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The Best of Times: America in the Clinton Years Hardcover – October 1, 2001

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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 624 pages
  • Publisher: Harcourt; 1st edition (October 1, 2001)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0151004455
  • ISBN-13: 978-0151004454
  • Product Dimensions: 9.3 x 6.2 x 1.5 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 2.2 pounds
  • Average Customer Review: 4.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (12 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #827,573 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Editorial Reviews Review

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'Billovitch

From Publishers Weekly

As he did with the 1980s in Sleepwalking Through History: America in the Reagan Years, Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist Johnson reevaluates what happened to America in the '90s and paints a warts-and-all portrait that may shock many Americans and force others to review the new millennium's values. Picking up where he left off in Sleepwalking, Johnson describes the 1990s as "an era characterized by accumulation of wealth and self-indulgence." He then delves into the events that brought us to where we are today, a country split so evenly culturally, politically and economically that the last presidential election ended in a dead heat. Johnson casts a cynical eye on what he sees as a nation of voyeurs, fixated on reality shows, the Internet, celebrities, screaming pundits and with an utter contempt for privacy.He begins his quest in 1990 with a stagnant America stuck in a recession and adrift politically. Change starts to come with the birth of the quintessential information tool, the Internet clearly the event of the decade in Johnson's view. He then goes on to the one event that most pointedly revealed the U.S. as a celebrity-obsessed society: the O.J. Simpson trial. In blistering prose, Johnson describes the Kato-Kaelining of America: the ubiquitous talking heads on TV, the "disgraceful attack talk-radio programs" that proliferated at this time, "and a media that focused more on trivial concerns, on scandals and celebrities." In retrospect, it seems the country was ripe for Bill Clinton. "I've tried to shut my body down, sexually, I mean," the president told Dick Morris, according to the Starr Report, "but sometimes I slipped up and with this girl I just slipped up." Clinton's "slip-up" gave the ultimate smoking gun to his enemies. Johnson traces the right wing's paranoia about Clinton from Whitewater to the death of Vince Foster, to Travelgate and Filegate, and asserts that there was no wrongdoing on the president's part. Johnson's parade of characters includes the usual dreary suspects: Ken Starr, the special prosecutor whose office, according to Johnson, perpetrated "a disgraceful episode in the annals of American jurisprudence"; Monica Lewinsky, touchingly ingenuous one moment, scheming the next; Linda Tripp, who comes across here, as she appeared to many at the time, as a sordid character; and, of course, the news media, caught in a frenzy that, according to Johnson, "is motivated by a desire to become the next Woodward and Bernstein, to discover scandal where in fact none exists." The encouraging news? The American people didn't buy the media hype. Johnson defines the schism among Beltway Washington, the media, and the American public: "From beginning to end," Johnson writes, "the American people display great maturity and sound judgment as they assess the scandal being reported so incessantly and excessively. And from the beginning, the overwhelming public reaction stands in stark contrast to the view of the scandal as reported form the political insiders of Washington.'' America from 1990 to 2001 from impeachment to recession, the rise of the Internet to the fall of Nasdaq, and the upheaval of the 2000 elections is covered in startling detail by Johnson. He has written a magnetic book that every thoughtful American will want to read. 150,000 printing; BOMC main selection; History Book Club selection; author tour.

Copyright 2001 Cahners Business Information, Inc.

