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I have always enjoyed books by Pulitzer Prize winning writer, journalist and oral historian Studs Terkel because they often give amazing insights into the lives of ordinary people who have lived through extraordinary times (Hard Times) or circumstances (Division Street and Working). Coming of Age: The Story of Our Century Through Those Whove Lived It contains interviews with a wide variety of people whose lifetimes spanned almost the entire 20th Century, people in my mothers and fathers generation (she was born in 1906; he in 1911) who experienced the Great War as children and teens, came of age in the Roaring Twenties, lived through the Depression, World War II and Cold War as adults, experienced the social upheavals of the 60s and 70s, and endured the political and economic changes of the 80s and most of the 90s as senior citizens on limited incomes and often with decreasing health. The book was published in 1996 and asked them to reflect back on their near century of life, discuss the present, and anticipate the upcoming century. For the most part the interviews were as varied as the people who gave them, but a few interesting similarities emerged. For one thing, most of the subjects ended up saying that over the long haul they had few regrets -- they had had regrets once, some of them said, but now they could see there was no reason to regret even what they once regretted. What would be the point?, one of them said. In the end, whatever it is you did, you did -- whatever you should have done or could have done, you didnt. And now, it doesnt matter because what happened, happened and you and the world have survived. In its own way, I found that very comforting! Another common theme: most were happy to be at this end of their lives. Whether they were generally optimistic or pessimistic about the 21st Century, most felt they didnt want to go there. Overall they concluded that life had become too frantic; the culture, too materialistic; and common courtesy, too absent. Not that life had been simpler or any less difficult in their times past (indeed, for many of them, life had been extremely hard all along), but that current realities projected forward made them happy (in some cases, downright giddy) that they werent going to live much longer! (I have to admit, I had to keep looking at the publication date to keep remembering that this book was written over a decade ago, the descriptions of the closing down of the social contract, the excessive greed of the wealthy elite, and the general boorishness of every day interaction was so current.) I liked the book very much and did not find it depressing or hopeless, but very encouraging, particularly as someone entering the golden years myself. I found their memories of many of the key event of the 20th Century very interesting and their conclusions about their own lives, extremely rich. I feel so wise, one woman said. Even though my body is falling apart and I cant remember nearly as well as I once did, nothing much about myself bothers me anymore. I know who I am and I no longer have to worry about who I am becoming. Now its just a matter of trying to make the world a more just place before I go.

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