The Time of Our Lives: A conversation about America

The Time of Our Lives: A conversation about America

by Tom Brokaw

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Who we are, where we’ve been, and where we need to go now, to recapture the American dream
Now with a new Foreword by the author.
“The best presentation of the challenges facing the country—and the possible solutions—I've ever seen.”—P. J. O’Rourke
Tom Brokaw, known and beloved for his landmark work in American journalism and for the New York Times bestsellers The Greatest Generation and Boom!, now turns his attention to the challenges that face America in the new millennium, to offer reflections on how we can restore America’s greatness.
Rooted in the values, lessons, and verities of generations past and of his South Dakota upbringing, Brokaw weaves together inspiring stories of Americans who are making a difference and personal stories from his own family history, to engage us in a conversation about our country and to share ideas for how we can revitalize the promise of the American Dream. Inviting us to foster a rebirth of family, community, and civic engagement as profound as the one that helped win World War II, built our postwar prosperity, and ushered in the Civil Rights era, Brokaw traces the exciting, unnerving 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. In offering ideas from Americans who are change agents in their communities, Brokaw gives us a nourishing vision of hopefulness in an age of diminished expectations.

“Inspiring tales of how people from different walks of life have found ways to be of service to their communities and country.”—Walter Isaacson

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9780679643920
Publisher: Random House Publishing Group
Publication date: 11/01/2011
Sold by: Random House
Format: NOOK Book
Pages: 320
File size: 5 MB

About the Author

Tom Brokaw is the author of seven bestsellers: The Greatest Generation, The Greatest Generation Speaks, An Album of Memories, Boom!, The Time of Our Lives, A Long Way from Home, and A Lucky Life Interrupted. A native of South Dakota, he graduated from the University of South Dakota, and began his journalism career in Omaha and Atlanta before joining NBC News in 1966. Brokaw was the White House correspondent for NBC News during Watergate, and from 1976 to 1981 he anchored Today on NBC. He was the sole anchor and managing editor of NBC Nightly News with Tom Brokaw from 1983 to 2005. He continues to report for NBC News, producing long-form documentaries and providing expertise during breaking news events. Brokaw has won every major award in broadcast journalism, including two DuPonts, three Peabody Awards, and several Emmys, including one for lifetime achievement. In 2014, he was awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom. He lives in New York and Montana.

Date of Birth:

February 6, 1940

Place of Birth:

