ENTREPRENEUR OF THE MONTH: TOM BROKAW
By Hope Gibbs
“What happened to the America I thought I knew?” asks respected broadcast journalist Tom Brokaw in his new book, The Time of Our Lives.
With this sixth title he has penned since leaving the anchor seat of NBC Nightly News in 2004, Brokaw says he is determined to have a conversation about America with the people who can make a difference in setting her course. The author describes this tome as a discussion about “who we are, where we’ve been, and where we need to go now, to recapture the American dream.”
And Brokaw, whose previous bestsellers include, “The Greatest Generation,” “A Long Way From Home,” and “Boom!” insists that he is not the only one who is worried about the future of America.
“Wherever I go I am asked, ‘What has happened to us? Have we lost our way? Will our children and grandchildren have better lives than we do? Is that essential part of the American dream disappearing?’ I believe it is time for an American conversation about legacy and destiny.”
Brokaw wants to know: “Have we simply wandered off course—but only temporarily?” To find that answer, he encourages Americans to reflect on where we have been and how we are going to move forward together, and to do it with more listening and less shouting.
Mostly, he wants all generations to consider how we will respond—now and going forward—“to the manifest challenges facing all of us in the brief time we have on this precious planet.”
Brokaw asks: “Have we allowed ourselves to be so divided that we’re easy prey for hijackers who could steer us to a crash landing?”
Brokaw realizes that he can’t separate his beliefs and worldview from his past experiences or upbringing. Rooted in the lessons and verities of generations past, and of his South Dakota upbringing, Brokaw knows that he is a child of a generation that is steeped in specific values and expectations.
In his view, the key to having a successful future is to foster a rebirth of family, community, and civic engagement as profound as the one that won World War II, built our postwar prosperity, and ushered in the Civil Rights era.
As a result, in “The Time of Our Lives,” he traces the changes in modern life—in values, education, public service, housing, the Internet, and more—that have transformed our society in the decades since the “age of thrift,” in which he was raised.
Throughout the book, he weaves together dozens of stories of Americans who he believes are achieving the American dream. “The Time of Our Lives” is also a history lesson, as told through the eyes of a highly experienced journalist, who began his career in 1962, “when America was investing in a new generation of leadership and promise. … I couldn’t wait to be part of it all.”
Fast forward to June 5, 2009. A half-century later, Brokaw writes, “it is a much different world, and I am a weathered survivor of the rearranged American landscape.” And so he begins the book at the moment in time when he found himself “at the intersection of history, and my life, while on assignment in Europe.
“It was a cloudy day with intermittent rain showers,” he writes in Chapter 1, “and I was standing on the terrace of the Royal Palace in Dresden, Germany, awaiting the arrival of the young president of the United States, Barack Obama, for a Today show and Nightly News interview.
“Mentally, I reviewed the loose ends of my appointment: What should I ask about his upcoming visit to the notorious Nazi concentration camp Buchenwald? How would he compare his challenges as president with those of FDR during the Great Depression and World War II? What did he plan for his speech the next morning, at the 65th anniversary of the Normandy invasion? But now I was with a young president who would face his own tests of vision, courage, and political acumen in the 21st century.
“President Obama arrived right on schedule. He strolled with his easy athletic gait along the walkway of the magnificent baroque building, past the priceless porcelain vases collected by Saxony kings, and gave me a soft shout-out. ‘Hey, Brokaw—we’re here.’”
Brokaw goes on to discuss the challenges faced by President Obama in the two years following that interview, including rising unemployment, the Tea Party, China, and India, and the continued involvement of the United States in the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan.
“We’ve experienced grave crises before, but never so many all at once representing such a wide range of disastrous possibilities: the new world DIS-order,” Brokaw insists on page 15. “None of us has all the answers, but so many of the problems are self-evident that we should begin by first addressing those that threaten our core values: political pluralism, broad-based economic opportunity, national security secured by means other than the barrel of a gun, and cultural and religious tolerance.”
What is the first step? Brokaw calls us to action when he writes, “What better time than now, when we’ve been through the searing, frightening experience of a historic economic setback? What better time than now, when our principal political, economic, and cultural competitors are expanding at a breathtaking pace, especially in educating their young for the demands of a new age.”
“As time goes by,” he fears, “we’ll have fewer ideal opportunities to reignite the American dream and face the territory ahead with a renewed sense of who we are, where we’ve been, and where we’re determined to go.”
And so, his 18-chapter book is a guide to help Americans reclaim this ideal. He divides it into four parts: Getting the Fundamentals Right, Assignment America, Help Me Make It Through This New Age Dot-Com, and “What Now, Grandma and Grandpa?”
Within those sections are chapters, each of which begins with a fact and a question, followed by an analysis of the topic through the lens of “the present,” “the past,” and “the promise.” Most poignant, perhaps, is Chapter 18, entitled, “September of my years.” Brokaw writes, “For so long, the autumn of my years seemed to be a distant season. But now, inexorably, that season is upon me. While like everyone I’d like to put time back on the clock of my life, I have no rational reason to wish for a reset.
“Rather, my short and long objectives are to make the most of the time remaining, and to get through the autumn with grace, compassion, and always a commitment to leaving the world a little better place for family, and everyone.” [The book can be bought at Amazon.com.]
So what does it take to be a “Great Generation?“—or maybe just a great generation? “Tom Brokaw’s works celebrating the GI Generation is a real tribute to civic-mindedness, and the spirit of honor,” explain Morley Winograd and Mike Hais, the authors of our November Book of the Month, Millennium Momentum.
“We believe that America’s next great generation will be the Millennials, born 1982-2003, for they will contribute just as much as their great grandparents did, and will build an even more successful future for this country.”
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