SOUTH BEND, Ind. (AP) - If your summer reading list includes historian
Howard Zinn’s “A People’s History of the United States” and you’re planning
to borrow it from the public library, get in line.
Purdue University President Mitch Daniels’ aversion to Zinn and his 1980
volume has prompted a surge of interest in the book, and local libraries are
purchasing additional copies to keep up with public demand.
A few weeks ago, the St. Joseph County Public Library had one copy of Zinn’s
Based on demand, the county library purchased 19 additional print copies and
four electronic copies. As of Monday, all those copies were checked out or
on reserve, with 10 patrons on the waiting list, the South Bend Tribune
“Every Monday morning, we do an assessment of the collection to see if we
need to order additional copies or if we’ve missed anything,” said Rona
Plummer, acquisitions and collection development manager.
The library also compiles a weekly list of “high demand holds” among area
libraries, books that are checked out and have a number of patrons waiting
for their return. “Anything that has at least three holds we check to see if
we enough copies to meet demand,” Plummer said.
For high-demand items, the library can place a rush order and usually get
additional copies within a few days.
Like most people, Plummer believes the sudden public interest in Zinn’s book
was prompted by news coverage about Daniels’ emails while governor seeking
to discourage reading and use of the book.
The Mishawaka-Penn-Harris Township Public Library owns one copy of Zinn’s
book, which is checked out and has two holds.
The Mishawaka library has three new copies on order, which hadn’t yet
arrived Monday, based on recent patron demand.
Any time the library receives approximately five requests from patrons for a
book that isn’t available, another copy is ordered, Mishawaka Library
Director David Eisen said. In this case, demand justified ordering three new
“I think the interest is because of Daniels questioning the book. People
have been showing an interest,” Eisen said.
It’s not common for the public to suddenly show an interest in checking out
an older book, unless it’s a book that’s recently been made into a film or
otherwise brought to public attention, he said.
Zinn’s book became a hot topic in July, when The Associated Press reported
that Daniels took steps during his second term as Indiana’s governor to
eliminate what he considered liberal breeding grounds at Indiana’s public
universities, requesting that Zinn’s writings be banned from classrooms and
asking for a “cleanup” of college courses he called “propaganda.”
The report was based on emails between Daniels and his staff obtained
through a public records request. In the emails, Daniels referred to Zinn as
a “terrible anti-American academic” and criticized his work as “a truly
execrable, anti-factual piece of disinformation that misstates American
history on every page.”
"Can someone assure me that is not in use anywhere in Indiana? If it is, how
do we get rid of it before more young people are force-fed a totally false
version of our history?” the then-governor wrote to his staff.
After the emails became public, Daniels said the actions he took as governor
were meant to keep the book out of the hands of K-12 students, not
At Indiana University South Bend, the last time Zinn’s book was required
reading for a course was in 2010, according to campus spokeswoman Kathy
Borlik. It’s not on the reading list for any courses for fall 2013, she
About 15 copies of the book are available through Indiana University’s
statewide library system. Of those, nearly all currently are checked out,
except two marked as “lost.”
The Purdue University library’s online catalog shows two copies of Zinn’s
book in the West Lafayette library collection. Both are checked out.
Zinn, an activist historian, died in 2010 at age 87. His “A People’s History
of the United States” recounted untold or neglected stories of the country’s
past, becoming a best-seller in the 1980s. First published with a print run
of just 5,000 copies, the book sold more than 2 million copies, including
condensations and versions aimed at teens.
Some people criticize the book for its lack of footnotes citing specific
sources and pages. In the introduction to the book’s bibliography, Zinn
wrote: “To indicate every source of information in the text would have meant
a book impossibly cluttered with footnotes, and yet I know the curiosity of
the reader about where a startling fact or pungent quote comes from.
Therefore, as often as I can, I mention in the text authors and titles of
books for which the full information is in this bibliography. Where you
cannot tell the source of a quotation right from the text, you can probably
figure it out by looking at the asterisked books for that chapter."