From Publishers Weekly
Although popular assumption might place the birth of teenage culture alongside the rise of rock 'n' roll in the 1950s, Savage (England's Dreaming) traces a more elaborate backstory that extends into the late 19th century. His catalogue of influences and indicators bounces from Goethe and Rimbaud to teenage girls' diaries, but the account only begins to pick up steam at the end of the First World War, as a generation of British youth reject the values of the elders who sent them into battle. Later, in the U.S., Prohibition not only taught booze-loving college students disrespect for the law, it put them in contact with a criminal underground that strengthened their subversive tendencies. The analysis of teen culture during the Second World War is particularly strong, moving from the Hitler Youth and rebellious " swing kids" in Germany to the Zoot Suit riots of Los Angeles and the "Zazou" movement of occupied Paris. Savage weaves his disparate sources into a convincing narrative of how adolescents were molded by political and cultural pressures into the consumer-friendly category of " teenager" by the end of WWII, but while individual anecdotes carry some verve, the writing never fully sheds its dry academic tone. (Apr.)
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Savage's highly acclaimed history of the English punk movement (England's Dreaming, 1991)won praise for its enthusiastic yet penetrating portrayal of the anarchic Sex Pistols and the culture of frustration that fueled them. His latest book searches for the sources of youth culture, the "living in the now, pleasure-seeking, product-hungry" global phenomenon that both defines and is defined by consumerism. Reminding us that youth culture existed long before the 1950s--as demonstrated by Rimbaud, Wilde, and Goethe's Sorrows of Young Werther, as well as Barrie's Peter Pan--Savage chronicles the fitful evolution of our understanding of adolescence as well as the changing (and unchanging) activities of teenagers in the early twentieth century. As with his previous work, the author adeptly situates pop-culture trends within broader cultural shifts: the relationship between youth-icon Rudolph Valentino and changing sexual mores, for example. In doing so, however, Savage pays particular and lengthy attention to war's ability to separate generations as well as to crush and/or heighten the manic impulses of youth. The result is an enlightening and serious analysis of modernity itself, as nuanced as it is ambitious. Brendan Driscoll
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