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The Greatest Generation
by Tom Brokaw

A book review from Lara Osis, Writer and  Research Associate for ElderWise Inc.

In his introduction to "The Greatest Generation", the respected award-winning journalist  describes his life-changing experience covering the 40th anniversary of D-Day for NBC. 

He recounts walking the beaches of Normandy, listening to stories which deeply impressed upon him the sacrifice and valor with which veterans had served their nation in an effort to "save the world from the two most powerful and ruthless military machines ever assembled, instruments of conquest in the hands of fascist maniacs".

Brokaw tells us his book "is not the defining history of their generation.  Instead, I think of this as like a family portrait".  He recounts varied experiences of Americans during World War II through snapshot biographies and interviews with individuals who were part of the war effort. 

Stories include those of men on the frontlines, soldiers of colour, women in uniform, women of colour, and men who helped the United States even though they never entered the military.

Forty-one brief chapters point up the diversity of the people who were part of the war but also show their unanimity of spirit, morality, and character. 

Many of the Americans Brokaw interviewed talk about how they merely  did their duty to their country, but that the wounds of war still haunt them both physically and psychologically.  The wife of former POW Lloyd Kilmer "knows to say Lloyd's name softly if she wants to awaken him from a nap; an unexpected touch or a loud 'Wake up!' startles him still".

Brokaw's loving portrait of Americans at war sidesteps the stories of those who may have been less than heroic. Though he discusses the inherent racism and sexism that many experienced, he prefers to focus on the positive and so limits the fullness of the picture he paints. 

However, "The Greatest Generation" is replete with details about the war effort that few other books have included. As a newsman, Brokaw also allows the people he interviews to be heard in their own words. 

Although not an in-depth look at the war, the book is strengthened by its diversity and principled approach to both people and subject matter.

The book is highly recommended for every generation.  Readers who lived through this time will recognize many of the experiences as their own. Boomers hearing stories told from people of their parents' generation can gain a deeper understanding of their parents. Grandchildren of the "greatest generation" will have the opportunity to read about the human experience of war, not just the political one they may have learned about in school.

The Greatest Generation by Tom Brokaw, published by Random House, is available as an audio book as well as in print.

Vol. 3, No.13
© ElderWise, 2007

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