The Baby Boom: How it Got That Way (and it wasn’t my fault) (and I’ll never do it again) by: P.J. O’Rourke
290pp.: Atlantic Monthly Press, 2014
Reviewed by: Angela MacLeod Irons
It feels rather ironic that I have been asked to review P.J. O’Rourke’s new book, The Baby Boom: How it Got That Way (and it wasn’t my fault) (and I’ll never do it again), as I am not a member of this epic generation. Actually, I don’t really belong to any generation, being born during the lost years between Generation X and the Millennials. I have never quite related to the Gen X’ers who came before me, who were originally defined as slackers and have since developed, as a group, a somewhat alarming obsession with microbreweries (I’ll just have a Keith’s, thanks). I also grew up largely without the technology that has thus far shaped the worldview of the Millennials – I didn’t have Internet access at home until I was 18, and I purchased my first cellphone at the ripe old age of 24. However, on more than one occasion, I have thanked the powers that be that there were no cellphone cameras or Facebook pages when I was going through my own version of young and stupid. I pray that any photographic evidence of that period is languishing in a box in someone’s basement, never again to see the light of day.
Therefore, it was with a bit of skepticism that I sat down to read O’Rourke’s attempt at a memoir for an entire generation. And not just any generation, but the Baby Boom. The generation that put its mark on the world more than any other single generation that came before it.
O’Rourke’s book attempts to weave the coming-of-age tale of not just a single individual, but of 75 million Americans, born up to 20 years apart. In order to make sense of it all, O’Rourke divides Boomers up as they do in high school – Seniors, Juniors, Sophomores and Freshmen. In some cases, the Seniors are actually the parents of the Freshmen – although perhaps that was not always planned out in advance.
Those who are already fans of O’Rourke’s writing are apt to enjoy the dry wit and tongue-in-cheek humour, but at times the story seems to meander along without much in the way of direction or goal. From the title alone, I expected more introspection, perhaps more commentary on how the world has changed because of the spike in the birth rate that occurred after World War II. What I got instead was a large number of anecdotes and cute little stories about riding your bike until the street lights come on or going to a Homecoming Dance. If you are in the mood for pithy political commentary, this is not the book for you.
That being said, this may still be a pleasant read for Baby Boomers themselves, who would enjoy taking time to reflect on the “good old days.” That is, as long as you are Caucasian and grew up in a middle-class suburb. If you don’t fit that description, it is highly likely that you had a much different experience than Mr. O’Rourke did. All of the stories are told by the ubiquitous “we,” although in the preface O’Rourke acknowledges that the tales are all characterizations, conglomerations or completely “full of crap.”
The one major take away I got from this book was O’Rourke’s focus on how narcissistic and self-centered Baby Boomers were (and are) – the very state of solipsism that Millennials are more typically accused of these days. Baby Boomers just didn’t have access to Twitter. I guess the more things change, the more they really do stay the same.
At the end of the day, this tome is not to be taken as a serious dissertation – it is shelved in Humour, after all – but I was still expecting something more. It attempted to be both comedic and informative, and in my opinion fell somewhat short on both counts. However, I still think it is a worthwhile read for those who have enjoyed O’Rourke’s other works, or for anyone who would like a light-hearted walk down memory lane. It is entirely possible that I have just completely missed the point – I am not exactly the target demographic, after all.
Angela MacLeod Irons is an Alberta-based public policy analyst and researcher. She holds a Masters degree from the University of Calgary’s School of Public Policy. Her work has been published by the Manning Foundation for Democratic Education, C2C Journal and the National Post. In her spare time she manages a bookstore in Calgary.