- Paperback: 538 pages
- Publisher: Quill; Reprint edition (September 30, 1992)
- Language: English
- ISBN-10: 9780688119126
- ISBN-13: 978-0688119126
- ASIN: 0688119123
- Product Dimensions: 6.1 x 1.4 x 9.2 inches
- Shipping Weight: 1.4 pounds (View shipping rates and policies)
- Average Customer Review: 122 customer reviews
- Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #75,754 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)
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Generations: The History of America's Future, 1584 to 2069 Paperback – September 30, 1992
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From Publishers Weekly
Ex-Capitol Hill aides Strauss and Howe analyze American history according to a convoluted theory of generational cycles, concocting a chronicle that often seems as woolly as a newspaper horoscope.
Copyright 1992 Reed Business Information, Inc.
From the Back Cover
Hailed by national leaders as politically diverse as former Vice President Al Gore and former House Speaker Newt Gingrich, Generations has been heralded by reviewers as a brilliant, if somewhat unsettling, reassessment of where America is heading.
William Strauss and Neil Howe posit the history of America as a succession of generational biographies, beginning in 1584 and encompassing every-one through the children of today. Their bold theory is that each generation belongs to one of four types, and that these types repeat sequentially in a fixed pattern. The vision of Generations allows us to plot a recurring cycle in American history -- a cycle of spiritual awakenings and secular crises -- from the founding colonists through the present day and well into this millenium.
Generations is at once a refreshing historical narrative and a thrilling intuitive leap that reorders not only our history books but also our expectations for the twenty-first century.
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"Awakenings" including such periods as the 1960s counterculture, the "Great Awakening" of the mid-eighteenth century, the 1890s Progressive movement, and the Transcendental period of the 1820s and 1830s. These periods in many ways are not well-defined because the essential ideologies of them can often appear to be very different, unless as they could have done the earlier "Awakenings" were extended internationally to the French Revolution, the "Decadents" or even the Wahhabi movement in Islam. The question of what the essential goal or purpose of these "Awakenings" was is not well-defined because in many cases they were anti-religion and exceedingly materialist, as seen with AC/DC. In contrast, many of the "Civic" generations, who are regarded as materialistic, were much less so in their prime of the 1940s and 1950s, when the upper and middle classes of the Enriched World reacted strongly against the materialism of the 1920s and 1930s.
More significantly, what we seem to be seeing in the post-1980s Enriched World is what Jean Twenge described as "Generation Me": a totally individualistic generation ruled by the desire for radical egalitarianism and absolute rights to do whatever one wants. History, and not only human history, shows that these absolute rights are the antithesis of civilisation, and they critically are extremely different from the conformist culture of "Civic" generations described in this book. They are even less like the "Adaptive" generations who are supposedly open-minded, caring and not worldly: there is clearly a loss of the cyclicality in the post-AC/DC age that was visible even when this book was written and can probably be related to the completion of the atheist takeover of the Enriched World.
The section about "Crisis" eras remains revealing today: Strauss and Howe do do a good job here, and it is much easier to see the similarities than with the "Awakenings": Americna society was severely malfunctioning, as was that of the rest of the Enriched World. As seen with the Civil War, past crises can have very bad endings if there is no strong leadership, and that may be seen clearly elsewhere with things like the Weimar hyperinflation, the French Revolution, and no doubt other places I cannot think of now.
All in all, this book misses possibilities clearly evident now and even when written, but it is still and interesting and by no means bad look at American history - finding fascinating patterns in the process.
For one thing, we were far too willing to let our hopes and dreams -- or, alternately, our fears and nightmares -- get the better of our dispassionate critical judgment. For another, we tried to model the flow of history as a simple, linear process in which the future can be extrapolated from past and present trends, rather than acknowledging that progress is often complex and non-linear. But our main failing was to give too much weight to the scientific and technological drivers of progress, and not enough to the social, political, and economic factors that shape the course of history. We were so preoccupied with the question of what was scientifically and technologically possible that we completely failed to ask what was economically affordable, politically feasible, and socially desirable. In other words, we focused on how to build cool stuff, not on how to pay for it, who would vote for it, or whether the public even wanted it. After we finally reached the moon, optimistic futurists like me assumed that we would press on to Mars and beyond just as soon as we had the technical capability to do so. It never occurred to us that the space program might get dramatically scaled back due to changing attitudes about the value of human space exploration. In essence, we failed to take into account the simple fact that society's values and priorities change over time. This is arguably the single biggest, and most common, mistake that forecasters make when trying to predict the future.
That's why all would-be prognosticators would be well advised to read this book (along with the authors' follow-up volume, "The Fourth Turning"). The authors' central thesis is that each generation has a very different outlook on life than the previous generation; and these generational differences are what drive social change over time. In fact, the authors contend that each generation will, at least to some extent, rebel against the dominant values and priorities of the preceding generation, which can cause dramatic reversals in social norms and public policies from one generation to the next. This would help to explain why a nation that was once so enthusiastic about putting a man on the moon could lose interest in space exploration so quickly after it had achieved this goal. As one generation comes of age and begins to step into the social roles previously occupied by an older generation, it will bring new values and new priorities with it. It will have its own agenda. This means that long-term projects will almost always face serious setbacks down the road, no matter how popular they may have been at their inception, due to the difficulty of maintaining their support as a new generation of workers, leaders, voters, and taxpayers comes of age. Forecasters who don't take this into account will end up making overly optimistic (or, in some cases, overly pessimistic) predictions.
I'm not going to take the time to analyze, critique, or even try to summarize the various ideas presented in this book. Other reviewers have already done this; and I don't really have all that much to add. Besides, I don't think it's possible to do justice to the authors' thesis in just a few paragraphs. All I'll say is that this book gives the reader a fascinating new way of looking at how history unfolds, and how to think about the future. Many of the ideas presented here are highly contested within academia; but, then again, most new ideas are highly contested within academia -- that's what academia is for: to put ideas to the test. The bottom line for me is that reading this book will give you a new perspective on how the world changes over time; and this may prove useful, especially if you want to be able to predict what the world will be like ten, twenty, or perhaps even fifty years from now. Where most futurists go wrong is to assume that today's dreams (or nightmares) will inevitably become tomorrow's reality. What they fail to realize is that each generation has a different set of dreams and nightmares. Your children and grandchildren won't pursue your dreams; they'll pursue their own. Any long-term forecast that doesn't take this simple truth into account will someday look as naïve as my childhood prediction that, when I grew up, we would all have flying cars.
"Generations" lays out clearly the contours of the Strauss-Howe generational theory, from the ideas of generations and the history of the study of generations, to the ways that generations interact with one another throughout time. "Generations" also does a fantastic job of tracing the sociological and historical data that have led them to their conclusions.
The only thing about "Generations" is that it's a huge read and at times can be a bit of a bore if you're not specifically interested in one era of history or if you are unfamiliar with the movers, shakers, and events of a certain era that end up being alluded to throughout the book. However, this book does provide a pretty decent primer or at least pointer for someone who is looking for a more in depth knowledge of the cultural history of the United States.
I would recommend this book for anyone who wants to begin to understand what generational theory is all about, anyone who works with groups of people that span the current 5-6 living generations (such as pastors), and anyone who is interested in the cultural development of the United States.