on May 30, 2004
The term Greatest Generation might smack of journalistic hyperbole or nationalistic jingoism, but the more I read the works of Stephen E. Ambrose (D-Day June 6, 1944: The Climactic Battle of World War II, Band of Brothers) or watch any of the documentaries about World War II -- especially on this 60th Anniversary of the D-Day landings and other landmark battles of history's largest clash of arms -- that will air from Memorial Day till June 6, the more I am inclined to agree with Tom Brokaw's use of that term to describe the men and women who came of age in the 1930s and '40s and created modern America.
Brokaw, one of America's best television journalists and anchor of NBC's Nightly News, not only coined the phrase "the Greatest Generation" when he wrote this amazingly fascinating and inspiring collection of personality profiles of men and women, some famous (Bob Dole, Julia Child, George H.W. Bush), some not-so-famous but prominent (Norman Mineta, Daniel Inouye), and some neither prominent nor famous yet vitally essential (Leonard Lomell, Jeanette Gagne Norton) who either saw combat, contributed to the war effort, or endured the hardships of being separated from loved ones without succumbing to fear or giving in to selfishness or self-pity.
In the same concise yet utterly convincing style of his network news writing, Brokaw draws the reader into his chronicles of 50 men and women whose experiences encompass a wide spectrum of the American World War II experience. He captures, for instance, humorist Art Buchwald's seemingly unlikely stint as a Marine in the South Pacific, at first (and almost disastrously) loading ordnance onto Marine Corsair fighter-bombers, then more wisely reassigned to work on the squadron's newsletter and drive trucks. In five pages, Brokaw wonderfully gets the essence of Buchwald's satiric-yet-gentle personality, while at the same time revealing that the least-likely-to-be-a-Marine was given a parade by then-outgoing Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, Gen. Colin Powell.
The Greatest Generation is full of vivid personality profiles like Buchwald's. Some, such as that of Len Lomell, highlight bravery in combat; others are like Jeanette Gagne Norton's, whose husband Camille Gagne was killed in Holland during Operation Market-Garden. The recollections Brokaw presents here are full of drama and laughter, of happiness, love, and sometimes shame, but there is no bitterness or self-pity. For these are the men and women that saved the world from tyranny...and made our country what it is today.
on February 10, 1999
Although less journalistic and more tributary in nature, this book hearkens back to a time that people of my generation still yearn for; a diffuse monochrome tapestry of what was once an ideal and simpler time. Or was it? Certainly there was greater emphasis placed on drawing distinctions between right and wrong, good and evil; but it seems that my memory, not unlike this book, perhaps, suffers a bit from reflective glossing. It's unlikely that any soldier sprawled out face-first on a French beachhead was reminiscing fondly about how good his life had been to that point. But certainly the demarcation lines were more clearly illustrated...Hitler was a malevolent sociopath and Churchill, a divine leader. I just wished this book had fleshed-out more of those gray areas. In fact, I recently had the opportunity to read a story about our most recent war, the war on drugs, and was captured by the multiple hues of gray that speckled the author's canvas. The book, "C.I.A.: Cocaine In America," was one of the most engrossing and moving stories it has been my displeasure to read. That's right, the zeitgeist of this tortuous tale of ambiguous ethics and diffuse government operations is such that it captures best what is so different about society today versus fifty years ago. I used the word displeasure not as a means of demonstrating my disdain for this book, but rather my discomfort for how modern-day heroes are treated both by our government and by the media as compared to that "Greatest Generation." Read both of these books back-to-back and you will see what I mean.
on August 18, 2002
I had heard good things about this book, but was disappointed. This story had already been told in this format, and been told better, by Studs Terkel in his book The Good War. Terkel interviewed more persons, let them tell their own story, and interviewed persons who had been successful as well as those that had not. Brokaw focuses only on those that had gone on to become successful, while Terkel includes those from all walks of life. If you are interested in reading a history in this format, I would recommend The Good War over The Greatest Generation.
on May 31, 2004
I recommend this excellent book of true stories from the memories of brave men and women and their families who lived thru the great depression and fought in the second world war.
Tom Brokaw walked the beaches of Normandy with American veterans who had returned for the fortieth anniversary of D-Day. He was inspired to reach out and collect individual stories from those difficult years so we will never forget the horrors of that war, the sacrifices by our service men and women and their families, and the results that followed.
Finally, a memorial to this generation has been dedicated in Washington D.C. on this, the sixtieth anniversary of D-Day. THE GREATEST GENERATION should occupy a place in our home library, among the works of other historians. You will recognize some of the people in this book, you will be amazed at the achievements and the courage of these ordinary people who survived a perilous time in American history, and you will reflect on your own memories of that time if you are "over sixty".
