Review: The Nineties by Chuck Klostermann

Review by Tony Hoffart

When I started reading The Nineties, a simple white book with a ridiculous looking clear corded telephone on the cover, I was struck with how well researched it was.  It felt like a history book and so I was surprised to find out that it was firmly embedded in our social sciences section.  I then spent the rest of the book trying to understand why this was a Social Science genre instead of History.  

The Nineties starts out explaining the standard complaints an older generation has towards the younger.  In one of its many very concise and pithy statements it explains how the older generation inevitably sees the younger as “soft” and that this is a good thing.  That if younger generations weren’t being viewed this way, it was because progress had stalled and life had become measurably harder for everyone.  This is a book about Generation X.  The smallest of the modern generations, the generation that was entering into adulthood in the nineties.  It is about that generation and attempts to understand it objectively.  The nineties also examines how that decade impacts the two decades we’ve had since.  

It starts with how in that decade misinformation could be an accident rather than the deliberate choice that it is now.  Then moves into Kurt Cobain and how he encapsulated the Gen-X mindset of “Don’t Sell Out” that permeated the decade.  Therein we have an example of what I particularly enjoyed in this book, having lived through the Nineties I can remember how uncool sellouts were, yet no one sees striving for commercial success as a problem anymore.  I can look at those thoughts with a kind of amused nostalgia and wonder “what was I thinking?”  Then the book tells me, and I remember.  

It covers the careers of Quintin Tarantino, Michael Jordan, Tiger Woods, Alannis Morsette, Garth Brooks, the Steroid Fueled renaissance of Baseball, THE RISE OF THE INTERNET and many other popular culture phenomena of the decade.  It incredulously remembers the fight where Mike Tyson bit Holyfield’s ear off.  And in the final chapters, it examines politics.  Looking back at the Clinton Presidency, when you examine the details of the sexual abuses he did while in-office as the whole world did at that time, it is difficult to imagine a Liberal President being anything but reviled.  But indeed, he enjoyed his highest approval ratings immediately after his impeachment.  

Again, the compare and contrast of our viewpoint now compared to then is what makes this book shine. What in the end makes this book great is that it isn’t examining the era so much as it’s allowing the reader to examine themselves.