Webster, South Dakota


B.A., University of South Dakota

Read an Excerpt

FACT: In every century of America’s history we have been the beneficiaries of sacrifice and selflessness in the face of great odds to build a stronger country: The Founding Fathers of the eighteenth century fought a bloody revolution for freedom. The great losses of the Civil War were necessary to preserve the union. The pioneers who pushed west endured countless hardships as they opened the rest of the continent. The generation that came of age in the Great Depression helped save the world in World War II and gave us modern America.
QUESTION: A hundred years from now, what will be our indelible and measureable legacy? What will our grandchildren say of us? Of our country? Historians will not judge our time by Barack Obama, George W. Bush, or the Tea Party alone. We’re all in the dock.
This book really began when I found myself at the intersection of history and my life while on assignment in Europe. It was June 5, 2009, a cloudy day with intermittent rain showers, 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 Franklin Delano Roosevelt during the Great Depression and World War II? What did he plan for his speech the next morning, at the sixty-fifth anniversary of the Normandy invasion?
In several personal trips to that stretch of Norman beach and the windblown headlands, on solitary walks through the simple white headstones at Colleville-sur-Mer, the American cemetery where so many young Americans are buried, I have come to see the invasion as what should have been a template for our modern world. It represented political cooperation and vision; military genius; and courage, sacrifice, and shared determination to defeat a great unambiguous evil. It was a distillation of all the heroic efforts to roll back the darkness of fascism and make the world, if not perfect, then more just.
Now I was with a young American president who would face his own tests of vision, courage, and political acumen in the twenty-first century. For the moment my more prosaic considerations were dictated by the imperatives of broadcast news. Was the Today show ready to take in the video feed, edit the interview, and get it in shape for that morning’s telecast? Given the subject and the setting, these are the occasions when great thoughts should prevail, but they would have to be deferred until the logistics were satisfied.
President Obama arrived right on schedule, surrounded by his posse of top aides. 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.”
This was in the early months of his first term and he was casually confident, as yet untested and, oh, so young. He had just arrived from Cairo, where he had given a well-received speech to the Islamic world on the need to find a more peaceful path to the future. I had just come from Berlin, where, I told him, I had been the night the wall came down in 1989. He laughed and said, “I remember; I watched. I was in law school at the time.”
Law school? And you’re now the president? I was about to be fifty when the Soviet Union collapsed; it was just yesterday in my life, and he was at Harvard, a student with a promising but unresolved future.
After a moment or two of casual banter the president took his place and with his characteristic ease responded to questions about the Holocaust, Iranian president Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, Israel, his great-uncle’s experience in World War II, and the moral character of the American people.
That character, he suggested, has to be refreshed. “The biggest lesson we learned from World War II,” he said, “is America can do anything when it puts its mind to it, but we gotta exercise those muscles.”
He went on, “I think they’ve atrophied a bit. We’re soft in ways that are profoundly dangerous to our long-term prosperity and security.” Here he hesitated slightly. “And, you know, we—we’ve gotta start working those—moral muscles and service muscles and sacrifice muscles a little more. That’s still in the American character, and I’m confident we’ll be seeing it in the years to come.”
As he was leaving, I suggested he try to find a solitary moment the next day when he would be in Colleville-sur-Mer, the American cemetery on a bluff above Omaha Beach. “Walk through those headstones with just your thoughts,” I said, “and be prepared to have your knees buckle.”
As I have learned in more than a half-dozen visits to that landscape of simple white tombstones, the initial response of first-time visitors to the American cemetery, and the beaches, is often tearful, but I was confident such a walk would generate more than an emotional reaction for the president.
The lingering lesson of Omaha Beach is the deeply affecting value of common cause supported by uncommon valor against monstrous tyranny. It is a lesson that need not be reserved for great wars alone.
Since my first visits to Normandy, Pearl Harbor, and other World War II battle sites, I’ve often been unduly agitated by petty feuds or tempted to abandon vexing problems that require more personal investment than I anticipated. Then I imagine being strafed in a surprise attack or wading off a Higgins boat into the face of withering fire and knowing that if I survive it is just the beginning of another year of hellish combat, lost buddies, and horrific sights. It is a useful perspective and, judging from the personal accounts of strangers who have approached me over the years to describe their visits to Normandy, it is a common reaction.
In Dresden, the cloudy skies brightened and I took my place for the Today show transmission, which went smoothly.
I’ve been in this line of work for almost half a century and while a presidential interview is always memorable, the following day you’re off to another development, in pursuit of another news maker, asking, “What’s next?”
This time, however, the occasion, setting, circumstances, and subjects lingered. I wondered how this young president and all of us would be tested anew. The answers came swiftly enough, especially for President Obama. Following a triumphant tour, the president returned home to the realities of a severely broken American economy—one so shattered it had ignited a national dialogue about values and proportion, greed and appropriate reward, and the role of the government in the marketplace.
Unemployment rose from 8.1 percent in March 2009 to a persistent 9.6 percent in the summer and fall of 2010 and then to 9.8 just before the midterm elections. That number didn’t reflect those off the statistical grid who had given up looking for work. Confidence in the young president and his team drawn largely from the academic and political worlds plummeted heading into November.
President Obama was vilified as a socialist out to destroy the country, and questions were raised about his birthplace, despite a newspaper account and evidence from the state of Hawaii that, in fact, he was born in that state on August 4, 1961.
A national libertarian movement called the Tea Party arose out of a rage against government spending, anxiety about the economy, and the perceived distance between the priorities of Washington and those of grassroots America.
The president’s failure to aggressively attack unemployment and his concentration instead on a massive and complex health care reform law troubled even his most ardent supporters. By the fall, national polls showed that by a margin of four to one, likely voters felt their personal finances were worse off in the last few years.
The president and his team responded by relying on the power of personality, sending Obama into the heartland for backyard sessions with “just folks” and into large rallies with the party faithful.
Meanwhile, the Tea Party derided a federal stimulus program, reform of the big financial institutions, and an auto industry rescue as more examples of government run amok. In fits and starts Obama tried to find his voice as a populist and then as a healer, but the troubled economy resisted his charms and policies.
Nothing worked.
In the November 2010 congressional elections, the president, in his own word, took a “shellacking.” Democrats lost sixty-three seats in the House, dropping to their lowest level in that chamber since 1940. They barely hung onto the Senate, encouraging Republican Mitch McConnell of Kentucky to immediately announce his goal was to deny President Obama a second term.


