Excerpted from Boom! by Tom Brokaw. Copyright © 2007 by Tom Brokaw. Excerpted by permission of Random House Trade Paperbacks, a division of Random House LLC. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
1. Boom! stages a virtual class reunion of the Sixties generation. As Tom Brokaw observes, "Reunions are funny things. Not everyone chooses to attend them" (xxiii). Some people turn up, some do not. Which voices in the book resonated deeply with your own experience? Who else might have been included in your version of a 1960s reunion?
2. Tom Brokaw believes we will not "crack the code" of the Sixties for some time. Why do you think this is true? What about the Sixties generation makes it a particularly enigmatic decade to figure out?
3. Representative John Lewis laments the permanence of race and poverty in American life and says: "There have been unbelievable changes for the better in politics and in the economy. But back in the Sixties, people had a sense of hope. I think we've lost that" (54). Do you agree that Americans, and specifically black Americans, are less hopeful than in decades past?
4. Consider activist and politician Tom Hayden's proposition: “There’s a big ‘what if’ over the Sixties. . . . Who knows what would have happened if King and Kennedy were alive?” (33) How might the country have been transformed? What would be different today?
5. In Boom!, former president Bill Clinton says: "If you thought something good came out of the Sixties, you're probably a Democrat; if you thought the Sixties were bad, you're probably a Republican" (xvi). Do you agree? Could a similar statement be made of today's generation and political landscape, or would the opposite be true?
6. Tom Brokaw's first and most autobiographical chapter, "A Loss of Innocence," relates his personal journey through the 1960s. If you were writing a memoir of your own experience of this pivotal time, what title would your story have and why?
7. Some see the war in Iraq as a second Vietnam. Former Marine Ron Armella says, “Those of us who were in Vietnam know it’s the same damn scenario. For a time we thought we were never going to get out of Vietnam; now I don’t know if we’ll ever get out of Iraq. It is such a parallel” (469). Assess the similarities and differences between the two wars, generational politics, and the country's attitudes then and now. How much has changed? How much has remained the same? Have we embraced the lessons of the Vietnam War?
8. In "A Woman's Place," writer Nora Ephron comments that “there is no women’s movement today” (203). Do you agree? What advances did women make in the 1960s and what issues are yet to be resolved? Gloria Steinem admits that she didn't anticipate that "after decades, [gender equality] would still be unrealized" (207). With so much work left to do, who is a voice for women in today's culture, and what is at stake? Discuss also Senator Hillary Clinton's 2008 presidential campaign; is this evidence of a huge step forward for women, or of a long way still to go?
9. To some, the Sixties generation is synonymous with sex, drugs, and rock and roll. To others, it was a time of great patriotism and serious conflict. What did the 1960s mean for you, or for your parents?
10. Some of the most compelling stories in Boom! come from ordinary citizens far from the public spotlight, such as Tom and Nellie Coakley in "A Place Called Vietnam" or Charlene Priester and Ouida Atkins in "A Dream Fulfilled and a Dream Deferred." Discuss the everyday people or unsung heroes in Boom! whose stories echoed most strongly for you and why. How do their experiences compare or contrast with stereotypical perceptions of the time?
11. Tom Brokaw describes the 1965 Watt's Riots as a wake-up call for the nation that should have resolved many of the racial issues that still divided the country more than a century after the Civil War. As Brokaw notes, there has been so much progress, but still much despair. Why did America fail to heed the "wake-up call" of Watts? Fast-forwarding to 2005, consider the nation's response to Hurricane Katrina; how and when will the call be answered?
12. Do you agree with Stan Sanders when he says, "The state of black men in America is in free fall" (317)? Discuss this view in relation to today's political arena, the prison system, education, and the dissolution of the family. What changes still need to be made to realize Dr. Martin Luther King's American dream?
13. Boom! is also a story of how people can "do a one-eighty." Tom Turnipseed, once an aid to Georgia's Governor George Wallace, experienced a "conversion." How has he become an advocate for racial equality? Who else in the book experienced a personal revolution? Have you or someone you know had a similar sea change in your own views? What caused it?
