Academic analysis of a phenomenal generation through the experiences of six baby boomers.
Gillon (History/Univ. of Oklahoma) hews to the consensual definition of boomers as those born between 1946, when WWII vets and their wives began making up for lost time, and 1965, when widespread use of the contraceptive pill put the final skids under a declining birth rate. This mass of some 78 million would radically change the nation, yet the “life experiences of a child born in 1946,” the author asserts, “were very different from one born in 1964.” Early boomers labored to reconcile Kennedy-inspired idealism with reality, Gillon points out; later boomers, raised in the shadow of Vietnam and Watergate, had less to reconcile. Though boomers are frequently derided as self-absorbed whiners consumed by self-fulfillment, the author believes such criticism sells short the generation that expanded personal freedom in the US by championing not only civil rights, but gay rights, women’s rights, handicapped rights, and the right to privacy. Yet the first generation to grow up with TV was divided almost as much as the rest of the country on Vietnam, although boomers were the only segment of the population to register a small majority against Nixon’s 1968 presidential victory. The first boomer chief exec survived impeachment to leave office with the highest approval rating of any postwar president. Boomer readers should find affinities with some, but perhaps not all, of the lives Gillon presents. While characterized as “typical,” the three women and three men profiled include the TV writer who made thirtysomething an icon, a paralyzed Vietnam vet whose activism has drawn national attention, the founder of an ad agency that made its mark exploiting boomers, and an African-American whose religious epiphany helped spur a conservative backlash.
Effective recap of a population bubble that steamrollered history and won’t quit.