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Publisher's Summary

An instant New York Times best seller!

From the best-selling author of But What if We’re Wrong, a wise and funny reckoning with the decade that gave us slacker/grunge irony about the sin of trying too hard, during the greatest shift in human consciousness of any decade in American history.

It was long ago, but not as long as it seems: The Berlin Wall fell and the Twin Towers collapsed. In between, one presidential election was allegedly decided by Ross Perot while another was plausibly decided by Ralph Nader. In the beginning, almost every name and address was listed in a phone book, and everyone answered their landlines because you didn’t know who it was. By the end, exposing someone’s address was an act of emotional violence, and nobody picked up their new cell phone if they didn’t know who it was. The '90s brought about a revolution in the human condition we’re still groping to understand. Happily, Chuck Klosterman is more than up to the job.

Beyond epiphenomena like "Cop Killer" and Titanic and Zima, there were wholesale shifts in how society was perceived: the rise of the internet, pre-9/11 politics, and the paradoxical belief that nothing was more humiliating than trying too hard. Pop culture accelerated without the aid of a machine that remembered everything, generating an odd comfort in never being certain about anything. On a '90s Thursday night, more people watched any random episode of Seinfeld than the finale of Game of Thrones. But nobody thought that was important; if you missed it, you simply missed it. It was the last era that held to the idea of a true, hegemonic mainstream before it all began to fracture, whether you found a home in it or defined yourself against it. 

In The Nineties, Chuck Klosterman makes a home in all of it: the film, the music, the sports, the TV, the politics, the changes regarding race and class and sexuality, the yin/yang of Oprah and Alan Greenspan. In perhaps no other book ever written would a sentence like, “The video for ‘Smells Like Teen Spirit’ was not more consequential than the reunification of Germany” make complete sense. Chuck Klosterman has written a multi-dimensional masterpiece, a work of synthesis so smart and delightful that future historians might well refer to this entire period as Klostermanian.

©2022 Chuck Klosterman (P)2022 Penguin Audio

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Terrible

Returned it after trying to get past the first few chapters. Such an interesting topic turned into this wreck.

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Another great addition to the Chuck library

First time on Audible for me listing to a Chuck book and he does what he does best here. Great insights that only he can provide. His look back on the Nineties is informative, fun and though provoking. I really enjoyed it.

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  • Umar Lee
  • 10-02-2022

A Very White Middle-class Take On The Nineties

This book started rough for me. Chuck Klosterman spoke of the nineties being easy times and right then I knew exactly what the perspective was going to be- a telling of the decade from an exclusively white American middle-class lense. After all the nineties began with off the charts levels of violence in many of our cities as the Crack Epidemic was still raging and gang-banging was at an all time high (and responding to this mass incarceration bills were passed). This climate gave birth to classic films of the era such as Boys in The Hood and Menace II Society. The nineties certainly weren't carefree if you were living in Compton or North St. Louis. Nor were they easy if you were in Rwanda or Bosnia facing genocide or a woman in Afghanistan living under Taliban rule. So, point taken, this book is about a white American middle-class look at the decade, and it was fun at times.

Like a lot of white dudes Klosterman has a fixation on Kurt Cobain and Nirvana. Regarding Cobain I'll share this- when he died it was announced on TV and I looked at a friend and asked "who the f*%# is Curt Kobain?". I was born in 1974 and I'm part of "Gen X", a term I've always hated, and I didn't have any friends who listened to Nirvana. In fact I couldn't name one grunge song from any band so a lot of this obsessing over Cobain and Radiohead was lost on me. I just remember thinking the grunge movement was ridiculous at the time and asking why these rich suburban white kids are dressing like my grandpa and trying to look like disheveled construction workers when they haven't done a day of hard work in their lives?

Tupac and Biggie got shortchanged as did almost everything Black. No Million Man March, no discussion of the popularity of Louis Farrakhan during that decade, no talk of the popularity of the Malcolm X biopic from Spike Lee, no Martin, no A Different World, no Def Comedy Jam. The killing of Tupac, and Biggie the following year, were huge cultural events and the pain was felt globally.

The generation is presented by Klosterman as one of slackers not concerned about traditional metrics of success or the opinions of others. I get that opinion is widely shared; but I sure remember an awful lot of kids my age going to college and getting degrees, beginning blue-collar careers, joining the military, and finding paths to entrepreneurship.

