Sunday Book Review: The Vanishing American Adult

Senator Ben Sasse of Nebraska is one of the most conservative members of the United States Senate, and in addition, Sasse is a scholar and author. Senator Sasse’s book, The Vanishing American Adult: Our Coming of Age Crisis – and How to Rebuild a Culture of Self-Reliance, was published earlier this year. The Vanishing American Adult is an interesting read at 274 pages long (excluding acknowledgments, the bibliography, etc) and is subdivided into two parts. The first part establishes a problem, while the second part proposes solutions to the issue. This book is highly recommended for readers of all ages and maturity levels.

The senator starts off the introduction by discussing one of the many “words” made up by our peers- “adulting.” As Sasse correctly points out, we live in a nation of “delayed grown-ups and adult-children.” Adulthood is not an age range; it is an attitude. The Vanishing American Adult, however, does not peddle the usual “millennials are lazy” and “we need to go back to the 1950s” message commonly associated with stereotypical conservative fogies discussing our generation. The senator willingly admits that it is partially the fault of older generations for not teaching us how to be adults.

While we cannot change the past, the future is not yet written. We can write a future of adulthood, progress, and greatness. The Vanishing American Adult can help us write that future.

Although some may claim that Senator Sasse is participating in a moral panic about young people, Sasse provides evidence for the his claim that adolescence is being extended. This, according to the book, is a national problem. The United States needs adults to run the government, invent new things, contribute to society, and keep America competitive in the twenty-first century. Unfortunately, we will be the generation providing the leaders in the near future, and presently we are not prepared to do so. How can we, as a generation, govern anything if some of us cannot even tolerate contrary opinions and are obsessed with whatever is considered entertaining?

Senator Sasse’s proposed solutions to the problem, broadly speaking, are to engage across generations, build a work ethic, limit our consumption, travel instead of a tour, and read great books. These solutions, as explained in the book, would aid in creating a new generation of adults who are capable of leading our republic and maintaining American society. The senator ends The Vanishing American Adult with an imaginary commencement speech Theodore Roosevelt would give to today’s high schoolers. This excellent “speech” by the Bull Moose is a call-to-adulthood for young Americans.

Our nation is facing a problem. Our generation is that problem. We have lost our connection to the Founding Fathers and our national virtues. Instead of developing our minds, bodies, and souls, we jump from meaningless distraction to meaningless distraction each and every day- reality television, pornography, endless Netflix catalogs, and Snapchat, just to name a few things. We are on track to become the Eloi from The Time Machine. How can our government of the people survive and be justified if the people are not fit to govern? It cannot.

Therefore, we must, if we want the American experiment to continue, resolve to be better citizens by accepting the responsibilities of adults and of citizens. We must learn the values of hard work, sacrifice, and duty, and we must learn about what the wise men and women before us thought. We must be prepared to lead. While we cannot change the past, the future is not yet written. We can write a future of adulthood, progress, and greatness. The Vanishing American Adult can help us write that future.

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