The Greatest Generation
Contributor: C. Peter Chen
Review Date: 16 May 2011
American war time policies were made by the elite in Washington DC, but they were carried out by ordinary Americans at home and abroad. Journalist Tom Brokaw's 1998 book The Greatest Generation devoted itself to the stories of these ordinary Americans, through whose work helped transform the United States from an isolationist nation of the 1930s to not only a WW2 victor but, ultimately, a post-war global power. Through years of casual conversations and formal interviews, Brokaw collected anecdotes from daughters of small town workers to sons of influential families, and reflected on the war through these reminiscences. Although the stories were cursory and rather romanticized, they introduced the readers to the hard-working, honest, and straight-forward ideals of a prior generation that the author thought the current generation could learn from.
Brokaw also attempted to bring out the bad alongside of the good. The stories of prejudice against African-Americans and Japanese-Americans were mentioned in each of their own chapters, for instance, and it was good to see that a book that worshiped the particular generation also mentioned this shameful chapter in American history, for that we could learn as much from these mistakes as the successes. Ethnic discrimination was by no means the only problem in the United States during this time period; unfortunately, The Greatest Generation was meant to be a book praising the achievements of a past generation, so to get a complete picture of less glorious side of things that were outside the scope of this title I would recommend picking up other titles to complement The Greatest Generation.
I had reviewed this book in its audio book form. The audio edition was, sadly, abridged, so there were missing chapters that I would have to catch in a printed edition at a later date. The audio book production itself, however, was nicely done. I particularly enjoyed Tom Brokaw narrating the book itself because it somehow gave me a sense of connection between the words being spoken and the person who had written them. A veteran journalist, he narrated with clarity, maintained good pace for the listeners, and in general acted as a good storyteller as I would expect from the anchor of the NBC Nightly News.
The Americans featured in The Greatest Generation were all ordinary people who collectively accomplished extraordinary things during the war years. The book was written in a very simple manner, thus I consider it suitable for a rather wide range of readers; at the same time, the depth of the content was a little bit on the shallow side. While the book could not be said to be the best of its class, its popularity probably had as much to do as the author's fame as the content, I nevertheless still enjoyed it.
Also see: The Greatest Generation Speaks reviewed by C. Peter Chen.
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Captain Henry P. Jim Crowe, Guadalcanal, 13 Jan 1943