Given their central role in recent history, baby boomers figure prominently in many of the most important and illuminating books about postwar America. Here are 10 volumes that I found of particular interest.—J.Z.
Terry H. Anderson
The Movement and the Sixties: Protest in America From Greensboro to Wounded Knee (Oxford, 1995). Anderson, a Vietnam veteran and history professor at Texas A&M University, presents a comprehensive and balanced portrait of boomer-generation activism in the 1960s that avoids both the triumphal and condemnatory posturing typical of other works on this subject.
An American Requiem: God, My Father, and the War That Came Between Us (Houghton Mifflin, 1996). Though Carroll, a former priest and anti-war activist, was born in 1943, just barely missing the arbitrary jump-off for the baby boom, his memoir of growing up in the postwar years and coming to political consciousness during the Vietnam War era is a vital contribution to boomer literature.
Steve M. Gillon
Boomer Nation: The Largest and Richest Generation Ever and How It Changed America (The Free Press, 2004). In this engaging and informative book—written for a popular audience but with a professional’s touch—Steve Gillon, of the University of Oklahoma and the History Channel, weaves together several lives to present a sweeping history of an entire generation.
The Children (Random House, 1998). Though almost 800 pages in length, Halberstam’s history of the young black men and women who formed the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee and other organizations fighting for civil rights in the 1960s provides an exciting and accessible narrative of the boomer generation’s most committed shock troops for justice.
James T. Patterson
Grand Expectations: The United States, 1945–1974 (Oxford, 1996) and Restless Giant: The United States From Watergate to Bush v. Gore (Oxford, 2005). A Bancroft Prize winner and professor emeritus at Brown University, Patterson has written the definitive two-volume history of America in the Cold War era. His work is essential for understanding the environment in which the boomers were raised and in which they grew to adulthood.
Backlash: The Undeclared War Against American Women (Crown, 1991) and Stiffed: The Betrayal of the American Man (William Morrow and Co., 1999). A prizewinning journalist and writer, Faludi has written two must-read volumes on the culture and politics of gender in recent American history. Her works are implicitly about the country the boomers inherited and made.
The Long Gray Line: The American Journey of West Point’s Class of 1966 (Houghton Mifflin, 1999). Atkinson, a Pulitzer Prize–winning journalist, presents a rich and complicated portrait of some of the first boomers to graduate from the U.S. Military Academy. As essential as understanding those boomers who protested the Vietnam War is appreciating those who fought it.
The Corrections (Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 2001). Most boomer literature focuses on the children of the 1960s, ignoring the younger half of the cohort that came of age in the 1970s and 1980s. Franzen’s celebrated novel addresses this imbalance and offers a painfully honest glimpse at younger boomers approaching middle age.