William Strauss (February 5, 1947 – December 18, 2007) was an American author, historian, playwright, theater director, and lecturer. As a historian, he is known for his work with Neil Howe on social generations and for the Strauss–Howe generational theory. He is also well known as the co-founder and director of the satirical musical theater group the Capitol Steps, and as the co-founder of the Cappies, a critics and awards program for high school theater students.
Strauss was born in Chicago and grew up in Burlingame, California. In 1963, during his junior year of high school, he was a Supreme Court Page, and he graduated from Harvard University in 1969. In 1973, he received a JD from Harvard Law School and a master’s in public policy from Harvard’s John F. Kennedy School of Government, where he was a member of the program’s first graduating class.
After receiving his degrees, Strauss worked in Washington, DC as a policy aid to the Presidential Clemency Board, directing a research team writing a report on the impact of the Vietnam War on the generation that was drafted. In 1978, Strauss and Lawrence Baskir co-authored two books on the Vietnam War, Chance and Circumstance, and Reconciliation after Vietnam. Strauss later worked at the U.S. Department of Energy and as a committee staffer for Senator Charles Percy, and in 1980 he became chief counsel and staff director of the Subcommittee on Energy, Nuclear Proliferation, and Government Processes.
In 1981, Strauss organized a group of senate staffers to perform satirical songs at the annual office Christmas party of his employer, Senator Percy. The group was so successful that Strauss went on to co-found a professional satirical troupe, the Capitol Steps, with Elaina Newport. The Capitol Steps is now a $3 million company with more than 40 employees who perform at venues across the country. As director, Strauss wrote many of the songs, performed regularly off Broadway, and recorded 27 albums.
During the 1990s, Strauss developed another career as a historian and sociologist, examining how generational differences shape attitudes, behaviors, and the course of history. He wrote seven books on social generations with Neil Howe, beginning with Generations in 1991. In 1997,Strauss and Howe founded LifeCourse Associates, a publishing, speaking, and consulting company built on their generational theory. As a partner at LifeCourse, Strauss worked as a corporate, nonprofit, education, and government affairs consultant.
In 1999, Strauss received a diagnosis of pancreatic cancer. This prompted him to found the Cappies, a program to inspire the next generation of theater performers and writers. Now an international program including hundreds of high schools, Cappies allows students to attend and review each other's plays and musicals, publish reviews in major newspapers, and hold Tonys-style Cappies award Galas, in which Strauss acted as MC for the Fairfax County program. Strauss also founded Cappies International Theater, a summer program in which top Cappies winners perform plays and musicals written by teenagers. In 2006 and 2007, Strauss advised creative teams of students who wrote two new musicals, Edit:Undo and Senioritis. Senioritis was made into a movie that was released in 2007.
Strauss died of pancreatic cancer in his home in McLean, Virginia. His wife of 34 years, Janie Strauss, lives in McLean and is a member of the Fairfax County School Board. They have four grown children.
Strauss has written a number of scholarly and popular books about American history and generations, as well as a number of plays and musicals.
In 1978, he and Laurence Baskier co-authored Chance and Circumstance, a book about the Vietnam-era draft. Their second book, Reconciliation After Vietnam (1978) was said to have influenced then-president Jimmy Carter to issue a blanket pardon to Vietnam draft resisters.
Strauss is well known for his books with Neil Howe. These include Generations (1991) and The Fourth Turning (1997), which examine historical generations and identify a cycle of recurring mood eras in American History (now known as the Strauss-Howe generational theory). Howe and Strauss also co-authored 13th Gen (1993) about Generation X, and Millennials Rising (2000) about the Millennial Generation.
Eric Hoover has called the authors pioneers in a burgeoning industry of consultants, speakers and researchers focused on generations. He wrote a critical piece about the concept of "generations" and the "Millennials" (a term coined by Strauss and Howe) for the Chronicle of Higher Education. Michael Lind offered his critique of Howe's book "Generations" for the New York Times.
Strauss also wrote a number of application books with Howe about the Millennials’ impact on various sectors, including Millennials Go to College (2003, 2007), Millennials in the Pop Culture (2005), and Millennials in K-12 Schools (2008).
Strauss wrote three musicals, MaKiddo, Free-the-Music.com, and Anasazi, and two plays, Gray Champions and The Big Bump, about various themes in the books he has co-authored with Howe. He also co-wrote two books of political satire with Elaina Newport, Fools on the Hill (1992) and Sixteen Scandals (2002).
- Chance and Circumstance (1978)
- Reconciliation After Vietnam (1987)
- Generations (1991)
- Fools on the Hill (1992)
- 13th-GEN (1993)
- The Fourth Turning (1997)
- Millennials Rising (2000)
- Sixteen Scandals (2002)
- Millennials Go To College (2003, 2007)
- Millennials and the Pop Culture (2006)
- Millennials and K-12 Schools (2008)
Plays and musicals
- MaKiddo (2000)
- Free-the-Music.com (2001)
- The Big Bump (2001)
- Anasazi (2004)
- Gray Champions (2005)
- Holley, Joe (December 19, 2007). "Bill Strauss, 60; Political Insider Who Stepped Into Comedy". Washington Post.
- "Harvard Kennedy School-History". Retrieved October 5, 2010.
- "William Strauss, Founding Partner". LifeCourse Associates. Retrieved October 5, 2010.
- Martin, Noah (August 5, 2008). "The Joy of Capppies". Centre View Northern Edition. Retrieved October 5, 2010.
- Toppo, Gregg (July 31, 2007). "A School Musical in Their Own Words". USA Today. Retrieved October 5, 2010.
- Howe, Neil; Strauss, William (1991). Generations:The History of America's Future 1584–2069. New York: William Morrow and Company. ISBN 0-688-08133-9.
- Howe, Neil; Strauss, William (1997). The Fourth Turning. New York: Broadway Books. ISBN 0-7679-0046-4.
- Howe, Neil; Strauss, William (1993). 13th Gen: Abort, Retry, Ignore, Fail?. New York: Vintage Print. ISBN 0-679-74365-0.
- Howe, Neil; Strauss, William (2000). Millennials Rising. New York: Vintage Books. ISBN 0-375-70719-0.
- Hoover, Eric (2009-10-11). "The Millennial Muddle: How stereotyping students became a thriving industry and a bundle of contradictions". The Chronicle of Higher Education (The Chronicle of Higher Education, Inc.). Retrieved 2011-01-11.
- Michael Lind (January 26, 1997). "Generation Gaps". New York Times Review of Books. Retrieved 1 November 2010.
- "William Strauss". Retrieved October 5, 2010.