“What happened to the America I knew?” writes Tom Brokaw in his new book, The Time of Our Lives: A Conversation About America. According to Brokaw, our nation is challenged by political partisanship, environmental degradation and, thanks to technology, rapid-fire and sometimes shallow social connections. Rather than a lament, however, Brokaw has written a hopeful volume, providing insightful analysis as well as a call to action. “What follows,” he writes in the preface, “are the observations, hopes, memories, and suggestions of a child of the twentieth century . . . with some observations on how we might realize the great promise of a future that would benefit us all.”

In The Time of Our Lives, Brokaw dissects such issues as education, public service, the 2008 recession and the Internet explosion. Along with his own analysis, Brokaw weaves in memories of his South Dakota childhood and his experiences covering major events of the last half of the 20th century. He’s not a policy wonk, but a seasoned journalist who still respects the values of hard work, integrity, thrift and generosity demonstrated by his Midwestern parents and grandparents. He asks, as America’s place in the world shifts and our society changes, will we still retain the character necessary to be a great nation?

Brokaw tells his own story, but he also tells the stories of the Americans he has met in his travels across the country. Some of these stories are heartbreaking, others inspiring. They all illustrate both the problems and the solutions citizens are grappling with as they navigate difficult economic times. By putting human faces on these issues, Brokaw reminds us that statistics about unemployment, foreclosures and failing schools represent real people.

“Do we have the will to restore a sense of national purpose that unites us rather than divides us?” he inquires. “Shouldn’t we take a realistic inventory of our strengths, needs, objectives, and challenges as we head into a new century in a changed world?” Tom Brokaw hopes his new book will start that discussion.

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