Can’t Even: How Millennials Became the Burnout Generation

Can’t Even: How Millennials Became the Burnout Generation

Series: My favorite books of 2020: Nonfiction
Genre: Nonfiction

File under: books I can’t stop talking about. I’m just a touch old to fall under Petersen’s definition of the millennial generation, yet I found myself nodding along to every chapter as Petersen explained how my and my peers’ personal life experience slot neatly into cultural and economic trends. Her biggest topics are our childhoods, our college experience and the implicit (and explicit) promises it had for our future, and why work is so awful for so many these days—all set against the backdrop of the economic realities of the last 40 years in the United States. I closed this book feeling understood, and like I better understand the world I’m living in. Petersen notes that she completed her final edits on this book while COVID-19 was just beginning her spread, and I appreciated her thoughts on how the pandemic subtly shifts the lens through which readers will engage with the ideas presented here. 

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About the Book

A BEST BOOK OF THE FALL AS SEEN IN: Apartment Therapy – Book Riot – Business Insider – BuzzFeed – Daily Nebraskan – Entertainment Weekly – Esquire – Fortune – Harper’s Bazaar – HelloGiggles – LinkedIn – O Magazine – Time Magazine

“[A] razor sharp book of cultural criticism…With blistering prose and all-too vivid reporting, Petersen lays bare the burnout and despair of millennials, while also charting a path to a world where members of her generation can feel as if the boot has been removed from their necks.” Esquire

An analytically precise, deeply empathic book about the psychic toll modern capitalism has taken on those shaped by it. Can’t Even is essential to understanding our age, and ourselves.”–Ezra Klein, Vox co-founder and New York Times bestselling author of Why We’re Polarized

An incendiary examination of burnout in millennials–the cultural shifts that got us here, the pressures that sustain it, and the need for drastic change

Do you feel like your life is an endless to-do list? Do you find yourself mindlessly scrolling through Instagram because you’re too exhausted to pick up a book? Are you mired in debt, or feel like you work all the time, or feel pressure to take whatever gives you joy and turn it into a monetizable hustle? Welcome to burnout culture.

While burnout may seem like the default setting for the modern era, in Can’t Even, BuzzFeed culture writer and former academic Anne Helen Petersen argues that burnout is a definitional condition for the millennial generation, born out of distrust in the institutions that have failed us, the unrealistic expectations of the modern workplace, and a sharp uptick in anxiety and hopelessness exacerbated by the constant pressure to “perform” our lives online. The genesis for the book is Petersen’s viral BuzzFeed article on the topic, which has amassed over seven million reads since its publication in January 2019.

Can’t Even goes beyond the original article, as Petersen examines how millennials have arrived at this point of burnout (think: unchecked capitalism and changing labor laws) and examines the phenomenon through a variety of lenses–including how burnout affects the way we work, parent, and socialize–describing its resonance in alarming familiarity. Utilizing a combination of sociohistorical framework, original interviews, and detailed analysis, Can’t Even offers a galvanizing, intimate, and ultimately redemptive look at the lives of this much-maligned generation, and will be required reading for both millennials and the parents and employers trying to understand them.

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