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Books Set in the 1980s

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As we work our way through the Decades Reading Challenge, this one is extra special to The Book Girls, because both of us were born in 1980.

You can read all about the challenge, download your free printable reading tracker, and find book lists for other decades here.

As always, we welcome you to choose any book you like that is set in the decade, but to help you get started, we’ve compiled a great list of books about the Eighties, including both humorous and poignant examinations of the decade. Our recommendations include historical fiction, non-fiction, memoirs, and books published in the 1980s.

Book covers of The Joy Luck Club and The Music Shop with text "20+ Books Set in the 1980s"

After the revolutionary and progressive 60s and 70s, the 1980s in America marked a turn toward conservatism in social and political views. As hippies gave way to yuppies, the decade was largely defined by growing materialism and consumerism, big hair, and power bands.

The Eighties marked the start of the computer age, with the first personal computers being introduced into first into offices, and then homes. Technology also had a major impact on culture during the 80s, bring about music videos, cable television networks, blockbuster movies, portable camcorders, and video games.

Major Events of the 1980s

Before recommending books from each decade, we like to provide historical context with an overview of the major events of the time, but if you’d prefer, feel free to scroll straight to our book list.

  • The 1980 eruption of Mount St. Helens in Washington state was the most destructive volcanic eruption in modern history. By the time the eruption stopped the following day, a large ash cloud had already spread across the central US, with some ash reaching the cities in the US by day two.
  • The popular video game “Pac-Man” was released in 1980. Video game technology continued to develop throughout the decade, leading up tot he release of the Nintendo Game Boy portable gaming system in 1989.
  • Hollywood actor turned politician Ronald Reagan was elected president in the fall of 1980. Just 69 days after taking office, he was shot in an assassination attempt, but he quickly recovered.
  • The US boycotted the 1980 Olympics in Moscow to protest the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan.
  • In July of 1981, Prince Charles married Lady Diana Spencer in a televised wedding seen by a global audience of 750 million people.
  • Scientists first identified the AIDS in the United States in 1981. Despite the rapidly increasing AIDS epidemic throughout the first half of the decade, the US government leaders were very slow to respond to the issue, and it was often dismissed as a “gay disease.”
  • The cable network MTV is launched in 1981 and introduces the VMAs (Video Music Awards) in 1984.
  • In 1981, Sandra Day O’Connor became the first female Justice on the Supreme Court.
  • As technology boomed, “The Computer” was named Time Magazine’s 1982 Man of the Year, CD players were introduced in Japan, and Motorola released the first mobile phones to the US.
  • In 1984, the UK agreed to transfer power of Hong Kong back to China at a later date (the actual handover of Hong Kong did not take place until 1997).
  • The Coca-Cola Company – in what is now considered one of the worst marketing moves in history – introduced “New Coke” in 1985, before returning to the original formula just months later.
  • In 1986, the Chernobyl nuclear reactor exploded in Ukraine (formerly part of the USSR), creating what is widely considered the worst nuclear disaster in history.
  • During a 1986 launched watched on live television by school children all around the country, the Space Shuttle Challenger exploded, killing all the astronauts aboard.
  • In 1987, construction began on the Channel Tunnel (the “Chunnel”) – the longest undersea tunnel in the world – which links England and France by train.
  • In 1988, George H.W. Bush, who had served as Vice President under Ronald Reagan, was elected as President of the United States.
  • The fall of the Berlin Wall in 1989 symbolized the end of the Cold War.
  • The 1989 student-led protests in Tiananmen Square called for democracy, free speech, and free press in China. Chinese troops attempted to break up the protests by firing live rounds into the crowd, killing an estimated hundreds to thousands of protesters.

Books set in the 1980s

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Sarah Vogel

Sunday 9th of August 2020

I have recommended :"Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil" so many times to friends!! It is so interesting because it is based on real people and events in Savannah. That is an interesting culture!! ... and Bill Bryson is one of our favorite authors, and we think this may be his best book. I am excited to read some of the others on the list! Thank you!!