Generating Hope for the Future

At first glance, Thirteenth Generation: Abort, Retry, Ignore, Fail? looks like two baby-boomers' sloppy way of making a buck.

A study of us much-hyped twenty-somethings, this book's pages and margins are stuffed with so many graphs, quotes, stats, comments, and cartoons that in places the actual text is almost eliminated. It's a splashy, fun-book layout for kids with the attention span of a squirrel.

Flipping through its pages, you get the impression that forty-something authors Neil Howe and Bill Strauss hope to tap into the youth market by slapping together some MTV-inspired cliches on (white) youth culture, adding a few statistics about cynical post-boom attitudes and flashy graphics, and passing it all off as a hip, grunge-generation guidepost.

But as the more gullible members of my generation who voted for Reagan/Bush are learning, first looks can be deceiving. Howe and Strauss, authors of the acclaimed history Generations, are serious sociologists, engaging writers, and fair, painfully thorough historians. They not only look with favor at the children of Vietnam, Watergate, and Reagan, they profess an adoration for us that is almost obsessional.

To them, "13ers" - the 13th generation to come of age since Ben Franklin - are postmodern heroes who have survived personal and economic catastrophes that are worse than for any generation since the Great Depression. Born between 1961 and 1981, we are a post-boom study in contradiction: selfish and media-blunted, yet walking the walk of sacrifice that boomers talked in the '60s.

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