Books: Non-Fiction

The Untold History of the United States

Book – Non-fiction. By Oliver Stone and Peter Kuznick. 2012.
Challenge the prevailing orthodoxies of traditional history books in this look at the U.S. history of empire building.

Time Periods: 20th Century
Themes: Imperialism, US Foreign Policy, World History/Global Studies
untoldhistoryoftheus

untoldhistoryofus_showtime-400x125Book accompanies Showtime TV series.

In the book and Showtime documentary series called The Untold History of the United States, director Oliver Stone and historian Peter Kuznick challenge the prevailing orthodoxies of traditional U.S. history textbooks. In the documentary series opening, Stone explains:

“When I was a young boy growing up in New York City, I thought I received a good education. I studied history extensively, especially American history. It made sense. We were the center of the world. There was a manifest destiny. We were the good guys.

“Well, I’ve traveled the world now. I continued my education as an infantrymen in Vietnam, made a lot of movies (some of them about history) and, when I heard from my children what they were learning in school, I was perturbed to hear that they were not really getting a more honest view of the world than I did.”

Aided by the latest archival findings and recently declassified documents and building on the research of scholars, Stone and Kuznick construct a “People’s History of the American Empire.”

In The Untold History, the authors reveal that:

  • The atomic bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki were militarily unnecessary and morally indefensible.
  • The United States, not the Soviet Union, bore the lion’s share of responsibility for perpetuating the Cold War.
  • The U.S. love affair with right-wing dictators has gone as far as overthrowing elected leaders, arming and training murderous military officers, and forcing millions of people into poverty.
  • U.S.-funded Islamist fundamentalists, who fought against the Soviets in Afghanistan, have blown back to threaten the interests of the U.S. and its allies.
  • U.S. presidents, especially in wartime, have frequently trampled on the constitution and international law.
  • The United States has brandished nuclear threats repeatedly and come terrifyingly close to nuclear war.

As the authors explain, “We don’t try to tell all US history. That would be an impossible task. We don’t focus extensively on many of the things the United States has done right. There are libraries full of books dedicated to that purpose and school curricula that trumpet US achievements. We are more concerned with focusing a spotlight on what the United States has done wrong—the ways in which we believe the country has betrayed its mission, with the faith that there is still time to correct those errors as we move forward into the twenty-first century.” [Based on publisher’s description.]

ISBN: 9781451613513 | Published by Gallery Books.

The Untold History website includes lessons for educators.

Reviews

“Oliver Stone and Peter Kuznick have done what many would consider impossible. They have written a political history of the United States in the 20th Century that tells us exactly how the United States became an empire through conscious decisions, and how the struggle to maintain that empire will go on despite which political party holds office. It is a brilliant survey of the untold story.” —Lloyd C. Gardner, author of The Road to Tahrir Square

“Stone’s Untold History of the United States not only needs to be viewed, but more importantly, discussed.  The one hour segments lend themselves to useful discussion, whether in a classroom setting or a living room setting.”—Bill Fletcher, Jr.  author of They’re Bankrupting Us And Twenty Other Myths about Unions, in a review in the Atlanta Daily World

“Howard [Zinn] would have loved this ‘people’s history’ of the American Empire. It’s compulsive reading: brilliant, a masterpiece!”—Daniel Ellsberg, author of Secrets: A Memoir of Vietnam and the Pentagon Papers

“Finally, a book with the guts to challenge the accepted narrative of recent American history. This is the ‘Washington didn’t really chop down the cherry tree’ book for our last hundred years.”—Bill Maher

“We won’t be able to manage America’s future if we don’t know its past. In their Untold Story, Oliver Stone and Peter Kuznick peel away layers of misleading myth about America in the 20th century. Some will be surprised, others angry. Most will understand their nation much better, especially the young. Then perhaps we can move forward in the new century.”—Jeff Madrick, author of Taking America

“It’s time for serious people to confront rather than avoid or attempt to denigrate the profound challenges raised by Stone and Kuznick. They are asking (and answering!) all the right questions.” —Gar Alperovitz, author of The Decision to Use the Atomic Bomb