<B>Talkin' bout his Baby Boom generation</B>Because they grew up in an age in which media particularly network television connected them with a common diet of images and attitudes, members of the Baby Boom are more aware of themselves as a distinct group than any preceding generation. They are more self-absorbed, too, Steve Gillon contends in <B>Boomer Nation: The Largest and Richest Generation Ever, and How It Changed America</B> (Free Press, $27.50, 384 pages, ISBN 0743229479). A former Yale and Oxford professor and currently a professor of history at the University of Oklahoma, the author includes within this much-anatomized populace those who were born between 1946 and 1964 a horde that now accounts for 39 percent of Americans over the age of 18 and 29 percent of the total population.
Gillon, who also hosts the weekly public affairs show <I>History Center</I> on A&andE's History Channel, weaves his study around representative Boomers. They are Bobby Muller, a severely wounded vet who helped found the Vietnam Veterans of America advocacy group; Fran Visco, a Philadelphia lawyer who turned her own battle with breast cancer into a national crusade; Elizabeth Platter-Zyberk, an architect with strong ideas of how communities should be designed for social good; Marshall Herskovitz, co-creator of the Boomer-based TV series, "thirtysomething"; Alberta Haile Wilson, a black activist turned religious fundamentalist turned teacher; and Donny Deutsch, whose advertising agency excelled at speaking the language of his generation. Raised amid rising national prosperity and the mood of self-confidence it nurtured, Boomers display certain common values, according to Gillon, among which are a sense of entitlement, willingness to experiment, distrust of authority, self-reliance, internal motivation, idealism and a preference for doing things their own way. When these values were brought to bear in the 1960s and '70s, they helped achieve civil rights for minorities and women, create greater social and economic justice and end the Vietnam War. But, the author argues, these impulses were not always progressive. They also gave rise, in many instances, to religious fundamentalism and fiscal conservatism, both logical extensions of the group's deeply entrenched go-your-own-way ethic. "The Boomer ascendancy," Gillon writes, "contributed to the shattering of the New Deal coalition, the end of the solid Democratic South, and the rise of ticket-splitting independents."As Gillon traces the six Boomers through their life trajectories, he examines how family, school, jobs and media converged to shape their outlook and how this outlook, in turn, has forced them to assess their own degree of worth and success. Predictably, some major contradictions emerge. "Baby Boomers want less government," he says, "but they also want Washington to find jobs for everyone who wants to work. They want government to do more for the poor, but not expand welfare. They want it all: new social programs, lower taxes, and a balanced budget. The gap between what they expect of government and what they are willing to pay for it mirrors what they expect of themselves compared to what they achieve."On June 13, A&andE will broadcast its documentary version of <B>Boomer Nation</B>, a program that also features Gillon's six representative Boomers. The film will begin with the pivotal question, "Where were you on November 22, 1963," a reference, of course, to the day President Kennedy was assassinated. While many Boomers are close to retirement, they are still vital enough, rich enough and determined enough, Gillon shows, to affect the nation's social policies for years to come. <I>Edward Morris reviews from Nashville.</I>