If you’re looking for an enjoyable, readable, but smart overview of the 1990s, look no further than Chuck Klosterman’s The Nineties. (Published early in 2022, it’s now getting old enough for very affordable used copies to be hitting the market, if you’re a deal-seeker.)
The focus of the book is popular culture. Though wars and presidents get their due, you’ll find the focus of the book is television, music, sports, movies, that kind of thing. (I was a kid in the ’90s so I do remember some of these figures – Eminem, Tiger Woods, Jurassic Park, Titanic, Friends – but mostly just as figures that were floating out there in the wider culture. I didn’t watch a lot of TV, and what I did watch was mostly PBS, and Vermont was a pretty isolated place to grow up once you turned off the TV.) Klosterman analyzes each figure: what they meant to the culture or what the culture meant to their rise. As a result this isn’t just a “remember them? remember when?” book, although it could serve that purpose for those who choose to skim the text. Klosterman delves deeper than you might expect in a popular book into the meanings of and connections between things.
More than once I found myself not caring about the particular celebrity or cultural figure Klosterman was discussing, but his writing was interesting enough, and he drew enough connections between people and events, that I kept reading. The chapters also tend to be fairly short, with interstitial breaks peppered between chapters, so this book can be read just a few minutes at a time if you have a busy schedule.
Some of the final events in the book are the 2000 Presidential election, which Klosterman analyzes to see what it says about our current era of partisanship, and the Y2K crisis (the would-be crisis that was arguably averted through the hard work of many programmers across the world). The events of September 11th 2001 are touched upon, but it’s made clear that those are meant to be the bookend for this volume, not to be included in it.
Overall I’m glad I picked up The Nineties. I think some of the pop-culture sections would have been more meaningful to me if I had been just a bit older – a teenager or young adult – at the time, but Klosterman included enough interesting factoids and analysis to capture my attention anyway. Those looking for more of a political history might be better served by another book, but for those interested in the TV stars, sports players, rock stars, etc. who would have been the topics of everyday conversation, this book is hard to beat.
Verdict: ★★★★ (out of 5)
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