Do you remember taking U.S. history class in high school or whatever and how it always seemed like A) we’d run out of time at the end of the semester and have to rush through everything that happened after the sixties real fast, and B) topics like economic history, general cultural change, the labor movement were treated mostly as footnotes to the much sexier narratives around The Cold War and like, space exploration, and not as crucial context for the way we’d live on a day-to-day basis??
Maybe your APUSH class did a better job than mine, but I didn’t realize just how cheated I felt for not having a broader understanding of actual modern economic and cultural history until I started reading Anne Helen Petersen’s new book, Can’t Even: How Millennials Became The Burnout Generation. By applying her hallmark combo of academic rigor, deep reporting, and the same relatable internet voice that got you and seven million others to read her internet-breaking piece from 2019, How Millennials Became The Burnout Generation, Petersen explains Why Millennial Life Is Like This by first dissecting questions around Why Boomers Are Like This, Why Families Are Like This, Why College Was Like That, Why Work Is Like This, Why The Modern Middle Class Is Like This, and honestly, Why You And I Are Like This.
I don’t blame anyone for hesitating to read a book about burnout; it’s such a buzzword now and implies a kind of self-help-y, naval gaze-y energy that often focuses only on the experiences of like, a very specific kind of white collar (or just plain white) millennial experience.
But if you’ve been a fan of Petersen’s very good journalism before all this, you will love this book. And if you’re an AHP fan club newcomer, let me just say that after reading it, I feel fucking deprogrammed. By pulling back the curtain on the system of pulleys and levers that influence everything from modern middle class anxiety, “the hope labor industrial complex” (aka, Why This Industry Is Like This), and the fatal blurring of work and passion, Can’t Even delivered this education I didn’t even know I needed, and I think it will do the same for you. It’s already one of my favorite books of the year.
(ANYWAY, if you’re still not convinced, I’ll be on the panel for the virtual Book People event on Friday night to talk about it more. You should dial in! I’ll be the one sipping a frozen margarita ‘cause I think it’s gonna be 8 pm ny time so like why not right. )