Patriot’s vs People’s Part IV – This is the End

Patriot’s vs People’s is an analytical review of two books about American history that most would assume are politically opposed – Larry Schweikart and Michael Allen’s A Patriot’s Guide to the History of the United States and Howard Zinn’s A People’s History of the United States. It started as an idea after I bought Zinn’s book and was given Schweikart and Allen’s by an uncle who so rightly explained his gift as a way for me to read “the other side of the story.” I decided to read them side by side, chapter by chapter, in order to compare and contrast the two works to each other. It didn’t go so well. This is Part IV, here are Part I, Part II and Part III.

So Long and Thanks for All the Fishy Facts

This post has been a long time coming. The first three posts of Patriot’s vs. People’s can be found here. I’m sorry to all my readers* to have to cut it off like this.

After reading fighting my way through Steven Pinker’s The Stuff of Thought, I decided that I would never again waste time reading a book that wasn’t enjoyable or beneficial to me. That is why I have put down A Patriot’s History of the United States forever.

The first problem with Patriot’s is that it’s not well written. I know that alone is no reason to give up on a book. I don’t expect Larry Schweikart and Michael Allen – or any historian for that matter – to write like Shakespeare. But poor writing is merely the tip of the iceberg and I won’t focus on it more here. Pick up Patriot’s in the store and find out for yourself.

The other problem(s) depend on which type of person you are. You either know American history or you do not. I’m choosing these two extremes because Patriot’s is a waste of time for both of them, and therefore a waste of time for anyone in between. Let’s start from the viewpoint of someone who does not know American history. This is the only type of reader for whom Patriot’s can be of any value, but certain restrictions apply.

If you know nothing of American history and do not intend to read any American history books besides Patriot’s, you will not feel like you have wasted your time. Because the information in Patriot’s is factual. Patriot’s has a conservative bend to it, but the authors admit that (or at least they admit to being anti-liberal and they start the book with a transcript of a congratulatory interview with Rush Limbaugh). But that’s where the fun stops. Learn from anywhere but Patriot’s and you’re going to be disappointed, dear reader, because Patriot’s chooses its facts wisely.

And that’s where the problems start for readers who know any American history. The amount of holes in Patriot’s depends on how much you know about American history. The more you know, the sooner you will realize you are wasting your time. This is why I recommend Patriot’s only for those who both know nothing of American history and do not intend to learn any more from any other sources. Because the more you learn, the more you will realize you wasted your time reading Patriot’s.

The other problem you will have (and I sure did), no matter what type of reader you are, is personal. A Patriot’s History of the United States is insulting. When you think about it, it’s infuriating that Schweikart and Allen would write Patriot’s the way they did because their style assumes that you are an idiot. Why else would they pick and choose facts to support their biased opinion, lie and say it’s “an honest evaluation of the history of the United States,” and then not expect anyone to call their bluff? Because they are either shitty historians or they think you’re dumb.

I have nothing else to say about this. If I came off as irritated, it’s because I am. I’m upset that I wasted my time, but I’m slowing learning to move on. I will finish People’s, because even though it was as admittedly biased as Patriot’s, it was at least full of facts I don’t already know (and the writing is better – less condescending). But I doubt I’ll go back to it soon. I’m off American history for a while.

Up next: Under the Dome by Stephen King

*This post is especially dedicated to one Anonymous commenter, who was kind enough to not only read my other posts, but encourage me to keep writing. I just can’t do it, my friend. I’m too jaded. If you end up reading Patriot’s, feel free to let me know how it went – if you think it’s worth it.

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Author: Joe McVeigh

I'm a linguist who researches email marketing. I also teach at the University of Jyväskylä in Finland. I write about language and linguistics on my blog, ...And Read All Over, and I write about language and marketing on my other blog, Email and Linguistics.

14 thoughts on “Patriot’s vs People’s Part IV – This is the End”

  1. I had a feeling this day would come. I completely understand your reasoning after reading a bit of Patriot's. People's is eye-opening and riveting, and the contrast must have been incredibly obvious when reading them side-by-side.I doubt I'll ever read Patriot's because, like you, I don't like to waste my time reading things that are not beneficial to me in some way.

  2. Yeah, I didn't want to admit it for a long time, Anonymous. The contrast was incredibly obvious to say the least. If you've read a bit of Patriot's, there's nothing I need to tell you. I'll get back to People's at some point, but this whole mess has left a bad taste in my mouth. As (admittedly) biased as both of the books are, you're right, Anonymous. People's is eye-opening and riveting. And it's full of stuff you wouldn't learn in normal history books.

