A Harvard grad, Richard Pells is Professor Emeritus at The University of Texas at Austin, specializing in contemporary history.
What was your inspiration for writing War Babies, and did you coin the phrase that titles your latest book?
My inspiration for writing War Babies came from my attendance in 2009 at the 50th reunion of my high school class. All of these people were born in 1940 or 1941. It occurred to me that no one had written about us as a distinctive generation, so I coined the phrase “war babies” which became the title of my book.
How would you describe this book as fitting in with your existing body of work?
War Babies is similar to my other books in that it concentrates on culture—primarily music and movies—as well as journalism and politics.
You’ve lived all over the world. What are your favorite cities and why?
My favorite cities abroad are Amsterdam (the first foreign city I lived in), Paris (for obvious reasons), and Berlin (which I first visited during the Cold War, when the city was divided between east and west).
In War Babies, you refer to the Cold War. Do you see any parallels today to that era?
At the moment, there are certainly parallels to the Cold War over Ukraine. During the Cold War, the Soviet Union and the United States both recognized that there were certain basic rules of the game, and that one did not threaten the other’s sphere of influence. But if the main enemy to the civilized world is terrorism, there are few parallels. Terrorists recognize no boundaries or limits, so we are all at risk.
Who do you feel are the top three most culturally influential war babies and why?
Francis Ford Coppola because of the four great movies he made during the 1970s (The Godfather: Parts I and
II, The Conversation, and Apocalypse Now). Bob Dylan because he helped transform popular music. Plus Bob Woodward and Carl Bernstein, the only journalists in American history whose reporting helped bring down a President.
Besides WWII, what event do you feel most influenced the generation that was born from 1939-1945?
The Cold War.
What is your favorite thing to do when you’re not writing?
Watching movies, watching dramas on television (like Homeland and House of Cards), and reading novels.
Is there something you’d like to bring back from the era in which you were born?
Streetcars (which still exist all over Europe).
What are you glad to have left behind from the WWII era?
I think adolescence in the 1950s—but then adolescence is rarely a good time for any of us.
What’s next for Richard Pells?
I’m not sure yet. If I get an idea for another book, I’ll write it. I retired from the University of Texas at Austin in 2011 and yet haven’t felt retired since then. It might be nice for a while to sit back and read someone else’s books.