"The Time of Our Lives" is 2011 book by Tom Brokaw describing the recent history and present challenges of the United States of America. Much of the book is autobiographical, drawing on Brokaw's own experiences growing up in South Dakota, along with stories and anecdotes about life in modern America, from the political to the sociological.

On one hand, the book seems to be an earnest attempt to deal with important problems, and the importance that Brokaw places on the American character as a solution to American problems is truly heartening. It is really hard to fault someone for such impassioned pleas.

On the other hand, there is almost nothing original in this book at all. American students are falling behind, but impassioned teachers are working to save them. Older workers are falling behind in job skills, but innovative programs are adjusting them to the new economy. Returning veterans are having trouble returning to civilian life, but dedicated organizations are trying to help. Every situation that Brokaw presents is one that we are already aware of, and while the solutions he presents --- community organizations, visionary philanthropists, and common folks showing common decency --- are all important, I made it through the book's 273 pages without encountering any important new ideas.

If I could sum up the book in a quote, it would be his one, on the importance of using technology in moderation:

These new tools must be an extension of our hearts and minds as well as our thumbs and impulses.
While this is certainly true, it is also a truism, a generic piece of advice that doesn't really help us. The book is sprinkled with many such glibly stated truisms.

I don't know if this is a reflection on Brokaw himself: he may have wanted to write a more detailed and nuanced book, but decided to keep it in broad strokes for a general audience. But in any case, while this is a fine book, I can't really say that I learned anything new from it.

The Time of Our Lives
Tom Brokaw
Random House

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