What is the classic book of the 80s and 90s?

That’s Ryan Holiday’s query.  This is not about quality, this is about "representing a literary era" or perhaps just representing the era itself.  I’ll cite Bonfire of the Vanities and Fight Club as the obvious picks.  Loyal MR reader Jeff Ritze is thinking of Easton Ellis ("though not American Psycho").  How about you?  Dare I mention John Grisham’s The Firm as embodying the blockbuster trend of King, Steele, Clancy and others?  There’s always Harry Potter and graphic novels.


Money by Martin Amis?

Departing from the Anglo world, a strong case can be made for Umberto Eco's "The Name of the Rose". It's hard to overestimate the impact of this work in the literary world of the 80's.

Red Storm Rising for the 80s.

No one read it, but Going Native by Stephen Wright is a pretty neat novel of the '90s.

Sorry, I don't know why I posted that without finishing. I'd say Survivor is his better example of capturing the 90s and the generation coming of age in that decade.

If you're going to let graphic novels qualify, I'd have to go with WATCHMEN for the 80s.

The Name of the Rose. The best book of any recent decade on so many different levels. Awesome.

Jurassic Park.

Perhaps Douglas Coupland, Generation X...

Blood Meridian / Rising Sun
80's 90's

Not a literary masterpiece or anything, but Stephen King's The Stand seems to have been an 80s book about the 00s. Superbugs? Apocalyptic credulity? Red State / Blue State angst? Domestic terrorism? It's all there...

The umberable lightness of being

Does it have to be an American novel? If not, I vote for "The War of the End of the World" by Mario Vargas Llosa.

Since Graphic Novels are allowed, and since I didn't like most of the books of the eighties all that much, I would pick Dark Knight Returns, by Frank Miller: it had gothic, it had street gangs with new wave glasses, it had superman turned Republican weapon to fight communism in the Caribbean. And, of course, it had Frank Miller.

My book for the nineties was actually published in 2001: it's The Human Stain, by Philip Roth, with all the drama of political correctness, the Clinton scandal, identity politics, and so on.Not to mention it is one of my top five favourite books ever.

Leaving aside how representative the book was, I would also have to mention The Name of the Rose for the eighties, and the Sandman for the whole twenty year period.

Forgot Hunt for Red October in the 80's.

1980s : Money. Good call Will Perkins.
1990s : Microserfs

80s Kundera's The unbearable lightness of being.
90s Rowling's Harry Potter.

I'd throw out A Heartbreaking Work of Staggering Genius for the 90s.

Amis, London Fields, or maybe Irvine Welsh's Trainspotting.

80's: Bright Lights, Big City; The Unbearable Lightness of Being; White Noise; The Closing of the American Mind (non-fiction)

Surprised no one mentioned Ender's Game. Pretty empty two decades for classics if you ask me.

For non-fiction: It was actually published in 2000, though the subject matter is 90's: "When Genius Failed - The Rise and Fall of LTCM" by Roger Lowenstein. Thought it was a great read and told an important story. A book that also helps one understand where some of the financial problems we are now dealing with already started to germinate.

I was going to say that Harry Potter came too late to be counted in the '90s, but even the third book was released in the old millenium. That should pretty much settle things for the '90s, I would say (without having read any of the books).

For the '80s, I thought Liar's Poker was the best pick so far. However, that book was published in late 1989, as far as i can tell (Wikipedia lists it as a "1989 book" with a publishing date of October 1, 1990). That makes it too late, in my book. I'll have to go with The Name of the Rose, then.

Ender's Game was originally a novelette in Analog Science Fiction Magazine in 1977. It was the best thing I got from the whole subscription, but I think that puts it firmly in the 70's.

This blog has 50 comments. The Sarah Palin blog has over a thousand.

Anyway. My fiction vote is for Eco's 'Name of the Rose'. It ushered in a new respect in fiction for the intellectual and for the simple virtues of curiosity and the joy of finding things out. As far as non-fiction goes I suspect that Dawkins 'The Blind Watchmaker' has influenced the most people, almost single-handedly reviving interest in the natural sciences and evolutionary theory.

