cover image The Nineties: A Book

The Nineties: A Book

Chuck Klosterman. Penguin Press, $28 (384p) ISBN 978-0-7352-1795-9

Pop culture critic and essayist Klosterman (Sex, Drugs, and Cocoa Puffs) turns his flinty eye to the 1990s, “the last period in American history when personal and political engagement was still viewed as optional.” Blending cultural analysis with his own caustic hot takes, Klosterman claims that the chief characteristic of the ’90s was a pervasive feeling of ambivalence, “defined by an overwhelming assumption that life... was underwhelming” (his writing has a similarly detached tone). He views how this societal apathy coursed through the decade’s indie films, such as Larry Clark’s 1995 cult hit Kids (its theme: “there was no meaning to anything, ever”), and was embodied by Nirvana’s Nevermind, the ideal soundtrack for, as Kurt Cobain put it, “a completely exhausted Rock youth Culture.” But at the same time, Klosterman counters, the decade gave rise to art that tackled timely issues including the AIDs epidemic—with Rent debuting on Broadway in 1994—and brought queer stories to TV via such shows as NBC’s Will & Grace. “The world, as always, was changing,” he writes, citing how the decade saw a shift in everything from politics and awareness around race to the explosive growth of the internet and celebrity culture—a preview, he writes, of what was to come in subsequent decades. This nostalgic look at the waning days of offline culture both piques and entertains. (Feb.)