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The Left

  • Originally published 02/09/2010

    The Left's Blind Spot

    Rick Shenkman

    Let's start with Howard Zinn and then move on. Zinn, rather unlikely for a historian, has been feted like a Hollywood celebrity, receiving encomiums from stars like Danny Glover, James Earl Jones, and of course, Matt Damon, whose character in Good Will Hunting famously brandishes a copy of Zinn's A People's History of the United States during a raucus encounter with Robin Williams. In 2003 a large crowd turned out at a celebration in Manhattan at the 92nd Street Y to mark the sale of the one millionth copy of the book. Recently, there was even a television series built around the book's themes.Why is Zinn so popular (with the general public, if not with historians, many of whom have expressed reservations about his books)? The answer is that Zinn plays the role in a self-satisfied often-uncritical mainstream culture of the seemingly attractive dangerous rebel. "If you want to read a real history book, read Howard Zinn's A People's History of the United States," Damon exclaims in the movie. "That book will knock you on your ass."