The author acquaints us with some of his own family history and why he feels it important for us to be forever grateful to all those who defend our American freedom and democracy. I thoroughly enjoyed this well researched and well written book.
on April 13, 2004
Tom Brokaw's novel The Greatest Generation was amazing! As a granddaughter of a WWII vet, I now look at my grandpa in a new light. Brokaw honestly tells the stories of average men and women that fought for our country in WWII. Everyone had different experiences but they all shared the same traits about caring more about others then themselves. I loved the stories about the heroes fighting for our country, but I was also impressed with the many women that also helped defend the country. My grandpa has never said much about the war, until recently. He is beginning to open up and many other vets are sharing their stories as well. Brokaw's novel was so direct yet unexpected with all the thoughts and feelings with all the vets. I love hearing about how these men protected our country and never second guessed why they were fighting the war. I believe, like Tom Brokaw, they are a great generation but I believe that there will be many more "Great Generations" to come. Another group of people will be put to the test and they will also show their colors. For now though, these men and women are truly the greatest generation that the US has produced. I only wish that we all had more time to learn from these individuals.
on April 12, 2004
"The Greatest Generation" was inspiring. As a young adult I have yet to experience anything having to do with the war. The horror stories to me are exactly that, just stories. While reading this book I was taken aback. The generation today...Those kids at war now will return with many of the same experiences as those in World War II. It is unusual and sad to see the differences between "The Greatest Generation", and the generation today. The stories in this book are ones of hope, love, courage, bravery, and overcoming adversity. They are happy, sad, and inspiring. I enjoyed reading about those people that everyone has known or heard of, all the way to those people who go unheard and unspoken of. Tom Brokaw did a wonderful job capturing all aspects of World War II from the men in the middle of the battle, to the women fighting their own battles at home. Only time can tell how recent wars could potentially transform our generation into one similar to "The Greatest."
on December 7, 2003
The Greatest Generation by Tom Brokaw is a compelling novel with great significance to the men and women serving our country during World War Two. These brave men and women suffered through the Great Depression and yet somehow brought with them enough courage to give us the world we are living in today. In their hearts they knew what needed to be done and not a single soul held back from it. When reading the Greatest Generation you will come across people of different races, religion, and different societies. You will relive with famous people, ordinary people, and heroes that put their lives on the line during that time era. These American citizens were trained through their hearts day after day only to come across one of the worst battles history has ever known.
You will men such as Lloyd Kilmer, an aviation cadet, who was assigned to the 448 Bomb group. Or you will meet a man by the name of Gorden Larsen who would spend most of his life trying to put the war behind him and forget it. Women also played a major role in combat. One woman, Margaret Roy Ringenberg, was part of the WASP's and excelled in military aircraft. She gave flying lessons to others who admitted she was a far better trainer than any other instructor they had learned from.
When serving in World War Two the famous George Bush learned a lot about life. He was curiously inarticulate about the defining moments of the war. He considers his years as a navy combat flyer an extremely important part of his life's experiences. These people mentioned are only a few talked about in this book of remembrance, achievement, honor, and courage.
I enjoyed this book very much. I learned much detail about the war that I had never knew existed before this novel. These brave men and women have achieved so much in their life and I loved learning about each and every one of them. I look up to them for their accomplishments and have learned that the generation of World War Two was unlike any other.
on August 13, 2003
A recent storm in Memphis, TN knocked my power out for 6 days. How fitting that during this period of no air conditioning, Satellite Television or DVDs, one of the books I selected to read was The Greatest Generation. As one generation removed from a family raised on a farm in Missouri, I'm very familiar with the work ethic of my grandparents born around the turn of the century.
This book was spectacular! Brokaw weaves his descriptions of what the influences of this generation were, mainly the Depression, with their stories of the war, but also their stories of coming back home and how they lived their lives. Now that they had rescued the world from a tyrant, they came back to America and built a new country filled with conveniences not previously imagined by our rural population.
Brokaw does a good job of covering the many different factions of the generation, not just the soldiers. After covering stories of soldiers, he switches gears and covers stories of the women left behind in America and what their lives were like. He also spent a great deal of time covering minorities such as African-American, native Indians, Hispanic, and Japanese Americans. These are fascinating stories and allow the reader to visualize the problems these minorities faced and how they overcame adversity.
The most touching chapter for me was the stories of the two girls that married and the husbands immediately were shipped overseas. Both ladies had babies that never met their father. Some of the chapters are just OK but some may bring you to tears as it did me. When I reached one of the final chapters that was titled "Famous People" it felt inappropriate to read this like these "famous people" needed a special chapter when the previous chapters had clearly shown the ultimate sacrifices made by real Americans. I debated stopping right there. After a day, I picked the book back up and read through this section and I'm glad I did even though I didn't find these stories as touching. Some of these people had excellent stories of valor also and the fact they are famous should not be held against them as they sacrificed also. And that is the theme of this book; a generation that made the ultimate sacrifice so that the remainder of us could live excellent lives.