  3. Excuse me. Unlike you, I actually read and FINISHED both books, cover-to-cover, and I'm afraid you "fell into your own trap" of political bias the same way you claim the Patriot's authors did. The only "riveting" thing about Zinn's book is the extent to which he obviously loaths the United States. The fact that he makes no secrets of his hatred is no better excuse for it. Condemning Allen and Schweikart's rosier (but much more accurate) depiction of events for basically the same thing seems like a fairly pre-conceived and hypocritical criticism. If you already "know" American history, then you shouldn't have started reading either book in the first place! The Marxism in Zinn's novel that you somehow couldn't detect stems mainly from its attempts to boil every single instance of American history down to either a thinly vailed or completely outright attack against Capitalism. Strangely, the word capitalism appears several times in the book, but can be seen nowhere in the Bibliography. Speaking of Zinn's Bibliography, you'll find that there are only THREE original texts sited as sources for the "stuff you wouldn't learn in normal history books" (i.e. false bullshit that Zinn heard somewhere and decided to place in his book because it fit his point of view). All the rest of it is loosely sited from third-hand information siphoned from equally-bias texts exclusively written in the 20th century (shockingly, of course, mostly from the 1960s). Patriot's backs up a good 75-80% of its claims with material from the actual time periods, and sites the hell out of them so you can find what sources they actually used. People's does NONE of that because Zinn assumes that his readers have been smoking the same crack he has. I find nothing "beneficial" about that.Yes, Patriot's was written for conservatives who are pissed that modern historians seem to get their rocks off by wiping their asses with the Founders and anyone who isn't perceived as a victim by the uber-left. When you consider the countless distortions, unsupported accusations, and outright cheerleading for murdering thugs (so long as the people they're murdering are European) that Howard Zinn makes in his piece of shit excuse for a history book, I don't see how any objective person could blame them. The next time that you set out to do a review like this, please finish what you start. Patriot's may not be "eye-opening" to you, but at least it's not a complete fabrication based purely on ultra-bias oral tradition and sloppy research that was third-hand and unsubstanciated to begin with. Patriot's History at least qualifies as a history book in some fashion. Zinn's book barely qualifies as toilet-paper.

  4. Relax, RBKC34, Marxism and liberalism aren't bad words. Nor are Capitalism or conservatism. Did you really look through Zinn's bibliography? Which three "original texts" are you talking about? And what the hell does the word capitalism not being in there have to do with anything? Answer: nothing. Speaking of Zinn's bibliography, check the entry for Bowles and Gintis' book, "Schooling in Capitalist America," under the Chapter 11 bibliography.Also, citing works "from the actual time periods" doesn't matter as much as you think it does in scholarly articles and books (but good job for estimating the percentage that Schweikart and Allen do this). Think about it. Would you rather read only antiquated documents about a subject or would you rather read the most recent scholarly work which includes documents "from the actual time periods" up until now? Or would staying up to date be a bit too progressive for you? I don't give a shit if Zinn "loathes the United States." If anything that reinforces my point that Zinn's book is full of stuff you wouldn't normally learn about US history. And hell yeah I had a pre-conceived notion of what I was getting with Patriot's. The book starts with an interview with Rush Limbaugh! How is it hypocritical to think Schweikart and Allen are about to white-wash US history and conveniently forgot about the many, many black marks on it? Come on. Maybe I didn't make myself clear enough in the articles, but Patriot's and People's are guilty of the same crime – radicalism. I knew that going in. It's kind of a no-brainer. What I didn't expect was for Patriot's to be more like a run of the mill high school textbook, albeit one that is more hellbent for conservatism. The only praise I gave People's was in it's inclusion of unknown parts of US history. So it expanded my knowledge. Patriot's did not. There were problems with the writing of both books, but that's nothing out of the ordinary. If modern historians are getting their rocks of by being radically Marxist/liberal/whatever, the solution is not to be radically capitalist/conservative/whatever opposite. That doesn't serve anybody well and historians on either extreme should not be respected by society. We need our US history bias in moderation, just like everything else. What's the point in fanning the flames at the ends of the political or social spectrum? I'm sorry I couldn't finish what I started, but it was pretty difficult to swallow all this rhetoric (read: bullshit). I wish someone would just combine both of these books. Thanks for reading and commenting, RBKC34. I tried to be objective with my reviews here, but it was difficult to not be angry with any of the authors. I'm interested in hearing about any US history books that you think present an accurate and unbiased view. Readers?

