Baby tees and crop tops, platform sneakers, grunge, and hair scrunchies. “Friends” and the ubiquitous “Rachel” cut. Mom jeans and the Macarena. Are we talking about 2021 or the 1990s? Hard to tell.
As the ‘90s began, the world saw Germany reunite and the Soviet Union collapse. Bill Clinton became the first baby boomer president. Iraq invaded Kuwait, and the first Gulf War ensued. As the 1990s marched on, the internet rose, OJ Simpson fell, a sheep named Dolly was cloned, a young golfer named Tiger Woods won his first Masters, and the entire globe braced itself for Y2K. While previous decades have a distinct character, it’s a bit hard to pin down the essence of the ‘90s, but two words do fit: technology and prosperity.
There’s also contradiction in the 1990s; despite riots in Los Angeles, genocide in Bosnia, a war in Somalia, and rising tensions in the Middle East, there was a sense of general fun and contentment as well. The Mall of America opened. Kids played with Super Soakers and slap bracelets, and millions watched Tom and Meg kindle a romance using dial-up internet. Coffee shops thrived, Mario and Nintendo became household words, and Barbie got her Dream House.
These books will take you back to the good and bad of the 1990s.
Michael Crichton, 1990
In the 1990s, everything felt possible, including dinosaurs. Michael Crichton is a master storyteller, and this is one of his best tales. This book has math, science, chaos theory, the Frankenstein myth, and action-packed thrills all rolled into one. If you’ve never read it, now is the time and if you did read back in the day, it’s worth pulling out again for a delightful tromp down memory lane.
Nelson Mandela, 1994
If you’ve followed along with our challenge, you know we’ve focused our reading lists on books written about the decade in the decade. One result of this limitation is that our challenge is short on memoirs since memoirs are primarily focused on the past. This memoir is no exception, but we’re including it on our list because Nelson Mandela was a pivotal figure in the 1990s.
Mr. Mandela walked out of a South African prison in 1990 after 27 years of confinement. Three years later, he was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize, and, in 1994, he was democratically elected to be the first black president of South Africa. The Long Walk to Freedom is his story told in his words. To understand it is to understand the great victories won in the ‘90s for peace, human rights, and democracy.
Richard Preston, 1994
Is it too soon to read a story about a terrifying virus that spreads from Africa to Washington, D.C., in a matter of days? Maybe. But Preston tells the story of devastating viruses, including Ebola and Marburg disease, in such a compelling way that it’s hard to put this book down. This book includes a nonfiction account of how the Reston virus was discovered in a primate facility in Reston, Virginia. Fear of infectious disease was real in the 1990s, which will feel all-too-familiar to 2021 readers.
Douglas Coupland, 1995
Technology BOOMED in the 1990s. This is the decade where the internet, cellphones, email, and other technologies we take for granted today started to gain traction. Giants like Microsoft, Google, AOL, and Apple were growing by leaps and bounds. Microserfs is a charming, illuminating, funny story about six geeky Microsoft programmers who decide to branch out on their own. It’s also a story about another time and place where CD-ROMS, AOL, and heavy computer monitors were part of everyday life.
Cynthia Baughman, editor, 1995
If you were alive in the 1990s, then it’s likely you remember the 1994 Olympics scandal that revolved around Nancy Kerrigan and Tonya Harding. This collection of essays reflects those events from the perspectives of a diverse group of feminists. Have our perceptions of women changed since 1994? You’ll need to read this book and then give the issue some thought.
Helen Fielding, 1996
This book is funny, truly funny. Bridget takes you through one year in the life of a ‘90s girl worried about all the typical stuff—career, romance, death, and being eaten by dogs. This book is credited with sparking a giant wave of chic-lit that’s still going strong today. It’s sure to become a fast favorite.
Sebastian Junger, 1997
A giant storm hit North America between October 28 and November 4, 1991. It was a perfect storm where all the elements combined to create maximum trouble for the Andrea Gail, a shipping boat from Gloucester, Massachusetts. Mr. Junger is a wonderful writer, and he tells this true and tragic tale with great skill. As you read, you’ll get personal insight into what it was like to grow up in a fishing family in a fishing town in the 1990s.
Bill Bryson, 1998
You’ll love the opportunity to dive into the author’s autobiographical account of his attempt to walk the Appalachian Trail with a friend who was quite possibly the worst choice for companionship on such an adventure. You’ll find serious, well-researched discussions of the region’s ecology, plants, trees, and animals interspersed with wry humor. Bryson is a master satirist, and this might be the funniest travel book you ever read.
Nick Hornby, 1998
Will and Marcus are the protagonists in this coming-of-age story set in 1993 London. Will is 36 and lives off the royalties from a Christmas song written by his father. He enjoys all things the ‘90s have to offer – music, movies, and women.
Marcus is an awkward 12-year-old boy who lives with his depressed and suicidal mother, Fiona. We won’t spoil how Marcus and Will meet, but these two strike up a friendship that’s unforgettable. Along the way, Marcus meets a girl named Ellie who has a passion for Nirvana and Kurt Cobain—what’s more ‘90s than that? In fact, the book’s title is a play on the Nirvana song, “About a Girl.” These characters and the 1990’s come alive in this delightful novel.
Mark Bowden, 1999
While, on the surface, the ‘90s appear to be peaceful—the Cold War was over, the Soviet Union collapsed, apartheid ended—it’s actually a decade that experienced significant conflict.
One such event was the war in Somalia. Mr. Bowden takes readers into the Battle of Mogadishu, the most intense, close combat experienced by US troops since Vietnam. On October 3, 1993, roughly one hundred soldiers were dropped via helicopter into Mogadishu, Somalia, with the stated mission to apprehend the two top lieutenants of a Somali warlord. The mission was supposed to take an hour but instead lasted all night. This is a riveting story of a heroic battle.
Take the 1990s Reading Challenge
This list from the 1990s is a varied as the decade itself. Stories of humor, love, conflict, tragedy, and adventure await reading and relishing. If you’re feeling nostalgic for the 1990s or interested in learning more about this fascinating decade, this reading list is an excellent place to start.
We hope you’re enjoying our Reading through the Decades challenge. At Discover Books, you’ll find books that span time, including these favorites from the ‘90s. You’ll find millions of gently used books starting at $3.85 at Discoverbooks.com. Shop now and discover something new!