By Jim DiEugenio
It’s challenging to review a book like The Untold History of the United States by Oliver Stone and Peter Kuznick, with its broad sweep covering more than a century – from the late 19th to the early 21st centuries – especially given the authors’ ambition to reorder how Americans see their nation as it evolved into a global empire and force them to confront how that empire has trampled on the lives and dreams of other people.
Without doubt, there is much value in their effort, which you can also watch in a Showtime documentary series by the same name. It is always good when a serious work comes out that shakes the pillars of the historical establishment by challenging cherished conventional wisdoms. Director Stone and historian Kuznick surely do that.
But the inevitable selection process – emphasizing one historical turning point over another and indeed omitting some pivotal moments altogether – invites criticism. And that is true about the second half of this book and series as it was the first half, which I reviewed earlier.
The second half of the 750-page book covers U.S. history from the presidencies of Lyndon Johnson to Barack Obama. And much like the first half, this 50-year sweep of history is more a reshuffling of the official top-down history than a people’s history in the vein of Howard Zinn, who focused more on the popular struggles that invigorated American democracy from the bottom up, rather than on the machinations of the political and economic elites.