The aging of Aquarius: boomers can take credit for the '60s if they accept blame for the '70s and '80s.

Author:Malanowski, Jamie
Position:Book Review

The Greater Generation: In Defense of the Baby Boomer Legacy By Leonard Steinhorn Thomas Dunne Books, $24.95

With the oldest of the Baby Boom generation now starting to turn 60, it seems inevitable that we will soon be inundated with books and TV specials assessing the impact of this huge cohort on American society. The Greater Generation, by American University professor Leonard Steinhorn, can be considered a very sympathetic brief for the defense. No doubt some opportunistic rightwing scribe is energetically pitching Regnery Press on the merits of prosecuting Boomers for their various crimes against humanity, even as some third party is pounding out an even-handed assessment. Hopefully at some point, Friends of the Forests will step in and remind everyone that a generation is an awfully large category to make meaningful generalizations about, and perhaps we should spare the trees. But for now, back to Leonard Steinhorn.

Readers will recall that it was Tom Brokaw's great good luck as a journalist, as a reporter of news, to uncover that back in the 1930s and 1940s, a large mass of young Americans had to suffer, a) the trials and deprivations of the Great Depression, then b) fight a terrible war--a "world war" in the parlance of the time--against countries bent on global domination. Not only did Brokaw have the courage to bring to light this virtually hidden chapter of our history, but he or an associate had the marketing savvy to title the book The Greatest Generation, an irresistibly flattering phrase which sustained the book through many printings and multiple sequels. I'm not sure, but I think Brokaw meant the phrase sincerely, if not exactly scientifically. It's not like he sat down and assigned coefficients for hardships and accomplishments, or calculated what the ratio between opportunity and outcome should be, or figured out whether one should subtract for embarrassments and shortcomings, or actually divide by them, all in an effort to come up with an equation that would yield a Greatest Generation Coefficient by which we would rank Founders and Boomers, World War II troopers and Gilded Age inventors, Civil Warriors and Manifest Destineers. No, Brokaw just grabbed a pithy, vivid title, and skipped off to the best-seller list.

Nor has Leonard Steinhorn gone the scientific route, but he certainly wants to jump into this Greatest Generation discussion. However, it's not immediately clear where he means to land. He doesn't seem to argue...

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