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Sound and fury signifying nothing
on November 6, 2001
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. On the one hand, the book is written too closely to the subjects it examines to have the luxury of hindsight, yet is also focused on subjects and a time period that by their very nature are fluid and ever-changing.
Readers would be better served to locate the seminal work "Sleepwalking through History" which covers in devastating detail the indifference and classism of the 1980s in America or Johnson's "The System" (co-authored with David Broder) that examines the hyper, disfunctional, and ugly debate on national health care in 1993-94.