A People's History of Great Britain, Canada and Australia
October 29, 2014 5:58 AM   Subscribe

I'm a huge fan of Howard Zinn's book "A People's history of the United States" and I'm looking for close equivalents for Britain, Australia and Canada.
posted by asharchist to Media & Arts (14 answers total) 19 users marked this as a favorite
I can't think of anything for the UK that's got the same work-boots and denims approach as Zinn. Hobsbawm might be close, but is definitely more academic.
posted by scruss at 7:02 AM on October 29, 2014 [1 favorite]

Best answer: For Australia, The Fatal Shore by Robert Hughes is excellent.
posted by gatorae at 7:24 AM on October 29, 2014 [2 favorites]

It would be helpful for those of us who are not American if you explained what it is about this book that you're looking for an equivalent of...is it a sort of history mythbuster book? a giant survey? an encyclopedia type thing?

Anyway, similar in title, the CBC published Canada: A People's History in two(?) volumes a few years ago. The book is essentially all history is through letters/reports/diaries that people at the time wrote. There was also an accompanying documentary series where again, the narration was all in the words of people at the time.
posted by If only I had a penguin... at 7:25 AM on October 29, 2014

Best answer: I cannot vouch for any of these, although Verso is usually pretty good:

A People's History of Scotland, which I am now going to order since I hope to visit Glasgown in 2016.

Britain's Empire

A People's History of London....actually I sort of can vouch for this because I own it and have flipped around in it - it seems a little thin to me, but not a bad read.

Okay, and theses you MUST get from the library or used - they're a bit hard to find:

The Many-Headed Hydra and The London Hanged. They are both great - take a look at some critical reviews, as it is easy to read them too broadly, but I promise that they will astonish you. (Also, I am sure that China Mieville read them.)

Some popular history type books I have found interesting:

I found Bury The Chains, which is about the British abolitionist movement, very readable and interesting, although I wish it had focused more on Afro-British activists.

Lark Rise To Candleford - these are "semi-autobiographical novels" but I found them quite interesting.

Vera Brittain's Testament of Youth
, which is a memoir, but which gets at a lot of stuff about the experience of WWI.
posted by Frowner at 7:54 AM on October 29, 2014 [2 favorites]

(Oh, with the exception of the People's History of Scotland, they are not Big Giant Books Of All The History, but they are written in the spirit of people's history and would I think be enjoyable if you enjoyed Zinn.)
posted by Frowner at 7:55 AM on October 29, 2014 [1 favorite]

Best answer: The Making of the English Working Class deals only with a small part of British history, but it is a classic.
posted by Erasmouse at 8:08 AM on October 29, 2014 [2 favorites]

Best answer: Frowner's probably got the best answer, but here are some books and historiographical trends, albeit not quite in the people's history genre (though attempting "history from below").

Britain (well, specifically England) has a tradition of producing Marxist historians of note and not philosophers (most famously Hobsbawm and the Communist Party Historians Group - to be clear, historians grouped with this didn't necessarily keep fidelity to some Party line or stay in the Party, particularly after 1956). EP Thompson's Making of the English Working Class is pretty important for developing the concept of "history from below". More details on these Marxist historians here. I like the title of The Blood Never Dried: A People's History of the British Empire by John Newsinger, but I've only seen good reviews and not yet read it. Also, the late Chris Harman, a British leftist, attempted A People's History of the World, which I haven't read in full, but does have an approving blurb from Howard Zinn - its approach is closer to SWP-style Marxism ("Cliffism") than anything Zinn wrote, though, not that that's a bad thing (despite the SWP's huge problems as an organization, particularly recently).

For Canada, maybe Howard Adams' Prison of Grass: Canada from a Native Point of View and Todd Gordon's Imperialist Canada (disclaimer: I know Todd Gordon IRL, not well though), since Canadian mainstream society have constructed a national myth of peace, order, and good governance in contrast to the violence and dominance of their southern neighbours and those two books address two central areas of Canadian self-deception.

For Australia, there's a book about how the indigenous population closely managed the land (contrary to the narrative of wilderness), but I can't remember its title.
posted by Gnatcho at 8:13 AM on October 29, 2014 [1 favorite]

Also, back to the US but since you might be interested: Roxanne Dunbar-Ortiz just published An Indigenous Peoples' History of the United States, which when I went to a talk by her, she emphasized as her response to a problem she had with Zinn's history, which is that she feels like indigenous people appear in his history as "pop-up people" (her term) in that they'll be focused on after large gaps in the chronology, but one doesn't get a sense that they're always in the background.
posted by Gnatcho at 8:20 AM on October 29, 2014

I read Stone Voices by Neal Ascherson on a holiday to Scotland before the independence referendum. It was an excellent history of the country and its relationship with England.
posted by hannahlambda at 2:08 PM on October 29, 2014

Not technically answering the question, but The Discovery of France by Graham Robb is a fantastic look at the history of everyday France.
posted by kjs4 at 4:08 PM on October 29, 2014

For Australia, you could consider:

Australia: A Biography (Phillip Knightley)

The New South Press City Series - these are very personal takes on the histories of various Australian cities.
posted by girlgenius at 5:09 PM on October 29, 2014

Best answer: For Australia, there's a book about how the indigenous population closely managed the land (contrary to the narrative of wilderness), but I can't remember its title.

Sounds like The Biggest Estate on Earth by Bill Gammage.
posted by flora at 1:26 AM on October 30, 2014 [3 favorites]

Sounds like The Biggest Estate on Earth by Bill Gammage.

Yes, that's the one. Thank you!
posted by Gnatcho at 6:46 PM on November 1, 2014

To chime in on the Canadian side, Thomas King's "The Inconvenient Indian" challenges a bunch of "empty land" assumptions.
posted by scruss at 7:14 AM on November 2, 2014

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