From one of the most original and innovative thinkers in medicine, this “stirring and splendid book” (Wall Street Journal) offers groundbreaking insight to the postwar generation on facing their second coming of age, a developmental opportunity to reshape their lives and our society.
Dr. Thomas is at the forefront of a strong nationwide movement to reframe “life after adulthood” as an exciting stage of human growth and development. In Second Wind, he explores the dreams and disappointments, the struggles and triumphs of a generation of 78 million people who once said they would never grow old and never trust anyone over thirty. Instilled with the belief that they would always be Joni Mitchell’s “stardust,” many Boomers are having a harder time transitioning into elderhood than previous generations. But the reality is that every 10.8 seconds an American turns sixty-five. Among all the human beings who have ever lived to see old age, more than half are living among us right now. In Second Wind, Dr. Thomas attempts to guide Boomers into this final developmental stage filled with hope and a new sense of what is possible.
As the Post War generation entered adulthood, they saw three models of what an adult could be: hippies, activists, and squares—the “square” model becoming the dominant model. Now, many Boomers now feel “stuck” inside the frenzied, performance-based, money-driven world that no longer suits them. But if they can learn to go slower, go deeper, and be more connected to themselves, their loved ones, and other members of their community, they can find the wisdom, happiness, and fulfillment that comes with a life that is in balance.
This reading group guide forSecond Windincludes an introduction, discussion questions, and ideas for enhancing your book club. The suggested questions are intended to help your reading group find new and interesting angles and topics for your discussion. We hope that these ideas will enrich your conversation and increase your enjoyment of the book.
In today's society, childhood and adulthood are clearly defined stages in an individual's life and development. But what about after? The postwar generation is currently facing a crossroads between embracing what comes after middle age, fighting to delay the inevitable, and denying its imminence altogether. In Second Wind: Navigating the Passage to a Slower, Deeper, and More Connected Life, Dr. Bill Thomas expertly analyzes the origins of koyaanisqatsi, or a way of living that calls for another way of living. Dating back to the birth of postwar subcultures and through the rise and impending triumph of Denialists, Second Wind is a revealing examination of a society fervently worshiping the cult of adulthood. Dr. Thomas argues that there is, indeed, a third stage to life—one that is just as fulfilling if not more fulfilling than adulthood—and it’s not too late for the postwar generation to embrace it.
Topics & Questions for Discussion
1. In Second Wind, Dr. Bill Thomas discusses how parenting instruction influenced the postwar generation, both as children and as parents. Why is childrearing so significant as a theme in the book? How does it help form the crux of Dr. Thomas’s argument?
2. Describe the counter-countercultural movement. How is this an important narrative throughout Second Wind? What other themes or motifs can you identify?
3. Why was the “reinterpretation of the human life cycle” so threatening to Squares? How might Hippies’ efforts be perceived today?
4. What is ageism? How does the author differentiate it from sexism or racism? In what ways and through what media have you experienced ageism in your own life?
5. Dr. Thomas describes how personality cults differ from society-wide cults. How does his interpretation of a cult differ from common usage today? What examples does he give?
6. According to Dr. Thomas, Americans perceive the passage of time differently than they did generations ago, even though workweeks remain the same length in time. What has shaped and influenced this perception, according to the author? What do you think has changed?
7. What is prosperity gospel, according to the author? Analyze the connection between prosperity gospel and the cult of adulthood.
8. What is scrolling? Why is it so damaging? Have you been forced to confront forms of scrolling in your own life?
9. Describe Denialists, Realists, and Enthusiasts. Why do you think the author believes the smallest portion of the population is made up of Enthusiasts? What is Dr. Thomas’s position on each of these subcultures?
10. Dr. Thomas argues that children and elders can have a profound effect on each other. Have you witnessed this in your own life? Would you have raised your own children with their grandparents if you had had the option?
11. Americans gradually began to perceive efficiency as a moral virtue as the cult of adulthood took its cultural foothold. What does efficiency measure in the workforce versus social groups? Why is it an unreliable measurement of worth for elders?
12. Dr. Thomas recommends that not only elders but society as a whole must embrace “slowing down” as a way of recognizing and accepting elderhood. How does he suggest doing this? In what ways would you “slow down” in your own life?
13. How do you think Dr. Thomas’s own personal beliefs influenced his findings and research? Would understanding his personal bias change the way you interpret his book?
14. Poll your reading group. Who’s a Denialist? A Realist? An Enthusiast? Who’s too young to know? Discuss everyone’s reasons and how his or her views might change after reading Second Wind.
Enhance Your Book Club
1. At your next book club meeting take turns looking in a mirror and share a favorite feature that’s traditionally associated with “old age.”
2. Have a historical debate club night! Assign Square, Activist, and Hippie roles to each book club member and take turns arguing which subculture was (or would have been) the most beneficial for the postwar generation.
3. Do any of your book club members participate in Croning ceremonies? Ask a volunteer to demonstrate a Croning ceremony with your book club. See if anyone wants to induct herself!
4. Plan an elder-themed Slow Food potluck. Ask an elder close to you what his or her favorite recipe is (or if you’re an elder, pick yours!), and make it for your reading group.
5. Choose a popular or common anti-aging product and analyze it at your next book club meeting. Discuss how it might be marketed and in what ways that would shape someone’s perception of aging.
Dr. Bill Thomas is a visionary and internationally recognized expert on aging. He is an Ashoka Fellow and winner of the Heinz Award for the Human Condition. He cocreated The Eden Alternative, an international nonprofit, and The Green House Project, both models to revolutionize nursing home care. In addition to teaching, speaking, and consulting internationally, he is currently a Senior Fellow at AARP’s Life Reimagined Institute. A graduate of the State University of New York and Harvard Medical School, he lives in Ithaca, New York with his family.