In The Death of the Grown-Up, Washington Times columnist Diana West has produced an ambitious, sophisticated, and closely argued case that the ills of American culture can be traced to a society-wide revulsion from the obligations and responsibilities of adulthood. The thesis has been heard before – it was something of a staple of the industry of high-brow cultural critique that flourished from about 1945 until about 1965 – but Diana comes to it with fresh evidence and fresh urgency.
At a time when conservative authors often seek only to entertain, agitate or gratify their readers, Diana challenges them. Just as its thesis is a little old-fashioned, so too is the book’s tone and style: It takes us back to the days when authors believed that books could be grand and sweeping and still find an audience. Despite her gloom about American maturity, Diana has gambled her book on a faith that there still exist readers who do not flinch from uncomfortable truths, delivered in a style that concedes not an inch to the attention deficits of contemporary readers.
The Death of the Grown-Up covers a lot of ground and provokes a lot of thought. My own thoughts, once provoked, did not always agree with the author’s, especially in her sections on foreign policy. She might have done better to reserve those for a second book, rather than trying to shoe-horn them into an argument where they did not very well fit. But that’s just my reaction. Each reader will have his or her own to this forceful, intelligent, and impressive first book.