In his previous landmark book on youth culture and teen angst, the award-winning England's Dreaming, Jon Savage presented the "definitive history of the English punk movement" (The New York Times). Now, in Teenage, he explores the secret prehistory of a phenomenon we thought we knew, in a monumental work of cultural investigative reporting. Beginning in 1875 and ending in 1945, when the term "teenage" became an integral part of popular culture, Savage draws widely on film, music, literature high and low, fashion, politics, and art and fuses popular culture and social history into a stunning chronicle of modern life.
Although popular assumption might place the birth of teenage culture alongside the rise of rock 'n' roll in the 1950s, Savage (England's Dreaming) traces a more elaborate backstory that extends into the late 19th century. His catalogue of influences and indicators bounces from Goethe and Rimbaud to teenage girls' diaries, but the account only begins to pick up steam at the end of the First World War, as a generation of British youth reject the values of the elders who sent them into battle. Later, in the U.S., Prohibition not only taught booze-loving college students disrespect for the law, it put them in contact with a criminal underground that strengthened their subversive tendencies. The analysis of teen culture during the Second World War is particularly strong, moving from the Hitler Youth and rebellious " swing kids" in Germany to the Zoot Suit riots of Los Angeles and the "Zazou" movement of occupied Paris. Savage weaves his disparate sources into a convincing narrative of how adolescents were molded by political and cultural pressures into the consumer-friendly category of " teenager" by the end of WWII, but while individual anecdotes carry some verve, the writing never fully sheds its dry academic tone.