Cover Image: The Age of Grievance

The Age of Grievance

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Member Reviews

Frank Bruni is a long term columnist with the New York Times and a writer who ably reflects what is going on in the world around him (and us). That is true here.

The cover of this book is quite evocative and points to how many are living now-instead of pouring oil on troubled waters, many seem to be reaching for the gasoline. Why so much grievance? Why so little understanding?

Bruni goes through many of the current grievances. Many of these will be familiar to readers who may have already formed their own opinions. Keep reading though because Bruni also has suggestions about how to do better. There are also suggested readings.

Note: those who regularly read Bruni’s columns may well find some familiar material here.

Many thanks to NetGalley and Avid Reader Press for this title. All opinions are my own.

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This was a challenging read. Not because it’s torturous, but because I think Mr Bruni has captured an important reflection of our divisive and challenging time. This is an important read.

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Frank Bruno is an engaging writer and makes strong arguments for calling the times we live in the Age of Grievance.

I didn’t give this 5 stars because the information felt like a lot of what I have heard or read before. Anyone who is a regular news consumer will likely feel the same way.

The best part of the book is the section about fixes at the end. These are not vague paths to change, but solid changes to improve society.

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THE AGE OF GRIEVANCE by Frank Bruni is a new work of non-fiction which covers politics and of which his publisher says, "there's a potentially devastating erosion of the civility, common ground, and compromise necessary for our democracy to survive. How did we get here?" Bruni points to numerous examples, some all the more relevant with the number of arrests in recent days on college campuses. He does offer "The Antidote," as his final chapter is titled: there, he describes humility, humility from political leaders, from journalists, from activists, and from ourselves. Unfortunately, his text seems rather biased, condescending, even a bit whiny - all the things that he is urging readers to avoid. For example, he writes, "Not all grievances are created equal. ... There is January 6, 2021, and there is everything else. Attempts by leaders on the right to minimize what happened that day and lump it together with protests on the left are as ludicrous as they are dangerous.." Despite the legitimacy of his point, it does not seem consistent with attempts to foster dialogue and toleration. Have a look and decide for yourself, but also spend some time with texts like The Sum of Us by Heather McGhee - a much more positive take on how we can come together. Bruni himself also provides an excellent list of roughly three dozen titles for "further reading."

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Thank you to NetGalley and Simon & Schuster for this advanced reader's copy. In exchange, I am providing an honest review.

We are in the golden age of grievance. Bruce Handy wrote in June 2023, "With anger now the defining emotion of our own times, an in splenetic tribute to the previous century's Roaring 20s, I suggest we dub the current decade the Raging 20s." Frank Bruni concurs. Among many of his insights into this age of grievance is that the aggrieved set our culture wars in motion and escalated them. We are in an era of mass immaturity. (Chapter 2) The groundwork for it was laid through social media platforms, lack of civic studies, the breakdown of government through political partying in-fighting, and the human desire to hold on to a grudge and refuse to cede wrong thinking. Our stubborn hold on cognitive dissonance has fueled this age of grievances. And lest you think Bruni shines the spotlight on the many sins of the Republican party fueling this fire, he swings the spotlight over to the Democratic party as well. Nobody can escape the reality, we are all culpable - regardless of our political leanings, religious or not affiliations, whether we put the toilet paper roll on over or under, etc. (By the way, the only correct way to put on the toilet paper roll is over.)

Bruni traces the history of grievance. From its useful and positive uses to its damaging and dangerous ones. He compares grievance then and now and how it has changed in tone and in action. Grievance then served a larger purpose and got some things done, like forming a new country. Grievance now? It serves no real purpose; all it does is give space for loud voices that have no real complaints, only personal affronts. These loud voices are trying to make national news that can lead to events like January 6, 2021. And terrifyingly, they are succeeding. "Almost no cultural event, no bit of news, no topic of national conversation is roped off from grievance, by which I mean a complaint or concern that should or could be a modest point of dispute, negotiable with businesslike diction and businesslike decorum, but is blown up wildly out of proportion." (Chapter 3)

But, as Bruni gives evidence, the age of grievance has become addicting and dangerous - both physically and mentally. Scientific studies show how and why grievance turns the rational into the irrational, "....brain imaging studies show that harboring a grievance (a perceived wrong or injustice, real or imagined) activates the same neural reward circuitry as narcotics....[and] what your brain wants to do with that grievance - how it both extends the high and brings it to its most satisfying conclusion - is retaliate. To be clear, the retaliation doesn't need to be physically violent - an unkind word, or tweet, can also be very gratifying." (James Kimmel, Jr., lecturer at Yale University School of Medicine, Chapter 3) This leads to a string of revenge and punishment behaviors from the person, or persons, who see themselves as oppressed because of their grievances.

