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on 11 February 2016
Turner’s look at the nineties takes the view that both the Conservatives and ‘New’ Labour attempted to create a more equal society yet unintentionally ended up make us more unequal and divided than ever before.

Like Turner’s other two books, his turn of phrase is pithy, but these two predecessors did a better job in finding out what made us tick.

Maybe it’s too soon to make judgements. Maybe recent history needs more distance. Maybe the nineties were much like the sixties in that it wasn’t a serious decade yet serious things did happen.

For example, there were seismic shifts in the way power was exercised and in the way people thought: we became more tolerant, confident and cosmopolitan at the same time as we yielded to blandness, apathy and materialism.

A more subtle interpretation in the Cool Britannia chapter would have picked up on the complete reversal of social attitudes such as Labour ministers sending their kids to private schools or the children of aristocrats organizing druggy raves in fields.

‘Charters’ touches upon (but doesn’t develop) the creeping reliance on consultants and focus groups which were meant to revitalise public services but unintentionally ended up strangling them.

For example, NHS targets simply led to managers fiddling the waiting list figures and teachers taught to the test so as to inflate grades in the league tables. This in turn led to soaring house prices as middle class parents bought into the areas where the best schools were thus pricing the poor out of decent education.

Instead, Turner concentrates on the dry cut-and-thrust of political events while chronicling the inane going-on on the superficial nineties celebrity circuit at the expense of real analysis. Just like the nineties, it’s all a bit disappointing.
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TOP 1000 REVIEWERon 5 September 2013
I remember the 1990s well and reading this superbly written account of those years brings so much of it all back, almost as if I was living those years again, only with the great advantage of knowing how it turns out. (I wish I had known that on the day interest rates hit 15% when the UK left the ERM) I had forgotten about the cones hotline though, and Pavarotti in the park - there is so much here to remember or to learn about

This is social history at its best - the key political figures and events in a decade dominated by John Major, which forms the first part of the book, and then from 1997 by Tony Blair, which forms the second part, are covered in entertaining and enjoyable chapters. There is lots here too about how our lives changed in the 1990s - the rising popularity of reality TV, the vast sums of money coming into the football premier league, and the arrival of players from all over the word, society's changing attitudes to homosexuality, the reactions across the country to the death of Princess Diana, along with much more, are covered in this fascinating book,which manages to hit, for me, just the right balance between readability and weightiness.

Very enjoyable
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on 9 October 2017
While it covers the key events of the decade in some depth and authority, this is a somewhat flat telling of a crucial and transitional decade for Britain. It makes no real attempt to put the reader in the 1990s, to feel the changing social attitudes, political drama and cultural flowering of music, art and film. This is largely because this is very much a book told by senior figures – politicians, celebrities, commentators, academics – and not everyday people. Unlike Dominic Sandbrook’s excellent history of Britain from the 1950s to 1970s, this gives no attempt to authoritatively explain changes in society, instead preferring to only recognise a phenomena – from New Labour to ‘laddism’ – through the prism of a public figures and popular culture. This means it reads like a compendium of press clippings rather than a considered look at the decade. This leaves the narrative somewhat detached from reality. It is heavily skewed towards politics and, like so many popular culture books, is obsessed with a why-oh-why appraisal of the decline of the hard left. The Conservative Party predictably gets short shrift. The sniffy attitude to Britpop which – whether you like it or not – had a massive impact on culture and how young people viewed their generation is typical of a book that makes no real attempt to understand the significance of the 1990s.
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on 13 December 2014
In his introduction to A Classless Society Alewyn W. Turner writes that he both explores the high politics and the low culture of the nineties because “the latter not only reflects but often pre-empts the former.” To illustrate, he reminds the reader that the infamous meeting between Brown and Blair at the Granita was not the reason why the paparazzi gathered outside the restaurant: the media was far more interested in actor Susan Tully, then playing Michelle Fowler in EastEnders, who was seated at a front table.

Turner's explorations into the nineties have produced a stimulating, eye-opening and entertaining read. He divides it into two main sections, the first of which moves from the fag-end of Thatcher's premiership to the end of Tory rule in 1997, where he begins the second.

Each section is sub-divided into chapters all of which begin with a selection of quotations, such as Peter Baynham on New Labour, “A media-friendly, highly electable platoon of smiling, capitalist thugs.” This structure, coupled with his stated intention above, allows Turner to paint a vivid picture of nineties life.

The breadth of his research is impressive. It encompasses quotations from Bernard Manning, a reference to “the Mull of Kintyre test” that was used for female soft porn magazines and he reminds us that at the introduction of the National Lottery a Tory MP thought “Flogging criminals live on television before [it] will create a great impact.”

Turner devotes an appropriate amount of words to the two major politicians of the nineties, John Major and Tony Blair. He is kind to the former, presenting a revisionist stance on the man that inspired Andy Hamilton's John Major-ogram: “They send round a bloke in a suit. He stands here for ten minutes, no one notices him and he goes away again.”