A letter from Tom Brokaw

My fellow Americans,

When you hear that phrase from a politician, does it seem insincere or anachronistic?

Wouldn't it be more honest if they said, "My fellow members of the Divide America club."? For that seems to be the objective these days across the political spectrum - divide, not unite.

For almost a half century I've been reporting on American politics, the American culture and the American dream. I don't remember a time when there was so much anxiety about our common values, vision, and legacy.

So, in THE TIME OF OUR LIVES I set out to reflect on how we got here, how we may emerge from our current frustrations, and how much we owe future generations. It's at once a personal book, written from the perspective of my working class roots, journalistic background, and the lessons I learned in writing an earlier book - The Greatest Generation. I also wrote this book as a grandfather who felt a certain urgency about providing my grandchildren the same choices and opportunities I had.

You 'll meet a lot of familiar people - President Obama and Rush Limbaugh among them - but the real lessons come from ordinary Americans, past and present, who love their country and worry it has lost its greatest asset: its ability to make this immigrant nation stronger than its many parts by working together.

I begin with a simple question: what happened to the America I thought I knew? I end with an enduring lesson from the American wilderness. In between I encourage everyone to re-enlist as citizens and join me in a conversation about who we are and where we want to go.

I hope you'll join our discussion.

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The Time of Our Lives: Past, Present, Promise 3.6 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 30 reviews.
rexsnook More than 1 year ago
A great extension and follow up of The Greatest Generation. Being 82 years of age I can relate to all of the happenings related to in this in this story. As for the future course this country takes He is right on with his insight of the future happenings and recommendations of this Great Old USA
C_Guendelsberger More than 1 year ago
Today's United States are not the same as the ones generations past grew up to know and love. I am in my early thirties, and though I know America will retain her place as an economic and military power for the foreseeable future, I do sometimes wonder with some unease what American society will look like when my kids are my age. Brokaw, a pillar in American news media, has delivered a compelling, honest, and thoughtfully written work that yearns for simpler days gone by but looks forward with optimism to a bright future - if we return to the values and ideals that made us great to begin with. I believe in America, I believe in her people, and I believe we can retain our status as a global leader in all facets of human endeavors.
Sentry71 More than 1 year ago
I bought this book based on Tom Brokaw's reputation as a news anchor, and he did not disappoint. The writing style is very reminiscent of his news delivery, though slightly more conversational. The ideas brought up in the book make sense, and though I did not agree with some of the suggestions he proposed to "turn things around", the reasoning and the examples were well thought out and presented.
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senated More than 1 year ago
Biography, history,and foresight Given Brokaw's pre eminent position as a respected journalist, his observations and viewpoints regarding the American condition has to be taken seriously. His biography however, wasn't really inspiring, given the fact that many of his generation grew up not particularly privileged and became successful in life. To his credit, Brokaw credits his success in part to others an being at the right place at the right time. I'm glad I read it but in my view you might get the same stories and observations from most people of his generation.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Walks up
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
This is a very good read! Brokaw does a great job describing how America may have lost some of its greatness recently, but, given our legacy and the fortitude displayed by present day American, our country will regain its focus and mission. His book is a combination of autobiography, history book, and editorial expose. He demonstrates how proud he is of his children and grandchildren. He describes how they have to face many obstacles, including financial, in order to make it through the, "great recession." While the Great Depression may have been extemely difficult it was our ancestors, the current difficulties experienced by many Americans today have motivated some individuals to make major impact on education, family, and the society at large. Highly recommend this book, especially for those who have enjoyed reading Brokaw's book, "The Greatest Generation."
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This is a thought provoking book about where we have been, the direction we may be going, and what we can do to make our lives better. Everyone will benefit from reading this one.
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This book is so full of insight to our world today and how is differs from our world of not so long ago. It really makes you stop and think. I appreciate his ability to show us the good and bad of the past and present. Tom's personal touches make the book.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Very well written. A snapshot of where our country was, and where we need to be headed. Recommend highly, for we are living in trying times.
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The first two thirds of the book was the best, but either I got tired of it or Brokaw lost steam the last third. Worth reading, but don't expect to be shaken by it.