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The best of times : America in the Clinton years /
Haynes Johnson.
edition
1st ed.
imprint
New York : Harcourt, c2001.
description
x, 610 p. ; 24 cm.
ISBN
0151004455
format(s)
Book
Holdings
More Details
imprint
New York : Harcourt, c2001.
isbn
0151004455
general note
"A James H. Silberman book."
catalogue key
4589106
 
Includes bibliographical references and index.
A Look Inside
About the Author
Author Affiliation
Haynes Johnson is a Pulitzer Prize -- winning journalist, a long-time television commentator, and the author of the bestsellers Sleepwalking Through History and The Bay of Pigs. He is a regular on The NewsHour with Jim Lehrer, lectures frequently throughout the country, and has been a reporter, editor, and columnist for the Washington Star and the Washington Post. He teaches at the University of Maryland where he holds the Knight Chair in Journalism and lives in Washington, D.C.
Excerpts
Excerpt from Book
Book Excerpt: "Certainly for displays of overindulgence and tasteless materialism, the Clinton years had few equals in previous decades. Everywhere you looked, yet more signs of extravagance and wealth appeared....Shattered were boundaries of good taste-the term itself had virtually ceased to exist, and with good reason. Cashing in commercially on celebrity, on tragedy, on infamy were so commonplace, so expected, that they barely attracted any notice." Book Excerpt: "While the reporter [Douglas A. Blackmon, Wall Street Journal] conceded that 'some of these new American tastes are merely signs of conspicuous consumption in a gluttonous era,' his larger conclusion correctly captured the positive side of the American people and their culture at the millennium: 'Historic levels of wealth, educational attainment and cultural exposure have converged over the past decade in such a way that the lowest common denominator of American culture is rising rapidly. Hardly any place is remote as it once was. Contrary to the wails of many cultural critics, middle-class, mainstream Americans have become, simply put, sophisticated." First Chapter Excerpt: Deep (RS/6000 SP) Blue "I'm a human being. When I see something that is well beyond my understanding, I'm afraid." Garry Kasparov wasn't just another great chess player, the master of all grandmasters. By universal agreement, he was the greatest chess player in history. In the spring of 1997, at the age of thirty-four, at the peak of the long boom, he had held his world championship for twelve years. Never once had he lost a multigame match against an individual opponent. Never once had he displayed anything but absolute assurance in his chess genius. His attitude toward any rival bordered on the contemptuous, a trait he displayed again after winning, as expected, the first of six games in his heralded rematch that May in New York against an opponent he had soundly defeated just a year before. As the match resumed, chess experts who gathered to watch the great champion crush his foe witnessed something so unexpected they were left speechless. They were not alone. Millions of observers intently following the contest over the Internet via worldwide television hookups were astonished to see Kasparov show uncharacteristic signs of confusion. First, he displayed growing doubt, followed by dismay, despair, and loss of control. Finally, he seemed to be having an emotional breakdown. He appeared to be terror stricken. The first sign that the champion was on the verge of a crack-up came during the second game. It was then that Kasparov encountered something unique in his experience. In the past, he was always able to exploit an opponent's weaknesses by understanding the pattern of thought being employed against him. This time he could not. That second game ended in a draw. Another draw followed. Then his opponent won a game. When the contestants resumed play on a Saturday, the match was dead even. Kasparov began aggressively, brilliantly; he knew he was winning. His opponent fought back with a series of inspired, indeed brutal, moves that left Kasparov visibly shaken. Grandmasters were shocked to see the champion, for the first time, seem pitiful. He was forced to accept another draw. After a day's break in the match, the denouement came on Monday. Worldwide attention intensified. Television networks assigned correspondents to cover the event for their lead prime-time broadcasts. Newspapers dispatched top writers, not just their chess analysts, and prepared to open their front pages to report the final results. They and millions more watching on TV and the Internet saw the great Garry Kasparov, the consummate champion whose supreme confidence was matched only by his arrogance, replaced by a nervous, hollowed-out player, his eyes darkened, his manner brooding. He appeared beaten before making his first move. Kasparo
First Chapter
Book Excerpt:
"Certainly for displays of overindulgence and tasteless materialism, the Clinton years had few equals in previous decades. Everywhere you looked, yet more signs of extravagance and wealth appeared....Shattered were boundaries of good taste-the term itself had virtually ceased to exist, and with good reason. Cashing in commercially on celebrity, on tragedy, on infamy were so commonplace, so expected, that they barely attracted any notice."