Chapter 4 finds Bruni going waaaaay back to when the grumblings started and how they transformed into grievances. It's noted that in 1835 Alexis de Tocqueville, in Democracy in America, observed a perpetually unsatisfied yearning in Americans, who, he said, "are forever brooding over advantages they do not possess." Now, instead of merely being unsatisfied, we have escalated those yearnings into grievances, and we are looking for someone to blame. He also explores the other contributing factors to this current age of grievance: climate change, increased income inequality, and self-aggrandizing behaviors that lead to widening disparities in all facets of life - income, ethnicity, gender, and sexual preferences, to name a few. The progress America is used to making and enjoying has come to a screeching halt, and with it, the optimism we collectively had. The grievances of this current age "affect how, every day, we interact or fail to interact with one another. They affect the stories we tell about ourselves and our world, ratcheting up the subjectivity of those narratives and corrupting the truth of them. They skew our perspectives. They skew us." (Chapter 8)

So, what to do? How can we, individually, quit participating in this age of grievance? Bruni prescribes a few hopeful remedies at the conclusion of the book. (Chapters 9 and 10) Frank Bruni, himself, is a beacon of hope and optimism, able to loosen the grip on his own cognitive dissonance and see things for what they are, not for what he may perceive them to be. In his gracious way, he leads us down that path as well.

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This was an enlightening look at the ever-growing challenge of living in the modern world, in which it often seems as though everyone feels aggrieved about something at any given moment... And not just "upset" about it - but literally experiencing grievance that seems all out of proportion with the item/state/condition at issue. Bruni has done a fabulous job presenting this as an issue that defies political, socioeconomic, gender lines, or any other lines you can imagine. With wit, wisdom, and humility he tries to peer behind the curtain and figure out not only what is going on, but how we might work to move away from this toxicity and into a more sane world going forward...

Even if you don't agree with his particular perspective, I think he's offered a thoughtful and thought-provoking description of the problem. I enjoyed the blend of history, anecdote, data, and analysis - it was very readable and definitely got me thinking. I think it should be required reading for everyone.

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Frank Bruni the acclaimed columnist for the New York Times conducts a thorough analysis of our societal fixation on grievances permeating both ends of the political spectrum. Grievances hold sway in our tumultuous political landscape with each faction interpreting dissatisfaction or dissent as personal injury , fueling animosity and resentment. Bruni acknowledges the historical importance of grievance ps while examining contemporary fusion of authentic and fabricated ones. Through compelling political, cultural and personal anecdotes he explores the origins and consequence# of our fractured society providing insights into a possible roadmap to restore civic unity. This should be required reading for community conversations and town meeting discussions. Compelling and beautifully written.

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Thanks to the publisher for access to this book. I enjoy Frank Bruni's writing and particularly liked this. He focuses on how grievance has pervaded our culture on both sides of the political spectrum. You will enjoy this book if you like John McWhorter's writing.

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I already teach a unit on social media and the spread of misinformation during and after the 2016 election, and I can't wait to use portions of this book in conjunction with that! Frank Bruni's writing is, as always, engaging, humorous, and straightforward. The arguments here are balanced (as much as they can be, anyway) and ultimately positive, and I will be recommending this to EVERYONE this year as we prepare for the onslaught of tribalistic clickbait from now until November.

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I love this book. It explains intricately why there is so much tension and divisiveness in the world right now. I love that The Age of Grievance takes an honest, unbiased look at all causes, groups, programs, and political parties that are creating this environment. Highly recommend!

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Thanks to Frank Bruni, Avid Reader Press/Simon & Schuster, and Net Galley for providing me with an ARC of this book. The Age of Grievance is a smart, well-reasoned discussion of the role that grievance has played and continues to play in the politics and daily lives of Americans. I particularly appreciated the last chapter, where Bruni suggests that humility in our political leaders, journalists, activists, and ourselves, might be the key to future improvement in our grievance-obsessed culture. He concludes that “[i]t’s not too late to turn around,” and I sincerely hope he’s right about that. The Age of Grievance is a thought-provoking read — highly recommend.

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