14. General Wayne Downing notes that “It took ten or fifteen years before people were proud of serving in Vietnam” (446). Why do you think this is the case? Has America changed its attitude toward its serving men and women and the politics of war since the Sixties? Also, discuss Garry Trudeau's experience with his Doonesbury comic strip; do you think Americans appreciate strongly enough the idea that Iraq is not just a political matter, but a personal issue as well?
15. How were the 1960s a response to all that came before? Consider Senator Hillary Clinton's proposition: "…it's always struck me as curious that the Greatest Generation produced the Sixties generation. What were the sort of unmet aspirations, dreams, the frustrations that our parents had that led us to a period of ferment and rebellion and questioning of authority?" (404).
16. Regarding the war in Vietnam, Dr. Les Gelb remembers, "We were so busy in the Pentagon, we never watched the news–and the disconnect became greater and greater” (138). Decades later, during the Bush administration and the war in Iraq, the country experienced a similar disconnect between what politicians did and what the public believed. How did this happen? What lessons should have been learned from the country's experience in Vietnam?
17. What soundtrack comes to mind when you think "The Sixties"? Which songs, lyrics or voices do you hear, and why? What made the Sixties generation so supremely "cool"? Has any other generation come close? Why do you think many members of that generation still have such a strong connection with the culture of their past?
18. Discuss Pat Buchanan's assessment that “Nineteen sixty-eight was two sides of the same coin. Everything came apart for the Democrats and together for the Republicans” (32-33). How has party politics changed since then, and what future do you foresee for the Democratic and Republican parties of the decades to come?
19. Rolling Stone founder Jann Wenner says that today, parents and children can share in popular culture. This was not the case in the 1960s, which saw a vast disparity between youth culture and adulthood. Now, he says, "there's no generation gap" (530). Do you agree? How does life for today's adolescents compare with the youths of those who came of age in the Sixties?
20. As Tom Brokaw notes, some of the twenty-first century's most successful and creative entrepreneurs emerged from Sixties culture. Who were some of these innovators and how were they influenced by the 1960s? Going further, how are today’s radio, film, internet and digital music an offspring of the mentality that emerged from the 1960s? Consider Tom Brokaw's statement: "Who could have guessed in the heady days of the Sixties that pocket electronics would become the realization of that popular but amorphous slogan 'Power to the people!"? (561).
21. Dr. Judith Rodin, the first female president of an Ivy League university, offers an interesting perspective: “I used to think you could have it all. Now I believe you can have it all, but not all at the same time. There are costs to every decision” (221). How is this view reflected in the choices women face today? Why do women today often feel it necessary to pit one's choices against the other?
22. On the official website for Boom! www.boom-brokaw.com, Tom Brokaw lists Billboard's top 10 songs (from "Tighten Up" to "Hey Jude") and Television's most popular shows (from "The Beverly Hillbillies" to "Laugh In.") Review these lists — what are your favorites? What memories do they spark?
23. As Tom Brokaw reports in Boom!, in an interview with New York magazine in 2006, Barack Obama gave the following critique of the Sixties generation: "To some degree…we have seen the psychodrama of the baby boom generation play out over the last forty years. When you watch Clinton versus Gingrich, or Gore versus Bush, or Kerry versus Bush, you feel like these are fights that were taking place back in dorm rooms in the Sixties." (346). What did Obama mean, and do you agree?
24. Tom Brokaw recognizes that "We are profoundly changed in so many ways and yet so much the same in so many others" (35). In what ways has America transformed itself since the 1960s, and how is the nation still the same? Evaluate the 2008 Presidential campaigns of John McCain, Hillary Clinton and Barrack Obama — are they proof that the country is ready to embrace much of what the 1960s stood for, or to the contrary, that there is still a long way to go?
25. Boom! ends with a photograph of the Earth as seen from the Apollo 8 mission of December 1968. Why do you think Tom Brokaw leaves us with this image of the "Whole Earth"? Discuss Stewart Brand's interpretation of the photo: it's about "seeing what connects rather than what divides" (611).