The Bachman Books by Stephen King. Written in the 70's. Published mid 80's. Prescient of the 90's with school shootings, reality TV, and a jumbo jet flown into a sky scraper. And I just can't see appointing Grisham to represent the blockbusters.

Silence of the Lambs may be the perfect thriller (minus the at-the-wrong-house cheap trick). Probably shaped genre fiction, flicks, and TV more than anything else over those 2 decades. (And I don't think David Foster Wallace was being facetious when he included it in his top 10)

Sorry, that should be "capturing the experience of a lot of people".

Quality's not the point, but a sense of the era, right? What are we trying to capture? Alas, I don't read enough books to comment on a literary era.

80s - Anxiety over the cold war (Clancy?) and the drug war (No Country for Old Men?)

90s - Irrational exuberance of technology, the economy, and peace dividends that was a dream turned nightmare by the bubble and terrorism.

So, are eras characterized by the collection of happenings or by the widely held but often irrational beliefs prevalent during them?

Don Marti, I thought Presumed Innocent by Scott Turow was the kick-start of the legal thrillers? Even the movie came out before The Firm was written.

I second Fukuyama, because it was an 80s agenda for the 90s, and close enough to fiction to count as such.

I'd say The Sandman by Neil Gaiman for the 90's
and Jurassic Park for the 80's

Quite a few good examples listed above, I'd like to toss in James Clavell's "Noble House" also, including his other books leading up to. "Shogun", "Tai-Pan", "King Rat".

Richard Ford's Frank Bascombe trilogy -- a description of the personal life of the sort most people lead. No bombast or histrionics or grand sociopolitcal concepts. Just life as it was lived.

Richard Ford trilogy - terrific choice.

_My Cousin, My Gastroenterologist_ by Mark Leyner surely belongs on this list somewhere. Here, perhaps.

Neal Stephenson's _Snow Crash_ nailed the dot-com boom and aftermath -- in 1992.

I'd go with his 1999 work, "Cryptonomicon" as a better representation of the geek ascendency of the 1990s. People who read "Snow Crash" went out and created the companies depicted in "Cryptonomicon."

I liked Bright Lights, Big City
The Joy Luck Club also catches the immigrant experience ..
Bonfire of the Vanities definitely caught the feeling of the times...Master of the Universe has a whole new meaning
Lonesome Dove says something about taking risk and starting anew
Also, Being There
Get Shorty

I think "Heartbreaking Work of Staggering Genius" might be 2000s but it probably belongs to a late 90s/00s section.

For 80s, Rushdie or Eco seem like reasonable choices to me. Though I'm tempted to say Ishiguro's "Remains of the Day" with little justification.

Fiction: "Bonfire of the Vanities" exposed the arrogance and pretentiousness of the various players in the modern East Coast metropolitan scene - and perhaps elsewhere. I have known a couple of these characters.

Fiction: Robert Olen Butler's "A Good Scent from a Strange Mountain", a collection of short stories (Pulitzer Prize winner). Some of the stories predated the 80's and were set in Viet Nam. But those about Vietnamese refugee and immigrant families adapting to life in the U.S. provided a look at a large segment of the population we often ignore.

Non-Fiction: Tracy Kidder's "Soul of a New Machine" (Pulitzer Prize winner) captured the essence of the small but highly effective "skunk works" teams which thrived within the bowels of corporate bureaucracies in the 80's and 90's.

Non-fiction: I second the choice of Micke, "Liar's Poker", which revealed the immorality and immaturity of Wall Street in the 80's.

Non-fiction: Connie Bruck's "Predator's Ball" showed the raw power exerted by investment banks in the 80's. I've been told that "Den of Thieves" was better, and I'll read it soon.

definitely Less than Zero- Bret Easton Ellis

Less Than Zero - 80's
Microserfs - 90's

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