Tony Blair, however, receives a dressing-down to such an extent that, although the writer does allow the ex-PM a share of the back-slapping for the Good Friday Agreement, he reminds us that the “I feel the hand of history on our shoulders” comment began with “This is no time for sound bites.”

Irvine Welsh comments in his review of the book for The Daily Telegraph that the only thing it lacks is a section on the impact of rave culture. It is a good point but, as Welsh writes, the book is “an otherwise uniformly brilliant work.”
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on 30 June 2015
Having loved Turners book on the 70s I skipped the 80s and went onto this. The 90s. The 90s, an odd decade reflected in the books thematic ups and downs. The books themes and content are significantly bigger ( though at times smaller) that the 70s. Perhaps its because he lived through them or the wealth of news and opinion available makes it meatier. Yet at times despite being there I felt very distant reading this book, Turners arc is really this - John Major came along with lads, new lads whatever they are called, Major hung around with little or no clue, Britpop, tony Blair, disappointment. I guess I reflect some of this , John Majors Government seemed to hang around for ever waiting to be kicked out, there was a long time from Black Wednesday to Tony Blair's victory. Somehow though my Arc is different and hence why I felt distant. I realised that Britpop in its entirety really didn't mean anything to me...and perhaps many others. I don't have an opinion on what Lads, New lads, bad lads were because I don't understand or care. For me they were typified by sneery middle class pervs who either ignored their privilege and education by talking about women, beer and football or ..well that was it really. Turner touches on this but not my other 90s issue the representation of Oasis as being stereotypical mancuninan working class. They never spoke for or reflected my reality.
Gulf War-John Majors long goodbye-Tony Blair's Long Hello- Media representations of politics...all are covered off here wonderfully. Turner is the master of Pop culture, Eldorado ( though not the demise of Rainbow !), Diana...
In the end Turners conclusion is that our two main protagonists made little if any difference, this of course makes the 90s similar to the 70s. Politicians losing their grip but it being filled by TV, tabloid agendas and titillation.
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on 14 February 2015
I wish I could write like Alwyn Turner. He makes seemingly dry subjects like the Maastricht Treaty something you actually want to read about. I took this book on holiday with me last year, having already read the preview version "Things Can Only Get Bitter", as I'm a sucker for social history like this (Dominic Sandbrook is another favourite of mine). I didn't want it to end. Turner perfectly captures Britain in the 1990's and while the content leans heavily on the political, it is in no way dull and the book's forays into popular culture are well paced and expertly chosen. I came away from this book with my views altered in a number of ways, not least (and surprisingly) a more favourable attitude to John Major and his struggle to gain favour in his own party following the downfall of Thatcher. Tony Blair comes off worse than I expected and justifiably so. I remember the writer of Our Friends in The North back in 1996 warning people to be careful what you wish for. I think he was spot on, much like Alwyn Turner is with A Classless Society. Thoroughly recommended.
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on 30 May 2015
Similar to Rejoice! Rejoice! but much less entertaining. Like that book, it's more of a chronicle than an analytic history and it take the form of a skim from newspaper stories and popular TV programmes of the day. But this time, the focus is dominated by a summary of the tabloid coverage of the Major and Blair governments which gets tedious after a while.
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on 1 October 2013
On the face of it a 'history' of the 1990s seems a little too close to the present, yet as I read this book I found myself constantly asking: "was that really twenty years ago?" As with his previous books, Turner has included many references to popular culture as reference points for events and opinions and it certainly helps to have knowledge of pop music, art, film and television during this period. For people who recall John Major as something of a lame duck PM the tone is very sympathetic to the grey man pointing out his popularity with female voters and the fact that he won the 1992 general election with more votes than Thatcher ever managed. Although it is impossible to escape the fact that the 1992-1997 Major period was characterised as a state of political siege with a 5th column of unhinged right wingers inside, Major is seen gamely soldiering on despite the odds. There are many small details that amuse - John Redwood's extraordinary liking for the Baron Knights had me laughing out loud!
There are times when some issues betray a particular ideological point of view taking over from the facts. There were and are many reasons for underachievement in British schools - creating the impression that this is wholly down to the `educational establishment' is only a very small part. Likewise British Rail was grotesquely under-funded by any measure and it is a simple fact that the Major privatised rail system now costs the taxpayer massively more than in the BR days.
The period of Diana's death, the 1997 election and Cool Britannia are all well covered as is the still-with-us rise of reality TV. My only real disappointment? In the introduction we are told that this will be the last in the series. Give it 15 years and I think Turner should get his first decade of the millennium volume out!
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on 25 December 2014
Very disappointing.

I was hoping and expecting to read about 'society', but got more politics and politicians than society. As I struggled through each chapter, I kept wondering when I would learn about how SOCIETY was in the 1990s. It IS in there, but I found the effort needed to find it quite tiresome.

Also, am I alone in finding it really irritating when writers give chapter titles that give not the slightest hint about what the chapter is about?? I found myself having to read the first few pages to get this.
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on 21 September 2014
This book looks at some of the crass reality of new Labour and that spin is more important than fact.there are lots of threads that are weaved together
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