- Hardcover: 624 pages
- Publisher: Harcourt; 1st edition (October 1, 2001)
- Language: English
- ISBN-10: 0151004455
- ISBN-13: 978-0151004454
- Product Dimensions: 6.1 x 1.2 x 9.2 inches
- Shipping Weight: 2.2 pounds (View shipping rates and policies)
- Average Customer Review: 14 customer reviews
- Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #643,933 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)
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The Best of Times: America in the Clinton Years 1st Edition
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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'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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Top customer reviews
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.
The first of the snapshots is of the so-called short life of "Technotimes", which nimbly traces the daunting list of scientific particulars dotting the numbing technological advances and accompanying changes in corporate culture it imbues. The second theme, that of "Teletimes," is a distressingly accurate portrayal of the developing cult of celebrity, the contributing influence of electronic media, and its rampant manifestations throughout the social, political, and economic landscape. The third aspect investigated is what he refers to as "Scandal Times", which focuses on the sordid particulars of the Monica Lewinsky affair and the ay in which it was allowed to corrupt every aspect of the Clinton administration. Finally, he describes "Millennial Times," showing the degree of diversity and pluralism that still remains and flourishes in contemporary America.
Faced with unpleasant choices about how to deal with the development of terrorism, our new economic woes, and a rapidly evolving technology, the use of this point/counterpoint perspective has some interesting points to make about the state of the country and the culture. Thus, this is a book that paints an indelible and unforgettable portrait of today's modern America, a country characterized by the common people feeling both frightened by the brave new world we now face and yet at the same time embracing this new world with care, compassion, and courage. As always, Johnson finds ample reasons for hope and optimism, and some of the individual narratives provide ample proof that idealism isn't dead, that there are people who passionately care about their country and their values, and who are actively involved in trying to make this a better country and a better world.
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.