Book Excerpt:
"While the reporter [Douglas A. Blackmon, Wall Street Journal] conceded that 'some of these new American tastes are merely signs of conspicuous consumption in a gluttonous era,' his larger conclusion correctly captured the positive side of the American people and their culture at the millennium: 'Historic levels of wealth, educational attainment and cultural exposure have converged over the past decade in such a way that the lowest common denominator of American culture is rising rapidly. Hardly any place is remote as it once was. Contrary to the wails of many cultural critics, middle-class, mainstream Americans have become, simply put, sophisticated."

First Chapter Excerpt:
Deep (RS/6000 SP) Blue
"I'm a human being. When I see something that is well beyond my understanding, I'm afraid."

Garry Kasparov wasn't just another great chess player, the master of all grandmasters. By universal agreement, he was the greatest chess player in history. In the spring of 1997, at the age of thirty-four, at the peak of the long boom, he had held his world championship for twelve years. Never once had he lost a multigame match against an individual opponent. Never once had he displayed anything but absolute assurance in his chess genius. His attitude toward any rival bordered on the contemptuous, a trait he displayed again after winning, as expected, the first of six games in his heralded rematch that May in New York against an opponent he had soundly defeated just a year before.
As the match resumed, chess experts who gathered to watch the great champion crush his foe witnessed something so unexpected they were left speechless. They were not alone. Millions of observers intently following the contest over the Internet via worldwide television hookups were astonished to see Kasparov show uncharacteristic signs of confusion. First, he displayed growing doubt, followed by dismay, despair, and loss of control. Finally, he seemed to be having an emotional breakdown. He appeared to be terror stricken.

The first sign that the champion was on the verge of a crack-up came during the second game. It was then that Kasparov encountered something unique in his experience. In the past, he was always able to exploit an opponent's weaknesses by understanding the pattern of thought being employed against him. This time he could not.

That second game ended in a draw. Another draw followed. Then his opponent won a game. When the contestants resumed play on a Saturday, the match was dead even. Kasparov began aggressively, brilliantly; he knew he was winning. His opponent fought back with a series of inspired, indeed brutal, moves that left Kasparov visibly shaken. Grandmasters were shocked to see the champion, for the first time, seem pitiful. He was forced to accept another draw. After a day's break in the match, the denouement came on Monday.

Worldwide attention intensified. Television networks assigned correspondents to cover the event for their lead prime-time broadcasts. Newspapers dispatched top writers, not just their chess analysts, and prepared to open their front pages to report the final results. They and millions more watching on TV and the Internet saw the great Garry Kasparov, the consummate champion whose supreme confidence was matched only by his arrogance, replaced by a nervous, hollowed-out player, his eyes darkened, his manner brooding. He appeared beaten before making his first move.

Kasparov grew even more dispirited as his opponent's swift, ruthless moves drove him into a corner. In a riveting moment captured on television screens, and later on newspaper front pages, after having lost his queen and with his king dangerously exposed to checkmate, the champion leaned forward over the chessboard. He placed his hands over his face and eyes, and lowered his head dejectedly. It became an enduring portrait of human despair.

Moments later Kasparov suddenly stood up. He was resigning the game and match, he announced. Only nineteen moves had been played.
Grandmasters were amazed at the way the champion abruptly crumbled. "It had the impact of a Greek tragedy," said the chairman of the chess committee responsible for officiating the match. Kasparov reacted more simply. "I lost my fighting spirit," he said. "I was not in the mood of playing at all."
Asked to explain why, at a tumultuous news conference minutes later, he replied, "I'm a human being. When I see something that is well beyond my understanding, I'm afraid."

Kasparov's opponent had no reaction, maintaining the same state as when the battle began: motionless, positioned inside a bare windowless air-conditioned closet, high over the city in a midtown Manhattan skyscraper, its immense size and weight all but unattended by any human beings.

The victor was the IBM RS/6000 SP supercomputer, christened by its creators "Deep Blue." This behemoth, whose twin metallic structures were described by one New York Times writer as resembling nothing so much as amplifiers at a rock concert, stood six feet five inches tall. Each of its towers weighed twenty-eight hundred pounds, for a combined weight of over 2 ¾ tons. Internally, its 516 chess microprocessors were capable of examining 200 million chess positions a second, or 50 billion every three minutes, all while operating at a speed 250 times faster than desktop computers.

In the year since Kasparov had first bested Deep Blue, IBM technicians had doubled its capacity. They also conducted near-daily brainstorming sessions with programmers, researchers, and outside chess experts. Their efforts were rewarded by a spectacular success. In the glow of their triumph, Deep Blue's project manager, C. J. Tan, was magnanimous in victory and praised the dejected Kasparov. "Garry has a brilliant mind, and he's a very brave man," Tan said. "He's a man who sees the future, who understands where technology can take us." When asked by reporters why there had been such global interest in the match, Tan replied: "Because it shows what technology can do for man and how far we can take it."

