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Book Review: The Greatest Generation

November 13, 2020

I’ve had this book on my shelf for almost 20 years. I know that because it was a gift from my parents seven years before my father passed away. My mother wrote the inscription

The stories of fathers and grandfathers and uncles. We see so many of these values again displayed in heroic fashion since 9/11/01. I hope these stories remind you why it’s so wonderful to be an American.

God bless,

Love your Mom and Dad
12/2001

My mother was born in 1945, the first year of the Baby Boomer generation. I was born in December of 1964, three days before the “end” of the Baby Boomer years.

My grandparents were part of the previous generation, what Tom Brokaw has called “The Greatest Generation.”

Did you ever think about how generations get named? Baby Boomer, Millenials, Gen X, Gen Z. They get named by ordinary people. Someone coins a name and it sticks. I’m not sure what the generation before the Baby Boomers was original called, but after Brokaw’s excellent work, they will forever be “The Greatest Generation.”

The book was printed in 1998. I know because while reading it I realized that it was from a different time. The Greatest Generation came of age during the Great Depression and then had to step up and win the fight against Hitler.

It was a time that many veterans and common people defined as pulling the nation together in a way they hadn’t seen before. Senator Daniel Inouye from Hawaii served in the Army during that terrible conflict. He described it.

The one time the nation got together was world War II. We stood as one. We spoke as one. We clenched our fists as one, and that was a rare moment for all of us

– Senator Daniel Inouye

As I read that sentence I remember thinking, “No, there was another time.” The book would undoubtably been different if it had been released after 9/11. We once again stood together as a nation and clenched our fists together. But, Senator Inouye was correct. It’s a rare moment. Possibly only once in a lifetime.

What I liked

What’s not to like? It was a wonderful book. Full of short stories about the famous (presidents and senators, artists and journalists) and the ordinary (farmers, nurses, scientists and housewives.) Brokaw has a very easy storytelling voice. He takes us into not just the lives, but the hopes and dreams of these people. He has a reverance for what they did without slipping into nostalgia. He chooses a wonderful mix of characters across a huge spectrum of society. This is at its heart a war book. There is no escaping the World War. Even those stories that do not involve the war are noteworthy for the fact that they don’t have a war tie. It’s easy to see your grandparents, or great-grandparents in these stories. And the account themselves very well indeed.

What I didn’t

The book is broken up into sections. He starts with ordinary people. After 139 pages he introduces “Women in Uniform And Out.” However, the first story he tells is a combination of Colonel Mary Hallaren and General Jeanne Holm. The two woman have no connection other than they both achieved hight ranks in the military. After having each story devoted to a single man or a man and his wife, it felt disconcerting to feel like the women didn’t get their own story, but had to be combined with others. Later he addressed some notable women in their own chapter, but the first impression was that women were getting short shift. Several soldiers whose stories appear in the book were award the Medal of Honor, the highest award given to a combat soldier. For some reason Tom Brokaw insists on mislabeling it the “Congressional Medal of Honor.” For a journalist, I would have expected him to get that particular detail correct. He avoids politics for most of the book, but turns his ire on President Nixon in several passages. Maybe it’s that Nixon’s disgrace was more real to him in 1998, 25 years after Watergate, than it is to us, 22 years after this book was published.

What It Means To You

The members of the Greatest Generation are aging and will soon all be gone. The book is a timeless written snapshot of who they were, what they did and why it was so incredibly important to us today. The book will help you explain to your children why a group of people who lived nearly 100 years ago literally saved humanity.

My rating

Three out of four stars

Stay safe

Rodney M Bliss is an author, columnist and IT Consultant. His blog updates every weekday. He lives in Pleasant Grove, UT with his lovely wife, thirteen children and grandchildren.

Follow him on
Twitter (@rodneymbliss)
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LinkedIn (www.LinkedIn.com/in/rbliss)
or email him at rbliss at msn dot com

(c) 2020 Rodney M Bliss, all rights reserved

From → Book Reviews

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