We are now nine months into the Decades Reading Challenge and we’ve worked out way up to the end of the 20th century. This month we’ll be reading books set in the 1990s.
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 Nineties. Our recommendations provide a look back at this decade through the eyes of many different characters, and include some of the best books set in the 1990s that examine everything from small town life to British aristocracy, and from pop culture to serious social issue. On our list, you’ll find numerous books written in this decade, as well as historical fiction (can we call the 90s historical, yet?), memoirs, and non-fiction options.
The 1990s are largely remembered as a decade of prosperity in the United States and relative peace abroad. The economy was growing quickly, the unemployment rate was low, and the US budget had a surplus for the first time in 30 years. But the Nineties also put a national spotlight on many of the issues that we are still grappling with today, including terrorism, mass shootings, and climate change.
New technology in the 1990s, including the development of the World Wide Web (limited to dial-up connections), led to a rise in multiculturalism and alternative media. Culturally, the decade was ushered in by a rise of grunge music, and all things alternative counterculture soon went mainstream. Despite this move to the alternative, “Must See TV” laugh-track sitcoms, like Friends, still ruled the airwaves.
Major Events of the 1990s
Before recommending books set in the 90s, 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.
- In February 1990, Nelson Mandela was released after 27 years in prison in South Africa. In 1991, President F.W. de Klerk and Mandela began working together to end apartheid and establish a democratic government for South Africa. In 1993, the pair won the Nobel Peace Prize for their work, and in 1994 Nelson Mandela became the President of South Africa.
- Art thieves stole 13 works of art from the Isabella Gardner Museum in Boston in March 1990. The museum continues to actively investigate the theft, working in partnership with the FBI and the US Attorney’s Office even today, with a $10 million reward offered for information leading directly to the recovery the art.
- The official demolition of the Berlin Wall began in June of 1990, and was completed two years later.
- The Gulf War began in August of 1990 and entered its combat phase, known as Operation Desert Storm, on January 17, 1991. The war, which resulted in response to Iraq’s invasion of Kuwait arising from oil pricing and production disputes, ended just 43 days later on February 28, 1991.
- The inventor of the World Wide Web published his formal proposal in 1990, and by 1991 the Internet became available for unrestricted commercial use.
- The Soviet Union took the first official steps to break up the U.S.S.R. in September 1991. By the end of 1991 the dissolution was effective and the Soviet Union ceased to exist.
- Serial killer Jeffrey Dahmer was arrested in July 1991 after the remains of 11 men and boys are found in his apartment in Milwaukee, Wisconsin. His murders spanned 1978 to 1991.
- In 1992, violent riots broke out in Los Angeles following the acquittal of four white police officers accused of beating black motorist Rodney King, despite the brutality having been captured on video.
- The European Union was created in 1992, and the Euro began circulation as the official currency of the EU in 1999.
- Bill Clinton is elected as the 42nd President of the United States in 1992, and reelected in 1996. Following revelations about his affair with White House intern Monica Lewinsky, in late 1998 Clinton became only the second US president to be impeached, charged with lying under oath and obstruction of justice. He was ultimately acquitted by the Senate and finished his second term in office.
- The Real World premiered on MTV in 1992, launching the modern reality TV genre.
- In 1993, the government raided the compound of a Christian cult known as the Branch Davidians. The Waco Siege led to a 51-day standoff that ended in April when fires consumed the compound, leaving 75 people dead, including 25 children.
- In June 1993, Lorena Bobbitt made world-wide headlines in when, she cut off her husband’s “member” with a knife while he was asleep in bed. An entire generation of men began sleeping with one eye open.
- In 1994, Genocide and Civil War take place in Rwanda with an estimated 500,000 or more people killed.
- Tonya Harding was stripped of her national figure skating championship title in 1994 because of her role in the attack on her rival Nancy Kerrigan.
- The Channel Tunnel (the “Chunnel”), an underwater train tunnel, was completed in 1994, creating the only fixed link between the United Kingdom and mainland Europe.
- On the evening of Friday, June 17, 1994, 95 million people were glued to their TVs watching the as O.J. Simpson led police on an hour-long, 60-mile “slow-speed chase” in his white Bronco down southern California’s freeways. In 1995, after a trial that lasted more than 8 months, Simpson was found not guilty of murdering his ex-wife and her friend. Two years later, he was found guilty in a civil trial.
- The television show Friends premiered on NBC in September of 1994 and ran for ten seasons.
- In April of 1995, two anti-government militants detonated a truck packed with explosives outside of a federal building in Oklahoma City, killing 168 people and leaving many more injured. The Oklahoma City bombing was the deadliest domestic-based terrorist attack in US history.
- A bombing at the 1996 Summer Olympics in Atlanta, Georgia killed two and injured more than 100.
- For two decades, the “Unabomber,” Harvard graduate Ted Kaczynski, terrorized the country with a series of mail bombs before being arrested in 1996.
- Princess Diana and Prince Charles got divorced in August 1996. A year later, Princess Diana died in a car crash in Paris. Her funeral was watched by 1.5 billion people around the world.
- Dolly the sheep, the first successfully cloned mammal, was unveiled by scientists at the Roslin Institute in Scotland in 1997.
- On April 20, 1999, two students of Columbine High School in Littleton, Colorado opened fire on their teachers and classmates, killing 12 students and a teacher before taking their own lives.
- The music downloading service, Napster, debuted in June 1999. Copyright infringement claims later forced them to cease operations, but Napster paved the way for future streaming media service.
- Throughout the end of the decade, Y2K anxiety grew as people feared that computer systems would shut down when the two-digit year changed from 99 to 00, causing widespread chaos. Companies and governments spent millions in preparation, and ultimately, the new millennium dawned without incident.
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