As a news story, the match was a natural: Man versus Machine. Machine wins. As a modern fable, it was fulfillment of an age-old dream. For centuries, scientists and charlatans alike had envisioned the day when machines would beat humans at the intellectually demanding game of chess. After countless failures, that day had come.

Though die-hard chess purists disparaged Deep Blue's victory as nothing more than a highly hyped gimmick, a mechanical game without real significance, it represented something far more important. It was a symbol of the times, a herald of the future.

Copyright © 2000 by Haynes Johnson, published by Harcourt, Inc. All rights reserved. For permission to reproduce this information, go to our Permissions and Copyright Requests page at http://www.harcourtbooks.com/pol-copyright.html.

This text is from an uncorrected galley of the book and may exhibit differences from the published version. For editorial accuracy and legal protection all quotations and attributions should be checked against the bound copy.








Full Text Reviews
Appeared in Choice on 2002-05-01:
Renowned journalist Johnson offers a deftly crafted, sensitive, and rich portrayal of the Clinton era. In artful fashion, the author explores how the 1990s proved to be almost Dickensian in nature. The period featured remarkable technological and scientific breakthroughs, an unprecedented economic boom, and gifted financial and political leaders like Microsoft's Bill Gates and William Jefferson Clinton. But hubris, shortsightedness, and other human frailties helped to sully those prosperous times along with the reputations of those two representative figures. So too did the flourishing of "teletimes," best exemplified by football star-turned television personality O. J. Simpson, facing murder charges and holding up a gloved hand in a Los Angeles courtroom, and presidential intern Monica Lewinsky displaying her semen-soiled dress. Johnson explores President Clinton's egomaniacal bent, which culminated in a sex scandal and his near ouster from office. But the author also condemns the scandal-mongering media and the crass political machinations of Clinton antagonists, which helped to debase civic sensibilities. Perhaps fittingly, the second "Trial of the Century," where the Republican Party strove to convict Clinton of impeachment charges, was something of a television flop in contrast to the earlier Watergate hearings. Highly recommended for all readers. R. C. Cottrell California State University, Chico
Appeared in Library Journal on 2001-10-01:
A near-fanatical public demand for scandals was the most distinguishing trait of the Nineties, states Johnson, a Pulitzer Prize-winning reporter and author of 13 books, including Sleepwalking Through History: America in the Reagan Years. Dramatic advances in computer technology, communications, and biomedical research and upheavals in the corporate economy were hardly noticed by a society demanding shocking details about the O.J. Simpson "trial of the century" and the Lewinsky affair an overindulgence happily gratified by the electronic media, especially the Internet. Johnson is at his best when providing narratives, based on many interviews, of President Clinton, who degraded the presidency while further disconnecting the people from their government; Monica Lewinsky, the spoiled "sad little fat girl"; and Independent Counselor Kenneth Starr, who sold his political soul for a futile attempt to impeach President Clinton. Ultimately, the Nineties, according to Johnson, will be remembered as a time of squandered opportunities despite U.S. global preeminence and a booming economy. Johnson at time preaches and belabors issues, but his clear writing and thought-provoking investigations should send this book up the best sellers lists. Strongly recommended for all public libraries. [Previewed in Prepub Alert, LJ 6/1/01.] Karl Helicher, Upper Merion Twp. Lib., King of Prussia, PA (c) Copyright 2010. Library Journals LLC, a wholly owned subsidiary of Media Source, Inc. No redistribution permitted.
Appeared in Publishers Weekly on 2001-08-27:
As he did with the 1980s in Sleepwalking Through History: America in the Reagan Years, Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist Johnson reevaluates what happened to America in the '90s and paints a warts-and-all portrait that may shock many Americans and force others to review the new millennium's values. Picking up where he left off in Sleepwalking, Johnson describes the 1990s as "an era characterized by accumulation of wealth and self-indulgence." He then delves into the events that brought us to where we are today, a country split so evenly culturally, politically and economically that the last presidential election ended in a dead heat. Johnson casts a cynical eye on what he sees as a nation of voyeurs, fixated on reality shows, the Internet, celebrities, screaming pundits and with an utter contempt for privacy. He begins his quest in 1990 with a stagnant America stuck in a recession and adrift politically. Change starts to come with the birth of the quintessential