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September 29, 1996|CHARLES SOLOMON

COMING OF AGE: The Story of Our Century by Those Who've Lived It by Studs Terkel (St. Martin's Griffin: $16.95, 468 pp.). For his most recent oral history, Terkel interviewed 70 Americans who had attained the scriptural allotment of "threescore years and ten." His subjects include teachers, union leaders, businessmen, lawyers, members of the clergy and community activists, who reflect on the changes the 20th century has brought to America and on the satisfactions of lives well-lived.

Their complaints about the present focus not on technology or moral decay, but on the more limited opportunities and greater perils society affords. In a list of grievances, Terkel cites "the promiscuous use of the machine; the loss of the personal touch; the vanishing skills of the hand; the competitive edge, rather than the cooperative center; the corporate credo as all-encompassing truth; the sound bite as instant wisdom; trivia as substance; and the denigration of language."

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