The Best of Times: The Boom and Bust Years of America Before and After Everything Changed
xvi, 644 pp. We were awash in money and spellbound by celebrity and scandal. It was a time of breathtaking strides in science and unprecedented possibility. A time of squandered opportunities and grave distraction. A time of tragic complacency and belief in our invulnerability. In The Best of Times, Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist Haynes Johnson looks back on the decade that defied anyone's expectations, for better or worse. With a sharp eye for the quote or detail that perfectly captures a moment in time, Johnson tells the whole story, no holds barred, of the roller-coaster, self-indulgent nineties when America paid no attention to gathering foreign storms or looming economic collapse. The product of four years of interviews with the decade's most influential players, this is in the best tradition of timeless social history--a memorable portrait of the entire wonderful yet woeful decade that ended in the cataclysmic flames of September 11.Keywords: AMERICAN HISTORY POLITICAL SCIENCE AMERICA UNITED STATES US
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In The Best of Times, Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist Haynes Johnson follows his illuminating, bestselling overview of the Reagan years, Sleepwalking Through History, with a chronicle of America in the '90s, a time he finds both highly consequential and infuriatingly paradoxical.
Johnson divides his ambitious social history of an America at its "zenith" of power and influence into four intertwined sections. "Technotimes" opens with the Kasparov/Big Blue chess match, and quicksteps through the dizzying advances in computer science and bio-technology, including the Human Genome Project, cloning, and genetically modified crops. "Teletimes," easily the strongest and most disturbing section, uses the "scandalous spectacle" of the O.J. Simpson trial to illustrate the inescapable influence of the mass media and the metastasizing cult of celebrity. "Scandal Times" is primarily an extended retelling of the Monica Lewinsky affair and its squandering (in Johnson's eyes) effect on the Clinton presidency, while "Millennial Times," calling on polls and interviews with a crosscut of college students, is a statistical and personal- opinion snapshot of America in full end-of-century stride. Johnson juxtaposes narrative summary with capsule biographies of the famous (Bill Gates) and the obscure (Vannevar Bush and J.C.R. Licklider--visionaries of hypertext, the World Wide Web, and the Internet). Johnson's methodology is commendable. He inserts personal biases lightly (sometimes too tepidly), preferring to present many sides of issues and ask questions rather than opine. One serious weakness is the book's woefully inadequate endnotes.
Though The Best of Times has a tendency to overreach, sometimes scurrying past subjects rather than studying them, it is an informative, worthy, and accessible summary of contemporary American society. Johnson has created a literate time capsule, one whose value will increase greatly with each passing year. --H. O'BillovitchBook Description:
Published in hardcover by Harcourt, 2001, 0-15-100445-5
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