Alexandra Jacobs
May 03, 1996 AT 04:00 AM EDT

In part, this study of the ”teenager” (a demographic category cooked up by post-World War II marketers) merely justifies an ambitious, statistics-laden survey of modern popular culture. Like most social historians, Grace Palladino breaks her subject down into manageable, decade-long chunks, giving us a typically panoramic outline of the country’s youth in all its bobby-soxing, rock & rolling, draft-dodging, Nintendo-loving glory. However, with an eclectic use of primary texts (New Deal case histories, Seventeen cosmetics ads, civil rights treatises) she also beautifully documents American confusion — less that of hot-blooded high schoolers than that of their parents. We see how adults want to impute moral agendas and noble life lessons, but wind up queasily exploiting teenagers’ materialist impulses: pitching cars, records, and deodorants directly to them in the name of the American dream. Though Teenagers: An American History doesn’t neglect ”fads and fun,” this is hardly greasy kid stuff. A-

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