- Paperback: 538 pages
- Publisher: Quill; Reprint edition (September 30, 1992)
- Language: English
- ISBN-10: 0688119123
- ISBN-13: 978-0688119126
- Product Dimensions: 6.1 x 1.4 x 9.2 inches
- Shipping Weight: 1.4 pounds (View shipping rates and policies)
- Average Customer Review: 118 customer reviews
- Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #51,674 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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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.
In 2002, I realized that things were happening very close to the predictions. So I read the book again to gain a better understanding of Howe's and Strauss' theory and realized that they had been even closer in their predictions than I had remembered.
Some of the examples written in 1991 are
"... by the year 2000, midlife women will surge into boardrooms, media anchor booths, university presidencies, and Congress-and will begin making plausible runs for the White House."
"... the Boom may split along geographical lines-for example, with urban, bicoastal New Agers squaring off against heartland evangelicals."
" no mistake: faced with crisis, this generation [Boomer] of onetime draft resisters will not hesitate, as elder warrior-priests, to conscript young soldiers to fight and die for righteous purpose... As Boomers begin endorsing global crusades, the 13ers [Gen X] will turn toward isolationism."
Not 100%, but clearly better than other books I'd read in the past. I had this deja vu feeling I was experiencing Asimov's "psychohistory" that is the main theme of his Foundation series.
The first hypothesis of the book is that each generation (cohort) is different than the one before and after it and reacts differently at the same age to an event than some one born in a different cohort. In other words, if you're born in 1920s , you'll be different at age 50 than you will if you're born in 1950s.
The second hypothesis is that there is a four phase generational cycle of these cohorts that predicts each cohort's behavior, especially how society treats its members of different ages at different points in time.
In addition, they traced these generation cycle from 1584 to the present and showed that the cycles repeated like clockwork, except for the shock of the civil war which caused the cycle to jump.
They make the point that not everyone in a cohort is identical. The cohort defines themes that predict the overall reaction to events by each generation.
They cycle occurs in this order: Idealist, reactive, civic, and adaptive.
Civic Cohort: An example is the GI generation (born 1902-1924) that was raised in the depression where massive government programs were put in place to help them. As young adults, they fought and won WWII. After the war many of them went to school on the GI bill. They have a strong belief that government works.
Adaptive Cohort: Following the Civics is the adaptive cohort which are referred to as the "Silents" (Born 1925 to 1945). They generally shared the GI's values. The "silents" work within the system. They are generally trustful of the leadership of previous generations.
Idealist Cohort: This is my group, the "baby boomer" generation (born 1946 to 1960). In our youth there were unlimited economic opportunity, so we turned to spiritual matters, questioning and rebelling against the values of the GI and Silent generation.
Reactive Cohort: This is "Gen X" (Born 1961 to 1981). They are viewed as expressing a cynical, world-weary attitude as young adults. Their life experience with government is exactly the opposite of the GI generation; at every stage of the Gen Xers life, government's resources have been directed to benefit someone else.
The book is a useful way to think about history and is entertaining.