SOCIAL SCIENCES

Can't Even: How Millennials Became the Burnout Generation

Houghton Harcourt. Sept. 2020. 304p. ISBN 9780358315070. $26. SOC SCI
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Petersen (Too Fat, Too Slutty, Too Loud) speaks directly to the zeitgeist and those powerful but subtle cultural and economic forces that have squeezed the leisure out of life. The millennial generation, those born between 1981 and 1996, may not achieve the American dream; their endless efforts to study, work, and generally optimize themselves have not yielded the middle-class stability that was promised to them by previous generations and society at large. Petersen's book centers on this massive letdown. What has become, and what will become, of this grand share of the U.S. population who have hustled endlessly but secured no real gains? The burnout suffered by millennials is richly evoked by interviews, research, and snippets from Petersen's own day-to-day experiences. The predicament makes for an eye-catching centerpiece in a larger argument. Our systems of education and employment are seriously broken; they do not function on behalf of those humans inside them. By the end of the work, we understand what millennials are dealing with. But the force of Petersen's arguments keeps pushing. Readers will wonder: How does burnout affect those on the margins of society?
VERDICT An impassioned call for action that, like the viral BuzzFeed article it was based on, raises more questions than ­answers.

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