Two things Klosterman brings up are important. We're the last generation that grew-up before the internet. We didn't have cellphones until well into adulthood. So we have knowledge of a previous way of living: sitting by phones and waiting on calls, finding numbers in the yellow pages, arguing for hours about things Siri can give you the answer to in seconds now, and more. Klosterman points out that Napster was one of the first disruptive technologies as it changed the music industry. He mentions Alanis Morissette and Liz Phair. I never listened to Phair, but had I known she was singing songs about giving blow jobs, as I learned in this book, I may have become a fan.

Klosterman does a pretty good job illustrating how huge Michael Jordan was and not just on the basketball court. Everyone in the nineties loved Jordan,and as with Oprah Winfrey, there was some discussion he may run for president. Something Klosterman doesn't mention is Jordan was even interviewed on Meet the Press by Tim Russert. In a similar manner Klosterman notes how, while America couldn't get enough of him, the nineties were a horrifically bad decade for Mike Tyson. As a St Louis Cardinals baseball fan I thoroughly enjoyed the home run race between Marc Mcguire and Sammy Sosa. Did we all know they were juiced? Did we all know baseball was falling from its status as our favorite pastime? I think so. Juiced up home run hitters are like breast implants. People say they only want the real thing while enjoying the fake.

"It was difficult for crazy people to meet " is an excellent line. The nineties, and the internet, was really the beginning of the polarized lunacy we see today, simply because prior to technological advances it was difficult for conspiracy nuts and extremists to meet and talk. Now, when half of America has their own podcast, not so much.

The cultural impact of Seinfeld was discussed and he did a good job with this. The show was big in the culture and impossible to replicate as no one else possessed the comedic genius of Larry David and Jerry Seinfeld. It's important to note that Seinfeld was widely popular, even outside of white audiences, unlike Friends which was exclusively popular among white viewers .

There were several films mentioned in this book I've either never seen or heard of; but for younger people I can assure you hitting up Blockbuster or Hollywood video and looking for a movie was a real treat. However, I'll unashamedly mention I loved both Titanic and Pulp Fiction, but hated the Matrix.

Near the end of the book Klosterman discusses two of the difficult men of the decade: Bill Clinton and OJ Simpson and then mentions a show about difficult men that began in the decade (The Sopranos).

Of course with both men time has changed views. Bill Clinton appeared to be a cool and hip president, the first Black president as coined by Toni Morrison, and was widely popular, the economy was good, and a sense of optimism existed. His sex scandal with White House intern Monica Lewinsky was also viewed skeptically. Many people, including myself, looked at the affair as much ado about nothing, and just the result of a partisan Republican witch hunt and sexually up-tight and puritanical conservatives. In hindsight the predatory sexual behaviors of Clinton are unacceptable, he certainly wasn't the first Black president, and his neoliberal policies, trade deals, and politics had a long term damaging effect on working Americans.

Regarding OJ, Klosterman does a good job of explaining why the event was huge in the culture. OJ had been a huge crossover star and his chase, arrest, and trial were not only widely televised they were also inescapable as everyone was talking about. The racial division was real, and a majority of Black Americans thought OJ didn't do it while most White Americans think he did, but as Klosterman points out that has faded with time and the majority of Black Americans now think OJ was guilty.

The book closes out with the contested 2000 presidential election ( who can forget the hanging chads in Florida?) and 9-11 because, as Klosterman correctly notes, decades don't really start and end within an exact order. He argues that 2000 was really the beginning of the scorched Earth politics we see today and that 9-11 kinda formally ended the decade. I would argue that Klosterman could've made a time line from the Branch Davidian compound in Waco, Texas to the Oklahoma City bombing to 9-11 showing how each uniquely impacted the culture. Prior to 9-11 most Americans paid very little attention to the Middle East and the defining moments with regards to the region, from an American perspective, was the relatively smooth first Gulf War and Israeli Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin shaking the hand of Palestine Liberation Organization leader Yasser Arafat on the White House lawn. The American public seemingly checked out after the assassination of Rabin by Jewish extremist Yigal Amir, the beginning of the "Al Aqsa Intifada", the unpopularity of American-backed autocrats, and the spread of AQ in the region prior to 9-11. This helps explain how the Bush Administration could sell their bumbling and disastrous reaction to the American public. They were busy watching Friends and obsessing over Kurt Cobain.

What else did Klosterman miss? A lot. As I previously stated this is a very white middle-class look at the nineties. Klosterman misses most things that were important to Black America in the decade, but he does mention several things that were important. Latinos and Asians made basically no appearance in this book and this includes huge cultural events such as the murder of the famous Mexican-American singer Selena.

