While the Showtime series The Untold History of the United States from Oliver Stone and Peter Kuznick has drawn wide attention, their book of the same title arising from the series has drawn less notice from reporters and critics. But not from viewers and readers. This Sunday it will check in as #15 on The New York Times bestseller list, right between books by Willie Nelson and Oliver Sacks.
Whatever your views of the series, the book or Stone himself, there’s little question that this revisionist history of the post–World War II era is reaching more Americans than nearly any other account from a "left" perspective in recent decades. Kuznick has called it "a hard-hitting, controversial history of the American empire and national security state—an in-depth look at American militarism in its various manifestations."
Keep in mind that Howard Zinn’s People’s History leaves off far before this period and many other fine and influential books have either taken up only slices of the postwar era or failed to reach a very broad audience. The book actually covers a full century, from World War I to the Obama years.
While the Stone-Kuznick book has drawn many warm notices–and this New York Times Magazine feature–it has also been attacked with a few scathing reviews, with more to come, the authors believe. The recurring thread is that the authors (Kuznick is a historian and teaches at American University) are Soviet apologists or in any case too eager to blame the onset of the cold war, and other ills, mainly on America. See the Ronald Radosh review in The Weekly Standard. David Horowitz has slammed the authors, no surprise there, either. And here is The authors’ reply to a harsh critique at The Daily Beast, and the reviewer’s response. Plus our own Jon Wiener's appraisal.
According to an email, the authors are getting ready for Sean Wilentz's strongly negative coming review in The New York Review of Books. This was revealed in that often-critical New York Times Magazine piece, quoting Wilentz of accusing the authors of taking a "very standard left-wing, C.P., fellow traveler" view of 1945-1946. It's revealing that, warranted or not, there was more negativism about Stone expressed in one page of that piece that in the magazine's entire profile of Rush Limbaugh a few years back.
We’ll keep an eye on what's coming next and report back. Meanwhile: the book is selling well, they say, at Costco, Walmart and Sam’s, not to mention via traditional book-sellers. Stay tuned.
Read Greg Mitchell’s interview with Oliver Stone on the Atomic Bomb chapter of his documentary series.
Greg Mitchell has written more than dozens books on history and politics. His latest book on the Obama-Romney battle is called “Tricks, Lies, and Videotape.”