"The Vanishing American Adult" by Ben Sasse

Brian Gongol

One-paragraph review: When John F. Kennedy published "Profiles in Courage", he was a freshman senator from Massachusetts. His book, highlighting courageous acts by eight historical American politicians, was an assertion not so much about American politics as about American character. It launched Kennedy into the national eye, and won him a Pulitzer Prize. "The Vanishing American Adult", by Ben Sasse of Nebraska, is another book by a freshman United States Senator, which similarly makes substantial assertions less about politics than about the state of American character. And while "The Vanishing American Adult" is unlikely to earn Sasse a Pulitzer (though it may be deserving), it is of similar gravity to JFK's work. In contrast to "Profiles", which was largely written by a Kennedy staffer, there's no mistaking Sasse's original voice throughout the straight-talking text. The chapters address broad and timeless themes like the need for civic literacy and tempered self-discipline, then conclude with action plans for parents to adopt in their own households -- probably not unlike what Sasse delivered to clients in his career as a management consultant. He brings a classicist's literacy to the project, and his enthusiasm for Enlightenment Age philosophy goes beyond hero-worship and prefers instead to wrestle with the thinkers who shaped the time that in turn shaped America. "The Vanishing American Adult" is aimed at our times in particular, but one can imagine that it will be keenly read by thoughtful American parents and grandparents for many years to come. While it is reminiscent of past books warning of a decline in American fortitude (like, for instance, John Chancellor's 1992 book "Peril and Promise"), Sasse's book is gently prescriptive on the personal and household level -- not an overwrought call for some kind of national program, but rather a reminder of admonitions like Theodore Roosevelt's: "School is an invaluable adjunct to the home, but it is a wretched substitute for it." It is compelling, original, and actionable reading.

Verdict: A smart and aspirational guide to building a more resilient country by raising children of stronger character