Friday, June 2, 2023

The Aftermath by Philip Bump - Book Review

Philip Bump has written an interesting and important book for anyone living in contemporary America who wonders why and how we got to the state we're in, as well as what the long-term future might look like. Most of us living in 2023 are aware, more or less, of what's going on in politics, lifestyle, entertainment, and every other element of contemporary society. We look at today's children, young marrieds, middle-aged people, and the elderly, trying to figure out how they have come to be the kind of people they are. If you're young, you might wonder how those middle aged people you know seem to have accumulated so much, or you might think their taste in music, television, and activities are somehow out of step with what you grew up hearing, watching and doing. If you're a member of my generation, labeled The Silent Generation, those of us born between 1928 and 1945, you might see us as completely out of touch with reality, while we might see you as rude, self-indulgent, and irresponsible. But the greatest influence during the past century and long into the future, according to Bump, is the group born between 1946 and 1964, the largest, and seemingly most influential,  generation in American history.

Whether you perceive the Baby Boomers as young upstarts who pushed aside as they became the most powerful group in the country, or, if you're younger than they are, the group that's keeping you from reaching your full potential or continues to insist on all the attention you think you're ready to assume, the Boomers simply cannot be ignored. Bump details their influences in a usually highly readable text accompanied by way too many charts and graphs demonstrating their influence and standing in relationship to the other age cohorts in America. 

Bump's data comes largely from research studies he makes clear and understandable and a large number of interviews of academics and other writers who have written about economic, social, and cultural aspects affecting life in America. His narrative particularly focuses on issues of race, social class, education, and culture as our country slowly, but inevitably, changes through time and each succeeding generation's reaction to the ones that came before influencing their lives. 

While not a scholarly work, The Aftermath relies on the work of many scholars and serious data collectors. This is both a strength and a flaw in this book. While the narrative is clear and explains much of the data presented, at times the amount of data is hard to digest into concepts making real sense. Another issue, for me, was the sparse coverage of the roll of labor unions and organized labor in the rise and fall of the economy, as well as the welfare of middle-class non-college educated men and women in the labor force. Nevertheless, the decline in college enrollments, as well as the increase in elderly reliance on social programs and generous retirement plans to clearly meet the needs of age cohorts following the Boomers. This book seeks to answer many of these kinds of issues and, for the most part, succeeds in pointing the way towards greater understanding. 

Philip Bump

Philip Bump is a columnist for The Washington Post based in New York. He writes the weekly newsletter How To Read This Chart. 

 I read The Aftermath: The Last Days of the Baby Boom and the Future of America in a hardback edition published by Random House, it is also available from in Hardback, paperback or Kindle editions.