Overall this was a fairly enjoyable read. I was young in the nineties and remember all of these things and most importantly it made me remember the people I was with at the time- many who are no longer here.


You can follow my reviews on Goodreads. Look for Umar Lee.

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  • Amazon Customer
  • 09-02-2022

Garbage

I have to stipulate that I have listened only to one and a half chapters. I couldn’t stand any more.

Asked to respond to Jack Kerouac’s “On the Road,” Truman Capote famously said, “It isn’t writing. It’s typing.” This book, “The Nineties,” by Chuck Klosterman, deserves the same characterization. He blathers on and on about various cultural events of the decade in question. There is no organization of the various topics, e.g. popular-culture (books, music, tv grouped together), then political culture, &c. There is zero specification of *whose* experience he’s supposedly describing/analyzing. One can infer that he’s talking about rich white people; no mention of Black people or any other ethnically or class-inflected groups. There are two narrators; the more prevalent one has a grating, irritating voice.

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  • S. H. Moore
  • 18-02-2022

Weridly focused and odd

This book takes a different approach to other decade books and focuses entirely on a cultural and emotional tale of the nineties. Klosterman also comes across as low key SJW and very liberal. I won’t be reading any of his other works.

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  • Michelle Novoa
  • 27-02-2022

I thought this was going to be more fun to listen

While I am at Gen Xer and definitely lived through the 90s I do not recall that period in time anywhere close to the point of view that the author, not even in retrospect. It very much feels like the author has way over thought everything in the 90s however that may be a product of my being a Gen Xer and not putting enough thought into much besides me, my family, my Friends, neighborhood and community. overall I thought this was going to be more of an anthology and more whimsical however there are points that we're definitely interesting just not what I expected..

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  • Anonymous User
  • 21-03-2022

Great read, only wished it was longer.

I love chuck Klosterman and this might be one of his best. I heard people complaining about this not being personal enough, but I actually think his world view comes across even if he doesn't make it explicit. A lot of this is no longer in vogue, but that's what makes the 90s a great read. I only wished it was longer, since there was certInly more to cover. I appreciste it was read by him.

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  • Michael Simmelink
  • 05-05-2022

Great review by Klosterman

I tend to enjoy Chuck Klosterman as a critic, not as a novelist, and I think this was him operating at his best. Really enjoyed how seamless it was to go from topic to topic throughout the decade. Wasn't a boring, chronological rehash. Born in 1992, and was glad to read it.

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  • Mike T.
  • 01-05-2022

More ruminations from a Gen-X expert

I've been reading Chuck Klosterman's stuff for many years now and he never disappoints. The Nineties is no different. It's the decade he was born to write about. Klosterman is a master of nuamce, taking fine points of culture and expounding on them. Sometimes I agree and so!stones his opinions are far afield from my own, but he's always interesting. I especially enjoy his writings on music. It's always gun to read his thoughts on two of my favorites; Billy Joel and KISS. If you're A Gen-X'er or just like reading about popular culture then pick this one up. It's wide ranging themes won't let you down.

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  • johnkabana
  • 19-04-2022

Not for me.

I feel a bit like a troll but this cost me $ 15 or so on my Audible app. Gave it a couple of hours and found it to be really just vacuous word salad and had to quit it. I guess I just need something solid to engage me and this wasn't it...

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  • Amazon Customer
  • 20-02-2022

5 Stars

The Book Chuck was born to write! Good to hear him narrate it too.

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  • Peyote Dinners
  • 16-02-2022

Great Read, Okay-ish Listen

Klosterman is my favorite writer— it will never stop captivating me how he is simultaneously protracted and succinct with his words. It is a bit of an adjustment getting used to his ND accent, but its a fantastic book.

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  • Anonymous User
  • 25-05-2022

Enjoyable and informative refresh

In truth I had hoped for something a little less US centric and I initially wondered whether I would finish. After the first chapter this stopped being an issue, the book was informative and interesting, never too heavy. Whilst not all the touch points meant so much to someone on the other side of the pond,many were still relevant - either through the global impact they had or because of the similarities in US and UK cultures

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  • Richard
  • 22-02-2022

superb history book

Superb book. Klosterman looks at how things were, not how they should be. The attitudes, the hopes, the tastes, the fears of people at the time. He admits its hard to summarise and entire populations belief but all of his points are backed with both statistics and anecdotes. very well researched and enjoyable to read. It's very funny at times.

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