Cover image for Boomer nation : the largest and richest generation ever, and how it changed America
Boomer nation : the largest and richest generation ever, and how it changed America
Gillon, Steven M.
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Publication Information:
New York : Free Press, [2004]

Physical Description:
x, 367 pages : illustrations ; 24 cm
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HN59 .G55 2004 Adult Non-Fiction Non-Fiction Area

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The Baby Boomers, born between 1946 and 1964, form the single largest demographic spike in American history. Never before or since have birth rates shot up and remained so high so long, with some obvious results: when the Boomers were kids, American culture revolved around families and schools; when they were teenagers, the United States was wracked by rebelliousness; now, as mature adults, the Boomers have led America to become the richest and most powerful country in the history of the world. Boomer Nation will for the first time offer an incisive look into this generation that has redefined America's culture in so many ways, from women's rights and civil rights to religion and politics. Steve Gillon combines firsthand reporting of the lives of six Boomers and their families with a broad look at postwar American history in a fascinating mix of biography and history. His characters, like America itself, reflect a variety of heritages: rich and poor, black and white, immigrant and native born. Their lives take very different paths, yet are shaped by key events and trends in similar ways. They put a human face on the Boomer generation, showing what it means to grow up amid widespread prosperity, with an explosion of democratic autonomy that led to great upheavals but also a renewal from below of our churches, industries, and even the armed forces. The same generation dismissed as pampered and selfish has led a revival of religion in America; the same generation that unleashed the women's movement has also shifted our politics into its most market-oriented, anti-governmental era since Woodrow Wilson. Gillon draws many lessons from this "generational history" -- above all, that the Boomers have transformed America from the security- and authority-seeking culture of their parents to the autonomy- and freedom-rich world of today. When the "greatest generation" was young and not yet at war, it was widely derided as selfish and spoiled. Only in hindsight, long after the sacrifices of World War II, did it gain its sterling reputation. Today, as Boomer America rises to the challenges of the war on terror, we may be on the cusp of a reevaluation of the generation of Presidents Bush and Clinton. That generation has helped make America the richest, strongest nation on the planet, and as Gillon's book proves, it has had more influence on the rest of us than any other group. Boomer Nation is an eye-opening reinterpretation of the past six decades.

Author Notes

Steve Gillon has taught at both Yale University and Oxford University and is currently a professor of history at the University of Oklahoma.

Reviews 3

Booklist Review

The Baby Boom would prove to be the single greatest demographic event in American history--more significant, even, than the staggering loss of life during the Civil War, insists this academic and television host, who focuses on those born between 1947 and 1957 rather than 1946 and 1964. He contends that there is a common thread running through this generation that constitutes 29 percent of the population, but at the same time he recognizes the great differences in backgrounds, unique personal crises, conservatives, liberals, political independents, churchgoers, and others. They are today's decision makers in boardrooms and government. To tell the story of this generation, the author profiles six individuals whose experiences reflect the broad themes of the age: television, advertising, religion, architecture, feminism, and the Vietnam War. Harsh reality has had a profound effect on this generation, being raised on expectations of the good life and having it all. This tale of the boomers who reshaped America is fascinating. --Mary Whaley Copyright 2004 Booklist

Publisher's Weekly Review

The historian/host of the History Channel's History Center, Gillion chronicles post-WWII America through the lives of six boomers who represent different strands of baby boom culture which Gillon asserts has become synonymous with American culture. Four of his subjects have achieved national prominence: Bobby Muller, who founded Vietnam Veterans of America; lawyer and cancer survivor Fran Visco, who became president of the National Breast Cancer Coalition; Marshall Herskovitz, developer of the seminal television series Thirtysomething; and architect Elizabeth Plater-Zyberk, who created the avant-garde Florida community of Seaside. Together with Donny Deutsch, a self-made advertising mogul, and AlbertaWilson, who overcame substance abuse and poverty to become a Christian educator, they provide the focus for a look at the Vietnam War, the women's movement and the attraction of some boomers to fundamentalist religion. What Gillon uniquely accomplishes is to illuminate how pervasive boomer influence continues to be in the 21st century. He touches on iconic events and influences Catch-22, Woodstock, the Cold War, the assassinations of John F. Kennedy and Martin Luther King but he is refreshingly unnostalgic about them. Gillon makes especially interesting points when exploring the continuity from the boomers to Gen X (born between 1965 and 1976) and Gen Y (1977-1995). His assessment of the boomer is generally favorable boomers did not abandon their core values of self-reliance, entitlement and idealism, but have applied those values to the changing challenges they have faced. The result, he says, is that "we are all boomers now." Agent, Esther Newberg. (May) (c) Copyright PWxyz, LLC. All rights reserved

Library Journal Review

In this companion book to a History Channel program scheduled to air this June, historian Gillon traces the history and impact of the post-World War II baby-boomer generation by sketching the lives of six Americans born between 1947 and 1957. His subjects include Marshall Herskovitz, writer and producer of the TV series Thirtysomething; Donny Deutsch, who turned his father's small but successful advertising business into a high-profile, trend-setting national agency; Bobby Muller, one of the founders of the Vietnam Veterans of America, who became an activist after he was paralyzed fighting in the war; Fran Visco, a successful lawyer who became president of the National Breast Cancer Coalition after being diagnosed with the disease; Alberta Haile, who left a dangerous life of drugs and sex to become a born-again Christian and educational reformer; and architect Elizabeth Platter-Zyberk, who, along with her husband, designed a whole community in Florida (Seaside) that interwove themes of individualism with community. A 16-page introduction sets the context for the analysis. Gillon's central thesis is that the baby boomers "at heart were consumers, not revolutionaries." Although some of the profiles are overlong, they are compelling and revealing, effectively personalizing history. Gillon's study and the upcoming TV program are likely to lead to a renewed interest in the generation that now leads our nation. Jack Forman, San Diego Mesa Coll. Lib., CA (c) Copyright 2010. Library Journals LLC, a wholly owned subsidiary of Media Source, Inc. No redistribution permitted.

Table of Contents

Acknowledgmentsp. ix
Introduction: The Long Boomp. 1
Cast of Charactersp. 17
Part I The Cult of Youth: 1945-1978
1 The Boomer Generationp. 23
2 The Vietnam Divisionp. 44
3 Growing Painsp. 73
4 Finding Godp. 97
Part II The Great Shift: 1978-1992
5 The Prolonged Adolescence of Donny Deutschp. 122
6 The Way We Wish We Lived Nowp. 140
7 The New Power Politicsp. 164
8 The "Second Stage" and Other Struggles for Womenp. 191
9 The New Fundamentalismp. 212
10 Boomer Culturep. 230
Part III Boomer Nation: 1992-2004
11 Gaining Control: At What Cost?p. 248
12 The New Bossesp. 267
13 New Challenges; Lost Opportunitiesp. 287
Epilogue: We Are All Boomers Nowp. 311
Notesp. 319
Indexp. 345
About the Authorp. 369