The fact that this generation of soldiers felt no need to come back and brag about their exploits is really amazing given the "me" first environment we now find ourselves in. My father-in-law passed away this year and he never mentioned the war although I was aware he was twice wounded in the European effort. So, knowing his days were numbered, I brought the subject up one day in front of his family. He had no problem talking of his exploits but it was really unfulfilling how he described it. It was no longer a big event to him. Just something that happened a long time ago. He was much more interested in the latest football game on television or the four children he raised while working in a blue-collar job.
READ THIS BOOK IF YOU ARE PROUD TO BE AN AMERICAN! Recognize the responsibility we have to live to this great standard.
Addendum: After rereading some of the negative reviews on this book I'm compelled to at least mention them. It seems the negative reviews fall into journalistic complaints, political dislikes for Brokaw, or jealousy that their generation was not honored. I was actually surprised by the venom directed a the book and there are substantial reviews like this. It does not change my opinion although I certainly honor their beliefs. True, he is not the best writer. But I did not let that limit my emotional attachment to the sacrifices made for some of these people. One writer mentioned watching Saving Private Ryan instead. I have watched that movie repeatedly and feel it is an artistic masterpiece of reflecting the brutality of war.
I don't think Brokaw was trying to compare generations. He's just saying that what this generation was called on to do, ie, depression followed by a World War, is deserved of an honor. I am a 49 year old boomer. I do not believe that our generation would be as dedicated to the task although there are massive numbers that would are still there. I'm certainly happy to admit that I'm glad I did not have to fight this type war.
I respect everyone's opinion but still felt thrilled to read about the sacrifices made for later generations. I hope to visit Normandy soon and maybe in some way honor this great sacrifice.
on February 22, 2003
Tom Brokaw's "The Greatest Generation" tells the story of ordinary Americans coping with an extraordinary time. Their collective ability to overcome the difficulties presented by the Second World War and the subsequent challenges they faced after the war left an indelible impression on Brokaw. And it will do the same to you.
The stories of all kinds of Americans are here: both overseas and on the home front, men and women, white and black (and Japanese) - showing the effort put forth by this generation was truly a "group effort," and establishing them as a generation worthy of taking its place among the others in American history.
As opposed to other reviewers, I don't get the impression that Brokaw was trying to discredit those that came either before or after this particular time in history. Rather, Brokaw makes the case that, because of the battle with Fascism the "free world" was facing at the time, the hardships endured and sacrifices made by these people held greater significance than perhaps ever before (or since). For if these people failed, and Fascism prevailed, what would be the state of the world today?
It is not just the later US generations that should be thankful to them, but rather all peoples around the world who owe a debt of gratitude to these remarkable men and women. The tremendous fortitude that enabled them (along with all those around the globe engaged in the struggle) to withstand the destructive dictatorships bent on world domination is legendary and not to be forgotten.
on January 20, 2003
When I finally did get around to reading this huge bestseller, I was met with pretty much what I had expected...a breezy, movie-like collection of WWII memories. What this 35-year old gets from Mr. Brokaw's book is that the generation that fought World War II was more honest, harder-working, more dedicatated to their spouses, and more blindly patriotic than succeeding generations. I wouldn't wish to ever take anything away from those that defeated fascism in the 1940s, but this book pushes a near-utopian view of mid-20th century American values that's hard to swallow. It seems to suffer from two key problems: a selective bias as to what kind of biographes Brokaw would include, and an unwillingness to possibly offend the generation being profiled.
If this book was all that you ever read about the WWII-generation, you could be forgiven for thinking that veterans never suffered from crushing emotional problems, alcoholism, unemployment or broken marriages. Negative stories of this kind are mostly swept aside in favor of those that fit in with a Hollywood "happily ever after" notion of post-war America in which the high school sweetheart always waited faithfully for her man to return home. While this scenario clearly hapened many times, it's ridiculous to paint an entire generation with this simple broad brush. Even Hollywood movies made during this generation's heyday were more honest. Take a look at "The Best Years of Our Lives", made in 1946.
In a way, it's almost a disservice to treat this generation in such a shallow format. Most of the people profiled are given a mere two or three pages to render an entire life's history. Clearly, too short a space in which to deal with complex societal issues, but a length that's just right if all you're going to do is reenforce simple notions of duty, honor and country.
I really think that Brokaw's heart was in the right place. He clearly wanted to give these folks their just due, but his effort is far from hard-hitting or completely honest.