Review: Helen Andrews’ new book ‘Boomers’

Rowan Wise reviews Helen Andrews’ new book ‘Boomers: The Men and Women Who Promised Freedom and Delivered Disaster’ examines the lives – often complex and contradictory – of this ‘Boomer’ generation born following the end of the Second World War.

This is a good read for any conservative, and liberal, in the New Year. Hailed by The Spectator’s Freddie Gray as a must read, Helen Andrews tackles the life and times of the Boomer generation. The Boomers are, broadly speaking, our parents generation: babies born in the Boom years after the Second World War. This was the generation that presided over some of the most era defining events of the second half of the twentieth century. From the sexual revolution of the 60s, the globalisation of the 80s and the ‘third way’ of the 90s the Boomers were there.

Andrews bases her book on Lytton Strachey’s ‘Imminent Victorians’, published in 1918. Strachey, for those who aren’t familiar with his work, chose a handful of Victorian heroes (Charles Gordon and Florence Nightingale for example) and proceeded to wreck havoc on their reputations. As Andrews notes Strachey’s acrimony was rarely based in any factual analysis, which incidentally the man himself freely owned up to, but rather out of a taste for sensational copy which arrived at the perfect moment in a market whose readers were sick and tired of establishment figures in the aftermath of the First World War. Andrews book does for the Boomers what Strachey did for the Victorians. The difference, Andrews notes, is that by the time Strachey’s book was published all the Victorian titans he had discussed were dead but the Boomers are still very much alive. Here is where some of the problems with this book begin. Readers, liberal and conservative, will take this stance with a pinch of salt and for good reason as being spiteful about the elder generation is not a good look. Andrews is not being entirely serious here but this old style hectoring does return to haunt the text later on.

Andrews raises some very prescient points during her discussion of the Boomers she selects to profile, including Steve Jobs, Aaron Sorkin, Camille Paglia, Jeffrey Sachs, Al Sharpton and Sonya Sotomayor. The trend of revolution and raging against the establishment, one of the Boomers most tiresome characteristics to long suffering conservatives like myself, is shown in the harsh light of reality to be riddled with hypocrisy. No less interesting is her refutation of the now barely challenged notion that the late 60s obsession with rights and identity based politics was some sort of golden era. There is good use of facts to reinforce these contentions, an example being how the American feminist ‘liberation’ movement ended up making women worse off than their greatest generation mothers.

Andrews recalls that Feminine Mystique author Betty Friedan was a member of the Communist Party of America before realising that this prickly fact would eat into her book sales. Gloria Steinem’s reputation today as a sort of god like figure in ‘women’s liberation’ is more or less unchallenged; a recent BBC series lionised both Steinem and Friedan. Yet Andrews reveals that Steinem was an extraordinary egoist whose politics were nothing more than an outpouring of juvenile anguish from a broken family upbringing, the result of having a wastrel for a father. At some points Andrews does resort to drum beating for her conservative audience, a good example being her sermon on the ills of television which comes off as new age Mary Whitehouse, but seeing past this the liberal reader should find plenty of room for appreciating a critical angle on the hitherto unchallenged legacy of figures like Steinem.

Further evidence that Andrews book is not just Strachey for the Boomers comes in the form of her nuanced discussion of Steve Jobs. The notion that the Boomers legacy is only one of destroying traditions and norms is challenged by Jobs, whose legacy is one of creation. Interestingly Jobs, well placed to join his fellow Boomers in espousing more liberal ideals, deviated from this path by stepping back from accepting cheap Chinese manufacture for his product and even meditating on the wisdom of a high technological future for humanity. Jobs was an independent thinker and that independence was replaced by full on ‘wokedom’ after he left Apple, the company now has the full panoply of diversity and inclusion departments replete with a yearly report on the subject.

“This notion that one type of music is inferior to another is quite simply academic snobbery and in my estimation airing such extraneous grievances undermines the many worthy arguments that the author makes.”

Rowan Wise

Andrews tends to hark on about what are, in most liberal and conservative opinion, irrelevancies; for example she argues that the Boomers were the first generation to not ‘grow up’ musically as they still look back fondly on the ‘childish’ popular music of their youth. This notion that one type of music is inferior to another is quite simply academic snobbery and in my estimation airing such extraneous grievances undermines the many worthy arguments that the author makes. Altogether this book is worth reading; it will make you smile at points, shake your head at others and roll your eyes as well! For its shortcomings important points are made here about the increasing commercialisation of our personal lives and the ever more prominent role cheap products play in shaping our society. These are just a few of the important philosophical questions discussed. As to what degree the Boomers are responsible for the western world’s ills is up for debate but Andrews makes a good start.

