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Books Set in the 1980s

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Whether you found this list searching for the best books set in the 1980s or because you are participating in our Decades Challenge, you’ll find a wide variety of titles and genres to choose from. This book list is extra special to The Book Girls because we were both born in 1980.

Three tilted book covers with Tuesday Nights in 1980 in the center.

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

As always, we welcome you to choose any book set in the 1980s that you like, 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, and memoirs, as well as some popular books published in the 80s.

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 significantly impacted culture during the 80s, bringing 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 significant 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 to the 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 AIDS in the United States in 1981. However, 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 was launched in 1981 and introduced 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 in the US.
  • In 1984, the UK agreed to transfer the power of Hong Kong back to China at a later date (the actual handover of Hong Kong did not occur until 1997).
  • In what is now considered one of the worst marketing moves in history, the Coca-Cola Company 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 launch 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 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 a free press in China. Chinese troops attempted to break up the demonstrations by firing live rounds into the crowd, killing an estimated hundreds to thousands of protesters.

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The Best Books Set in the 1980s

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Jerri Patton

Wednesday 20th of July 2022

Of the six books that I've read, I think the two most important books are 'Just Mercy' which is also a great movie and of course '1984'. My book club read '1984' in '1984' .

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!!

Jerri Patton

Wednesday 20th of July 2022

@Sarah Vogel, Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil is written by John Berendt. Bill Bryson is also one of my favorite writers.