A great deal of the books I’ve read in the past year are about WWII. It’s been pure coincidence. I didn’t set out to do a study on WWII, but somehow this subject matter has been the theme of most of these books. A lot of WWII-themed novels are being published at the moment, so some of this so-called coincidence could just be me falling prey to marketing. I’d like to think there’s something behind why publishing houses are putting out these books and why I subconsciously am obsessed with the subject matter. Why is this historical event surfacing again in literature? Not that it ever disappeared, but there’s perhaps a rekindled interest in reading about WWII.
Recently, I had a discussion with my dad about generations. He made an interesting comment that I’d never heard. There’s a theory that every fourth generation repeats itself. Some scientists call it the “Fourth Turning”. Simply put, every generation has a distinct personality type and so every four generations (80yrs) that personality type repeats itself. The personality type is distinguished through social patterns and structures that are similar to four generations ago. Of course this is not an exact science but a concept. Authors William Strauss and Neil Howe wrote about this in their book Generations.
This is where it gets fascinating. 80 years ago Americans experienced the Great Depression and entered WWII. 80 years before that, America entered the Civil War. 80 years before that was the Revolutionary War. Therefore in theory, the next major crisis will occur in 2020. They are quick to state that this doesn’t exclude major events that have occurred along the way, such as 9/11, the recession of 2008, the election of Trump in 2016 (ok, I inserted that), but rather these events are building to an even greater crisis. It’s hard to believe an event greater than 9/11, the Iraq War and the War in Afghanistan. Those were huge and tragic. The list could also go on with all the tragedies that have occurred and continue across the world.
Getting back to the generation theory, Millennials (b.1982-2004) would essentially have a similar personality to The Greatest Generation (b.1900-1925). It’s hard for me to believe Millennials could be the next Greatest Generation considering their traits seem so different. Perhaps that’s what the older generations thought about the Greatest Generation too. As a Millennial (barely), it gives me hope that my generation has an innate strength of character that may emerge under conflict and struggle. It’s hard not to be skeptical living in a fairly narcissistic culture. Millennials have been concerned with international issues and issues of social justice. I heard someone call us the “Do Gooders” years ago. How we would respond to a major crisis in the future only history will tell. The Greatest Generation wasn’t planning on exhibiting great moral fiber, patriotism and courage before WWII, they merely responded.
All this is just food for thought and a fun little historical rabbit trail I found myself on this week. There are a myriad of reasons why WWII books are being snatched up. One significant reason could be how far removed my generation is from the horror, thus the interest. I don’t think my grandparents would relish in reading these books as much as I did. Here are the books I’ve read about WWII in the past year. Most of them I’d highly recommend!
All The Light We Cannot See: Anthony Doerr
The Lake House: Kate Morton (WWI and WWII)
The Boys in the Boat: Daniel James Brown
The Nightingale: Kristin Hannah
In the Garden of Beasts: Erik Larson
The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society: Annie Barrows and Mary Ann Shaffer