Hailed by Freddie Gray of The Spectator as a must read, Helen Andrews tackles the life and times of the Boomer generation. The Boomers are, broadly speaking, our parents generation: babies born in the Boom years after the Second World War. This was the generation that presided over some of the most era defining events of the second half of the twentieth century. From the sexual revolution of the 60s, the globalisation of the 80s and the ‘third way’ of the 90s, the Boomers were there.

Defining days in the generation of the Boomers: From the sexual revolution of the 60s, the globalisation of the 80s and the ‘third way’ of the 90s, the Boomers were there. IBT

Andrews bases her book on Lytton Strachey’s ‘Imminent Victorians’, published in 1918. Strachey, for those who aren’t familiar with his work, chose a handful of Victorian heroes (Charles Gordon and Florence Nightingale for example) and proceeded to wreck havoc on their reputations. As Andrews notes Strachey’s acrimony was rarely based in any factual analysis, which incidentally the man himself freely owned up to, but rather out of a taste for sensational copy which arrived at the perfect moment in a market whose readers were sick and tired of establishment figures in the aftermath of the First World War. Andrews book does for the Boomers what Strachey did for the Victorians. The difference, Andrews notes, is that by the time Strachey’s book was published all the Victorian titans he had discussed were dead but the Boomers are still very much alive. Here is where some of the problems with this book begin. Readers, liberal and conservative, will take this stance with a pinch of salt and for good reason as being spiteful about the elder generation is not a good look. Andrews is not being entirely serious here but this old style hectoring does return to haunt the text later on.

Andrews raises some very prescient points during her discussion of the Boomers she selects to profile, including Steve Jobs, Aaron Sorkin, Camille Paglia, Jeffrey Sachs, Al Sharpton and Sonya Sotomayor. The trend of revolution and raging against the establishment, one of the Boomers most tiresome characteristics to us long suffering conservatives, is shown in the harsh light of reality to be riddled with hypocrisy. No less interesting is her refutation of the now barely challenged notion that the late 60s obsession with rights and identity based politics was some sort of golden era. There is good use of facts to reinforce these contentions, an example being that the feminist ‘liberation’ of women ended up making them worse off than their greatest generation mothers.

Andrews recalls that Feminine Mystique author Betty Friedan was a member of the Communist Party of America before realising that this prickly fact would eat into her book sales. Gloria Steinem’s reputation today as a sort of god like figure in ‘women’s liberation’ is more or less unchallenged; a recent BBC series lionised both Steinem and Friedan. Yet Andrews reveals that Steinem was an extraordinary egoist whose politics were nothing more than an outpouring of juvenile anguish from a broken family upbringing, the result of having a wastrel for a father. At some points Andrews does resort to drum beating for her conservative audience, a good example being her sermon on the ills of television which comes off as new age Mary Whitehouse, but seeing past this the liberal reader should find plenty of room for appreciating a critical angle on the hitherto unchallenged legacy of figures like Steinem.

Further evidence that Andrews book is not just Strachey for the Boomers comes in the form of her nuanced discussion of Steve Jobs. The notion that the Boomers legacy is only one of destroying traditions and norms is challenged by Jobs, whose legacy is one of creation. Interestingly Jobs, well placed to join his fellow Boomers in espousing more liberal ideals, deviated from this path by stepping back from accepting cheap Chinese manufacture for his product and even meditating on the wisdom of a high technological future for humanity. Jobs was an independent thinker and that independence was replaced by full on ‘wokedom’ after he left Apple, the company now has the full panoply of diversity and inclusion departments replete with a yearly report on the subject.

Andrews does hark on about what are, in most liberal and conservative opinion, irrelevancies; for example she argues that the Boomers were the first generation to not ‘grow up’ musically as they still look back fondly on the ‘childish’ popular music of their youth. This notion that one type of music is inferior to another is quite simply academic snobbery and in my estimation airing such extraneous grievances undermines the many worthy arguments that the author makes. Altogether this book is worth reading; it will make you smile at points, shake your head at others and roll your eyes as well! For its shortcomings important points are made here about the increasing commercialisation of our personal lives and the ever more prominent role cheap products play in shaping our society. These are just a few of the important philosophical questions discussed. As to what degree the Boomers are responsible for the western world’s ills is up for debate but Andrews makes a good start.


You can purchase Helen Andrews’ new book, published by Penguin Random House, online from £16.99.

Published by The Gown Queen's University Belfast

The Gown has provided respected, quality and independent student journalism from Queen's University, Belfast since its 1955 foundation, by Dr. Richard Herman. Having had an illustrious line of journalists and writers for almost 70 years, that proud history is extremely important to us. The Gown is consistent in its quest to seek and develop the talents of aspiring student writers.

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