Books: Non-Fiction

The Historic Unfulfilled Promise

Book — Non-fiction. By Howard Zinn. 2012. 184 pages.
Compilation of articles Zinn penned for The Progressive magazine from 1980 to 2009.

Time Periods: 20th Century, 1975, 21st Century, 2001-
Themes: Democracy & Citizenship, Laws & Citizen Rights, US Foreign Policy, Wars & Related Anti-War Movements

Howard Zinn’s historical clarity, unflappable optimism, and unshakable questions reverberate throughout The Historic Unfulfilled Promise, a collection of essays by Zinn from The Progressive. He addresses questions such as: “Have our political leaders gone mad?” “What kind of country do we want to live in?” “What is national security?” “Do we have a right to occupy a country when the people of that country obviously do not want us there?” “Is not war itself terrorism?” “Should we not begin to consider all children, everywhere, as our own?” “Has the will of the people been followed?”

The Historic Unfulfilled Promise is a genuine work of conscience, rich in ideas, charged with energy; an invaluable introduction for the uninitiated and a must-have for Zinn’s fans. [Publisher’s description.]

ISBN:  9780872865556 | City Lights Publishers

Excerpt from the Book

You never know what spark is going to really result in a conflagration. After all, before the Montgomery Bus Boycott there had been other boycotts. Before the sit-ins of the 1960s, there had been sit-ins in sixteen different cities between 1955 and 1960 that nobody paid any attention to and that did not ignite a movement.

But then in Greensboro, on February 1, 1960, these four college kids sit in, and everything goes haywire. Then things are never the same.

I think this is an encouragement to people who do things not knowing whether they will result in anything. You do things again and again, and nothing happens. . . . It requires patience, but not a passive patience — the patience of activism. —Howard Zinn (The Historic Unfulfilled Promise, 2012, pp. 46-47)


“This posthumous collection of Zinn’s passionate, iconoclastic, and wryly humorous articles from the Progressive magazine spans 30 years — from 1980 to 2010 — though most are of 21st-century vintage. Zinn argues repeatedly for an alternative to war, totalitarianism, and redistribution of resources and energy away from the military and ‘toward ideals of egalitarianism, community, and self-determination. . . which have been the historic, unfulfilled promise of the word democracy.’ Zinn persists with his optimism and sometimes proves astounding in his almost clairvoyant analysis, as the essays progress from Boston University student and faculty protests against the Vietnam War and the academic “Establishment” through the two Iraq wars, to Obama’s expansion of the war in Afghanistan. In addition, Zinn writes of his own youth and radicalization, and his admiration for artists who “wage the battle of justice in a sphere which is unreachable by the dullness of ordinary political discourse,” including a warm and perceptive memorial to Kurt Vonnegut, with whom he became friends late in life, and with whom he shared a conversion to pacifism after serving in WWII. His call to action will strike a chord with a younger generation of occupiers.” —Starred review from Publisher’s Weekly

“Howard Zinn’s remarkable life and work are summarized best in his own words. His primary concern, he explained, was ‘the countless small actions of unknown people’ that lie at the roots of ‘those great moments’ that enter the historical record — a record that will be profoundly misleading, and seriously disempowering, if it is torn from these roots as it passes through the filters of doctrine and dogma. His life was always closely intertwined with his writings and innumerable talks and interviews. It was devoted, selflessly, to empowerment of the unknown people who brought about great moments.” —Noam Chomsky