  5. Yes, I really looked through Zinn's Bibliography. Aside from the Bowles and Gintis' book (which I admittedly missed) there are no other sources (or mentions in the index) for Capitalism, which was mentioned or implied in practically every chapter. That makes a HUGE difference because if you're going to smear Capitalism as the cause of all America's faults you should be able to prove you know what the hell you’re talking about with more than one measly source. Citing only one book on Capitalism after writing a nearly 1000-page hit-piece on it is a really good sign of shitty research, a clear agenda, or both. I have since lost my notes, so the only one of the three original sources from People’s I can remember is "The diary of Nat Turner" from approximately 1820. There are only two others, but if you find more please point them out. There were over 160 period sources cited in Patriot's. What does that have to do with anything? Simple: recent scholars were not alive during the actual events and therefore are coloring the historical records with their own interpretations and prejudices. Most "scholars" often regurgitate what someone else told them based on the same un-sited, flawed sources that Zinn used. If that's what you call "progress", than yes, I'd rather hear it from the people who actually lived through it. By the way, Marxism IS, in fact, a VERY "bad word". It's the ideological root for both communism and fascism, and has caused hundreds of millions of deaths. I question any so-called historian who will shamelessly champion those ideas. I wouldn't trust a teenaged neo-Nazi to teach a class on the Holocaust, so why should I believe anything in a book about US history written by a hardcore socialist who is disgusted by his own country? Considering that Zinn accompanied his extreme bias with the crappiest research I've ever seen, how do you know the "stuff you wouldn't normally learn about US history" that was so compelling to you is accurate? What if it's all bullshit? Zinn can't back any of it up because he didn't even footnote the references so you can actually find where he supposedly dug up all his crap. So it's possible that he's just repeating rumors and third-generation word-of-mouth stories that he can't prove. If it's all lies, he didn't "expand your knowledge" of anything, he just entertained you. That's hardly a mark of good scholarship.I'm not defending Patriot’s writing style or its endorsements (I don't like Limbaugh any more than you do). However, you only mildly criticized Zinn's book and then SLAGGED Schweikart and Allen seemingly because you dislike conservatives. Yes, Patriot's is boring as hell, it's a lot kinder to our national history than it should have been, and the asides that were wedged into several chapters were hokey at best. However, there is a big difference between highlighting the positive aspects of US history (and there are several) and deliberately taking a flame-thrower to it! Patriot's is bias, but it's far less radical than Zinn's draconian demagoguery. Plus, Patriot's can prove what it's saying while People's can't. In the end, history is meant to instruct, not entertain. Entertainment can be a by-product of historical study, but if you're not interested in facts and just want fun than you're not learning anything. You're just jerking off. You'll have to forgive my heated responses here, but next time you want to critique a book(s), please at least finish it before you review it, especially if it's supposed to be based on something as important as American history.

  6. Joe,To answer the question you posed: in general, I recommend historical biographies. The scholarship isn't perfect (nothing is), but at the very least the authors are more or less forced to rely on records from the actual time-periods and the words their subjects actually said in order to make their points. Knowing more about the people themselves will tell you a whole lot more about the times they lived in than a broadly-painted overview of the time-line. Start with "His Excellency", the bio of George Washington, then try the newest one on John Adams, and so on. Those will tell you a lot more than Patriot's and a HELL of a lot more than Zinn's garbage.Thanks for your attention and patients.

  7. Thanks again for your comments, RBKC34. Sorry it's taken me so long to respond. I think you got me on a lot of points, RBKC34, but there's a few things to say.First, while you're right that period sources are important, I think we have to remember that authors of period pieces could be just as biased and prejudiced as the authors of today. Sometimes looking into these biases shows what was really going on in the period. That's where current sources can be handy.I don't think Zinn is as disgusted by the U.S. as you think he is, but I don't think you're wrong. I think he is upset about all the white-washing that gets done with American history. Examples that I can think of are how the Founding Fathers are often treated as if they were gods and how socialism is so often treated as if it were evil, when many of the basic human rights that we cherish today, such as worker's rights, came out of the socialist movement. I think Zinn's goal was to show every aspect of American history has been white-washed and that's simply not true. That's where Zinn goes too far and it's too bad for the unaware reader. While I don't think he is any further from the center than Patriot's is, I'll admit to slagging Schweikart and Allen more than Zinn. I guess that just shows my own bias, although I won't admit to disliking conservative (Some of my best friends are conservatives…). I think we're both making the same point in different ways. I think we're both admitting the faults of Patriot's and People's and I think that by doing so, we're proving that neither one is really worth reading if you're looking for an unbiased account of American history. And that's what's really important here, isn't it? I agree with your assessment that "history is meant to instruct, not entertain" and I would add that it's also not supposed to preach to the choir, which I think both Patriot's and People's are guilty of. As for not reading the whole book before writing the reviews, that was never the point. Since they were so clearly opposed, I wanted to read them side by side and write reviews of each part. I thought that would have been more interesting. I just wish I could have kept it up. Who knows, maybe I'll get back to it someday. I have to take issue with one thing you wrote, however. Marxism is not a bad word. Jesus, God, Allah, religion, and faith are not bad words either, even though millions of people have been murdered in their names. There are bad actions and bad intentions, not bad words. I could be very insulting to someone, but still not use any “bad” words (curses, racial slurs, etc.). It just shows that it's the actions that are bad, not the words, even though I use the words in a hurtful way. Don't fault Marxism or Marx or Christianity or Jesus for all the bad things done in their names, fault the people that did those bad things. This is something that bothers me very much about political and social discourse. Words are far too often given negative connotations to imply things that just aren't true. Because people don't like to think for themselves, a wink and a nudge while saying things like “socialism” or “Muslim” is the simplest and basest form of scare tactic out there. And it's despicable. Thanks for the book recommendations, RBKC34. I'll have to check those out. And thanks again for the comments. Very interesting debate, if you ask me.