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27 of 28 people found the following review helpful By Paul C. Jones on January 6, 2002
Format: Hardcover
Every so often I read an exceptional book on current topics. One such book is "The Best of Years - America in the Clinton Years" by Haynes Johnson which I read over the holidays. Johnson is a long-time television commentator, a Pulitzer Prize winner and author of numerous books over the past 35 years (about my age) on topical events.
Johnson's book, which was published in late 2001, begins with a sketch of events - or culture - in the "Golden Age" - the 1990's. It is followed by two sections giving an analysis of two major factors affecting the culture of the "'90's" - technology and the media. The book then gives an in-depth portrayal of the Clinton Scandal which one could either read or just scan if he or she wished. At the end of the book is an excellent analysis of various sectors of society which were affected by the topics discussed - sectors such as the people, the markets, the media, and the political process. It concludes with an "Epilogue" which focuses on issues our 'age' should resolve as we move into the 21st Century.
The book begins with a fascinating discussion, at least for me, of how our current 'computer' culture was developed. It also discussed the rapid advances in 'Gene Technology' during the 1990's - a technology which provides so much promise - but causes an equal amount of controversy. It then discusses how the media has changed over my (or Johnson's) lifetime - a change not necessarily for the good. Portions of the book may seem political - not a Republican or Democratic "political", but "political" from how our system of government works - or does not work. Part may seem to be an 'over-do' of the Clinton-Monica 'affair', but that is a significant portion of the overall 'culture' of the '90's and deserves a 'read'.
The book is excellent and worthy of the time from a busy schedule to read, comprehend and give thought to the issues discussed.
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11 of 11 people found the following review helpful By Barron Laycock HALL OF FAME on September 12, 2002
Format: Hardcover
One of the best of the gaggle of electronic journalists who has successfully made the transition to writing full-time as a contemporary historian is former television correspondent Haynes Johnson, who has penned a wonderful series of books on American politics and social issues like "Sleepwalking Through History", a savvy and fascinating best-selling study of the Reagan's presidency and its aftermath. In this book, In "The Best of Times", Johnson adds to his series of fascinating narratives on contemporary American culture that now focuses on the intriguing developments of the 1990s. As in his previous book, "Divided We Fall; Gambling With History In The Nineties", Johnson explores the social, economic and politics realities of the times in a work that largely acts as a snapshot of the country and the polity at a particular moment in time, i.e., in the late 1990s, in the fullness of Bill Clinton's fateful Presidency.
One of the things making this book special is the author's unusual ability to draw those that he interviews out of themselves. As a result he mines some fascinating data from the wide range of people he contacted while making a kind of sentimental journey across America. He found that people quite consistently voiced concerns and reservations about the same kinds of issues; employment, race, education, public schools, and also about traditional values and what their place in contemporary America should be. Johnson divides the snapshot into four different views or perspectives; taken together they comprise his view of the state of the polity, and taken individually, each lends a critical element to the otherwise bewildering polyphony that is our contemporary culture.
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8 of 9 people found the following review helpful By John W. Hawthorne on December 24, 2001
Format: Hardcover
While Johnson's treatment of OJ and the Clinton Impeachment trial provide a quick and thorough summary of those pivotal events, the real strength in the book is in the context set in the first half. Johnson effectively argues that the growth of technology (including the internet and biotech) combined with the cable news revolution to create a context that made a scandal-prone 90s possible. OJ couldn't have happened without CNN and Court TV. Lessons learned there proved invaluable in Monica coverage. The stock market boom (and subsequent fizzle) are directly related to both technology and media. While Johnson covers much material that can be read elsewhere, it is the connections between these larger social themes that proves significant to this work. Paying attention to those themes of technology, media, and celebrity as we start a new century moves the argument far beyond "what happened when" and gives us clues of what will be read when Mr. Johnson details the first decade of the 21st Century in his next book.
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10 of 13 people found the following review helpful By Joe F on November 6, 2001
Format: Hardcover
I received this book as a gift and had some reservations about reading an "instant history" of the 1990s, but decided to read it anyway. One cannot fault Johnson's writing, it is easy to follow, conversational, and woven throughout with interviews he conducted with leaders in the private and public sector. Rather, my disagreement with the book stems from the pithy, superficial era it covers. Yet another exegesis on the OJ trial, Microsoft, Clinton-Era scandals (a lengthy review of Monica does nothing but remind the reader how tawdry and slimy the whole episode, and the main characters therein were), leads inexorably to the rather obvious conclusion that a country experiencing unprecedented wealth, prosperity and peace will sate itself on sleaze, tabloid journalism, and sensationalism.
Johnson breaks no new ground in his examination of the Internet, and its affect on our nation. While axiomatic that the tech boom of the 1990s was largely fueled by people who sought to leverage the Internet, the final analysis of, for example, the tech bust of 2000, is still unknown. Since the effects of unemployment, consolidation, and failure in the on-line world are still being felt, the snapshot of the go-go 1990s where any and every idea regarding the 'Net seemed to meet with initial raves is just that -- a snapshot. The more fully developed historical analysis of the Internet (and our culture) from this era is still many years off.
While the mirror Johnson holds up to this time in our nation's history is a largely objective one, the book suffers because these matters are still fresh in our minds. Indeed, a chapter devoted to the DOJ investigation of Microsoft is already dated based on the recent proposed settlement of that lawsuit.
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