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Daniels' disdain for Zinn snares readers

History text surges in popularity for library checkouts

– As the old saying in Hollywood goes, "There is no bad publicity."

Certainly this is true in the case of a book that has garnered little attention since the 1980s and is now experiencing a resurgence of fame.

"A People's History of the United States," by Howard Zinn, is not a novel of the popular "Fifty Shades of Grey" genre but rather an academic history textbook.

After Mitch Daniels, current president of Purdue University and former Indiana governor, recently panned historian Zinn's book, some libraries are finding it hard to keep copies on the shelves.

The Allen County Public Library has 12 copies of Zinn's book and all are checked out, Director Jeff Krull said.

In addition, there is a waiting list of 27 people for the book, Krull said.

Daniels' disdain of Zinn's work came to light in an Associated Press article in July. The article said that Daniels, while serving his second term as Indiana's governor, sent emails asking that the late historian and anti-war activist's "liberal" writings be banned from classrooms and asked for a cleanup of college courses.

But the book has been checked out more frequently since Daniels' remarks came to light, said Michael Clegg, associate director of the Allen County Public Library.

The ebook version has been checked out 19 times and the book has been checked out 849 times in the last 14 years.

"Anything said in the news by a well-known personality about a book will usually spur interest," Clegg said.

"And since textbooks do not usually get all that much attention, I'm sure it's the former governor's comments that created that interest" in Zinn's book.

The online service for Purdue University in West Lafayette, where Daniels works, shows three copies of Zinn's book in stock, and all are checked out.

In northeast Indiana, at the Carnegie Public Library of Steuben County, interest in the book has been higher since the news coverage, according to library Director Sonya Dintaman.

"We have one copy, and it has been checked out twice since then and it has a couple of holds on it now," Dintaman said.

The library is a member of the Evergreen Indiana network – a consortium of about 100 libraries across the state.

The network has 44 copies of Zinn's book, Dintaman said, and 40 of them are checked out.

At IPFW, Zinn's book was last assigned as a textbook for a course during the 2005-06 school year, said a clerk at Follett's, the campus bookstore, who declined to give her name.

The book is not on this fall's course textbook list, she said.

At IPFW's Helmke Library, there are two copies of Zinn's book – the first edition published in 1980 and a second published in 1999, Library Dean Cheryl Truesdell said.

The 1980 edition was last checked out July 17, Truesdell said.

"That book has been checked out 31 times since 2000," she said. The second edition has been "missing since July 2011."

Before then, it had been checked out 56 times since it was added to the collection in 2002, she said.

There was only one instance when the book was put on reserve as supplemental reading for a class (not the assigned class textbook) and that was in 2007, Truesdell said.

Not everyone is aware of the controversy.

Mary Hartman, director of Peabody Library in Columbia City, and Sandy Petrie, director of Noble County Public Library, both said they had experienced no inquiries or circulation of Zinn's book.

"A People's History of the United States" sold more than 2 million copies when published.

Zinn's account of history included topics such as the genocide of Native Americans, civil rights workers who fought slavery and racism, labor organizers who led strikes for the rights of working people and those who protested war.

Answering a 2007 critical review of his book in "The New York Times Book Review," Zinn rebutted, in part: "My hero is not Theodore Roosevelt, who loved war and congratulated a general after a massacre of Filipino villagers at the turn of the century, but Mark Twain, who denounced the massacre and satirized imperialism."

Zinn was 87 when he died in 2010.