What is the People’s History of the World?

British writer Chris Harman, author of A People’s History of the World (2008) explains in an interview about why he wrote the book at the blog Grits & Roses

I wrote the book out of frustration at the fact that although there were many radical accounts of particular episodes and phases in history, mainly influenced by the insights of Marx and Engels, there was not over-reaching account. In the earlier part of the book the major influence was the Australian archaeologists of the first half of the 20th Century, Gordon Childe. But his account had to be updated to take into account new research by archaeologists and radical anthropologists like Richard Lee and Eleanor Leacock since his death in 1957. For the Roman period there was the writing of St Croix, for India the work of D D Kosambi, Irfan Habib and Romila Thapar, for the rise of slavery, Eric Williams and CLR James, for Britain that of Christopher Hill and Edward Thompson, for the French revolution Albert Soboul and Andre Guerin,…and so on.

My approach differs in one respect from Zinn’s. One aim—and important one—of his book is to debunk myths about US history that have been used to justify US imperialism. I do some debunking of my own, particular when it comes to myths of innate European superiority. But my main aim is to provide an account of history as successive human endeavours to make a livelihoods that gets twisted into successive forms of class organisation and of the struggles that of the oppressed classes that then follow, culminating in the rise of capitalism on the one hand and of working class struggle against it on the other.

I did not decide on the title for my book until the last minute before publication, and then I was not mainly influenced by Zinn’s title, but by that of A People’s History of England by the British Marxist Alan Morton that was first published 70 years ago.

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