information tool, the Internet clearly the event of the decade in Johnson's view. He then goes on to the one event that most pointedly revealed the U.S. as a celebrity-obsessed society: the O.J. Simpson trial. In blistering prose, Johnson describes the Kato-Kaelining of America: the ubiquitous talking heads on TV, the "disgraceful attack talk-radio programs" that proliferated at this time, "and a media that focused more on trivial concerns, on scandals and celebrities." In retrospect, it seems the country was ripe for Bill Clinton. "I've tried to shut my body down, sexually, I mean," the president told Dick Morris, according to the Starr Report, "but sometimes I slipped up and with this girl I just slipped up." Clinton's "slip-up" gave the ultimate smoking gun to his enemies. Johnson traces the right wing's paranoia about Clinton from Whitewater to the death of Vince Foster, to Travelgate and Filegate, and asserts that there was no wrongdoing on the president's part. Johnson's parade of characters includes the usual dreary suspects: Ken Starr, the special prosecutor whose office, according to Johnson, perpetrated "a disgraceful episode in the annals of American jurisprudence"; Monica Lewinsky, touchingly ingenuous one moment, scheming the next; Linda Tripp, who comes across here, as she appeared to many at the time, as a sordid character; and, of course, the news media, caught in a frenzy that, according to Johnson, "is motivated by a desire to become the next Woodward and Bernstein, to discover scandal where in fact none exists." The encouraging news? The American people didn't buy the media hype. Johnson defines the schism among Beltway Washington, the media, and the American public: "From beginning to end," Johnson writes, "the American people display great maturity and sound judgment as they assess the scandal being reported so incessantly and excessively. And from the beginning, the overwhelming public reaction stands in stark contrast to the view of the scandal as reported form the political insiders of Washington.'' America from 1990 to 2001 from impeachment to recession, the rise of the Internet to the fall of Nasdaq, and the upheaval of the 2000 elections is covered in startling detail by Johnson. He has written a magnetic book that every thoughtful American will want to read. 150,000 printing; BOMC main selection; History Book Club selection; author tour. (Oct.) (c) Copyright PWxyz, LLC. All rights reserved
Reviews
Review Quotes
PRAISE FOR THE BEST OF TIMES "Informed, balanced and . . . gripping. A vivid and reliable reminder of what we have been through."-- The New York Times "Drawn with insight, care, and an excellent eye for detail . . . Johnson is among the most brilliant chroniclers of our times, and he scores again here."-- The Boston Globe "A magnetic book that every thoughtful American will want to read."-- Publishers Weekly "Beautifully written . . . As full of juicy tidbits as a cherry cake. [Johnson shows] how witty, perceptive and morally grown up American political journalism can be at its best." --The Economist
This item was reviewed in:
School Library Journal, June 2001
Publishers Weekly, August 2001
Kirkus Reviews, September 2001
Booklist, October 2001
Library Journal, October 2001
Los Angeles Times, October 2001
New York Times Book Review, October 2001
Choice, May 2002
To find out how to look for other reviews, please see our guides to finding book reviews in the Sciences or Social Sciences and Humanities.
Summaries
Main Description
The Best of Times--the '90s were indeed the best of times. Unprecedented wealth and the breathtaking progress of science and technology ushered in the Internet and the deciphering of the genome. Promises abounded, but a deepening sense of unease hovered over America as the worst of times seemed to be upon us as well-gossip, scandal, and a frenzied media like nothing ever seen before. Based on exclusive interviews with the decade's most influential players, here is a fascinating re-creation of the best and worst episodes of the decade. With sweeping force and cultural acumen, Johnson revives the '90s, the ups and downs, filled with all that we may have forgotten and, most importantly, all that we never knew. In four fascinating parts, Johnson delivers the stories behind the stories-revealing the personalities behind the media party of the '90s, the partisanship that didn't succeed in bringing down the president, the pervasive technology that stretched from Silicon Valley to Monsanto with the corresponding hopes and fears, and the equally extreme reactions on Wall Street to every last bit of it. A tremendous work from a major authority and writer, The Best of Times covers the entire wonderful yet woeful decade, gavel to gavel. Includes interviews with: Book One: Technotimes Nathan Myhrvold, chief technology guru (former), Microsoft David Baltimore, president, Cal Tech University and Nobel Prize winner Bob Shapiro, chief executive officer, Monsanto Regis McKenna, entrepreneur Book Two: Teletimes Ted Harbert, head of TV programming, DreamWorks SKG Norman Lear, creator of "All in the Family" David Geffen, partner, DreamWorks SKG Michael Bloomberg, head of Bloomberg News Steven Brill, founder of Brill's Content Book Three: Scandal Times Sam Dash, law professor, Georgetown Senator Alan K. Simpson (former) Senator Dale Bumpers (former) Book Four: Millennial Times Senator Bob Kerrey (former) Senator John McCain Dr. Ruth Faden, medical ethicist In addition, Johnson interviewed leaders of Congress, top White House aides, cabinet members, and prominent political operatives of both parties in gathering material for this history. A JAMES H. SILBERMAN BOOK
