Ben Sasse book cover
St. Martin's Press

"The Vanishing American Adult" by Ben Sasse, St. Martin's Press, 320 pages, $17.99

The most important thing to understand about “The Vanishing American Adult: Our Coming-of-Age Crisis — and How to Rebuild a Culture of Self-Reliance” by Nebraska Sen. Ben Sasse is that it is not a political book. Sure, the subject of cultural renewal in our country inevitably reflects the author’s conservative worldview, but Sasse eschews the hot-button culture war topics in an attempt to address what he identifies as a “coming-of-age crisis without parallel in our history.”

The crisis at the core of “The Vanishing American Adult” is the emerging generation of perpetual adolescents who are not prepared to be active and engaged citizens. To his credit, Sasse manages to critique a younger generation without typifying the grumpy old man who walked 5 miles to school in the snow, uphill both ways.

Sasse mixes history, social science and anecdotes about life in small town Nebraska to support his five-point framework for a solution. There are plenty of opportunities for readers to disagree with Sasse, whose solutions are not of the easy, one-size-fits-all variety, but he welcomes a reasoned disagreement: “living in a constitutional republic means we fight, we argue, and we debate. But we will fail to have meaningful debates if we are not building on a shared history and on common points of departure.”

“The Vanishing American Adult” offers a worthwhile reminder that our families are far more important than politics, and developing the next generation needs to be addressed without the help of Washington D.C. The red half of the population probably needs no convincing to read a cultural call-to-arms from one of their own, but the blue half would be wise to consider Sasse’s own defense of reading philosopher Jean-Jacques Rousseau: “I think he’s dangerous and very wrong in the end. But he’s wrong in weighty and fascinating ways, and I continue to learn from him.”

Forget Sasse is a politician for a moment, and let the great debate begin.

Andrew Willis is an attorney for Cline, Williams, Wright, Johnson & Oldfather, L.L.P, and a patron of the Nebraska Literary Heritage Association.

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