detailed book that is unsettling at some points, inspiring at others. It is profoundly instructive and thrillingly rich in historical detail and moral power. A Peoples History of American Empire is not a sweet or charming tale—though it is hard not to fall in love with Zinn, or to wish that all your teachers had been like him. Like Garry Trudeau's Doonesbury at its best, or Aaron McGruder's Boondocks, this book uses the comic form to take us places that standard history texts go. But it does so with a visual grace, and an ethical strength, that makes A People's History of American Empire much more than just an illustrated companion to A People's History of the United States. This is a groundbreaking, and necessary, book in its own right. It should be treasured, and then passed on to Americans young and old who need to know the whole story of their country so that they can return this nation, founded on anti-colonial revolt, to its better angels."—John Nichols, The Capital Times (Madison)

"At the heart of this wide-ranging comics indictment of American Empire are the terrific human stories of those who have resisted—including wonderful autobiographical episodes from author Howard Zinn's own courageous and inspiring life."—Joe Sacco, author of Safe Area Gorazde

"Ingenious in its conception and brilliant in execution, this comics version of Howard Zinn's classic history breathes new life into the stories of people who never thought their stories would be told. It is urgently necessary for our times: read this book and see how to raise your voice against all the forces that would drown you out. A modern activist's primer!"—Ben Affleck

"This stellar volume is compelling both as historical interpretation and you-are-there observation during many eras and in many climes. Konopacki melds realistic and energetic cartoons . . . to create a highly textured visual presentation . . . An essential component for contemporary American government education, as well as an easy work to suggest to both narrative nonfiction and sophisticated readers."—Francisca Goldsmith, School Library Journal

"In this impressively ambitious . . . new offering from Metropolitan's wide-ranging American Empire Project, left-wing historians Zinn and Buhle collaborate with graphic artist Konopacki on a graphic adaptation of key sections from Zinn's bestselling A People's History of the United States. The book is imagined as a lecture on the ugly side of history, delivered by the lean, aging Zinn to a darkened auditorium, with each episode illustrated by Konopacki's almost childishly simple illustrations . . . Occasionally, perky sidebars titled 'ZINNformation' pop up to point readers to a modern analogy or an interesting bit of trivia. It's an effective technique for delivering this laundry list of despicable behavior . . . After a prologue that describes the government's vengeful, knee-jerk reactions to 9/11 as 'part of a continuing pattern of American behavior,' the main narrative begins . . . with the Wounded Knee massacre of 1890 and moves on to one head-shaking moment of infamy to another. Being that Zinn is most valuable for his insistence on shedding light on dark corners of American history, the book comes most alive when it is describing little-remembered episodes like the shameful American occupation of the Philippines in the aftermath of the Spanish-American War, cleverly enlisting Mark Twain's embittered, virtually unknown writings on the subject . . . [A] powerful teaching tool for the next generation of anti-imperialist activists."—Kirkus Reviews

Reviews from Goodreads

About the author

Howard Zinn; Paul Buhle; Mike Konopacki

Howard Zinn, author of numerous acclaimed histories, taught history at Spelman College and Boston University, and received the Lannan Literary Award, among many others. A People's History of the United States was a finalist for the 1981 National Book Award. Born in 1922, Zinn died in 2010.

Mike Konopacki has collaborated on five collections of cartoons, and his work is regularly syndicated. He lives in Madison, Wisconsin.

Paul Buhle is a senior lecturer in history at Brown University and the editor of the Encyclopedia of the American Left, among other books. He lives in Providence, Rhode Island.

Howard Zinn

Official Links

The American Empire Project Website