Main Description
The Best of Times--the '90s were indeed the best of times. Unprecedented wealth and the breathtaking progress of science and technology ushered in the Internet and the deciphering of the genome. Promises abounded, but a deepening sense of unease hovered over America as the worst of times seemed to be upon us as well-gossip, scandal, and a frenzied media like nothing ever seen before. Based on exclusive interviews with the decade's most influential players, here is a fascinating re-creation of the best and worst episodes of the decade. With sweeping force and cultural acumen, Johnson revives the '90s, the ups and downs, filled with all that we may have forgotten and, most importantly, all that we never knew. In four fascinating parts, Johnson delivers the stories behind the stories-revealing the personalities behind the media party of the '90s, the partisanship that didn't succeed in bringing down the president, the pervasive technology that stretched from Silicon Valley to Monsanto with the corresponding hopes and fears, and the equally extreme reactions on Wall Street to every last bit of it. A tremendous work from a major authority and writer, The Best of Times covers the entire wonderful yet woeful decade, gavel to gavel.Includes interviews with:Book One: TechnotimesNathan Myhrvold, chief technology guru (former), MicrosoftDavid Baltimore, president, Cal Tech University and Nobel Prize winnerBob Shapiro, chief executive officer, Monsanto Regis McKenna, entrepreneurBook Two: TeletimesTed Harbert, head of TV programming, DreamWorks SKGNorman Lear, creator of "All in the Family"David Geffen, partner, DreamWorks SKGMichael Bloomberg, head of Bloomberg NewsSteven Brill, founder of Brill's ContentBook Three: Scandal TimesSam Dash, law professor, GeorgetownSenator Alan K. Simpson (former)Senator Dale Bumpers (former)Book Four: Millennial TimesSenator Bob Kerrey (former)Senator John McCainDr. Ruth Faden, medical ethicistIn addition, Johnson interviewed leaders of Congress, top White House aides, cabinet members, and prominent political operatives of both parties in gathering material for this history.A JAMES H. SILBERMAN BOOK
Main Description
We were awash in money and spellbound by celebrity and scandal. It was a time of breathtaking strides in science and unprecedented possibility. A time of squandered opportunities and grave distraction. A time of tragic complacency and belief in our invulnerability. In The Best of Times , Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist Haynes Johnson looks back on the decade that defied anyone's expectations, for better or worse. With a sharp eye for the quote or detail that perfectly captures a moment in time, Johnson tells the whole story, no holds barred, of the roller-coaster, self-indulgent nineties when America paid no attention to gathering foreign storms or looming economic collapse. The product of four years of interviews with the decade's most influential players, this is in the best tradition of timeless social history--a memorable portrait of the entire wonderful yet woeful decade that ended in the cataclysmic flames of September 11. A James H. Silberman Book National Bestseller Now with a New Foreword, Afterword, and Postscript In offering this paperback edition of the bubble years, I hope the stories I tell of that newly old America will illuminate how in a few short years we went from the best of times to the worst of times. In my Afterword, I suggest what lessons we must learn from that experience to avoid further disasters and close the circle on some events that typified the period. --Haynes Johnson From the new Foreword
Unpaid Annotation
Johnson presents a fascinating recreation of the best and worst episodes of the decade, with interviews, behind-the-scenes stories and the impact of politics and Wall Street on it all.
Table of Contents
To the Readerp. ix
Prelude
Fragments from a Golden Agep. 1
Technotimes
Deep (RS/6000 SP) Bluep. 11
Culture of Successp. 17
Nerd Nirvanap. 48
Seeding the Futurep. 73
Teletimes
Trial of the Century--Part Onep. 107
Cult of Celebrityp. 165
Dream Factoriesp. 192
Scandal Times
Bill's Storyp. 227
Trial of the Century--Part Twop. 411
Millennial Times
The Peoplep. 443
The Marketsp. 468
The Millennialsp. 490
The Fiascop. 519
Epiloguep. 550
Acknowledgmentsp. 563
About the Authorp. 565
Notes and Sourcesp. 567
Bibliographyp. 581
Indexp. 587
Table of Contents provided by Syndetics. All Rights Reserved.

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