One of the world’s most respected moral voices and activists, Bill McKibben tells his own story in this memoir — and the story of the Baby Boomer generation to which he belongs. “In my tenth year, in 1970,” he beings, “my family — my mom, my dad, my seven-year-old brother, and I — moved into the American suburbs.”
He explains how his childhood family was ordinary in most every way, but then says, “what the hell happened?” By this he means, “How did we go from an America where that kind of modest paradise seemed destined to spread to more and more of the country to the doubtful nation we inhabit fifty years later: a society strained by bleak racial and economic inequality, where life expectancy was falling even before a pandemic that deepened our divisions, on a heating planet whose physical future is dangerously in question?”
So much went wrong over the fifty-plus years McKibben traces, and he follows the lines with care and sympathy. Wars, town meetings, policing policies, gerrymandering, zoning laws, widening income gaps along racial lines, excessive individualism, and an unwillingness to come to truthful terms with the prejudices of America’s founding fathers are all discussed in language that any reader can understand.
Religion, too, is McKibben’s subject, and he explains his own involvement in mainline Protestant denominations over the years, as well as how and why religion held a more important place in people’s lives fifty years ago. For one thing, religious leaders who attempt to change practices or lean their congregations closer to local problems tend to be asked to leave.
This is a book that every American who cares about democracy and truth needs to read. McKibben remembers being part of a scouting troop that raised the U.S. flag over the Lexington Green in 1976, and he declares that it is his generation of white privileged citizens who have the power to make things right: “Many of us who were alive in 1970 are alive still, and we have the resources and political power, if we want to use them, to take history off rewind and put it again in forward motion. If we do so, then perhaps we will eventually earn the right to raise the flag once more with the conviction that it carries some of the meaning that we’d once, naively, taken for granted.”
He wants to turn the clock back — and forward — in fact, both.