  8. Joe,Thank you for your time and your candor. In these sorts of situations I tend to make my points in a heated fashion, and it tends to defeat my purpose. While we may fundamentally disagree on a few things, we basically got around to one common point: neither People's nor Patriot's is useful to anyone from an objective stand-point. Also, I think we can both agree that neither book is worthy of a place in any class-room (unless, perhaps, they were presented together at all times). There are a plethora of more enlightening sources of information on America that don't engender so much partisan emotion. When you find them, history CAN be both entertaining and instructive. I happen to love the subject, as you can tell.It would be an exaustive exercise for you and I to try to trade body-counts between religious zelotry and progressive utopianism. Needless to say, this isn't the place for it. I will give you credit for this, though: there is no subject-matter on this planet, socialism included, that is so incredibly dangerous that it can't be discussed. And while I could argue that any positive aspects of socialism have been either accidental or individual, you could say the same for any institution organized by mankind. Instead, I'll concede the point that the "word" Marxism is not bad or evil. However, I stand by my statement that the political practise of it almost unavoidably LEADS to evil, and that (unlike Christ) this world would have been a much better place had Karl Marx or his ideas never existed. On that point, I suppose we may have to agree to disagree.At any rate, thank you for taking my recommendations into consideration, and for not outright banning me because of my sometimes colorful language.

  9. Thanks for not outright banning you for your sometimes colorful language? Don't make me laugh, RBKC34. If I did that, I would have banned myself a long time ago. But I think you made a very good point: any subject whatsoever can be discussed and debated. In fact, I think that as long as there is more than one view on the subject, than it should be discussed. If people are willing to listen, they just might learn a thing or two from the other side(s). Debates and discussions are what help us broaden their horizons – even reading can be a form of subject discussion, if you read something from the other side of the debate. Of course, maintaining a level head is the hard part and I don't blame you at all for getting heated. It happens to me all the time, even though I actively try to keep cool. Also, your comments were practically serene compared to the usual Internet comment, so thanks for that.It's a shame neither People's or Patiot's was better, especially since they received so much publicity (or People's did, at least). But I guess that's just the way it goes. I'm sure a good historian would see right through these two and I'm hoping a good history teacher would as well. Thanks again for your comments. It was interesting and enlightening. I'll take comments like yours any day of the week and twice on Sundays.

  10. Its been a while since you wrote these posts, but I wanted to say I appreciate both the attempt you made and the reason why you gave up. I was introduced to The Peoples. history back in 95 as a supplemental text in a history class I was taking. I didn’t finish it back then, but I did appreciate that the professor used it as an alternate view to the text for the class. When I discovered The Patriots History I could tell just from the cover that it was written because Zinn had pissed off the conservatives. I decided to get both books on Audible and listen to them all the way through. Today’s political climate, which seems focused on the extremes of both sides with no middle ground made me want to understand where both sides are coming from. I finished The Peoples History, and I’m about halfway through The Patriots History. All I can say Is, you were right to bail out. Its so obvious where both books are headed, that there are no real surprises in either. The People’s History does indeed present more ideas that are left out of conventional texts, and is therefore more interesting of the two. The Patriots History is transparent Christian Right wing chest thumping that is only interesting if you are a right wing Christian. Sadly in our current political environment I think The Patriots history stands a real chance of being a required text in Americas schools. Anyways, I’m going to finish listening to it, because I’m curious to see what it has to say about the last half of the 20th century.

    1. @greatgreenfrog I think you are absolutely correct about the political climate of today. I really had no idea when I wrote these posts (oh so long ago) that things would become so polarized, which is an unfortunate turn of events. Now that I look back, I want to finish both books, even if just to better understand both sides. It’s probably impossible for any historical text to be completely unbiased, but I think that both of these books were a reaction to other literature. That is, People’s was a reaction to what was left out of history books and Patriot’s was a reaction to People’s. And maybe that’s not the best way to go about documenting history. I’m glad you were able to see both books for what they are. If I ever have the time, I’ll pull these off the shelf and finish them (or just get the audio books!).

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