A Bubble in Time: America During the Interwar Years, 1989-2001

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The all-too-brief period of relative tranquility that extended from the end of the Cold War to the beginning of the War on Terror is the subject of William L. O'Neill's brilliant new study of recent American history. Mr. O'Neill's sharp eye for the telling incident and the apt quotation combine with an acute historical judgment to make A Bubble in Time a compellingly readable informal history.

The first Gulf War and President Clinton's interventions abroad notwithstanding, American spirits were freer from fear than they had been since the 1920s, the author argues. No world war loomed before the United States, and after the Berlin Wall came down the specter of nuclear annihilation faded as well. A brief recession in the 1990s gave way to the most prosperous years Americans had known for decades. Unlike in the 1980s under Ronald Reagan, the increase in national wealth trickled down to the middle class thanks to an unusual rise in productivity and large infrastructure investments by firms in the "new economy." To general amazement, crime rates began falling after almost thirty years of increases, so that Americans were happier, safer, and materially better off than before.

Although the Republican party turned to the dark side, Mr. O'Neill writes, peace and prosperity enabled people to enjoy the finer things in life and to lavish their concerns on political correctness, the decline of the military, the troubles of higher education, and the manifestations of an out-of-control popular culture he calls "Tabloid Nation"—the trials of O.J. Simpson and President Clinton, SUVs, cell phones, and bimbo eruptions.

Mr. O'Neill explores them all, and more, with insight and wit. "It was all too good to last," he tells us. "Reality intruded again with the dot.com crash in 2000 and the terrorist attacks of 2001. Still, we will always have Paris Hilton." With 8 pages of black-and-white photographs.

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Editorial Reviews

Midwest Book Review
A powerful social history, this deserves a place in any contemporary American history library.
Connecticut Post
Gives a reader the chance to time travel back to a wild era. . . . Highly readable.
The American Conservative
O'Neill applies an understated sense of humor and irony to connect the many dots in his narrative.
David Oshinsky
Few historians possess the literary gifts of William O’Neill, whose previous books on the 1950s and the 1960s remain gems of modern American history. O’Neill’s great strength is his ability to weave the disparate strands of politics and popular culture into a seamless story—a trend he continues with A Bubble in Time, a witty and wickedly perceptive account of American life in the decade of Desert Storm, Bill Clinton, O. J. Simpson and Buffy the Vampire Slayer. This is narrative history at its finest.
Andrew J. Bacevich
The 1990s truly were, as William O’Neill writes, a 'decade of lost chances.' In this shrewd, pungently written book, he recounts the folly and frivolity of those years while mourning the immense opportunities that Americans squandered.
Lewis L. Gould
Well written and evenhanded, with a taut, perceptive narrative, William O’Neill’s A Bubble in Time does for the 1990s what Frederick Lewis Allen and Only Yesterday did for the 1920s.
Robert Shogan
Many of us who survived the fitful years between the end of the Cold War and the start of the so-called War on Terror often had trouble connecting the dots—from The Mother of Battles to Black Hawk Down, from O. J.’s black glove to Monica’s blue dress. We all owe a debt to the historical grasp of William L. O’Neill. A Bubble in Time recasts those episodes and others into a gestalt that makes more sense than the sum of its memorable but disjointed parts. And in the process he helps us to a better understanding of the twenty-first-century history we are now living through.
Michael O'Brien
From the triumphs and scandals of the Clinton years to the Simpson trial, O’Neill’s outstanding recent history has all of the concision, insight, and wit of his wonderful classic, Coming Apart.
Victor Brooks
O’Neill is one of the most impressive scholars of mid-century America, and now he has emerged as an equally important interpreter of an era that is just making the transition from newspaper headlines to history.
Chattanooga Times Free Press - Adera Causey
Like a memorable college course, this book is both entertaining and edifying.
The Oklahoman - Dennie Hall
Students of U.S. history will relish this book, which lets us look at the 1989–2001 era with the perspective of the passage of nearly a decade. O'Neill's contribution to understanding that period is to be treasured.
Publishers Weekly
Author and Rutgers Univ. professor O'Neill accounts for the U.S.'s "interwar years" under Presidents George H. Bush and Bill Clinton with intelligence, insight and unapologetic lefty bias, bringing order to a layered mess of controversies-the first Gulf War, the O.J. trial, Newt Gingrich's Contract with America and the Monica Lewinsky affair among them. Eschewing impartiality, O'Neill uses personal opinions in judging history, weighing down his otherwise lucid and well-researched narrative with a strident agenda. For instance, regarding Tailhook and other military sex scandals, O'Neill states that "A gender-integrated armed force requires a kind of bonding for which there is small precedent... and giving up that misogyny which is at once a shameful feature of service life and perhaps a necessary one." Fifty years ago, the same could have been said about African-Americans; with this kind of value judgment, O'Neill risks appearing at best quaint, and at worst anachronistic-neither one a shining quality in a historian. Still, for those who lean O'Neill's way, this is an intelligent reading of 12 years in recent U.S. history.
Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved.
American Conservative
O'Neill applies an understated sense of humor and irony to connect the many dots in his narrative.
Adera Causey
Like a memorable college course, this book is both entertaining and edifying.
Chattanooga Free Press
Dennie Hall
Students of U.S. history will relish this book, which lets us look at the 1989-2001 era with the perspective of the passage of nearly a decade. O'Neill's contribution to understanding that period is to be treasured.
The Oklahoman
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9781566638067
  • Publisher: Ivan R Dee
  • Publication date: 9/16/2009
  • Edition description: New Edition
  • Pages: 448
  • Sales rank: 1,544,247
  • Product dimensions: 6.50 (w) x 9.30 (h) x 1.60 (d)

Meet the Author

William L. O'Neill is professor emeritus of history at Rutgers University and the author of Coming Apart: An Informal History of the 1960s; American High: The Years of Confidence, 1945–1960; and A Democracy at War: America's Fight at Home and Abroad in World War II, among several other books. He lives in Highland Park, New Jersey.

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Table of Contents

Chapter 1: The Elder Bush
Chapter 2: Slaughter: The First Persian Gulf War
Interlude: The Enola Gay Exhibition
Chapter 3: Clinton and the 1992 Election
Chapter 4: What's Right and What's Wrong
Interlude: Buffalo Commons
Chapter 5: Clinton Arrives
Chapter 6: Sex and Other Scandals
Interlude: Buffy the Vampire Slayer
Chapter 7: The Trial of the Century
Chapter 8: Higher Education in Crisis
Interlude: Alan Greenspan: The God That Failed
Chapter 9: Clinton: The Second Term

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