Perhaps realizing that World War II vets aren't the only ones who buy books, former NBC news anchor Tom Brokaw has turned his loving gaze away from those vets (the subject of his books The Greatest Generation and The Greatest Generation Speaks) to focus a steelier glare on their ungrateful offspring. The result is Boom! Voices Of The Sixties—Personal Reflections On The '60s And Today, a once-over-lightly look at the ideals of the baby boomers, and what became of the cultural leaders who espoused them. Brokaw makes it clear from the outset that he isn't a boomer himself. Born in 1940, he was part of that not-quite generation of young people who kept their hair short, got jobs, and raised families while the incoming freshmen at their alma maters smoked dope and burned their draft cards. And it's clear that Brokaw still bears some grudges. Boom! contains some scattered autobiographical interjections in which the veteran journalist—objective to a fault—recalls how he felt as anti-war activists shut down campuses and rock stars started throwing around the f-word. In typically measured tones, he suggests they all went too far.
The problem with Boom! is that it doesn't go far enough. Brokaw threads a compelling thesis throughout the book's brief profiles of the era's media darlings: he and many of his interviewees contend that the excesses of the '60s, coupled with the internal squabbles of emerging social movements, effectively crippled the political efficacy of liberals in the U.S. from 1968 to now. And he argues that the same reaction-to-the-reactionaries phenomenon is now eroding the broad public support for conservatism. The days when hard-right Republicans could run as the everyman answer to the loony tax-and-spend left fade further into the twilight every time a candidate says that he doesn't believe in evolution, but he does support costly wars sponsored by think tanks.
And yet Brokaw doesn't really confront these issues head-on. Rather, Boom! nibbles around the edges, offering readable but shallow recapitulations of well-documented cultural battles, in the words of those who waged them: Julian Bond, Gloria Steinem, Jann Wenner, John McCain, Karl Rove, Kris Kristofferson, and the like. Brokaw alludes to the failings in his subjects' personal lives, from drugs to infidelity, but he's too cautious to confront these men and women directly, or to bluntly assert that the boomers screwed up a golden opportunity through their own immaturity and lack of impulse control. After all, he does still want their money.