Tom Brokaw has devoted nearly 50 years of his life to journalism. Millions have invited him into their homes for reports on some of the most formative events of our time. He has written five bestsellers and won the most prestigious awards in his field.
Brokaw suggests that the country right now is a little lost in his his new book, The Time of Our Lives: A Conversation About America, who we are, where we've been and where we need to go now to recapture the American Dream. Brokaw joins us on Chicago Tonight at 7:00 pm.
The following excerpt is from the Preface of Brokaw's book.
It was a New Year’s Eve unlike any other in my lifetime, and possibly
On December 31, 1999, I stood on the top- floor terrace of the
Renaissance Hotel, high above Times Square in New York City,
looking down on the revelers jammed onto every square millimeter
of sidewalk, curb, gutter, and street— an estimated two
million who were giddily anticipating the beginning of a new
century and a new millennium. We were part of a vast global
gathering witnessing the turn of the clock from the momentous
events of the twentieth century— what had been called the
American century— to the unknown events of a new calendar.
There was a rolling wave of euphoria about the moment and
apprehension about the unknown as the clock struck midnight
around the world.
I was fifty- nine years old, a long way from my heartland roots,
immersed in journalism, successful in my marriage and professional
life, and a relatively new grandfather. I had reported on
most of the major events of the previous four decades, from the
triumphs, tragedies, and turmoil of the sixties in America
through the resignation of a U.S. president, the collapse of the
Soviet Union, the emergence of China as a political and economic
force, wars in the Middle East and Central America, the
birth of twenty- four- hour cable news, the still- evolving and
transformative effect of cyberspace, and, at the time, a cheerful
celebration of prosperity in ever more layers of American life.
While I tried to offer our audience some perspective on what
this new, twenty- first century might bring, it was, in retrospect,
a modest effort.
My friend and competitor Peter Jennings was across the way,
anchoring an impressive and much more ambitious ABC News
production on the turn of the century, as he demonstrated one
of the marvels of our new age: communication by satellite and
via Internet, which allowed him to instantly call up colleagues
in China, Australia, Africa, and elsewhere, and bring the global
party to his glassy studio in midtown Manhattan.
The airwaves that night were filled with commentators in
every language on every medium, grasping for the phrase that
might put two thousand years in perspective and prepare their
audience for the next two thousand.
The biggest concern at the time was Y2K, shorthand for the
year 2000. Would all the computers that formed the central
nervous system of the world’s financial markets, transportation
systems, and communication networks— and were vital to commerce,
medicine, law enforcement, and even entertainment—
recognize the changeover from years beginning with “19” to “20”?
They did, and the dancing in the streets continued uninterrupted.
A few exceptionally prescient flags were raised. Writing in
The New York Times, Louis Uchitelle warned about the likely
possibility of a big downturn in an economy so dependent on a
booming stock market. He cited the “wealth effect,” when a rising
market encourages consumers to spend more and borrow
more. “A market sell- off,” he wrote, “would throw the effect into
reverse. The spenders would pull way back. Companies would,
too, in response. Job growth would halt; the unemployment rate
would rise and incomes would fall. But debt would not.”
Eight years later that warning became reality as the sharpest,
longest downturn in the American economy since the Great
Depression knocked over our house of cards and spread around
the world. It was nothing less than a Great Recession, a deeply
painful time and a cautionary tale, the lessons of which should
be attached to every birth certificate and all new citizenship
papers for the next century.
That 1999 New York Times analysis laid out with commonsense
clarity the inherent structural weaknesses of America’s
spending and debt binge. It was one of the few exceptions to the
otherwise conventional wisdom dispensed during the millennium
festivities. But on such an occasion, who noticed?
I admit that I didn’t. Nor could I fully grasp the personal effect
of moving past middle age and becoming a grandparent.
My wife, Meredith, is now known as Nan, and I am Grandpa
Tom, or sometimes just Tom. Beyond the nomenclature, grandparenthood
brought with it wonders and worries about the
world my descendants will inherit. Will their future be defined
more by constraints than by expansion? No one that New Year’s
Eve foresaw the attacks of 9/11 on America or their monumental
consequences, including the two longest wars in our history.
What to make of all this? Of the time gone by, of the America
that my parents’ generation and my generation knew, and of
America’s present and future— its promise for our children and
grandchildren? My ideas about the times my family lived
through and the lessons we can take from them were still unformed
that night, when the chime of history’s clock signaled
that the twenty- first century had begun.
Excerpted from THE TIME OF OUR LIVES: A conversation about America; Who we are, where we've been, and where we need to go now, to recapture the American dream by Tom Brokaw Copyright © 2011 by Tom Brokaw. Excerpted by permission of Random House Group, a division of Random House, Inc. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
To hear an audio excerpt from the book read by Brokaw himself, click on the Audio Attachment below.