I began reading this review copy with the hope that I would get a bird's-eye view of my husband's generation--the one that author Richard Pells calls the “war babies.” I was not disappointed. Although I believe the book would have stood stronger without frequent comparisons to the following generation (the “baby boomers”), Pells's writing is powerful, his subject fascinating, and his viewpoint very personal.
As he weaves the history and the accomplishments of three groups of war babies upon which he places his focus, the reader begins to absorb the uniqueness behind the stories. The entertainment world, both movies (stars and directors) and musicians (folk, rock and roll), are touched upon carefully. Their influences (amazing how many mentioned Elvis, born in 1935, as one of their iconic heroes), the family backgrounds that led them to their fields, and the friends they made along the way are vital to the stories of their rise to fame.
Politicians who shaped the world in the '60s, having been influenced by their birthday (war babies are denoted as born 1939-1945), their personal histories with the McCarthy era, and the struggles with the Vietnam War create vital and important programs for the future generations to build their own platforms. The Cold War influenced them, lead them to speaking out on American values and the need for restructure and balance in stepping up as a nation.
Media changed their lives, and in turn, molded the lives of the generations to come. Radio, a constant feature in the childhoods of war babies, gave way to television, and innovative movies, presented by war-baby directors (George Lucas, Martin Scorsese.) The beginning of the Civil Rights Movement, which spilled into the lives of the baby boomers, took shape and form at the hands of the war babies.
Pells looks at this generation with understanding and honesty--admitting, too, that “...American politics has become more divisive, more partisan and less capable of resolving the...difficulties the country faces” (because of the war babies). The reader turns the last page with clarity and understanding, and the notes and bibliography give a great diving board for exploring the war babies in more depth. It is well worth the read.